Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fierce clashes near landmark mosque in Syria

BEIRUT (AP) ? Syrian rebels battled government troops near a landmark 12th century mosque in the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday, while fierce clashes raged around a police academy west of the city, activists said.

The fighting near the Umayyad Mosque in the walled Old City threatened to further damage the historic structure, part of which was burned during clashes last year.

Since July 2012, government forces and rebels seeking to topple President Bashar Assad have been battling over Aleppo, the country's largest city and a major prize in the civil war. While rebels have gradually expanded the amount of turf under their control, seven months of street fighting, airstrikes and shelling have left much of the city, considered one of Syria's most beautiful, in ruins.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported intense clashes with heavy gunfire and explosions near the mosque. Syria's state news agency said "terrorists" had detonated explosives near the building's south wall, causing "material damages."

Assad's regime refers to the opposition as "terrorists."

The mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Aleppo, sits near a medieval covered market in the Old City, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The mosque was heavily damaged in October, 2012, just weeks after a fire gutted the market.

Syria's nearly 2-year-old civil war has left its mark on other gems of the country's rich archaeological and cultural heritage.

At least five of Syria's six World Heritage sites have been damaged in the fighting, according to UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural agency. Looters have broken into one of the world's best-preserved Crusader castles, Crac des Chevaliers, and ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra have been damaged.

Both rebels and regime forces have turned some of Syria's significant historic sites into bases, including citadels and Turkish bath houses, while thieves have stolen artifacts from archaeological excavations and, to a lesser extent, museums.

To the west of Aleppo, activists reported fresh fighting Tuesday near the police academy that has become a key government military installation.

The Observatory said the two sides were shelling each other's positions while the government launched airstrikes in the area.

Video posted online in recent days shows rebel groups firing homemade rockets and mortars at the academy and blasting it with captured tanks. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded with other Associated Press reporting.

The Observatory said the dead in the last two days of fighting in the area included 26 rebel fighters, 40 soldiers and five pro-government militiamen.

The police academy, which activists say the government has turned into a military base, has recently emerged as a new front in the battle for Aleppo. Losing the facility would hinder the regime's ability to shell opposition areas and support its troops inside the city.

An Aleppo activist who goes by the name Abu al-Hassan said via Skype that rebels coming from Idlib province to the west are now trying to clear the army from residential areas near the academy before they attack it.

"Yesterday and today they have been trying to go forward but there are lots of shelling and airstrikes," he said.

The fighting has largely destroyed Aleppo and caused humanitarian conditions for the city's remaining civilians to plummet.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said more than 141 people, including 71 children, had been killed in at least four missile strikes by the Syrian government in and near the city of Aleppo last week. The New York-based group said the strikes hit residential areas and called them an "escalation of unlawful attacks against Syria's civilian population."

A Human Rights Watch researcher who visited the sites said up to 20 buildings were destroyed in each area hit by a missile. There were no signs of any military targets in the residential districts, located in rebel-held parts of Aleppo and its northern countryside, said Ole Solvang, the researcher.

"The extent of the damage from a single strike, the lack of (military) aircraft in the area at the time, and reports of ballistic missiles being launched from a military base near Damascus overwhelmingly suggest that government forces struck these areas with ballistic missiles," HRW said in its report.

It added that the Aleppo neighborhoods hit were Jabal Badro, Tariq al-Bab and Ard al-Hamra. The fourth strike documented by the group was in Tel Rifat, north of the city.

UNICEF said in a statement that it is "appalled" by the deaths of children, and called on all parties in the conflict to "ensure that civilians ? and children especially ? are protected, at all times."

U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman condemned the bombings in Aleppo and Damascus and repeated a call "to immediately end the supply of arms to both sides in this brutal conflict." He pledged that "perpetrators of serious crimes will be held accountable."

Syria has never acknowledged the strikes, and portrays the conflict as a foreign conspiracy carried out by "terrorists" to weaken the country.

The missile attacks have outraged the leaders of Syria's exiled opposition who have accused their Western backers of indifference to the suffering of civilians caught up in the conflict.

Also Tuesday, the Observatory said the death toll in a car bomb attack in Damascus had risen to eight. All were regime security officers, it said.

The blast late Monday struck a security checkpoint in the neighborhood of Qaboun, less than a kilometer (mile) from Abbasid Square, northeast of downtown. It was followed by several other smaller blasts thought to be mortar shells landing in various districts of the capital.

The explosions and subsequent gunfire caused panic among residents who hid in their apartments.

Syria's state news agency said the blast was caused by a suicide car bomber and caused an unspecified number of casualties.

The U.N. says some 70,000 have been killed since Syria's conflict began in March 2011.


Associated Press writer Ryan Lucas in Beirut and Edith M. Lederer at the U.N. contributed.


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Which Minority Passes More AP Math Tests?

The number of minority high school students taking Advanced Placement classes has risen fourfold in a decade, but college aspirants of color, especially from low-income families, continue to significantly lag white students.

Asians, however, continue to outperform all students in math.


Source: College Board

More than twice as many U.S. teens took the advanced-level classes than a decade ago, the College Board reported in its annual assessments of tests that allow students to take the rigorous classes that typically prepare them better for college success. That number was near 57 percent for youth hailing from poorer families.

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However, while 954,000 public-school grads of the class of 2012 (about a third) took AP classes, the College Board estimates that 300,000 students ? mostly low-income minorities ? with ?AP potential? are likely to have passed both the course and the exam, had they taken at least one of the exams.

In 2012, non-low-income students took nearly 2.2 million exams, with a mean score of 3.00. The average number of tests taken by an individual was 3.9, the College Board reports.

There are several factors that can prevent students from enrolling in an advanced class or go on to take the examt:

  • Fees: Each test costs $89, although in 2012 the College Board lowered the cost to $61 for some 439,000 low-income students, EdWeek?reports. Passing an AP test, however, would trim the cost of such a course in college.
  • Availability: Not all U.S. schools offer AP courses, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Support: Some students may not receive information or encouragement to take the AP courses.
  • Poverty has been shown to be an obstacle to learning.

Among the report?s findings:

  • 253,775 low-income public-school graduates took at least one exam.
  • 120,254 low-income public high school grads passed an exam.
  • Most popular subjects by race, excluding foreign languages:
    Whites: Government and politics (63.7%); European history (63.3%); and calculus A/B (60.4%)
    Hispanics: Art history (17%); English language and composition (16.6%); and environmental studies (14.9%)
    Blacks: Human geography (11.5%), English language and composition, and English literature (tied, at 9.8%); and biology (7.5%)
    Asians: Government and Politics and computer science (tied at 29%); calculus A/B (28.7%); and biology (19.4%).


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Lee Chong Wei wants to start a national junior level tournament to ...

Lee Chong Wei wants to start a national junior level tournament to find talented young shuttler

Lee Chong Wei, Malaysia?s best ever shuttler in Men?s Singles category, intends to start a national tournament with the name of Lee Chong Wei Cup in order to find young and talented players from all over the country.

The World Number One Chong Wei has been lifting Malaysian flag at international tournaments for the last many years. However, there is no other Malaysian badminton player in Men?s Singles category who could become a worth replacement to Chong Wei at the moment.

This is the major reason that Chong Wei wants to start a new tournament by the assistance of Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) which will help in hunting talent from all corners of the country. It will certainly help in eliminating the dearth of quality shuttlers in Malaysia in Men?s Singles category.

As stated in, Chong Wei said, Chong Wei said, ?It is my dream to see another Chong Wei groomed in this country before I retire. Together with the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), I plan to host the Lee Chong Wei Cup?.

Chong Wei also added, ?It will be good if I can start it later this year or early next year. And I want it to be an annual affair. I want it to be held in every state. Currently, in our academy there are not many singles players coming through and that is a real concern for me.?

In Men?s Singles category, only Chong Wei is in the top-10 slot in the world rankings and it is quite alarming that there will be no Malaysian shuttler who could challenge the world after Chong Wei?s retirement which is quite near.

The World Number One has been dominating the international stage because of his untiring effort in training sessions. He is one of the most dedicated and hard working athletes in the world and no other Malaysian shuttler is even close to him in all aspects of the game.

However, Chong Wei wants young shuttler to continue his legacy at international stage and the Lee Chong Wei Cup will provide a platform for junior shuttlers to prove their worth and get into the national squad of Malaysia.


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The Passion of Rand Paul

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) leaves after a caucus meeting at the Capitol February 14, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., at the Capitol in February

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Shortly before noon, before the vote on whether to move forward on Chuck Hagel?s nomination for secretary of defense, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul walked onto the floor of the Senate. He stood near the well, where he would have to cast his vote. After Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander cast the first vote?an aye?he and Paul chatted off to the side. When his own name came up in the roll call??Mr. Paul???Paul said nothing.

Nearly half of Paul?s fellow senators voted in the first alphabetical run-through of names. It was clear, almost immediately, that Hagel would have enough votes to break a filibuster. Paul walked over to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the unofficial whip of the unofficial Dump Hagel campaign, spoke briefly, then returned to the well. He cast his vote.

Hagel was vaulting over this final hurdle, but Paul wasn?t going to help. Two weeks earlier, Paul had cast a decisive vote against cloture, making Hagel the first-ever national security nominee to face a filibuster. ?There's all kinds of rumors all over the Internet about foreign groups that may have provided financing,? explained Paul, ?and I think he needs to reveal that.? Had Paul voted the other way, Hagel wouldn?t have spent those extra days being beat up by hawkish Republicans, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, and groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel.

Forty other Republicans joined Paul on that first filibuster, and 26 more joined him in the first vote opposing cloture today. But conservative foreign policy ?realists,? the sort of people who backed Rep. Ron Paul?s campaigns for president, were uniquely disappointed in the heir. ?Sen. Paul is aiding and abetting a disgusting McCarthyite campaign against an honorable man,? wrote Justin Raimondo. ?Paul endorsed one of the worst, least credible anti-Hagel arguments of all,? wrote American Conservative columnist Daniel Larison, ?which is essentially the Ted Cruz argument that Hagel needs to ?prove? that he is not in league with foreign governments or sympathetic with terrorists.?

Overcoming that kind of guilt-by-association politics was one of the points of the Hagel nomination. Wasn?t it? Rand Paul, too, had challenged the wisdom of the neoconservatives and been battered for it. If Hagel could be confirmed, it would mean you could name and shame the ?Israel lobby? (or, okay, the ?Jewish lobby?) without being banished to Siberia. If the Senate really debated Hagel?s views, really revisited the wisdom of the Iraq War and whether the 2007 surge worked and whether Iran can?t ever be negotiated with, it would expand the aperture of ?serious? foreign policy debate.

Paul was aware of that. To him, delaying Hagel was in keeping with the actual goals of the realists and libertarians. ?I wanted to get more information not only on Hagel but more information on [CIA nominee John] Brennan,? he said, after leaving the post-vote Republican luncheon. ?That didn?t work because we didn?t stick together on it. Last week?s vote was useless. If you don?t stick together, you won?t have leverage.? And Paul will now turn his attention to the Brennan nomination, to demand and get more answers on the legality of the drone program and whether Americans, on American soil, could be targeted for killing. ?It?s blatantly illegal?we have probably a dozen laws saying the CIA can?t operate in the United States, and neither can the Department of Defense.?

That wasn?t obvious to libertarians and paleo-conservatives. One year ago, Sen. Paul was criss-crossing key Republican primary and caucus states to whip up support for presidential candidate Ron Paul. I remember cranking the speedometer of a rental car, and parking illegally near the University of Northern Iowa, to see the Pauls work a fire-hazard-crowded ballroom. Ron Paul would go on to win that county. Rand Paul would go on to filibuster Chuck Hagel.


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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ammar Harris Search: Warrant Issued For Suspect In Deadly Las Vegas Strip Shooting Suspect

LAS VEGAS -- Police said Monday they have a warrant for a 26-year-old ex-convict identified as the prime suspect in a shooting and fiery crash that killed three people last week on the Las Vegas Strip.

"We can say with certainty that Ammar Harris is the suspect who fired the fatal shots," Las Vegas police Capt. Chris Jones told reporters at an afternoon update about a manhunt that he said would be advertised on southern Nevada billboards.

Police previously released a photo of Harris taken after his arrest last year in Las Vegas in a 2010 prostitution case. It showed Harris with tattoos on his right cheek and words on his neck above an image that appeared to depict an owl with blackened eyes. Jones said Harris should be considered armed and dangerous.

Jones said investigators were looking everywhere Harris had lived in the past. He wasn't specific.

Public records show that Harris previously lived in South Carolina and Georgia, and told a police officer when he was arrested in Miami Beach last December that he had lived in Florida for about a year.

Harris was convicted in 2004 in Orangeburg, S.C., of felony possession with intent to sell a stolen pistol, Jones said. The conviction was not in California, as police said earlier.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson attended the news conference and said afterward that the case was getting top priority from prosecutors and he hoped Harris would turn himself in. He said the warrant was issued Friday.

"If Mr. Harris is listening, I would urge him to surrender," Wolfson said.

Harris used the name Ammar Asim Faruq Harris when he was arrested last May in Las Vegas in the June 2010 case. He was charged with robbery, sexual assault, kidnapping and coercion with a weapon.

Las Vegas police also sought pandering by force and ex-felon in possession of concealed weapon charges stemming from allegations that Harris was a pimp and attacked a woman.

Court records show the case was dismissed last June. The prosecutor and a public defender who handled the case didn't immediately respond to messages Monday.

In Miami Beach, Harris was arrested Dec. 7 after he was accused of driving a silver 2006 Hummer H3 the wrong way on a congested street at 2 a.m. The arresting officer said Harris produced a Florida state identification card and provided a Miami address. The status of the case in Miami-Dade courts was unclear Monday.

In Atlanta, Harris was arrested in June 2004 on a felony marijuana possession with intent to distribute charge. According to court records, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge and was sentenced to three months in jail.

Fulton County jail records show Harris spent about two weeks in jail in February 2008 after a misdemeanor battery arrest. The outcome of that case was not immediately clear Monday.

In Las Vegas, investigators say Harris was driving a black Range Rover SUV when he fired shots into a Maserati before dawn Thursday, killing an aspiring rapper and causing a crash that killed two people when the Maserati slammed into a taxi that exploded in a fireball at the heart of the Strip.

Police said several other people were with Harris in the SUV as it fled the scene of the six-vehicle, chain-reaction crash on Las Vegas Boulevard near the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Bally's and Flamingo resorts.

Jones and police homicide Lt. Ray Steiber said they were confident that Harris was the only shooter. They didn't say whether police intend to prosecute anyone else in the SUV.

But, "To anyone who is aware of his location or is assisting Ammar Harris in any way, you will be arrested and prosecuted," Jones said. "You may think you're being a friend, but keep in mind Ammar Harris is wanted for the murder of three citizens."

The SUV was the focus of an intense search before it was found Saturday parked in the garage of a gated apartment complex just a couple of blocks east of the Strip. Harris wasn't found at a nearby apartment where he was believed to have been living.

Kenneth Wayne Cherry Jr. was mortally wounded when the dark gray Maserati he was driving was peppered by gunfire from the SUV. Taxi driver Michael Boldon, 62, of Las Vegas, and passenger Sandra Sutton-Wasmund, 48, of Maple Valley, Wash., died in the taxi.

Police say the triple homicide stemmed from an altercation between Cherry and Harris in a valet area of the upscale Aria resort a block south of the crash scene at Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road.

A passenger in the Maserati was wounded in the arm, and four people from four other vehicles were treated for non-life-threatening injuries after the crash.

Las Vegas police sought help during last week's search for the Range Rover from local and federal authorities in Nevada and neighboring states of Arizona, California and Utah.


Associated Press writer Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Also on HuffPost:

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Family on sinking boat: Coast Guard increases overnight search

A family who radioed for help from their sinking boat have abandoned ship. As night falls, the Coast Guard has announced plans to expand their search.

By Associated Press / February 25, 2013

A Coast Guard rescue helicopter prepares to rescue a fisherman in the Gulf of Alaska in 2010. The Coast Guard and California Air National Guard are using helicopters, boats, and other technologies to search for a family who abandoned their sinking boat yesterday.

Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis / US Coast Guard / AP / File


Crews planned to search by sea and air through the night Monday as they ramped up efforts to find a husband, wife and two young children who sent a series of distress calls saying their sailboat was sinking far off the Central California coast and they were fashioning a raft from a cooler and a life ring.

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The unidentified family had been sailing a small vessel Sunday west of?Monterey?Bay, where strong winds, cold water and big swells made for perilous conditions. Forecasters had issued a weekend advisory warning boaters of rough seas in the area.

The group ? which included two children under 8 ? made its first distress call late Sunday afternoon, Coast Guard Lt. Heather Lampert said. Investigators used the boat's radio signal and radar to determine the call came from an area about 60 miles west of?Monterey.

The boaters reported that their 29-foot sailboat was taking on water and the electronics were failing.

An hour later, the family members reported they had to abandon the boat and were trying to make a life raft out of a cooler and life-preserver ring, Lampert said. The Coast Guard then lost radio contact.

The agency looked for the family through the night and on Monday, with help from the California Air National Guard.

They planned to continue into Monday night, using lights from aircraft and boats, and other technologies to search the area.

"We will just saturate the search area with as many assets as we can, so we can hopefully rescue them," said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mike Lutz.

The Coast Guard on Monday also released one of the family's recorded distress calls (, in hopes that it will lead to new information from the public that could help in the search. So far the agency has received no reports of missing persons in the case.

The agency believes the boat may have been called "Charmblow." In the crackling recording, a man's voice is heard saying, "Coast Guard, Coast Guard, we are abandoning ship. This is the (Charmblow), we are abandoning ship."

The agency has not identified the family, although investigators were able to determine from the broken distress calls that they were a husband and wife, their 4-year-old son and his cousin, Lampert said.

The family's location initially was reported farther north, but Lampert said investigators using the boat's radio signal and radar now believe the call came in west of?Monterey?Bay, which is about 100 miles south of San Francisco. The boat did not have a working GPS system.

The National Weather Service had issued an advisory throughout the weekend warning boaters of strong winds and rough seas around the San Francisco Bay Area. Water temperatures in the area typically are in the 40s and 50s, making long-term survival difficult.

Mariners "operating smaller vessels should avoid navigating in these conditions," the advisory said.

Calls to harbors in California have failed to locate the boat, and database searches have come up empty too, Lampert said. The Coast Guard was expanding its search to Hawaii, the Seattle area and north into Canada.


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Security Expert Who Forgot Own Password ... - IT Business Edge

One of the often-heard pieces of advice when it comes to managing passwords is to enforce changing them on a regular basis. However, as businesses with overzealous administrators or IT managers will testify, an overly aggressive stance on this front greatly increases the chances for passwords to be forgotten.

While it is a fairly easy matter to reset an Active Directory password for an end user, there are situations when things may not be so easy, as the experiences of Jeremiah Grossman, CTO of Whitehat Security, show. Due to his line of work, Grossman applied what most would consider a paranoid level of security on his most important work files, which entails scrambling these files with AES-256 encryption into a disk image.

Grossman?s rationale was simple: While he may be forcibly compelled to give up his laptop?s password ? thereby defeating the full disk encryption ? the unmounted encrypted images may yet evade notice. And thanks to the encryption, these protected files will be just as tough to crack should the hypothetical assailants make off with all the files on his laptop?s disk drive.

What Grossman didn?t count on, though, was forgetting the password the day after a periodic password change. After a week of failing to remember the password, he finally resorted to brute-force cracking. However, the high level of encryption meant that things were not so straightforward.

?I figured I was only missing between 1 ? 3 characters of the password... a day of cracking, maybe two?? writes Grossman in a blog entry that detailed his security ordeal. ?Then my fuzzy memory suggested I might be missing as much as 6 characters. If that be the case, by sheer math, at least multiple decades worth of cracking would be necessary at current speed.?

Thankfully, Grossman was able to recall more specifics on the missing six characters in his password. By reducing the combinations that needed to be guessed, he was eventually able to recover the password after seeking the assistance of other experts with access to the computation resources and tools to brute force the password at a substantially faster rate.

The takeaway here is this: Passwords can, and will, be forgotten. So while more security is generally a better idea, businesses should be careful not to be placed into a position where a forgotten password results in loss of business critical data. On that front, it may make sense to make a backup of important administrative passwords or encryption keys.

As Grossman writes: ?Clearly I need paper backup, and thinking maybe about giving it to my attorney for safekeeping where it?ll enjoy legal privilege protection.?

Of course, most scenarios can be catered to with the use of a good password management utility. If you?re interested in exploring management tools for helping your employees manage their passwords, you may want to check out Three Tools for Proper Password Management.

What are your strategies to ensure that passwords don?t get forgotten?


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Google Had a Big Ol' Hole In Its Two-Step Verification System

The coast is clear now, but for a while there, Google's two-step verification system wasn't keeping you as safe as you thought. In fact, it was providing an avenue for folks to get in. App-specific passwords were propping your door open. More »


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Obama talks cuts with governors

President Barack Obama on Monday implored the nation's governors to put pressure on Congress to avoid the sequester as he addressed members of the National Governors Association gathered at the White House.

"While you are in town, I hope that you speak with your Congressional delegation and remind them in no uncertain terms exactly what is at stake, exactly who is it at risk. Because here is the thing, these cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise," Obama said at a luncheon in the White House State dining room.

Members of the Obama administration, heads of federal agencies and others have been issuing severe warnings to Congress regarding the sequester?$85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that will go into effect March 1 absent a budget. Warnings have been released threatening fewer responders to handle wildfires, reduced food safety inspection, less help for vulnerable Americans and, on Friday, widespread flight delays and cancellations.

"Travelers should expect delays. Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco and others could experience delays up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we have fewer controllers on staff. Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters at Friday's White House press briefing after announcing that the Federal Aviation Administration plans massive furloughs and closing air traffic control towers if the sequester goes into effect.

The White House on Sunday night released state-by-state reports detailing what it says would be "devastating" impacts on each state as a result of the sequester, but the topic of the sequester was notably absent from Obama's speech Sunday night to the governors, who are in town for the National Governors Association's (NGA) annual winter meeting.

Instead, the president struck an appreciative tone at the White House dinner, commending the governors for steering their states through tough times.

Democratic Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, chair of the NGA, followed Obama's address Sunday night by emphasizing the absence of politics from the night's celebration. "On this one night it?s a relief?politics doesn?t drive the conversation. We don?t speak of partisan issues or presidential aspirations," Markell said.

But Markell did note the sequester.

"One thing for sure is certain?you don?t let issues fester. You get to deal with education and health care, and even the sequester," Markell said to laughter and applause from the audience.

Republicans such as Speaker John Boehner have publicly stated their opposition to the sequester, though others have threatened they are willing to let it go into effect.

Some Republicans over the weekend continued to accuse the administration of exaggerating the sequester's impact.

"They have plenty of flexibility in terms of discretion on how they spend money. There are easy ways to cut this money that the American people will never feel," Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said on Fox News Sunday.


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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Old Media, Meet New: European Publisher Axel Springer Acquires Second Screen App TunedIn

TunedIn Logo 2013TunedIn Media, the German company behind the second screen "social TV' app TunedIn, has been acquired by European publishing giant Axel Springer. The amount isn't being disclosed, so it's unlikely to be a home run for the burgeoning startup, while the two companies had already been working together through support from Axel Springer's innovation department and the licensing of the publisher's EPG, which is currently used to power TunedIn's TV guide.


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Cuba's new heir apparent has work cut out for him

Vice President of the Council of Ministers Miguel Diaz-Canel, center, Commander of the Cuban Revolution Ramiro Valdes, right, and Ricardo Alarcon, outgoing parliamentary president, attend the opening session of the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2012. Cuba?s President Raul Castro tapped rising star Diaz-Canel, 52, as the country's vice-president Sunday. Diaz-Canel has risen higher than any other Cuban official who didn't directly participate in the 1959 Cuban revolution. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate)

Vice President of the Council of Ministers Miguel Diaz-Canel, center, Commander of the Cuban Revolution Ramiro Valdes, right, and Ricardo Alarcon, outgoing parliamentary president, attend the opening session of the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2012. Cuba?s President Raul Castro tapped rising star Diaz-Canel, 52, as the country's vice-president Sunday. Diaz-Canel has risen higher than any other Cuban official who didn't directly participate in the 1959 Cuban revolution. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate)

Cuba's new Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, right, smiles at Cuba's President Raul Castro, during the closing session at the National Assemby in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2012. Castro accepted a new five-year term that will be, he said, his last as Cuba's president and tapped rising star Miguel Diaz-Canel, 52, as vice president and first in the line of succession. Diaz-Canel has risen higher than any other Cuban official who didn't directly participate in the 1959 Cuban revolution. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate)

Cuba's new Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, right, and Cuba's President Raul Castro, talk during the closing session at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2012. Castro accepted a new five-year term that will be, he said, his last as Cuba's president and tapped rising star Diaz-Canel, 52, as vice-president and first in the line of succession. Diaz-Canel has risen higher than any other Cuban official who didn't directly participate in the 1959 Cuban revolution. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate)

Cuba's newly named Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, right, looks at a sheet of paper as Cuba's President Raul Castro speaks during the closing session at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2012. Castro tapped rising star Diaz-Canel, 52, as the country's vice-president Sunday. Diaz-Canel has risen higher than any other Cuban official who didn't directly participate in the 1959 Cuban revolution. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

(AP) ? Miguel Diaz-Canel has five years to get started and a lot of work to do.

The man tapped as Cuban President Raul Castro's chief lieutenant and likely successor must quietly fend off any challenges from within the Communist-run island's secretive citadel of power.

He must gain legitimacy with young, and even middle-aged, Cubans who have never known a leader not named Castro. And he must deal with an exiled diaspora and American officials who were already making clear on Monday they will not be mollified by a new, younger face.

"There's going to be a huge charisma deficit," said Ann Louise Bardach, author of "Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington." ''You go from Fidel to Raul who at least had some of the shine of the Castro mantle, somebody who fought in the revolution."

She said Cuba faces "massive" problems including a large public debt, dependence on Venezuela, an aging population, decades of brain drain and one of the world's slowest Internet connections.

Whether Diaz-Canel is the man to fix all that is very much open to debate. Will Cubans accept another leader who was hand-picked from above and whose ascension ? if it happens ? will not come through multiparty democratic elections?

And will those passed over for the top job fall in line? If Fidel and Raul Castro are still alive, will the 52-year-old electrical engineer and former minister of higher education be able to set his own course?

On the streets of Havana, a day after Castro accepted a new term and said he would step down when it ends, many had their doubts about the future.

"Change? Was there a change?" asked Ernesto Silva, a 25-year-old student who scoffed at the idea that the country must wait another five years for new leadership, and said he hopes to emigrate to the United States in the meantime. "I find it hard to believe that he will be able to do, say or truly change anything."

Others were more enthusiastic, but still unsure how Diaz-Canel will establish control.

"I think it is good. He is a new and young figure. But he was trained by the old guys," said Maria Quesada, a 45-year-old office worker. "We still can't talk about a government without Castro because he's still going to be there, and I think the true test for Diaz-Canel will be when his vision differs from Raul's."

Raul himself faced a similar challenge when he took over from the ailing Fidel in 2006. The younger Castro was seen as a bland and unassuming figure who had always operated in the shadow of his larger-than-life older brother.

But he has overseen a series of sweeping changes since then in an effort to right the country's ever-weak Marxist economy, expanding private enterprise, legalizing a real estate market and eliminating most travel restrictions.

Behind the scenes, Raul has led an anti-corruption campaign and replaced many of Fidel's confidantes with loyal military officials who earned his trust during his four plus decades as the nation's armed forces chief.

Observers say it is those men, who have been put in charge of important state-owned enterprises like the phone company, the enormous holding company Cimex and virtually the entire tourism industry, who Diaz-Canel must persuade to follow him.

"I'm sure he's shown himself to be acceptable to the military already, otherwise this would never have happened," said Paul Webster Hare, the British ambassador to Cuba from 2001 to 2004 and now a lecturer in international relations at Boston University. "He has to be acceptable to them."

In Washington on Monday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the U.S. remained "hopeful for the day that the Cuban people get democracy, when they can have the opportunity to freely pick their own leaders."

"We're clearly not there yet," he added.

Ventrell said Cuba needed to do more to open up if it wants repaired relations with the United States.

Still, observers said the naming of a successor, along with the economic and social changes Castro has instituted, could eventually lead to detente, or at least an easing of bad blood.

"There is a psychological and political benefit to naming somebody now," said Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations. "It can demonstrate to the United States that there is an opportunity to change how we relate to this new Cuba."

Reaction to Diaz-Canel's promotion was met with a shrug by Cuban-American politicians who said that changing the nameplate outside the presidential office won't alter a system they see as repressive and undemocratic. And some analysts and exiles in South Florida questioned whether he will survive politically long enough to ever take control.

Little is known of Diaz-Canel's relationship with Cuba's other political or military elites, or his own personal ideology.

He is said to be a fan of the Beatles who in his youth wore his hair long at a time when both acts were considered anti-revolutionary. And a former colleague says he is a private jokester despite his somber public demeanor.

Like almost all Cuban politicians who earned their stripes by mastering the art of backroom party maneuvering, Diaz-Canel seems to have learned long ago that there was no benefit to putting himself in front of the cameras.

It was a lesson he probably learned back in 2002, when fellow young turk Roberto Robaina was dumped as foreign minister after being accused of "political and ethical errors."

Diaz-Canel, who was part of Robaina's circle, not only survived the purge and a subsequent one that took down the next foreign minister and a prominent young vice president ? but he appears to have thrived behind the scenes.

Robaina, who now paints pictures and runs a private restaurant in Havana, would not comment Monday on Diaz-Canel's rise. But a former colleague who has known Diaz-Canel since the 1980s said his career really began to take off after the purge.

In 2003, he was named head of the Communist Party in Holguin, a role he had held previously in his native Santa Clara. The same year, Raul Castro helped get him a seat on the Political Bureau, the island's equivalent of a Politburo.

The experience in Holguin was a trial by fire for Diaz-Canel, who had been popular in Santa Clara but met resistance in his new role.

"People didn't like him in Holguin," said the former colleague, who would speak only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. But he caught Castro's eye, and earned his praise.

"He has demonstrated a solid ideological firmness," Castro, who was then vice president himself, said of his protege, perhaps presaging his future rise.

Cuban officials insist that a post-Castro era will be no different and that the nation's institutions will unquestionably back the new prince. They point to a long history of exiles wrongly predicting the collapse of the revolution, which has so far survived the demise of the Soviet Union and retirement of Fidel Castro, not to mention Washington's 51-year economic embargo.

But Hare, the former ambassador, says it would be a mistake to underestimate the challenges Diaz-Canel would face getting state machinery and political rivals to fall in line.

"Does he have rivals in the 50-something generation in Cuba who perhaps resent what happened?" Hare asked. "There is a scenario where other people will be sensing ... that Diaz-Canel doesn't have all the attributes of the Castros and therefore (will ask) 'Why shouldn't I have a chance at it?'"


Peter Orsi and Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, Bradley Klapper in Washington and Christine Armario in Miami contributed.


Follow Paul Haven on Twitter:

Associated Press


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NY 'cannibal cop' trial to spotlight violent sex fantasy subculture

Jane Rosenberg / Reuters, file

Gilberto Valle III, 28, is seen in this courtroom sketch with his attorney Julia Gatto (C) when he pleaded not guilty to criminal charges before Judge Henry Pitman (L) in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, New York October 25, 2012.

By Chris Francescani, Reuters

The New York federal trial of accused "cannibal cop" Gilberto Valle due to start on Monday promises to highlight an online subculture where people trade violent sexual fantasies.

Sex crimes prosecutors, First Amendment defense attorneys and sexual behaviorists said they had never before heard of a suspected conspiracy to commit a violent sexual crime begun on a website for violent sexual fantasy role play.

"It's the perfect alibi," said former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein, who is not involved in the Valle case, which is being prosecuted in Manhattan by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

"A case of this magnitude, and of this nature, may make case law," Fairstein said.

Opening arguments were expected to begin Monday afternoon.

Valle has pleaded not guilty to conspiring with New Jersey mechanic Michael Van Hise to kidnap, cannibalize and kill a Manhattan woman.

Valle has said he was merely engaging in online fetish role play and never intended to commit a crime. Federal authorities contend he took real action outside the role play websites.

Investigators say Valle compiled an online dossier with the names and in some cases photos or physical descriptions of more than 100 women, and discussed targeting some of them for kidnap and murder.

They say he met one woman for brunch, improperly accessed a police database to get information on another, and engaged in surveillance of a third, a high school senior of whom Valle wrote to a fellow fetishist that "she is the most desirable piece of meat I've ever met."

Prosecutors have also said Valle searched online for homemade chloroform recipes so he could "knock out" a Manhattan woman and deliver her to Van Hise.

The pair also discussed "slow cooking" the woman to keep her alive as long as possible, prosecutors contend.

Defense attorneys for both men have said the goal of role-play is to make it as realistic as possible, enhancing the thrill.

"You draw on your real life to make it as real as possible, but it's fantasy," Van Hise's attorney Alice Fontier told a judge recently.

Sex crime investigators have been monitoring chat rooms and fetish websites for child molesters since the advent of the internet. But violent sex fantasy role playing sites present a new level of legal complexity.

"Everybody is concerned about individuals whose sex fantasies reflect a dangerous mindset," said Martin Klein, a sex therapist who has testified in state and federal sex crimes cases. "The problem is the people that are actually dangerous - their fantasies tend to look very, very similar to those of healthy people. On the Internet, the line between imagination and behavior has gotten really very thin."

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Dilts


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Kerry opens first official overseas trip in London

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, walks toward 10 Downing Street with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, for a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, not pictured, in London on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, during Kerry?s first official trip overseas as secretary. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, walks toward 10 Downing Street with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, for a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, not pictured, in London on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, during Kerry?s first official trip overseas as secretary. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, walks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague as he arrives at Downing Street in London, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

(AP) ? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has kicked off his first official overseas trip by meeting with British leaders in London on the first leg of a hectic nine-day dash through Europe and the Middle East.

Kerry's maiden diplomatic meeting abroad was on Monday with British Prime Minister David Cameron for talks expected to focus on the crisis in Syria and Iran's nuclear program. Later, he will see Foreign Secretary William Hague before flying to Germany for meetings in Berlin.

Kerry arrived on London late Sunday as the Obama administration launched a frantic effort to try to salvage a Syrian opposition conference that Kerry plans to attend this week in Rome. Some members of the sharply divided Syrian Opposition Council are threatening to boycott the meeting.

Associated Press


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Kim Morgan: The Oscar Category That Should Be


Do you remember the song "You'll Be In My Heart" by Phil Collins? It was from Tarzan and it won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1999 (beating out Aimee Mann's "Save Me" from Magnolia for Christ's sake). Anyway, do you remember that "Tarzan" song over, say, The Who's "A Quick One While He's Away" from Wes Anderson's Rushmore the year before? That Phil Collins song was a hit, I know, but I'm going to say at this point, you, cinema lover, might not remember that tune. Phil Collins probably doesn't even remember "You'll Be In My Heart" over The Who. Or The Creation. Or The Faces. Or Cat Stevens. Or The Rolling Stones. Or the entire Rushmore soundtrack.


My point? Why not an Oscar category for?Best Soundtrack? Or, rather, the best use of pre-existing music??


Though obviously Best Original Song should remain, and there's plenty of now iconic Best Originals, like "The Way You Look Tonight" (from Swing Time, 1936) or "Over the Rainbow" (from The Wizard of Oz, 1939), often the Best Original Song is NOT the song we remember. Why did?Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" show up on an ad for a cruise line? (They better have good drugs on that cruise.)


The ability to create a meaningful, visceral, powerfully?edited?soundtrack (and working with songs so damn?perfectly and often songs not usually heard in movies,?like the not one, but two songs by the band Love in Bottle Rocket, or Dignan running from the cops, tuned perfectly to The Stones' "2000 Man") is a specific talent that, thanks to Music Supervisors and the editors and directors who work with them (*note: a good question a commenter raised is, based on the collaborative nature of the process, who would win the award?) has created moments in movies so iconic, that we often can't imagine the song without the scene.

I can't even listen to "Born to Be Wild" unless I'm watching Easy Rider (as much as I love Steppenwolf), and The Byrds' "Wasn't Born to Follow" remains one of my favorite moments in that picture. And then there's the opening credits of Mean Streets?scored to The Ronettes' "Be My Baby," the Stealers Wheel "Stuck in the Middle With You" ear severing in Reservoir Dogs, Margot Tennenbaum walking off the Green Line bus to Nico's "These Days," Billy Batts meeting his demise to Donovan's "Atlantis," and more and more and more.

From American Graffiti to Casino?to Dazed and Confused to Crooklyn to?Boogie Nights to 2001 to Dead Presidents to?Pulp Fiction to Velvet Goldmine to Trainspotting to Candy, to Harold and Maude (even as some of the songs were written for the movie, other were on Stevens' "Mona Bone Jakon" and "Tea for the Tillerman") to Floyd Mutrux's Dusty and Sweets McGee, to every freaking Wes Anderson movie (this year's Moonrise Kingdom gives us Fran?oise?Hardy, Hank Willams and Benjamin Britten)?-- I don't even know why I'm listing them. You know these movies. And their songs.


There should be an award. If this category existed, we might have been allowed the pleasure of watching Rodriguez sing one of his beautiful, soul wrenching songs at the ceremony, from the Oscar-winning documentary Searching For Sugarman.?


Musical supervisors deserve some Oscars, Martin Scorsese deserves a lifetime achievement award for the Goodfellas?helicopter sequence alone and The Coen Brothers should win some kind of trophy for making us remember how cool Kenny Rogers used to be via Lebowski's?dream scored to "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." Think about it Oscar. And listen.

From my Criticwire Survery answer to:?What new category should the Academy add to the Oscars?

Read more Kim Morgan at Sunset Gun.


Follow Kim Morgan on Twitter:

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Gloomy Italians vote in election crucial for euro zone

ROME (Reuters) - Italy voted on Sunday in one of the most unpredictable elections in years, with many voters expressing rage against a discredited elite and doubt that a government will emerge strong enough to combat a severe economic crisis.

"I am pessimistic. Nothing will change," said Luciana Li Mandri, 37, as she cast a ballot in the Sicilian capital Palermo on the first of two days of voting that continues on Monday.

"The usual thieves will be in government."

Her gloom reflected the mood across Italy, where many voters said they thought the new administration would not last long, just the opposite of what Italy needs to combat the longest slump in 20 years, mounting unemployment and a huge public debt.

The election is being closely watched by investors whose memories are fresh of a debt crisis which forced out scandal-plagued conservative premier Silvio Berlusconi 15 months ago and saw him replaced by economics professor Mario Monti.

"I'm not confident that the government that emerges from the election will be able to solve any of our problems," said Attilio Bianchetti, a 55-year-old building tradesman in Milan.

Underlining his disilluion with the established parties, he voted for the 5-Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo.

An iconclastic, 64-year-old Genoese, Grillo has screamed himself hoarse with obscenity-laced attacks on politicians that have channeled the anger of Italians, especially a frustrated young generation hit by record unemployment.

"He's the only real new element in a political landscape where we've been seeing the same faces for too long," said Vincenzo Cannizzaro, 48, in Palermo.

Opinion polls give the centre-left coalition of Pier Luigi Bersani a narrow lead but the result has been thrown open by the prospect of a huge protest vote against Monti's painful austerity measures and rage at a wave of corruption scandals.

A weak government could usher in new instability in the euro zone's third largest economy and cause another crisis of confidence in the European Union's single currency.

Television tycoon Berlusconi, showing off unrivalled media skills and displaying extraordinary energy for a man of 76, has increased uncertainty over the past couple of months by halving the gap between his centre-right and Bersani.

"I am pessimistic. There is such political fragmentation that we will again have the problem of ungovernability" said Marta, a lawyer voting in Rome who did not want to give her family name. "I fear the new government won't last long."

Another Roman voter, lab technician Manila Luce, 34, said: "I am voting Grillo and I hope a lot of people do. Because it's the only way to show how sick to the back teeth we are with the old parties."

Voting continues until 10 p.m. (4 p.m. EST) and resumes on Monday at 7 a.m. Exit polls will be published shortly after polls close at 3 p.m. on Monday. Full official results are expected by early Tuesday.

Snow in the north was expected to last into Monday and could discourage some of the 47 million eligible voters. Authorities said they were prepared for the weather and in the central city of Bologna roads were cleared of snow before voting started.


Several bare-breasted women protested against Berlusconi when he voted in Milan. They were bundled away by police.

The four-time premier, known for off-color jokes and a constant target of feminists, is on trial for having sex with an underage prostitute during "bunga bunga" parties at his villa.

Most experts expect a coalition between Bersani and Monti to form the next administration, but whatever government emerges will have to try to reverse years of failure to revitalize one of the most sluggish economies in the developed world.

The widespread despair over the state of the country, where a series of corruption scandals has highlighted the stark divide between a privileged political elite and millions of ordinary Italians struggling to make ends meet, has left deep scars.

"It's our fault, Italian citizens. It's our closed mentality. We're just not Europeans," said voter Li Mandri in Palermo.

"We're all about getting favors when we study, getting a protected job when we work," she said. "That's the way we are and we can only be represented by people like that as well."


Even if Bersani wins as expected, Analysts are divided over whether he will be able to form a stable majority that can force through sweeping economic reforms.

His centre-left is expected to have firm control of the lower house, thanks to rules that give a strong majority to whichever party wins the most votes nationally.

But a much closer battle will be fought for the Senate which is elected on a regional basis and which has equal law making powers to the chamber.

Berlusconi has clawed back support by promising to repeal Monti's hated new housing tax, the IMU, and to refund the money. He relentlessly attacked what he called the "Germano-centric" policies of the former European Union commissioner.

Think-tank consultant Mario, 60, said on his way to vote in Bologna that Bersani's Democratic Party was the only group serious enough to repair the economy: "They're not perfect," he said. "But they've got the organization and the union backing that will help them push through structural reforms."

Despite Berlusconi's success, Grillo has tapped into the same public frustration as the conservative tycoon and pollsters say his 5-Star Movement of political novices could overtake the centre-right to take second place in the vote.

Rivals have branded Grillo a threat to democracy - a vivid image in a country ruled by fascists for two decades until World War Two. Several voters who spoke to Reuters said Grillo was not the answer because of his lack of concrete policies and the inexperience of those who will sit in parliament for 5-Star.

"Grillo is a populist and populism doesn't work in a democracy," said retired notary Pasquale Lebanon, 76, as he voted for Bersani's Democratic Party in Milan.

"I'm very worried. There seems to be no way out from a political point of view, or for being able to govern," said Calogero Giallanza, a 45-year-old musician in Rome as he also voted for Bersani.

"There's bound to be a mess in the Senate because, as far as I can see the 5-Star Movement is unstoppable."

(Additional reporting by Cristiano Corvino, Lisa Jucca, Jennifer Clark, Matthias Baehr, Jennifer Clark and Sara Rossi in Milan, Stephen Jewkes in Bologna, Wladimir Pantaleone in Palermo, Stefano Bernabei and Massimiliano Di Giorgio in Rome; Writing by James Mackenzie and Barry Moody; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)


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Facebook app updated with free calling to U.S., Canada

Facebook app updated with free calling to U.S., Canada, more

Facebook for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad has been updated to version 5.5. New features include an improved button design, intended to make commenting, liking, and sharing easier on News Feed posts, and the inclusion of free VoIP calls for users in the U.S. and Canada, something previously introduced in the separate Facebook Messenger app.

VoIP requires Wi-Fi or cellular data. And, of course, reports of bugginess are already coming in... If you've tried out the latest Facebook update, let me know how it's working for you. If you haven't tried Facebook for iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad yet, grab it from the App Store via the link below.


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Monday?s Political Ledes (TIME)

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McCarthy's 'Identity Thief' tops box office again

FILE -This undated publicity file image released by Universal Pictures shows Jason Bateman, left, and Melissa McCarthy in a scene from, "Identity Thief." As of Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, ?Identity Thief?, with a cumulative total of $93.7 million viewers, is the biggest hit so far in 2013. (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

FILE -This undated publicity file image released by Universal Pictures shows Jason Bateman, left, and Melissa McCarthy in a scene from, "Identity Thief." As of Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, ?Identity Thief?, with a cumulative total of $93.7 million viewers, is the biggest hit so far in 2013. (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

NEW YORK (AP) ? Hollywood's latest films performed tepidly at the box-office on Oscar weekend, with Melissa McCarthy's "Identity Thief" returning to the top spot in its third week of release.

The Universal comedy earned $14.1 million on the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday, enough to regain the box-office title after losing it last week to 20th Century Fox's "A Good Day to Die Hard." The Bruce Willis action sequel faded domestically, but not overseas, where it took in $35.7 million.

With a cumulative total of $93.7 million, "Identity Thief" is the biggest hit so far in 2013. Though the film has been badly reviewed by critics, the road trip duo of McCarthy and Jason Bateman has proved popular at the multiplexes, where no other comedy has been around to challenge it.

More than anything, "Identity Thief" has proven the stardom of McCarthy, following her breakout performance in "Bridesmaids."

"The holding power of a film always gives you an idea of the strength of its concept or its star," said Nikki Rocco, Universal head of distribution. "In this case, it's both."

With the industry gathering for the Oscars on Sunday, it's always a weekend where moviegoers' attention goes more to the Academy Awards than the movie theater. For the fifth week in a row, the box office was down as compared to last year's business

One of the two new films in wide release, Lionsgate's Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson action film, "Snitch," opened with $13 million. That was a decent but not strong showing for "Snitch" in a year where action films have largely fared poorly.

Though "A God Day to Die Hard," the fourth film in the franchise, led the box office last week, it slid 60 percent in its second week to $10 million. But it continued to dominate internationally, bringing it to a three-week worldwide total to $184.8 million. (It opened a week earlier in some countries.)

Earlier action films from Arnold Schwarzenegger ("The Last Stand"), Jason Statham ("Parker") and Sylvester Stallone ("Bullet to the Head") performed far worse.

The other new wide release was the Weinstein Co.'s "Dark Skies," a PG-13 horror film starring Keri Russell. It debuted with $8.9 million.

The down weekend was unlikely to dampen the Oscar celebration. The nine best picture nominees have largely fared well at the box office. This weekend, eight of them are in the top 21 films.

For the first time since the category's number of nominees was extended in 2009, six of the nominees grossed more than $100 million domestically: "Argo," ''Lincoln," ''Les Miserables," ''Silver Linings Playbook," ''Django Unchained" and "Life of Pi." ''Zero Dark Thirty" missed narrowly with $91.6 million going into the Oscars.

"It's one of the best performing groups of nominees I've ever seen," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker "Great night for Hollywood, tough day at the box office."

A box-office bump could follow for Sunday's big winners, though any benefit might be better found overseas, where some of the films are still expanding. The best picture favorite, Ben Affleck's Iran rescue thriller "Argo," is already out on DVD in North America.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Where available, latest international numbers are included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. "Identity Thief," $14 million, ($170,000 international).

2. "Snitch," $13 million.

3. "Escape From Planet Earth," $11 million.

4. "Safe Haven," $10.6 million, ($1.4 million international).

5. "A Good Day to Die Hard," $10 million, ($35.7 million international).

6. "Dark Skies," $8.9 million.

7. "Silver Linings Playbook," $6.1 million, ($5 million international).

8. "Warm Bodies," $4.8 million, ($2.5 million international).

9. "Side Effects," $3.6 million.

10. "Beautiful Creatures," $3.4 million, ($4 million international).


Estimated weekend ticket sales at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:

1. "A Good Day to Die Hard," $35.7 million.

2. "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," $18.6 million.

3. "Les Miserables," $9.3 million.

4. "Django Unchained," $8.5 million.

5. "Wreck-It Ralph," $8 million.

6. "New World," $7 million.

7. "Miracles in Cell No. 7," $6.2 million.

8. "Mama," $5.5 million.

9. "Flight," $5.1 million.

10. "Lincoln," $5 million.

(tie) "Silver Linings Playbook," $5 million.




Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.

Associated Press


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