5 reasons Charlie Crist should (and shouldn’t) run for Florida governor

It was the biggest piece of thoroughly unsurprising news in months: Charlie Crist is becoming a Democrat. The next expectation is Crist will announce a campaign for Florida governor. He’s tanned, rested and ready after two years at a high-profile law firm and anyone who follows his career has a hard time picturing Crist out of public life forever. But the Florida Republicans’ prince-turned-pariah is no lock to win a Democratic primary against the likes of Alex Sink, let alone a general election against Gov. Rick Scott, who can pour tens of millions of his own money into a reelection campaign. A Crist candidacy has pros and cons. Here are five reasons why the former governor should run again and five reasons why he shouldn’t.



1. Democrats need a winner. Tired of losing, Florida Democrats are so hungry for some real influence in state government that they will cut Crist slack for his blatant opportunism and overlook some of his more strident conservative stands.

Yes, President Barack Obama won Florida twice in a row, but Democrats have lost the past four gubernatorial races and now hold just one of six statewide offices. The ultimate prize for party-building and fundraising is the Governor’s Mansion, and Democrats only have to see how relentlessly the Florida GOP has attacked Crist for months to realize how seriously it views him as a threat.

A sizable chunk of the Democratic primary electorate won’t trust Crist, so the more crowded the primary, the better for him. So far, it looks like a crowd with potential contenders including former Chief Financial Officer Sink, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, former state Sen. Nan Rich of Broward County, state Sen. Jeremy Ring of Broward and former Miami-Dade Commissioner Jimmy Morales. But all would have to spend millions to become known statewide.

2. The Democratic coalition. Trial lawyers and teachers are two critical groups to bankroll a statewide campaign, and Crist is uniquely positioned to win over both. He works for one of the state’s most prominent trial lawyers, John “For the People” Morgan, and teachers praised Crist even when he was a Republican governor for vetoing a controversial teacher merit pay bill.

Crist also has wide support in the party’s most loyal constituency, African-Americans. They appreciated his outreach and his expansion of the attorney general’s power to prosecute civil rights cases and a decision, overturned by Scott and others, to make it easier for ex-felons to regain their civil rights so they could vote.

3. Obama. Crist has to be the president’s favorite Florida politician. He was one of the few Republicans to enthusiastically endorse Obama’s $700 billion stimulus package, and Crist was all over Florida this election season stumping for Obama. He raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for the president’s reelection campaign and spoke at the Democratic National Convention. At the moment, “the hug” looks pretty good.

And Sink? Right after her narrow loss to Scott in 2010, she told POLITICO the “tone deaf” Obama administration was to blame for her loss. “They got a huge wake-up call two days ago, but unfortunately they took a lot of Democrats down with them,” Sink said.

Obama and senior political advisor David Axelrod have lavishly praised Crist, and it’s likely they would be eager to help him win America’s biggest battleground state. Another big Crist fan: Bill Clinton, whose wife may be keen on having a Democrat lead Florida heading into 2016.

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Riveting Details Emerge from CT School Rampage

As morning turned to afternoon on Friday, further details continued to emerge from Newtown, CT, a tight-knit community shaken by a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took the lives of innocent students and teachers, in addition to the gunman, reportedly identified as Adam Lanza.

RELATED: President Fights Tears as He Addresses Nation

As President Barack Obama touched on in his tear-jerking press conference, this is not the first time the nation has witnessed a tragedy of this kind. The recent mass shooting at an Aurora, CO movie theater is just one instance of such violence. Columbine High School and Virginia Tech also resonate as prime examples.

Hollywood's biggest stars were quick to react to the news on Twitter and made an outcry for stricter gun control regulations.

Watch the video for ET's complete coverage of today's biggest headline.

RELATED: Celebs Tweet Reactions to CT School Shooting

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Domino's founder sues federal government over mandatory contraception coverage in Obamacare

DETROIT — The founder of Domino's Pizza is suing the federal government over mandatory contraception coverage in the health care law.

Tom Monaghan, a devout Roman Catholic, says contraception isn't health care but a "gravely immoral" practice.

He filed a lawsuit Friday in federal court. It also lists as a plaintiff Domino's Farms, a Michigan office park complex that Monaghan owns.

Monaghan offers health insurance that excludes contraception and abortion for employees. The new federal law requires employers to offer insurance including contraception coverage or risk fines.


Domino's pizza founder Tom Monaghan in 1996

Monaghan says the law violates his rights, and is asking a judge to strike down the mandate. There are similar lawsuits pending nationwide.

A message left Saturday for Monaghan's attorney, Richard Thompson, was not immediately returned.

The government says the contraception mandate benefits women.

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Miami in spotlight at AVCC, other entrepreneurship events

Entrepreneurs from around the world took the stage during this packed week of entrepreneurship events in Miami: Florida International University’s Americas Venture Capital Conference (known as AVCC), HackDay, Wayra’s Global DemoDay and Endeavor’s International Selection Panel.

The events, all part of the first Innovate MIA week, also put the spotlight on Miami as it continues to try to develop into a technology hub for the Americas.

“While I like art, I absolutely love what is happening today... The time has come to become a tech hub in Miami,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, who kicked off the venture capital conference on Thursday. He told the audience of 450 investors and entrepreneurs about the county’s $1 million investment in the Launch Pad Tech Accelerator in downtown Miami.

“I have no doubt that this gathering today will produce new ideas and new business ventures that will put our community on a fast track to becoming a center for innovative, tech-driven entrepreneurship,” Gimenez said.

Brad Feld, an early-stage investor and a founder of TechStars, cautioned that won’t happen overnight. Building a startup community can take five, 10, even 15 years, and those leading the effort, who should be entrepreneurs themselves, need to take the long-term view, he told the audience via video. “You can create very powerful entrepreneurial ecosystems in any city... I’ve spent some time in Miami, I think you are off to a great start.”

Throughout the two-day AVCC at the JW Brickell Marriott, as well as the Endeavor and Wayra events, entrepreneurs from around the world pitched their companies, hoping to persuade investors to part with some of their green.

And in some cases, the entrepreneurs could win money, too. During the venture capital conference, 29 companies —including eight from South Florida such as itMD, which connects doctors, patients and imaging facilities to facilitate easy access of records — competed for more than $50,000 in cash and prizes through short “elevator’’ pitches. Each took questions from the judges, then demoed their products or services in the conference “Hot Zone,” a room adjoining the ballroom. Some companies like oLyfe, a platform to organize what people share online, are hoping to raise funds for expansion into Latin America. Others like Ideame, a trilingual crowdfunding platform, were laser focused on pan-Latin American opportunities.

Winning the grand prize of $15,000 in cash and art was Trapezoid Digital Security of Miami, which provides hardware-based security solutions for enterprise and cloud environments. Fotopigeon of Tampa, a photo-sharing and printing service targeting the military and prison niches, scored two prizes.

The conference offered opportunities to hear formal presentations on current trends — among them the surge of start-ups in Brazil; the importance of mobile apps and overheated company valuations — and informal opportunities to connect with fellow entrepreneurs.

Speakers included Gaston Legorburu of SapientNitro, Albert Santalo of CareCloud and Juan Diego Calle of .Co Internet, all South Florida entrepreneurs. Jerry Haar, executive director of FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, which produced the conference with a host of sponsors, said the organizers worked hard to make the conference relevant to both the local and Latin American audience, with panels on funding and recruiting for startups, for instance.

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Pentagon official stepping down to join FIU

Miami native Frank O. Mora is stepping down from a high post in the Pentagon to become director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University.

Mora, 48, has spent the past three and a half years guiding Defense Department policy in the Americas as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere — a position that has had oversight of the U.S. Southern Command during a period that included Haiti’s devastating earthquake and lifting travel restrictions on Cuba.

An academic who came to the job from the National War College, Mora held the post with a low-profile approach — few photo opportunities and below-the-radar travel throughout the region.

In a rare interview Friday, Mora disclosed his last day on the job will be Jan. 24, days after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, and that the toughest task of his tenure was the U.S. response to Haiti’s Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake .

“I think we saved lives,” he said of the multi-agency U.S. military-led response to the earthquake. “We had to mobilize everything we had and the resources we had.”

Still, analysis later found international efforts were duplicated and fell short in certain places of the impoverished island.

“It was completely uncoordinated with all these partner nations. The United Nations had the lead; we had a big presence,” he said. “But there wasn’t a coordinating mechanism.”

As a result of that disaster and another earthquake in Chile, Mora and the Department of Defense have championed a system of multi-national coordination for future humanitarian disasters in the hemisphere. It will start next year with a website being managed by Peru, headquarters of the next secretariat of the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, where nations can share contacts and information about resources being brought to a specific disaster.

As for Cuba, Mora said he was surely disappointed that his tenure didn’t see a shift in the political status quo there.

“Certainly I would’ve liked to see important change and transition,” he said. But the Obama administration’s lifting of travel restrictions likely has “had some impact on the families that have been able to see each other.”

Beyond that, he said, “it’s hard to measure what impact it had on the process of change in Cuba.”

For Mora, the new job provides a homecoming. He grew up in Miami, graduated from the old Belen Jesuit Preparatory School on SW Eighth Street in 1982 and, after getting a bachelor’s degree in political science at George Washington University, obtained both a master’s and doctorate from the University of Miami.

Now Mora is crossing town from the university where he studied to rival FIU, where now-President Mark Rosenberg founded LACC in 1979 “to promote the study of Latin America and the Caribbean in Florida and throughout the United States.”

When he starts work in Miami in June, Mora has a new vision for a center that was founded with a Cold War focus: Acting as a clearing house and think tank on common regional issues from energy and infrastructure to public health and the environment.

”These are the hot topic issues in the region that are of great interest,” he said, adding that when he’s not focusing on raising funds for the center, a major area of responsibility, he’ll emphasize its expertise on these issues through conferences and collaboration.

“Those are some of the critical issues going forward,” Rosenberg said Friday, noting that by bringing a “talented academic” from the Pentagon, FIU was getting “a person who understands the real world and the policy interface between the academy and practice.”

Plus, he said, Mora’s University of Miami pedigree and Pentagon service are in keeping with cross-town collaboration as well as LACC’s earliest support of Southcom in Miami. “We try to think out of the box,” he said, “and we don’t necessarily want to get pigeon-holed into what we should do and what we should be.”

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Sony’s PlayStation 4 could lose to the next Xbox before it’s even released

I love all game consoles equally. My Xbox 360 is used equally as much as my PlayStation 3. The Wii — oh, I’ll just leave it at that. The current generation of consoles is all but over — 10-year life cycle be damned — and new consoles are rumored to be coming next fall. If not next fall, then in 2014. Whatever is the case, Sony (SNE) can’t afford to lag in third place again. Sure, the Xbox 360 and PS3 are neck-in-neck in global lifetime sales, and the Xbox 360 did have a one year head start, but coming off the disappointing PS Vita, “confidence is less high” that Sony will deliver a console next year in time to compete with Microsoft (MSFT), according to Kotaku.

[More from BGR: Has the iPhone peaked? Apple’s iPhone 4S seen outselling iPhone 5]

I want a new console just as much as any other gamer. There’s a reason people are still pouncing on those Wii U consoles and flipping them on eBay. Six years is unusually long for a console to still be kicking around.

[More from BGR: Apple execs said to be ‘seething’ over Google Maps praise]

According to the well-informed Stephen Totilo, Editor-in-Chief of Kotaku, the game blog that first broke news on the next-gen Xbox, Microsoft’s “Durango” is ”on the mark” and “Sony appears to inspire less confidence…due to the on-and-off troubles of the PlayStation 3 and the struggles of the Vita vs. how much lost confidence is due to any problems looming for PS4.“

Totilo says “confidence is high that the next Xbox will be out in time for next Christmas” and confidence is low that the PS4 will be right there on store shelves next to it.

The “on-and-off troubles of the PlayStation 3″ Totilo is referring to is the anchor that’s weighed the console down since launch: tougher development due to the Cell processor and less available RAM – 256MB vs. 512MB in the Xbox 360.

In the months before the PS3′s launch in 2006, Sony said the console would be the most powerful console ever created, and here we are six years later and multi-platform games on the console consistently end up being buggier and uglier than on the Xbox 360 in many cases. Cases in point: Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 and Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Sony’s in a rut right now. It has the chops to build beautiful and powerful hardware that’s a developer’s dream (ex: PS Vita), but at the same time, it’s always launching after the competition nowadays.

If Sony’s learned any lessons in the last half a decade, it better apply them to the PS4. The console needs to offer next-level processing and graphics. It needs to be backward-compatible with PS3 games and play Blu-ray discs. It should be small and quiet. It should have a strong online platform, support a greater array of apps and most importantly be easy for developers to program for.

Game exclusives will always be important, but now that games are million-dollar productions, multi-platform will be where developers hope to reap back their costs.

With Microsoft said to be preparing an “Xbox 720″ and an “Xbox Lite,” Sony can’t make the mistake of launching late or pricing the console too high. A launch in spring of 2014 would mean Sony will miss Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the two biggest shopping days of the year that bring in massive sales.  Ceding sales and market share to Microsoft and Nintendo by launching late would be disastrous.

The PS3 screwed up too many times. At this point, the PS4 needs to be perfect out of the door.

This article was originally published by BGR

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Gaming News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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Old School vs. New in Billy & Bette's New Movie

Often times the best movies are the ones that come from personal experiences, and that's just what Billy Crystal mined for his new comedy with Bette Midler, Parental Guidance. Get a first look behind the scenes!

Video: Watch the 'Parental Guidance' Trailer 

Inspired by his own real-life experience of being asked to babysit his daughter's kids for several days, Billy says he immediately cranked out a story after all the mishaps and misunderstandings he endured: "It became a real contemporary story about old school vs. new school, about how I as a parent parented, and how my daughter is parenting now -- and our conflicts about doing that."

In theaters Christmas Day, Parental Guidance casts Billy as Artie, a grandfather who's used to calling the shots. When his eager-to-please wife Diane (played by Bette) agrees to babysit their three grandkids -- much to Artie's chagrin -- modern problems collide with Artie and Diane's old school methods of tough rules. But despite the numerous problems that come up -- yielding hilarious comedic dividends -- the family ultimately learns that they can come together by embracing the best of both worlds. Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott also play the kids' type-A helicopter parents.

Video: Helen Mirren & Billy Crystal Vamp Up 'When Harry Met Sally 2'

"It's a human story told in a very funny and sweet way," says Bette. "I think everybody's in this film -- we've all clashed with our parents … we've all been treated well or badly, we all have vulnerabilities, we've all tried really, really hard to accomplish something and either succeeded or failed at it. It's a human experience."

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Gunman's rampage took only minutes, cop radio calls reveal

AFP/Getty Images

State Police inspect the area near Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Judging by the radio calls, it took only a few minutes for a gunman to snuff out the lives of 20 Newtown school children and six adults.

The first word of the horrifying Newtown school shooting went out over the town’s police radio at 9:36 this morning.

Two minutes later, a dispatcher reported the gunshots had stopped.


“Sandy Hook School. Caller is indicating she thinks there’s someone shooting in the building,” a Newtown dispatcher radioed in the town’s first report of the killings.

Less than a minute later, the dispatcher radioed:

“Units responding to the Sandy Hook School. The front glass has been broken in front of the school They are unsure why ...

“All units, the individual I have on the phone said he is continuing to hear what he believes to be gunfire."

Amid the confusing situation, officers can be heard reporting a possible second shooter headed for the rear of the school.

“The shooting appears to have stopped,” the dispatcher radioed at 9:38 a.m. “There is silence at this time. The school is in lockdown.”

Moments later, an officer apparently at the scene is heard saying: “They’re coming at me through this wood.”

“This is it,” said another.

And after that, at 9:46 a.m., as police searched the school, someone who could not hide the emotion in his voice radioed these haunting words: “I’ve got bodies here. Need ambulances.”

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Gasoline prices soon to hit low point for 2012

Gas prices will soon drop to their lowest level of the year.

By Monday, the national average should fall below the $3.28 a gallon that drivers paid on Jan. 1, according to analysts. The drop is a gift for those hitting the road during what is expected to be the busiest Christmas travel season in six years.

Still, it’s more like a stocking stuffer. That’s because for the second straight year, Americans will spend a record amount on gasoline. The government estimates that gas averaged $3.63 a gallon this year, 10 cents above the record set a year ago.

Drivers can only hope that forecasts for lower prices next year come true.

A combination of high oil prices and supply shortages caused by refinery and pipeline problems kept gas prices elevated for most of the year. The national average hit a high of $3.94 a gallon in early April and was around $3.87 in September after Hurricane Isaac disrupted supplies from the Gulf Coast.

Prices in most areas have fallen since then as supplies got replenished and refiners switched to cheaper winter blends of fuel. However, New York and New Jersey saw temporary spikes in November due to Superstorm Sandy. At $3.77 a gallon, New York’s average price is the second-highest in the nation, behind Hawaii’s $4, according to auto club AAA.

Californians continue to pay some of the highest gas prices in the U.S. But they’re likely relieved to be spending an average of $3.59 a gallon just two months after a refinery fire and pipeline shutdown sent prices at the corner station soaring close to $5.

The nation’s lowest prices are found mostly in the lower Midwest and parts of the South. Missouri is closest to cracking the $3 level, with its average price of $3.01. Oklahoma, South Carolina and four other states show an average of $3.10 a gallon or less.

Florida’s average price for a gallon of regular was $3.29 Friday, almost flat with the price one year ago. In Miami, the price was just shy of $3.37, two cents higher than a year ago. In Fort Lauderdale, the price was slight less than $3.38, almost three cents higher than a year ago.

AAA says 93.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles between Dec. 22 and Jan. 1, the most since 2006. So, the falling price of gas will provide a little relief to motorists, who’ve been digging deep for gas money all year. The average driver will pay a little less than $2,700 for 744 gallons of gasoline this year, which will be a record, according to data from Oil Prices Information Service.

Americans’ fuel bill ran up even as they used the least amount of gas in more than a decade. The slower U.S. economy and an increase in fuel efficient cars helped cut gasoline consumption, which government data show peaked in 2007. Consumption is expected to be about 8.73 million barrels per day this year, which would be the lowest level since 2001.

Prices should be cheaper next year, forecasters say.

Barring unexpected events like hurricanes or a conflict that disrupts oil supplies from the Middle East, OPIS chief oil analyst Tom Kloza said the nationwide price for gas should stay below $4 per gallon in 2013. The government is predicting $3.43 a gallon for next year, which would be the lowest price since 2010 when gas averaged $2.78 a gallon.

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Citizens to postpone action on controversial loan program

Citizens Property Insurance Corp will shelve a controversial $350 million loan program while it gathers data and looks at more options to reduce its number of policies.

Citizens Chief Financial Officer Sharon Binnun told a Citizens’ panel Thursday that recent success in other depopulation efforts and uncertainty over the long-term success of those efforts make it wise to take a longer look at a recent proposal to provide low-interest loans to companies willing to take riskier policies off the company’s books.

A handful of companies have already agreed to take out nearly 300,000 less risky policies from the state-backed insurer without the financial incentives.

Company officials say, however, that the surplus loan program should be revisited next summer, rather than scrapped entirely.

“It would be prudent for us as an organization to … come next summer take all the things we learned and see where we stand,” Binnun said.

Earlier this year, officials drew criticism after they proposed an effort to use $350 million in surplus funds to provide 20-year loans to companies that would take Citizens policies and keep them for at least 10 years.

Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford was among a group of lawmakers that urged caution and further review.

Contrary to initial estimates, Citizens President Barry Gilway said Thursday the loan program as now structured is unlikely to entice many private carriers to take advantage of the loans.

Outside investment advisors are reviewing the loan program and are expected to make recommendations early next year. Gilway, who took over in June and presented the loan program shortly after his arrival, said discussions with potential companies indicate that changes need to be made.

“I seriously doubt even if the surplus note program would proceed that we would have any real takers that meet the financial requirements that we believe would be necessary,” Gilway said.

Sean Shaw, a former Florida insurance consumer advocate who now works with a Tampa law firm that represents policyholders in lawsuits, applauded the decision, saying the proposal had not been fully vetted by the Legislature.

“The surplus lines program seems to be off the table, and that’s great news,” Shaw said in a statement.

The full Citizens Board of Governors is expected to vote on the proposal Friday.

The board is also expected to hear a proposal to set up a clearinghouse at Citizens to provide customers with more information upfront on policy options.

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Verizon Offering $5 Shared 4G Plan for Samsung Galaxy Camera

Imagine the powerful Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone, except that it can’t make phone calls and its backplate has been replaced by a digital camera — handgrip, zoom lens, and all. That’s basically the Samsung Galaxy Camera in a nutshell, and whether it’s a small, awkwardly-shaped Android tablet or a digital camera that you can play Modern Combat 3 on depends on how you look at it.

When the Galaxy Camera launched last month, it was only available in white, and cost $ 499 on AT&T’s network with a month-to-month data plan. But on Dec. 13, it launches on Verizon’s network, in both white and black. The Verizon Galaxy Camera costs $ 50 more up front, but in return it has 4G LTE instead of HSPA+, and Verizon is offering a “promotional price” for the monthly charge: Only $ 5 to add it to a Share Everything plan, instead of the usual $ 10 tablet rate.

A 4G digital camera

While it’s capable of functioning as an Android tablet (or game machine), the biggest reason for the Samsung Galaxy Camera’s 4G wireless Internet is so it can automatically upload photos it takes. Apps such as Dropbox, Photobucket, and Ubuntu One offer a limited amount of online storage space for free, where the Galaxy Camera can save photos without anyone needing to tell it to. Those photos can then be accessed at home, or on a tablet or laptop.

Most smartphones are able to do this already, but few (with the possible exception of the Windows Phone powered Nokia Lumia 920) are able to take photos as high-quality as the Galaxy Camera’s.

Not as good of a deal as it sounds

Dropbox is offering two years’ worth of 50 GB of free online storage space for photos and videos, to anyone who buys a Samsung Galaxy Camera from AT&T or Verizon. (The regular free plan is only 2 GB.)

The problem is, you may need that much space. The photos taken by the Galaxy Camera’s 16 megapixel sensor take up a lot more space, at maximum resolution, than ordinary smartphone snapshots do. Those camera uploads can eat through a shared data plan, and with Verizon charging a $ 15 per GB overage fee (plus the $ 50 extra up-front on top of what AT&T charges) it may make up for the cheaper monthly cost.

On top of that, the Galaxy Camera’s photos are basically on par with a $ 199 digital camera’s — you pay a large premium to combine that kind of point-and-shoot with the hardware equivalent of a high-end smartphone.

It does run Android, though, right?

The Galaxy Camera uses Samsung‘s custom software for its camera app, and lacks a normal phone dialer app. Beyond that, though, it runs the same Android operating system found on smartphones, and can run all the same games and apps.

Some apps don’t work the same on the Galaxy Camera as they do on a smartphone, however. Apps which only run in portrait mode, for instance, require you to hold the camera sideways to use them (especially unpleasant when they’re camera apps). And while it can make voice and even video calls over Skype, it lacks a rear-facing camera or the kind of speaker you hold up close to your ear. So you may end up making speakerphone calls and filming the palm of your hand.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.
Linux/Open Source News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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Zoe Saldana's 'Avatar' Sequels Update

Is Zoe Saldana ready to once again don a motion-capture suit and dive back into the world of Avatar? The Star Trek Into Darkness star gave ET the latest update on the highly anticipated back-to-back sequels to one of the all-time highest-grossing films in history.

Related: Sam Worthington 'Ready to Jump' Into 'Avatar' Sequel

"All we have gotten is the call to get ready – that at some point next year we will start training and then eventually start shooting," says Zoe. "I do know there is a part two and a part three that we'll shoot at the same time, which I'm very happy for because I'm not getting any younger.

"But I do know that Jim will give us the green light when he's absolutely ready," she continues. "And I feel, because he's such a great storyteller, it's still worth the wait."

Zoe says she's more than ready to strap on her motion-capture suit again because, "I had such a beautiful and spiritual experience shooting that movie, and I learned so much as an actor, as an artist, and as a person, as a human being. So to get to go back to that is a blessing."

Earlier this year, Zoe's Avatar co-star Sam Worthington gave ET an update on Cameron's progress with the sequels, joking about the director's record-setting deep-sea solo dive to the deepest point of the earth, the Mariana Trench.

"Jim's off on his personal mission exploring the depths of the ocean, so hopefully a sea snake doesn't grab him, or some monster that is in the deep that no one knows about," says Sam with a sly grin. "As [Wrath of the Titans co-star Liam Neeson] said, if it does, I pity the monster, because Jim will definitely take down that thing. And when he's back and wants to go, I'm ready to jump."

Related: Live 'Avatar' Land Coming to Disney World

Surely not a coincidence, the ocean-loving Cameron has said the sequel to the highest grossing film in history will dive into the oceans of Pandora – and will likely not arrive in theaters until 2016.

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FDNY hunk cleared of felony assault in trial against glamorous transsexual girlfriend

Fireman Taylor Murphy was found guily of two non violent counts in his trial. He cried in court after the partial verdict.Claudia Charriez.

Steven Hirsch

Fireman Taylor Murphy was found guily of two non violent counts in his trial. He cried in court after the partial verdict.

He didn't choke her. He didn't tamper with her testimony. But he did assault her -- a little.

A Manhattan jury has reached a final, though mixed, verdict in the bizarre War of the Hoses assault trial in Manhattan, acquitting an FDNY calendar hunk of the most serious charge against him -- felony strangulation of his glamorous, bottle-blonde, pre-op transsexual girlfriend.

Beefy Taylor Murphy, 28 -- a former "Mr. March" -- smiled and rubbed tears of joy from his face after the jury forewoman pronounced him not guilty of felony strangulation, which could have put him in prison for up to seven years.

Fiery Claudia Charriez, 31, an admitted escort who still advertised herself at $400-an-hour, had accused Murphy of clutching her throat with his massive hands as they fought on their bed at a Midtown hotel last August, squeezing with enough force to cause physical injury and stupor or loss of consciousness.

Ultimately, jurors had only a photograph of a small pale pink blotch on Charriez's neck as forensic proof -- along with her own word from three days on the witness stand, during which Murphy's lawyer had repeatedly confronted her with inconsistencies and apparent lies.

Fireman Taylor Murphy was found guily of two non violent counts in his trial. He cried in court after the partial verdict.Claudia Charriez.

Steven Hirsch

Claudia Charriez.

Murphy was convicted of one felony count of criminal contempt, for violating an order of protection by calling, texting and emailing Charriez more than 1,000 times in the five months after his arrest.

He was cleared of witness tampering, and convicted of misdemeanor criminal contempt, misdemeanor assault and criminal mischief, for smashing Charriez's cell phone.

Not a single firefighter had come to court to support him throughout the week-long trial -- save his own brother, a retired smoke-eater, and his father, a retired deputy chief who took the stand for his son. Murphy said he'd wanted it that way -- to keep the department from being tainted by the "drama."

"I had to step away from the department," he said. "When you're burning in a fire, you don't want to call everyone in to save you, because they're gonna get burned too," he said. "I didn't want them to burn too."

Murphy said he hopes the conviction on criminal contempt -- a nonviolent felony -- won't prevent him from going back on active duty as a firefighter. Defense lawyer Jason Berland said

As for Charriez, he insisted he only dated her for two months -- until he found out that she was an escort and had a "venereal disease," as jurors in the case were told. He tried to remain her friend, he said, but her jealousy over his other relationships consumed her, he said.

"I wish the best for her," he said as he left court. "I wish she gets a sense of reality. I wish she leaves me alone."

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Google Maps return to iPhone with new mobile app

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Google Maps has found its way back to the iPhone.

The world's most popular online mapping system returned late Wednesday with the release of the Google Maps iPhone app. The release comes nearly three months after Apple Inc. replaced Google Maps as the device's built-in navigation system and inserted its own map software into the latest version of its mobile operating system.

Apple's maps application proved to be far inferior to Google's, turning what was supposed to be a setback for Google into a vindication.

The product's shoddiness prompted Apple CEO Tim Cook to issue a rare public apology and recommend that iPhone owners consider using Google maps through a mobile Web browser or seek other alternatives until his company could fix the problems. Cook also replaced Scott Forstall, the executive in charge of Apple's mobile operating system, after the company's maps app became the subject of widespread ridicule.

Among other things, Apple's maps misplaced landmarks, overlooked towns and sometimes got people horribly lost. In one example brought to light this week, Australian police derided Apple's maps as “life-threatening” because the system steered people looking for the city of Mildura into a sweltering, remote desert 44 miles from their desired destination.

Google Inc., in contrast, is hailing its new iPhone app as a major improvement from the one evicted by Apple.

“We started from scratch,” said Daniel Graf, mobile director of Google Maps. Google engineers started working on the new app before Apple's Sept. 19 ouster, Graf said, though he declined to be more specific.

Digital maps are key battleground in mobile computing because they get used frequently on smartphones and can pinpoint a user's whereabouts. That information is so prized by advertisers that they're willing to pay much higher rates for marketing messages aimed at a prospective customer in a particular location, said Greg Sterling, an analyst at Opus Research.

Google's mapping app for the iPhone doesn't include ads, but that will likely change, based on the steady stream of marketing flowing through the Google maps app on Android phones.

The additional tools in the free iPhone app include turn-by-turn directions. Google's previous refusal to include that popular feature on the iPhone app –while making it available for smartphones running on its own Android software– is believed to be one of the reasons Apple decided to develop its own technology. The increasing friction between Google and Apple as they jostle for leadership in the smartphone market also played a role in the mapping switch.

Google's new iPhone mapping app also offers street-level photography of local neighborhoods, as well as three-dimensional views, public transit directions and listings for more than 80 million businesses around the world. The app still lacks some of the mapping features available on Android-powered phones, such as directions inside malls and other buildings.

All those improvements are positives for Apple too, Sterling said, because the availability of a more comprehensive mapping option makes it less likely that iPhone owners will switch to Android devices.

“The irony is that Apple ended up getting a better version of Google Maps on its system by booting it off,” Sterling said. “At the same time, you could argue that Google is making a triumphant return to cheering crowds. So, in a way, everyone wins in this situation.”

Investors didn't see anything positive for Apple. The company's stock slid $9.31 to close at $529.84, while Google shares crept up $5.14 to finish at $702.70.

There still isn't a Google mapping app for Apple's top-selling tablet computer, the iPad, but the company plans to make one eventually. Google, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., declined to say when it hopes to release an iPad mapping app. For now, iPad owners can use the maps in an iPhone mode. That won't be the best experience, but it still may be better than Apple's offering on the iPad.

In an indication of iPhone owners' exasperation with Apple's maps, Google's new alternative was already the top-ranking free app in Apple's iTunes store early Thursday morning. By noon EDT, users had chimed in with more than 10,000 reviews of the Google app. Nearly 90 percent of them gave Google maps a five-star rating – the highest possible grade.

The return of Google's map app may even encourage more iPhone owners to upgrade to Apple's latest mobile software, iOS 6. Some people resisted the new version because they didn't want to lose access to the old Google mapping application built into iOS 5 and earlier versions.

Despite the app's quickly rising popularity, Google's solution still wasn't listed among the 18 recommended mapping apps in iTunes as of early Thursday afternoon.

Apple, which is based in Cupertino, Calif., declined to comment about Google's map app.

Graf said Google isn't hoping to make Apple look bad with its new mapping app. “On maps, we have a friendly relationship,” he said.

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Video shows 15-year-old girl being brutalized in Florida juvenile prison

For the third time in recent years, Florida juvenile justice administrators have caught on tape the abuse or neglect of a children in state custody.

On Wednesday, the Department of Juvenile Justice released to The Miami Herald five video segments that show an inmate of a Panhandle youth corrections being brutalized by a guard from a privately run lockup. The guard, 33-year-old Shannon Linn Abbott, was charged last week by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office with battery causing great bodily harm.

C.J. Drake, a DJJ spokesman in Tallahassee, said Wednesday the Milton Girls’ Detention Center remains under investigation in the incident, which occurred on August 9.

“We are deeply concerned that the incident as depicted in the video…contradicts its description to us by officials representing the facility,” Drake added. “We are also troubled that the facility did not officially report the incident to DJJ until two days after it occurred, and only when the victim called the DCF Abuse Hotline. This lapse is inexplicable.

“After the incident, we at DJJ determined that our [restraint procudures] – to protect youth and staff was not being followed. We subsequently initiated a comprehensive retraining of staff at the facility to ensure that PAR was being properly and safely applied and only in situations that warranted it.”

According to a police report, the detainee, who is not identified, was being escorted by Abbott, who was holding the girl’s elbows as they walked. Most of what occurred during the alleged assault was captured by DJJ surveillance cameras, which are installed in most DJJ facilities.

“Both [the] victim and [Abbott] are observed walking in a normal manner with [Abbott’s] arm under the victim’s arm from behind,” the police report says. “The victim is not showing any signs of resisting. The victim is observed not pulling her arms away from the defendant; the victim is not attempting the strike the defendant in any manner and it compliant throughout the entire event.”

Suddenly, police wrote, Abbott “thrust herself” against the girl, pushing the girl against a concrete wall “in a very forceful manner.” Abbott used her body to push the girl “violently into a cement wall.”

The girl’s chest and chin bounced off the wall, police wrote. Abbott then leaned her body against the girl, and held her against the wall for several seconds. After whispering something in the girl’s ear, police wrote, Abbott pulled the girl “with great force and violently [threw] her to the floor while retaining the victim’s arms behind her back.”

Abbott then jumped on top of the girl “with her full weight,” police wrote.

The girl told police Abbott was angry at her for being “disruptive in the classroom.”

The girl the Department of Children & Families’ abuse hotline the next day, “because she was told by other girls in the facility that it may be worse for her if she called DCF right away,” police said.

DCF closed it investigation with a verified finding that Abbott had physically abused the girl.

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AP PHOTOS: Top 10 Search Trends of 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — From the tragic to the downright silly, millions of people searched the Web in 2012 to find out about a royal princess, the latest iPad, a record-breaking skydiver and the death of a pop star.

Google released its 12th annual “zeitgeist” report on Wednesday. The company calls it “an in-depth look at the spirit of the times as seen through the billions of searches on Google over the past year.”

Here’s an Associated Press photo gallery of the top ten trending searches of 2012.

Gadgets News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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Ashley & J.P. Rehearse First Kiss

Practice makes perfect and Bachelorette couple Ashley Hebert and J.P. Rosenbaum made sure their first kiss as husband and wife was everything they wanted it to be.

Playfully bickering whether to share one or two kisses at the altar, the two rehearsed their romantic smooch at their Pasadena, CA venue. Ashley teased her groom, "You want two kids, I want one. You want two kisses, I want one."

To see J.P. kiss his bride, tune in to The Bachelorette on Sunday night on ABC.

RELATED: 'Bachelorette' Wedding Full of Love, No Red Roses

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Alleged parent killer thinks DNA evidence is 'funny,' pleads not guilty

The Queens drug addict accused of killing both his parents 15 months apart callously tried to claim that DNA evidence against him was nothing more than a remnant of his doting mom’s affection for him, prosecutors said.

“Funny that you found DNA now, where did you find it — under her fingernails? My mother likes to run her fingers through my hair,” cocky alleged killer Gregory Cucchiara told detectives as they questioned him in the murder of his mother, Guisepina.

The chilling statement was read in Queens Supreme Court today as Cucchiara, 36, pleaded not guilty to killing both Guisepina, 66, in May 2011 and his father, Carmelo, 77, in August 2012.

Ellis Kaplan

Gregory Cuccchiara

Cucchiara — whose lengthy rap sheet includes DWI and disorderly conduct convictions — made the comment about his mother while in custody for killing his dad.

In court today, Cucchiara’s lawyer, Michael Anastsiou, entered the guilty pleas on his behalf in front of several weeping and disgusted family members.

The alleged killer scowled at his relatives as Assistant District Attorney Patrick O’Connor read from Cucchiara’s oral and written police statements.

Cucchiara claimed he’d gone out for a beer and come back to find his mom dead — and tried to pin his father’s death on his brother-in-law.

“I went to purchase beer on Bell Boulevard, and when I came back my mother was dead,” Cucchiara said. “I tried to give her CPR. Our relationship was good, I had nothing to do with her death.”

As for his father’s death, Cucchiara claimed his sister’s husband was the likely killer.

“My brother-in-law watches a lot of ‘CSI’ and knows how to make things look as though they may not really be,” Cucchiara said.

He also told detectives that has father was ill, and “suffering to the point of sudden death.”

That claim was refuted by family friend Michael Ronemus, who said the family was “unaware of any sickness.”

Guisepina Cucchiara was found drowned in a bathtub in the family’s Bayside manse on May 25, 2011. The medical examiner said she died of submersion of her head followed by blunt force trauma to the skull.

Her son continued to live in the family home after the murder.

Carmelo Cucchiara — who had told family members he was afraid of his son and moved into an Astoria apartment — was found dead there on August 21.

Cops found a blood splattered pillow, and the ME said the older man died of asphyxia from obstruction of the nose and mouth.

Gregory Cucchiara was arrested Nov. 13 and is being held without bail on Rikers Island, records show.

In court today, judge Kenneth C. Holder holder denied the accused killer’s bid for bail, citing a history of bench warrants.

Lawyer Anastasiou argued that his client was indicted by a “prejudice grand jury.”

Cucchiara was also indicted for assault against a police lieutenant and detective during an interrogation the day he was arrested.

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South Florida trade poised for a record year

International trade through South Florida was up more than 10 percent during the first nine months of the year, putting the Miami Customs District in position to finish among the nation’s Top 10 Customs districts for the first time.

The Miami Customs District, which includes airports and seaports from Palm Beach County to Key West, is expected to edge out the San Francisco district in the No. 10 spot. The value of imports and exports shipped via the Miami district totaled $102.6 billion through Oct. 1, a 10.17 percent increase from last October, according to an analysis released Tuesday by WorldCity, a Coral Gables-based media company that focuses on Miami’s role in the international economy.

“Miami is coming out of the economic slowdown in better shape than it entered,’’ said Ken Roberts, president of WorldCity. “For the first time, Miami will almost certainly finish the year as the nation’s No. 10-ranked Customs district. It has ranked as low as No. 14.’’

Trade through the Miami district is currently running at record levels. Roberts said total trade is expected to climb to $118 billion to $120 billion by year’s end, shattering the $112.8 billion record set in 2011.

Once again, Brazil will finish as the Miami district’s top trading partner. During the first nine months of the year, total trade with Brazil climbed to $13.7 billion — $1.1 billion more than the previous year. Trade with Colombia and Switzerland also increased, which will allow them to retain their rankings as South Florida’s second and third most important trading partners.

Miami International Airport is the nation’s top gateway for imported Colombian gold, which has pushed up the value of Colombian exports to South Florida. Switzerland owes most of its No. 3 ranking to the fact that is a big buyer of gold and scrap precious metal exported through the Miami district.

“Somewhat ironically, Miami has been able to capitalize on the economic weakness globally, becoming the nation’s top importer and exporter of gold, as investors have sought the security it offers. Mexico, Colombia and now Bolivia have become large suppliers of gold,’’ Roberts said.

Costa Rica moved past Venezuela and China to rank as South Florida’s fourth most important trading partner through the first nine months of 2012.

South Florida’s trade with Venezuela fell by $72.3 million to $5.5 billion through Oct. 1.

Other countries that saw their trade with South Florida decline during the first nine months of 2012 include the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, Honduras, Paraguay, Japan, Sweden, Germany, Spain and Guatemala.

Earlier this week, the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean forecast that regional economies, which are the bread-and-butter trading partners for South Florida, are expected to grow 3.8 percent in 2013.

But it remains to be seen whether South Florida will continue its record trade growth next year.

“We have a lot of economic pressure around the world we’ll have to keep our eyes on,’’ said Dan Fisher, TD Bank’s director for North America, global trade finance. “We see a big slowdown in China.’’

The economy of China — marketplace to the world — will still grow by a very respectable 7.6 percent, he said, but that’s slow compared to the 9-11 percent growth of recent years.

Among other factors that will impact trade are: modest growth in the United States, how the U.S. resolves its fiscal cliff dilemma and continuing financial problems in Europe.

But Richard Biter, an assistant secretary with the Florida Department of Transportation, said, “We are really optimistic within Florida DOT.’’

Increased investment in transportation and port infrastructure, he said, translates into more jobs for Floridians.

Biter, who spoke at the WorldCity forecasting event, said DOT is working on a Florida Freight Plan that will be ready for the governor and state legislature by July 1. DOT is analyzing freight infrastructure within each Florida county and how it connects with the state economy so it can better prioritize state investments and market the importance of the trade and cargo industry.

“We’re letting people know that seeing trucks on a road is not a bad thing,’’ he said.

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South Florida students learn the effects of hatred

In a high school round table discussion, all eyes turned to 93-year-old Holocaust survivor Julius Eisenstein as he showed his identification tattoo: Number B-1208.

The tattoo was proof of the years he spent in the various concentration camps, but also proof of his survival.

Eisenstein was one of 70 survivors who shared their stories Tuesday at Student Awareness Day, organized by the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center’s prejudice reduction program to teach students the dangers of bullying, racism, hatred and bigotry.

“It begins with us, regardless of race, color, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, everyone has the right to live in freedom and harmony and we need to learn to respect each other,” said Rositta Kenigsberg, executive vice president of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center.

More than 700 students from 20 schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties attended the workshop held at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.

For 27 years, The Holocaust Documentation and Education Center has made it their mission to share the stories of the Holocaust survivors with the students in a nondenominational way.

“They are eyewitnesses that have experienced ultimate hate,’’ said Kenigsberg. “They talk to the students about what happens if they continue to hate and they become the mentors and the eyewitnesses.”

The stories varied like the life Leon Heller, who was part of the U.S. Army team that liberated Buchenwald concentration camp; Samuel Ron who told about the horror of losing his family and starving for long periods of time; and Rita Hofrichter who posed as a Christian to survive the Holocaust.

“It is necessary to tell the story so that everyone sees the steps that lead to the Holocaust. It didn’t start right away in camps, it started slow,” Hofrichter said. “I hope to show the students that hating someone hurts as much as being hated.”

The majority of the students had never met a Holocaust survivor, but at the event were able to ask questions and have one-on-one conversations.

“I think after this I have a lot more tolerance,’’ said Aeirian Exalien, a senior at Coral Gables High School. “This is better than anything you would read in a book.”

Eisenstein told the students about the separation from his family, living in one room with four families in a ghetto, experiencing severe hunger, picking up the dead bodies and arriving at various concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

“A small number of people can contribute a lot to the world,” said Eisenstein as he told the students about his life after the Holocaust. Despite his own experience as a victim of racism and hatred, Eisenstein told the students it was possible to persevere in life.

“I would never think that someone can go through all of that and still be here,” said Ashley Correa, a junior at Everglades High School in Miramar. “This teaches me to appreciate everything and not take anything for granted.”

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Obama election tweet most repeated but Olympics tops on Twitter

(Reuters) – An election victory tweet from President Barack Obama — “Four more years” with a picture of him hugging his wife — was the most retweeted ever, but the U.S. election was topped by the Olympics as the most tweeted event this year.

Obama’s tweet was retweeted (repeated) more than 810,000 times, Twitter said as it published a list of the most tweeted events in 2012. (http://2012.twitter.com/)

“Within hours, that Tweet simultaneously became the most retweeted of 2012, and the most retweeted ever. In fact, retweets of that simple message came from people in more than 200 countries around the world,” Twitter spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz said.

Twitter users were busiest during the final vote count for the presidential elections, sending 327,452 tweets per minute on election night on their way to a tally of 31 million election tweets for the day.

The 2012 Olympic Games in London had the most overall tweets of any event, with 150 million sent over the 16 days.

Usain Bolt’s golden win in the 200 meters topped 80,000 tweets per minute but he did not achieve the highest Olympic peak on Twitter. That was seen during the closing ceremony when 115,000 tweets per minute were sent as 1990s British pop band the Spice Girls performed.

Syria, where a bloody civil war still plays out, was the most talked about country in 2012 but sports and pop culture dominated the tally of tweets.

Behind Obama was pop star Justin Bieber. His tweet, “RIP Avalanna. i love you” sent when a six-year-old fan died from a rare form of brain cancer, was retweeted more than 220,000 times.

Third most repeated in 2012 was a profanity-laced tweet from Green Bay Packers NFL player TJ Lang, when he blasted a controversial call by a substitute referee officiating during a referee dispute. That was retweeted 98,000 times.

This was the third year running that the microblogging site published its top Twitter trends, offering a barometer to assess the biggest events in social media.

Superstorm Sandy, which slammed the densely populated U.S. East Coast in late October, killing more than 100 people, flooding wide areas and knocking out power for millions, attracted more than 20 million tweets between October 27 and November 1.

European football made the list of top tweets when Spain’s Juan Mata scored as his side downed Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final — sparking 267,200 tweets a minute.

News of pop star Whitney Houston‘s death in February generated more than 10 million tweets, peaking at 73,662 per minute.

Romantic comedy “Think Like a Man” was the most tweeted movie this year, topping “The Hunger Games”, “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Rapper Rick Ross who notched his fourth No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart this year, was the most talked about music artist.

(Editing by Rodney Joyce)

Internet News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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A Chance to Win an ACA Gift Bag

Fresh off the heels of Monday night's American Country Awards, ET is giving you the chance to win an official gift bag from the award show.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER the American Country Awards Sweepstakes.

Bottero boots, a HaperCollins Publishers book and a Crabtree & Evelyn candle are just some of the contents to be found in the gift bag. Other products include items by Ballasox, CC Corso Come, Coulee Creek Designs, Dooney & Bourke Inc., GameMill Entertainment, Jeri Designs, McFadin, RU University/Resistol Ranch/Rancho Estancia, Teva, Alex Detail's Revolution written by Darren Campo, BootRugs, JT SplatMaster, Qdoba, SoCoolKids, Southern Audio Services, Inc, The Dahl House, The Good Home Company, Wood Snap and Zen Belly.

CLICK HERE FOR THE OFFICIAL RULES of the American Country Awards Sweepstakes.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to U.S. residents 18 and older. Entries must be received by December 12, 2012 at 11:59 p.m. PST to be eligible.

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Father of former firefighter accused of beating transsexual lover describes son's motherless upbringing

He wants his mother.

There were more waterworks in the War of the Hoses assault trial today -- as beefy FDNY calendar boy Taylor Murphy called his own dad to the stand to talk about his motherless upbringing, and the anguished pair cried enough tears in open court to put out a small kitchen fire.

"I had custody [over Taylor and his two older brothers] from practically the time he was born," retired FDNY deputy chief Thomas Murphy, 65, told jurors in poignant testimony in the bizarre case, in which the son is accused of punching, biting and choking his glamorous pre-op transsexual lover.

"His mother gave birth to him -- he was a total blessing," the dad testified. The gray-haired, veteran smoke-eater's voice broke with emotion, and the son, facing him from his seat at the defense table, rubbed tears from his eyes.

"But she needed to -- she was an unfulfilled person," the dad continued awkwardly. "But I had custody. But it was difficult for him. . . For the first two years, I know it sounds incredible, but emotionally he didn't get hardly any nurturing,"

At that point, both the father and son broke into helpless-sounding sobs. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice A. Kirke Bartley called a recess to let the dad compose himself.

Back on the stand 15 minutes later, the dad picked up where he'd left off -- tearfully baring family secrets to help his son, a young man described to jurors by his own lawyer as a tortured, alcohol-abusing bisexual, attracted only to men who live as women.

"I don't seem to be what he needs," the dad told jurors, his face grief-wrenched. "There's a hole that's there and I don't fill it. What's he's always looking for, in my opinion, is the love of his mother."

The dad was barred by Bartley, for reasons of heresay, from giving the testimony he'd primarily been called to the stand for -- testimony detailing two phone calls he received from the alleged victim on the August, 2011 night of the alleged assault.

Charriez had kept hold of Taylor Murphy's phone that night, and was dialing her way through his phone contacts, jurors have been told.

In the first call, a furious Charriez told the dad that his son had attacked her during a love-spat in the Hotel Metro in Midtown.

"She needed to be soothed, and I soothed her," the dad explained, during a brief hearing outside the jury's presence. "I said to her, 'All I know, Claudia, is that Taylor says he loves you. And when I said that, she said 'What!' like that… I really think the phone call ended there."

Charriez called back a half hour later. "She expressed in words that she hoped that the police would dismiss the charges," the dad said.

"These were her exact words; I'll never forget it: 'I am a very jealous girl. My girlfriends are calling me and telling me that Taylor is having sex with them, and then she said he texts them in front of me. That's what she said."

Summations began this afternoon, with defense lawyer Jason Berland telling jurors that Charriez's own three days of testimony showed her to be a jealous, lying publicity-seeker. "For most of her testimony, Ms. Charriez was putting on a show," he told jurors.

Murphy is charged with felony strangulation and felony violation of an order of protection barring him from contacting Charriez.

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Armani Jeans opens in Miami Beach

The first Armani Jeans store in the U.S. opened last week on Lincoln Road.

Launched in 1981, the Armani Jeans brand features not just jeans, but a range of casual clothing, accessories, shoes, and small leather goods for men and women. Prices start at around $125 and go up to $650 for limited-edition products.

The 2,100-square-foot store is located at 741 Lincoln Road. The company has 33 Armani Jeans stores in London, China, and Japan. But until now in the U.S., the Armani Jeans brand has typically been sold at select Emporio Armani stores.

Elaine Walker

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Keeping your identity safe during the holidays

I have received many emails regarding identity theft, particularly during this time of the year.

I have turned to our FBI partners for information. Special Agent Darin M. Didier, a six-year veteran of the FBI who investigates identity theft for the FBI’s Miami Division, wrote this column.

Have you ever found unauthorized purchases on your credit card or tried to file a tax return only to find out someone else already filed a return in your name?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone – thousands of South Floridians have become victims of identity theft in recent years by these and other common schemes. Approximately 10 million Americans fall victim to identity theft each year at a cost of roughly $5 billion. The FBI, along with numerous other agencies, investigates many different types of identity theft scams that victimize individuals every day.

Simply put, identity theft is the use of someone’s personal information without their permission. Identity theft can be used to obtain new lines of credit, exploit existing credit cards or bank accounts, obtain a mortgage, file a fraudulent tax return or even to get a job.

What used to be a crime committed by criminals grabbing credit card offers from mailboxes has become a global issue that can be perpetrated by individuals thousands of miles away. With advanced technology, criminals exploit the internet as a means to quickly and anonymously find unsecure personal information. While a daunting problem, proper vigilance can help to safeguard your identity. You can help keep your identity safe by following these tips:

Check your credit report for free at least yearly – then follow-up with the credit bureau if you notice anything unusual.

Contact your credit card companies to close out your accounts that you no longer use – just because you paid off the balance does not mean the account was closed.

Regularly review your bank account and credit card statements to ensure no suspicious charges appear.

Never respond to unsolicited text messages, e-mails or phone calls asking for your personal information. If you have any doubt, use the contact number on your account statement to check on your account.

Ensure the websites you use have a secure connection, which is denoted by “https:” at the beginning of the web address and a lock icon displayed in the address bar.

Set up automatic updates for your antivirus and firewall protection.

Use a shredder to destroy all documentation you wouldn’t want others to see.

For more tips to combat identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at www.ftc.gov. Report all online crime including identity theft at www.ic3.gov. The FBI and its local, state and federal partners take the investigation and prosecution of identity theft seriously. Contact your local FBI offices at (305)944-9101 if you are a victim.

You can also call our office and we will be happy to send you brochures on this topic. We have English and Spanish brochures.

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Fourth accuser sues Kevin Clash: Elmo's puppeteer had sensitive 'medical condition'

Elmo have hard problem.

The fourth man to accuse “Sesame Street’’ puppeteer Kevin Clash of inappropriate sexual contact says the older man couldn’t get it up when the two were getting it on in Clash’s New York City pad around 1995, according the alleged victim’s civil lawsuit filed today in Manhattan Federal Court.

At the time, Clash, then 35, blamed his penis problems on an unspecified “medical condition,” the lawsuit said.

The accuser, who is now in his 30s, said he was around 16 when he met Clash walking on a Miami beach and that the pair kept in touch over the phone.

Getty Images

Kevin Clash, the former puppeteer for the Elmo character on the long-running children's television show Sesame Street.

After learning that the accuser had problems at home and wanted to run away, Clash, the squeaky voice of Elmo, promised to “be a dad” to him and lured him to the city “with promises to pay for his plane ticket ... and give him cash and a free place to stay,” the lawsuit said. The accuser was allegedly sexually abused after visiting Clash.

A previous accuser who says he was also 16 when he and Clash hooked up also had written in a memoir, “The game we played was father and son.”

Clash’s latest accuser remained unnamed in the suit. His lawyer is also representing two other accusers.

Clash’s rep did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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AutoNation: Back in the fast lane with expansion, higher sales

Despite an agonizingly slow economic recovery, the country’s largest auto retailer, Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation, is thriving again as demand for vehicles expands.

The company, one of Florida’s largest, is posting increasingly strong profits and revenues. Just last week, in a sign of confidence, Autonation announced a major acquisition — buying six large auto stores in Texas — that will add about 700 employees to its national payroll of 19,400.

In announcing the deal Tuesday, which is expected to provide AutoNation with $575 million in additional revenues next year, the company’s CEO and chairman, Mike Jackson, expressed optimism about the prospects for continued growth in vehicle sales.

“You want to know what I’m thinking, look at what I do,” Jackson told viewers on CNBC’s Squawk Box program.

No information was released on the cost of the transactions, but in recent years auto dealerships sometimes sold for three to five times revenue, which would represent a significant investment for the company.

Tough times

To be sure, AutoNation has struggled through some tough times. It was battered by the Great Recession, which depressed sales and pushed the company into a $1.2 billion loss four years ago. As sales began to improve in 2010 and 2011, it was blindsided by a shortage of Japanese-made cars last year after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 shut down Japanese manufacturers of some essential components.

Since then, however, AutoNation has rebounded. Unit sales, revenues and profits all performed well in the first three quarters of this year, and the company expects new vehicle sales to continue their recovery nationwide, rising to the mid-14 million units this year, up from about 12.7 million in 2011. In the third quarter of 2012, AutoNation’s new car unit sales grew by 21 percent over the same period in 2011, doing better than an estimated 15 percent increase industry wide. November’s sales of new vehicles increased by 21 percent over November 2011 .

The big dealerships acquired sell Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen and Chrysler products in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth markets. They are expected to sell 14,000 new and used autos this year, and will add substantially to AutoNation’s future sales.

“We are in the right industry at the right time,” Jackson said during an interview. “The recovery in new vehicle sales is being driven by replacement demand,” added Jackson, who has 42 years of experience in the auto business. “The average age of the light vehicle fleet in the country has increased to 11 years, and even though cars and trucks last longer today, they can’t go on forever. About 12 to 13 million vehicles are scrapped every year and need to be replaced.”

Other factors are contributing to stronger demand for vehicles. “The population is growing, interest rates are low, there is ample credit available and manufacturers are producing a wide range of new models that offer attractive styling, power and greatly improved gas mileage,” said Jackson, who took over as AutoNation’s CEO in 1999. “Auto financing is more available than it has been in recent years. A little known fact is that people are more likely to default on a mortgage than on a vehicle loan.”

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U-Haul chase suspect appears in Miami-Dade court on Sunday

The suspect arrested in connection with Friday’s chase through the streets of Miami-Dade in a rental U-Haul truck appeared in front of judge Sunday morning.

Darrell Conyers, 45, made his first appearance in bond court.

Conyers faces a number of charges including grand theft, fraud and resisting arrest with violence.

During the hearing, the judge noted that the only charge before her was driving with a suspended license. For that she set bond at $2,000. Conyers will return to bond court at a later time for the additional charges.

Conyers was scheduled to appear in court on Saturday but was unable to do so because he was still in the hospital being treated for injuries he sustained at the end of the chase which apparently started as an attempted robbery at a tool shop on South Dixie Highway.

For 45-minutes the U-Haul truck weaved in and out of city streets, jumping on and off the Palmetto Expressway and headed in different directions along Southwest Eighth Street and Flagler Street.

The chase finally came to an end 12:45 p.m. next to Miami Senior High in Little Havana on Flagler Street and 26th Avenue.

When officers moved in to apprehend the driver, an unidentified Miami-Dade Police officer was injured when he was pinned between the U-Haul truck and a police vehicle. He was transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital where he was treated for a broken leg.

Another Miami officer cut his hand from broken glass. Police say that happened when officers had to break the glass on the U-Haul truck to get the suspect out of it.

Police said Conyers has had previous run-ins with the law and has convictions for firearm violations, fleeing police and carjacking.

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Skyfall Regains its Lead Over Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 2

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 2 lost its traction this weekend at the box office, dropping to the number three spot after three weeks at the top.

Skyfall, the latest James Bond flick starring Daniel Craig, emerged triumphant for its fifth weekend in US theaters with an estimated $11 million earned between Friday and Sunday.

Related: 'Skyfall' Wins Box Office, Sets Franchise Record

Not far behind, Rise of the Guardians brought in $10.5 million to secure its place in second with The Twilight Saga finale coming in at a close third with $9.2 million.

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln nabbed the number four spot with $9.1 million. Life of Pi rounds out the top five with $8.3 million.

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Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera missing after plane disappears over Mexico

MEXICO — A small plane carrying Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera went missing early Sunday after taking off from the city of Monterrey, authorities in northern Mexico confirmed Sunday.

Jorge Domene, spokesman for the Nuevo Leon state government, told Milenio television that the plane left Monterrey about 3:30 a.m. local time after a concert there and aviation authorities lost contact with the craft about 10 minutes later. It had been scheduled to arrive in Toluca, which is located outside Mexico City, about an hour later.

Domene said a search for the plane is under way with civilian protection agency helicopters flying over the state. He said seven people including her publicist, lawyer, makeup artist and the flight crew were believed to be aboard the U.S.-registered Learjet 25, the ministry of transportation and communication said in a statement.

Getty Images

MISSING: Singer Jenni Rivera, not heard from since plane disappeared.

Alejandro Argudin, of Mexico's civil aviation agency, said Sunday afternoon that Rivera's plane was still listed as missing not crashed.

The 43-year-old who was born and raised in Long Beach, California, is one of the biggest stars of the Mexican regional music known as grupero music, which is influenced by the norteno, cumbia and ranchera styles.

The so-called Diva of the Banda recently won two Billboard Mexican Music Awards: Female Artist of the Year and Banda Album of the Year for "Joyas prestadas: Banda." Her famous songs include "La Gran Senora" and "De Contrabando."

The singer, businesswoman and actress appeared in the movie Filly Brown, as the incarcerated mother of Filly Brown, and has her own reality shows including "I Love Jenni" and "Jenni Rivera Presents: Chiquis and Raq-C" and her daughter's "Chiquis 'n Control."

Rivera had given a concert before thousands of fans in Monterrey on Saturday night. After the concert she gave a press conference during which she spoke of her emotional state following her recent divorce from baseball player Esteban Loaiza.

"I can't get caught up in the negative because that destroys you. Perhaps trying to move away from my problems and focus on the positive is the best I can do. I am a woman like any other and ugly things happen to me like any other women," she said Saturday night. "The number of times I have fallen down is the number of times I have gotten up."

The mother and grandmother had announced in October that she was divorcing Loaiza after two years of marriage. It was her third marriage.

Rivera is the sister of Mexican singer Lupillo Rivera. Patricia Chavez of Lupillo Rivera's office in the United States told The AP that "for now we don't have any information that would be useful."

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Events showcase Miami’s growth as tech center

One by one, representatives from six startup companies walked onto the wooden stage and presented their products or services to a full house of about 200 investors, mentors, and other supporters Thursday at Incubate Miami’s DemoDay in the loft-like Grand Central in downtown Miami. With a large screen behind them projecting their graphs and charts, they set out to persuade the funders in the room to part with some of their green and support the tech community.

Just 24 hours later, from an elaborate “dojo stage,” a drummer warmed up the crowd of several hundred before a “Council of Elders” entered the ring to share wisdom as the all-day free event opened. Called TekFight, part education, part inspiration, and part entertainment, the martial arts-inspired program challenged entrepreneurs to earn points to “belt up” throughout the day to meet with the “masters” of the tech community.

The two events, which kicked off Innovate MIA week, couldn’t be more different. But in their own ways, like a one-two punch, they exuded the spirit and energy growing in the startup community.

One of the goals of the TekFight event was to introduce young entrepreneurs and students to the tech community, because not everyone has found it yet and it’s hard to know where to start, said Saif Ishoof, the executive director of City Year Miami who co-founded TekFight as a personal project. And throughout the event, he and co-founder Jose Antonio Hernandez-Solaun, as well as Binsen J. Gonzalez and Jeff Goudie, wanted to find creative, engaging ways to offer participants access to some of the community’s most successful leaders.

That would include Alberto Dosal, chairman of CompuQuip Technologies; Albert Santalo, founder and CEO of CareCloud; Jorge Plasencia, chairman and CEO of Republica; Jaret Davis, co-managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig; and more than two dozen other business and community leaders who shared their war stories and offered advice. Throughout the day, the event was live-streamed on the Web, a TekFight app created by local entrepreneur and UM student Tyler McIntyre kept everyone involved in the tournament and tweets were flying — with #TekFight trending No. 1 in the Miami area for parts of the day. “Next time Art Basel will know not to try to compete with TekFight,” Ishoof quipped.

‘Miami is a hotbed’

After a pair of Chinese dragons danced through the audience, Andre J. Gudger, director for the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Small Business Programs, entered the ring. “I’ve never experienced an event like this,” Gudger remarked. “Miami is a hotbed for technology but nobody knew it.”

Gudger shared humorous stories and practical advice on ways to get technology ideas heard at the highest levels of the federal government. “Every federal agency has a director over small business — find out who they are,” he said. He has had plenty of experience in the private sector: Gudger, who wrote his first computer program on his neighbor’s computer at the age of 12, took one of his former companies from one to 1,300 employees.

There were several rounds that pitted an entrepreneur against an investor, such as Richard Grundy, of the tech startup Flomio, vs. Jonathan Kislak, of Antares Capital, who asked Grundy, “why should I give you money?”

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