Wednesday March 6, 2013

Dow Wow: Stock index surges to new record, but will skittish investors buy stocks again?

NEW YORK (AP) -- The stock market is back.

Five and a half years after the start of a frightening drop that erased $11 trillion from stock portfolios and made investors despair of ever getting their money back, the Dow Jones industrial average has regained all the losses suffered during the Great Recession and reached a new high. The blue-chip index rose 125.95 points Tuesday and closed at 14,253.77, topping the previous record of 14,164.53 on Oct. 9, 2007, by 89.24 points.

"It signals that things are getting back to normal," says Nicolas Colas, chief market strategist at BNY ConvergEx, a brokerage. "Unemployment is too high, economic growth too sluggish, but stocks are anticipating improvement."

The new record suggests that investors who did not panic and sell their stocks in the 2008-2009 financial crisis have fully recovered. Those who have reinvested dividends or added to their holdings have done even better. Since bottoming at 6,547.05 on March 9, 2009, the Dow has risen 7,706.72 points or 118 percent.

The Dow record does not include the impact of inflation. Adjusted for that, the Dow would have to reach 15,502 to match its old record.

Syrian jets bomb northern city overrun by rebels,
who are fighting pockets
of resistance

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian jets bombed opposition-held buildings Tuesday in the strategic northern city of Raqqa, a day after rebels overran the onetime regime stronghold and captured its provincial governor. A toppled statue of President Bashar Assad’s father was defaced with graffiti reading, "Tomorrow will be better."

The rebels continued to battle pockets of government troops in Raqqa, struggling to crush the remaining resistance in the city of 500,000 people on the Euphrates River.

If successful, it would be the first major city they would completely control in the civil war, and it would consolidate their recent gains in the northern Syrian towns along the historic river that runs from Turkey to Iraq.

"This is the beginning, and other Syrian cities will soon fall, one by one God willing," said Mustafa Othman, a Raqqa-based activist who spoke via Skype, with the sounds of gunfire crackling in the background.

But government airstrikes and intermittent clashes, particularly around two security buildings, raised doubt about whether the rebels would be able to maintain their hold on Raqqa, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) east of the commercial capital of Aleppo.

Senate intelligence committee approves Obama’s choice of John Brennan for CIA director

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Tuesday to approve President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the CIA after winning a behind-the-scenes battle with the White House over access to a series of top-secret legal opinions that justify the use of lethal drone strikes against terror suspects, including American citizens.

John Brennan’s installation at the spy agency has been delayed as Senate Democrats and Republicans have pressed the Obama administration to allow a review of the classified documents prepared by the Justice Department. The senators have argued they can’t perform adequate oversight without reviewing the contents of the opinions, but the White House had resisted requests for full disclosure.

The intelligence committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement Tuesday that the committee voted 12-3 to send Brennan’s nomination to the full Senate for confirmation. The panel’s deliberations were held behind closed doors. Feinstein did not identify the senators who voted against Brennan.

Although Brennan has made it out of the committee, Republicans have threatened to hold up his nomination unless the White House supplies them with classified information, including emails among top U.S. national security officials, detailing the Obama administration’s actions immediately following the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed during the raid.

Feinstein said the full Senate should act quickly confirm Brennan, who spent 25 years at the CIA before becoming Obama’s top counterterrorism and homeland security adviser in the White House.

Suspect in NYC crash
that killed expectant parents, their baby says he’s ready to surrender

NEW YORK (AP) -- The suspected driver who fled the scene of a grisly crash that killed a pregnant woman, her husband and ultimately the child they were expecting is meeting with an attorney Tuesday and plans to report to police.

Julio Acevedo, 44, told the Daily News of New York that he was speeding away from a gunman who was trying to shoot at him early Sunday when the accident with a hired car happened in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

He said he fled the scene because he was worried he’d be killed and didn’t know the couple had died until he saw it in newspapers.

"My heart goes out to them," Acevedo told the newspaper Tuesday in a phone call arranged by a friend. "I didn’t know they died until I saw the news."

The friend who arranged the call, Derrick Hamilton, said Acevedo was running for his life after the crash, and called it a terrible accident. "He’s meeting with a lawyer right now, they are going to arrange how to turn himself in," Hamilton told The Associated Press.

Victims’ advocates research new avenues for legal action over abuse cases after pope retires

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Attorneys who have tried unsuccessfully for years to sue the Vatican over failures to stop clergy sex abuse are looking into whether former Pope Benedict XVI is more legally vulnerable in retirement, especially if he travels beyond the Vatican walls.

A U.S. lawyer for the Vatican argues that, like any former head of state, Benedict retains legal immunity regardless of whether he is in or out of office. But advocates for victims say immunity in this case should be tested, since modern-day courts have never before dealt with an emeritus pope.

"So much of this is unprecedented," said Pamela Spees, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which is pressing the International Criminal Court to investigate the Vatican’s response to abusive priests as a crime against humanity. "There’s nothing set in stone about it."

Benedict stepped down last week, becoming the first pontiff in six centuries to do so. Before he became head of the Roman Catholic Church in 2005, he spent more than two decades in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that over the years gained authority to oversee abuse claims against clergy worldwide.

Still, his record on trying to end abuse stands above that of many other church officials.

Egyptian president considers giving military full control of restive
city amid clashes

CAIRO (AP) -- A security agency headquarters was set on fire as protesters battled police for a third straight day in Port Said on Tuesday, and Egypt’s Islamist president considered handing the military full control of the restive Mediterranean coastal city in a sign of the collapse of control there.

A handover to the military would be recognition of the failure of President Mohammed Morsi’s government to bring calm to Port Said, which has been in turmoil since late January. Furious at the president and the security forces, residents have been waging campaign of protests and strikes amounting to an outright revolt against the central government.

But Morsi appeared to back down from the idea. Tuesday evening, his office issued a statement denying Morsi had made such a decision and underlining that the police remain "the main authority in charge of securing the city." Military spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali also denied Morsi had asked the army to take over.

The reluctance to call in the military could reflect the multiple conflicting interests and rivalries in Egypt’s halls of power. Morsi likely is loath to hand the generals greater authority. Amid increasing tensions with Morsi’s administration, the military is hesitant to be seen to be acting on his behalf and risk a clash with protesters. And the Interior Ministry, in charge of domestic security forces, may be resisting the humiliation of having security duties in the city taken from its hands -- setting a possible precedent for doing so in other parts of Egypt.

But the turmoil deepened the perception of confusion in Egypt’s leadership in the face of months of unrest that has been mounting around the country, though the heaviest protests have been in Port Said, where three civilians and three policemen have been killed and hundreds injured since Sunday.

Military leaders say House GOP budget bill will ease some of pain of defense cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A massive House Republican measure to keep the government operating would ease some of the pain of automatic spending cuts slamming the Defense Department, the nation’s senior military leaders told Congress on Tuesday.

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff painted a dire picture of construction projects on hold, limits on aircraft carriers patrolling the waters and even a delay in the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery due to the $43 billion in across-the-board cuts that kicked in Friday.

Problematic for the Pentagon has been the combination of the automatic cuts and the government still operating at last year’s spending levels. The GOP measure unveiled on Monday would give the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments sought-after flexibility in spending that other agencies lack.

The military leaders embraced that prospect, a political boost for the GOP measure just days before the House votes.

"It mitigates at least one-third of our problem," said Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, who earlier told the panel that the budget cuts and last year’s spending level had left the service with an $18 billion shortfall in operation and maintenance plus $6 billion in cuts in other programs.