U.S. evolves on same-sex marriage


  • The president and the nation have shifted perspectives on same-sex marriage

  • Supreme Court ruling on California's same-sex marriage ban a critical test

  • Growing public support for gay marriage give proponents hope for change

Washington (CNN) -- The nation's growing acceptance of same-sex marriage has happened in slow and painstaking moves, eventually building into a momentum that is sweeping even the most unlikely of converts.

Even though he said in 2008 that he could only support civil unions for same-sex couples, President Barack Obama nonetheless enjoyed strong support among the gay community. He disappointed many with his conspicuously subdued first-term response to the same-sex marriage debate.

Last year, after Vice President Joe Biden announced his support, the president then said his position had evolved and he, too, supported same-sex marriage.

So it was no small matter when on Thursday the Obama administration formally expressed its support of same-sex marriage in a court brief weighing in on California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex weddings. The administration's effort was matched by at least 100 high-profile Republicans — some of whom in elections past depended on gay marriage as a wedge issue guaranteed to rally the base — who signed onto a brief supporting gay couples to legally wed.

Obama on same-sex marriage: Everyone is equal

Then there are the polls that show that an increasing number of Americans now support same-sex marriage. These polls show that nearly half of the nation's Catholics and white, mainstream Protestants and more than half of the nation's women, liberals and political moderates all support same-sex marriage.

According to Pew Research Center polling, 48% of Americans support same-sex marriage with 43% opposed. Back in 2001, 57% opposed same-sex marriage while 35% supported it.

In last year's presidential election, same-sex marriage scarcely raised a ripple. That sea change is not lost on the president.

"The same evolution I've gone through is the same evolution the country as a whole has gone through," Obama told reporters on Friday.

Craig Rimmerman, professor of public policy and political science at Hobart and William Smith colleges says there is history at work here and the administration is wise to get on the right side.

"There is no doubt that President Obama's shifting position on Proposition 8 and same-sex marriage more broadly is due to his desire to situate himself on the right side of history with respect to the fight over same-sex marriage," said Rimmerman, author of "From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States."

"I also think that broader changes in public opinion showing greater support for same-sex marriage, especially among young people, but in the country at large as well, has created a cultural context for Obama to alter his views."

For years, Obama had frustrated many in the gay community by not offering full-throated support of same-sex marriage. However, the president's revelation last year that conversations with his daughters and friends led him to change his mind gave many in that community hope.

Last year, the Obama administration criticized a measure in North Carolina that banned same-sex marriage and made civil unions illegal. The president took the same position on a similar Minnesota proposal.

Obama administration officials point to what they see as the administration's biggest accomplishment in the gay rights cause: repealing "don't ask, don't tell," the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian members serving in the forces.

Then there was the president's inaugural address which placed the gay community's struggle for equality alongside similar civil rights fights by women and African-Americans.

"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well," Obama said in his address after being sworn in.

In offering its support and asserting in the brief that "prejudice may not be the basis for differential treatment under the law," the Obama administration is setting up a high stakes political and constitutional showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court over a fast-evolving and contentious issue.

The justices will hear California's Proposition 8 case in March. That case and another appeal over the federal Defense of Marriage Act will produce blockbuster rulings from the justices in coming months.

Beyond the legal wranglings there is a strong social and historic component, one that has helped open the way for the administration to push what could prove to be a social issue that defines Obama's second term legacy, Rimmerman said.

The nation is redefining itself on this issue, as well.

Pew survey: Changing attitudes on gay marriage

The changes are due, in part, to generational shifts. Younger people show a higher level of support than their older peers, according to Pew polling "Millennials are almost twice as likely as the Silent Generation to support same-sex marriage."

"As people have grown up with people having the right to marry the generational momentum has been very, very strong," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a gay rights organization.

That is not to say that there isn't still opposition.

Pew polling found that most Republicans and conservatives remain opposed to same-sex marriage. In 2001, 21% of Republicans were supportive; in 2012 that number nudged slightly to 25%.

Conservative groups expressed dismay at the administration's same-sex marriage support.

"President Obama, who was against same-sex 'marriage' before he was for it, and his administration, which said the Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional before they said it was unconstitutional, has now flip-flopped again on the issue of same-sex 'marriage,' putting allegiance to extreme liberal social policies ahead of constitutional principle," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement.

But there are signs of movement even among some high profile Republican leaders

Top Republicans sign brief supporting same-sex marriage

The Republican-penned friend of the court brief, which is designed to influence conservative justices on the high court, includes a number of top officials from the George W. Bush administration, Mitt Romney's former campaign manager and former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.

It is also at odds with the Republican Party's platform, which opposes same-sex marriage and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Still, with White House and high-profile Republican support, legal and legislative victories in a number of states and polls that show an increasing number of Americans support same sex-marriage, proponents feel that the winds of history are with them.

"What we've seen is accelerating and irrefutable momentum as Americans have come to understand who gay people are and why marriage matters," Wolfson said. "We now have a solid national majority and growing support across every demographic. We have leaders across the spectrum, including Republicans, all saying it's time to end marriage discrimination."

CNN's Peter Hamby, Ashley Killough and Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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Man slain on way to dialysis treatment: police

WGN-TV: Man fatally shot while waiting for ride to dialysis treatment.

A 72-year-old man was shot and killed in his gangway on the Far South Side early Saturday morning as he left a home for dialysis treatment.

The man's grandson was inside and heard the shots that killed his grandfather, who was identified by family and the Cook County medical examiner's office as William Strickland, of the 400 block of East 95th Street.

The man was shot about 3:30 a.m. and pronounced dead about 4 a.m., according to authorities.

The motive appears to be robbery, police said, but detectives are still investigating.

Detectives remained at the scene, across from Chicago State University, into the morning.

Police taped off the northeast corner of 95th Street and Eberhart Avenue, surrounding the two houses between which the man was killed.

Neighbors said Strickland had lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. He was described as friendly and willing to lend a helping hand, neighbors and friends said.

"He was just there for us," said Theolene Shears, 84, who has lived in the area since 1965. "He was a very nice neighbor. We couldn't ask for a better neighbor."

Shears said she was inside her home when she heard the shots.

"All I heard was three shots. Bang, bang, bang," she said.

Strickland, who went to dialysis three times a week, had been undergoing treatment for about five years, Shears said.

"He seemed to be very happy about it. The way he talked it was like a little social club," Shears said, adding that he eased her own concerns about potentially having to receive treatment.

He preferred to go early on Saturdays to get it out of the way, she said.

Strickland leaves behind a daughter, three grandchildren and a pet Chihuahua, said Shears.

"He was a good man," said Joshua Miles, 14, a friend of the family "He would help you out if you needed help."

"He always kept you laughing," he said.

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Strong data lifts Wall Street, trumps sequester fears

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks edged higher on Friday as strong economic figures more than offset growth concerns out of China and Europe and as investors shrugged off expected across-the-board U.S. goverment spending cuts.

Stocks opened sharply lower as Asian factories slowed and European output fell, but most of the losses disappeared after a report showed U.S. manufacturing activity expanded last month at its fastest clip in 20 months.

U.S. consumer confidence also rose in February as Americans turned more optimistic about the job market.

With government budget cuts set to begin on Friday, President Barack Obama blamed Republicans for failure to reach a compromise to avert the cuts, known as sequester. Investors, who have had plenty of time to prepare, appeared not too worried about the immediate impact.

"Despite the headlines, the drama and the finger pointing, the U.S. economy can still expand and as long as you see expansion, (equity) markets can go higher," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

Krosby said the market was also looking ahead to next week's government payrolls report. A stronger jobs market points to stronger consumer spending, an important component for economic growth. Separately, a government report on Friday said consumer spending rose in January as Americans spent more on services.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> rose 38.09 points or 0.27 percent, to 14,092.58, the S&P 500 <.spx> gained 3.4 points or 0.22 percent, to 1,518.08 and the Nasdaq Composite <.ixic> added 7.68 points or 0.24 percent, to 3,167.87.

For the week so far, the Dow is up 0.7 percent while the Nasdaq and S&P are up 0.2 percent.

Equities continue to attract investors in an environment of low interest rates due to an accommodative monetary policy. The Dow is less than 1 percent away from its all-time intraday high of 14,198.10. Declines have been shallow and short-lived, with investors jumping in to buy on dips.

Intuitive Surgical jumped 8.3 percent to $552.18 after Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Jeremy Feffer upgraded the stock, saying the more than 11 percent slide in the stock on Thursday was a gross overreaction to a news report.

Groupon Inc surged 9 percent to $4.94 a day after the online coupon company fired its chief executive officer in the wake of weak quarterly results.

Gap Inc rose 2.7 percent to $33.81 after reporting fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations and boosting its dividend by 20 percent, while Salesforce.com Inc posted sales that beat forecasts, sending shares up 7.2 percent to $181.41.

Chesapeake Energy Corp fell 1.7 percent to $19.81 after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission escalated its investigation into the company and its Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon for a controversial perk that granted him a share in each of the natural gas producer's wells.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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McIlroy walks off course at Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Rory McIlroy abruptly walked off the course Friday at the Honda Classic, telling reporters who followed him to his car he's "not in a good place mentally." An hour later, he attributed his withdrawal to a sore wisdom tooth.

It raised serious questions about golf's No. 1 player with the Masters just more than a month away.

McIlroy already was 7-over par through eight holes of the second round when he hit his second shot into the water on the par-5 18th at PGA National. He shook hands with Ernie Els and Mark Wilson and was headed to the parking lot before they even finished the hole.

"There's not really much I can say, guys," McIlroy told three reporters before he drove away. "I'm not in a good place mentally, you know?"

He said there was nothing wrong physically. When asked about his swing, the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland replied, "Yeah, I really don't know what's going on."

About an hour after he left, McIlroy released a statement that pinned his withdrawal on dental problems.

"I have been suffering with a sore wisdom tooth, which is due to come out in the near future," McIlroy said. "It began bothering me again last night, so I relieved it with Advil. It was very painful again this morning, and I was simply unable to concentrate. It was really bothering me and had begun to affect my playing partners."

He was seen eating a sandwich on the 18th fairway.

McIlroy apologized to the tournament, saying he had every intention of defending his title at the Honda Classic. He mentioned the wisdom tooth on Twitter and said he was "gutted."

McIlroy, coming off a year in which he won a second major in record fashion, already set himself up for scrutiny when he left Titleist to sign an equipment deal with Nike that was said to be worth upward of $20 million a year.

Nike introduced him with blaring music and a laser show in Abu Dhabi, but it's been all downhill from there.

McIlroy missed the cut in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship with rounds of 75-75. He took a four-week break, and then was eliminated in the opening round of the Match Play Championship to Shane Lowry in one of the most poorly played matches of the round.

McIlroy played 36 holes with Tiger Woods at The Medalist on Sunday and said Tuesday it was no time to panic.

"Even though my results haven't revealed it, I really felt like I was rounding a corner," McIlroy said. "This is one of my favorite tournaments of the year and I regret having to make the decision to withdraw, but it was one I had to make."

It looked more like McIlroy was sinking than rounding the corner, not difficult to do on a course with so many water hazards. And he found plenty of them.

McIlroy, who opened with a 70, hit two poor chips that led to double bogey on No. 11, and a wild tee shot to the right led to a bogey on the 13th. His round really unraveled on the par-4 16th, when he hit his tee shot to the right and into the water, took a penalty drop, and then came up short of the green and into the water again. He made a 6-foot putt for a triple bogey.

He three-putted from 40 feet, running his first putt about 10 feet by the hole, for a bogey to go 7 over. And then came the approach that found water for the third time of his short day on the 18th.

McIlroy is scheduled to play next week in the Cadillac Championship at Doral, which has no cut, and then the Houston Open. But on the first day of March, he has completed only four rounds of competition.

It was the second straight year one of golf's biggest stars failed to finish a tournament on the Florida swing. Woods withdrew after 11 holes on the final round at Doral last year because of tightness in his Achilles tendon, raising questions about the seriousness of his recurring leg injuries. He won Bay Hill two weeks later.

McIlroy at least drove off from PGA National without a helicopter camera following him.

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Syria war is everybody's problem

Syrians search for survivors and bodies after the Syrian regime attacked the city of Aleppo with missiles on February 23.


  • Frida Ghitis: We are standing by as Syria rips itself apart, thinking it's not our problem

  • Beyond the tragedy in human terms, she says, the war damages global stability

  • Ghitis: Syria getting more and more radical, jeopardizing forces of democracy

  • Ghitis: Peace counts on moderates, whom we must back with diplomacy, training arms

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- Last week, a huge explosion rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds. The victims of the blast in a busy downtown street were mostly civilians, including schoolchildren. Each side in the Syrian civil war blamed the other.

In the northern city of Aleppo, about 58 people -- 36 of them children -- died in a missile attack last week. Washington condemned the regime of Bashar al-Assad; the world looked at the awful images and moved on.

Syria is ripping itself to pieces. The extent of human suffering is beyond comprehension. That alone should be reason enough to encourage a determined effort to bring this conflict to a quick resolution. But if humanitarian reasons were not enough, the international community -- including the U.S. and its allies -- should weigh the potential implications of allowing this calamity to continue.

Frida Ghitis

Frida Ghitis

We've all heard the argument: It's not our problem. We're not the world's policeman. We would only make it worse.

This is not a plea to send American or European troops to fight in this conflict. Nobody wants that.

But before we allow this mostly hands-off approach to continue, we would do well to consider the potential toll of continuing with a failed policy, one that has focused in vain over the past two years searching for a diplomatic solution.

U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry has just announced that the U.S. will provide an additional $60 million in non-lethal assistance to the opposition. He has hinted that President Obama, after rejecting suggestions from the CIA and previous Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to arm Syrian rebels, might be ready to change course. And not a day too soon.

The war is taking longer than anyone expected. The longer it lasts, the more Syria is radicalized and the region is destabilized.

If you think the Syrian war is the concern of Syrians alone, think about other countries that have torn themselves apart over a long time. Consider Lebanon, Afghanistan or Somalia; each with unique circumstances, but with one thing in common: Their wars created enormous suffering at home, and the destructiveness eventually spilled beyond their borders. All of those wars triggered lengthy, costly refugee crises. They all spawned international terrorism and eventually direct international -- including U.S. -- intervention.

The uprising against al-Assad started two years ago in the spirit of what was then referred to -- without a hint of irony -- as the Arab Spring. Young Syrians marched, chanting for freedom and democracy. The ideals of equality, rule of law and human rights wafted in the air.

Al-Assad responded to peaceful protests with gunfire. Syrians started dying by the hundreds each day. Gradually the nonviolent protesters started fighting back. Members of the Syrian army started defecting.

The opposition's Free Syrian Army came together. Factions within the Syrian opposition took up arms and the political contest became a brutal civil war. The death toll has climbed to as many as 90,000, according to Kerry. About 2 million people have left their homes, and the killing continues with no end in sight.

In fairness to Washington, Europe and the rest of the international community, there were never easy choices in this war. Opposition leaders bickered, and their clashing views scared away would-be supporters. Western nations rejected the idea of arming the opposition, saying Syria already has too many weapons. They were also concerned about who would control the weaponry, including an existing arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, after al-Assad's fall.

These are all legitimate concerns. But inaction is producing the worst possible outcome.

The moderates, whose views most closely align with the West, are losing out to the better-armed Islamists and, especially, to the extremists. Moderates are losing the ideological debate and the battle for the future character of a Syria after al-Assad.

Radical Islamist groups have taken the lead. Young people are losing faith in moderation, lured by disciplined, devout extremists. Reporters on the ground have seen young democracy advocates turn into fervent supporters of dangerous groups such as the Nusra Front, which has scored impressive victories.

The U.S. State Department recently listed the Nusra Front, which has close ties to al Qaeda in Iraq and a strong anti-Western ideology, as a terrorist organization.

Meantime, countries bordering Syria are experiencing repercussions. And these are likely to become more dangerous.

Jordan, an important American ally, is struggling with a flood of refugees, as many as 10,000 each week since the start of the year. The government estimates 380,000 Syrians are in Jordan, a country whose government is under pressure from its own restive population and still dealing with huge refugee populations from other wars.

Turkey is also burdened with hundreds of thousands of refugees and occasional Syrian fire. Israel has warned about chemical weapons transfers from al-Assad to Hezbollah in Lebanon and may have already fired on a Syrian convoy attempting the move.

Lebanon, always perched precariously on the edge of crisis, lives with growing fears that Syria's war will enter its borders. Despite denials, there is evidence that Lebanon's Hezbollah, a close ally of al-Assad and of Iran, has joined the fighting on the side of the Syrian president. The Free Syrian Army has threatened to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon if it doesn't leave Syria.

The possible outcomes in Syria include the emergence of a failed state, stirring unrest throughout the region. If al-Assad wins, Syria will become an even more repressive country.

Al-Assad's survival would fortify Iran and Hezbollah and other anti-Western forces. If the extremists inside the opposition win, Syria could see factional fighting for many years, followed by anti-democratic, anti-Western policies.

The only good outcome is victory for the opposition's moderate forces. They may not be easy to identify with complete certainty. But to the extent that it is possible, these forces need Western support.

They need training, funding, careful arming and strong political and diplomatic backing. The people of Syria should know that support for human rights, democracy and pluralism will lead toward a peaceful, prosperous future.

Democratic nations should not avert their eyes from the killings in Syria which are, after all, a warning to the world.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

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Latest autopsy reveals no new details in lottery winner's death

The body of poisoned lottery winner, Urooj Khan, is exhumed at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. (John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune)

Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina said today that the exhumation and autopsy of Urooj Khan’s body revealed nothing new to help Chicago police in the investigation of the million-dollar lottery winner’s cyanide poisoning death last summer.

At a press conference at the medical examiner’s West Side office, Cina said the body was badly decomposed and the autopsy could not confirm how the cyanide entered his body.

Cina said no cyanide was detectable in Khan’s body tissues or in the “small amount” of contents in the stomach because of the advanced decomposition.

"Cyanide has a short half-life and may be lost over the postmortem period unless tissues are adequately preserved," he said. "In this case, due to advance putrefaction of the tissues, no cyanide was detectable in the tissues or small amounts of gastric content recovered following exhumation of the body."

The medical examiner said pathologists could not tell what Khan had last eaten, saying there was only “residue” left in the stomach.

"I can't say whether it (cyanide) was ingested or not," Cina said.

The autopsy did reveal 75 percent blockage in one of Khan’s coronary arteries, but the medical examiner still ruled that Khan died of cyanide toxicity -- with heart disease as a "contributing factor." The manner of death was homicide, he said.

"Since cyanide affects oxygen utilization in the tissues, it follows logically that a natural disease process that already limits blood flow to the heart could render an individual particularly susceptible to death due to this toxin," Cina said.

Cina said he was limited in what he could tell reporters because of the "ongoing police investigation."

When a reporter asked if Khan could have died of a heart attack, Cina said, "As a pathologist you have to look at the totality of the evidence. And I don't see how I can ignore a lethal level of cyanide in the blood."

Authorities hoped to shed light on the mystery after unearthing Khan’s body at a Far North Side cemetery on Jan. 18 and performing an autopsy on the remains that same day.

After the approximately two-hour autopsy, Cina said the body was in an advanced state of decomposition but that doctors were able to gather samples for toxicological testing. The body was reburied three days later at Rosehill Cemetery.

As the Tribune first revealed earlier in January, the medical examiner's office initially ruled that Khan, 46, died July 20 from hardening of the arteries after no signs of trauma were found on the body and a preliminary blood test didn't raise any questions. But the investigation was reopened about a week later after Khan’s brother, ImTiaz, raised concerns that Khan may have been poisoned.

In an interview last month with the Tribune, Imtiaz Khan said he was visiting his brother’s grave site about a week after his death with the medical examiner’s office returned his call.

"I said, 'No, my brother cannot die like this. He was so healthy. I have suspicions about this. It cannot be natural. Please go and look into more details about it,' " Khan said. "I'm looking at the grave. I said, 'He should not be here. Absolutely not. He cannot die like that.' "

Chicago police were notified in September after tests showed cyanide in Khan’s blood. By late November, more comprehensive tests showed lethal levels of the toxic chemical, leading the medical examiner's office to declare his death a homicide.

Khan had won the scratch-off lottery prize a few weeks before his death, but he didn't survive long enough to collect the winnings -- a lump-sum payment of about $425,000 after taxes.

At the time of the autopsy in January, Cina said Khan had been buried in a wood box with a plastic foam covering wrapped in a shroud. The box sat in a concrete vault.

Following Muslim tradition, Khan’s body was not embalmed, contributing to its decomposition, Cina said. Still, the medical examiner's team was able to take samples from major organs during the autopsy for toxicological analysis, he said.

"Generally, embalming preserves tissues better. It makes it easier to see things," Cina said. "However ... additives in the embalming fluid can confuse some of the toxicological analysis."

The team also recovered contents in Khan’s stomach, according to Cina. That could be helpful to determine whether cyanide had been in his food. Hair and fingernail samples also were gathered for testing, he said.

Authorities also collected a sample of the dirt surrounding the vault, because tiny organisms living in the soil can produce cyanide at low levels. Cina wanted to test it in case questions arose about whether the dirt could influence the laboratory findings on Khan’s body.

Cina's team did not smell cyanide during Friday's autopsy, but the medical examiner said that it likely wouldn't be possible to detect the bitter-almond scent of the chemical because of the decomposition.

In court papers, Cina said it was necessary to perform a full autopsy to "further confirm the results of the blood analysis as well as to rule out any other natural causes that might have contributed to or caused Mr. Khan’s death."

Khan’s widow, Shabana Ansari, who has hired a criminal defense lawyer, told the Tribune in January that she had been questioned for more than four hours by detectives and answered all their questions. She said the detectives had asked her about the ingredients she used to prepare the final meal that her husband ate.

The Tribune also has reported that Ansari's father, Fareedun, who also lives in the family home, had owed more than $120,000 in back taxes, leading the Internal Revenue Service to place liens on Khan’s West Rogers Park residence.

According to court records obtained by the Tribune, Imtiaz Khan has squabbled with Shabana Ansari over the lottery winnings in probate court. The brother raised concern that because Khan left no will, Khan’s daughter from a previous marriage, Jasmeen, 17, would not get "her fair share" of her father's estate. The couple did not have any children together.

An attorney for Ansari in the probate case said the money was all accounted for and the estate was in the process of being divided up by the court. Under state law, the estate typically would be split evenly between the spouse and Khan’s only child, he said.

Fareedun and Shabana Ansari have denied involvement in Khan’s death and neither has been accused of a crime.

But last month, Ansari’s lawyer contended that weeks before his death, Khan had inked a deal with a business partner to ensure that his share of several dry cleaning stores went to his wife in the event of his death.

The business contract means that Ansari owns half the dry cleaning operation and its real estate, valued at more than $1 million, instead of those assets being divided among heirs in probate court, according to Ansari's lawyer, Al-Haroon Husain. The lawyer acknowledged he expects the dispute over the assets to be fought in court.

"It's a bit unusual," Husain said of the contract. "I just think he wanted to make sure his wife had a business and had attachment to the commercial property if something happened to him." Although a motive has not been determined, police have not ruled out that Khan was killed because of his lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune. 

In addition, a real estate agreement Khan signed with his wife in 2007 entitles her to sole ownership of their West Rogers Park home, which is valued at almost half a million dollars, Husain said.

Kahn’s sister, Meraj Khan, told the Tribune her suspicions of Ansari's motives intensified after learning of the business agreement.

"Things are getting more clear about why my brother is gone," the sister said. "Out of nowhere she's the beneficiary for ... the business?"


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Wall Street drifts after two-day run, Dow record in sight

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Thursday with investors hard-pressed to lift indexes to multi-year highs despite strong economic data.

The U.S. economy ticked up in the fourth quarter, reversing an earlier estimate showing contraction, and a drop in new claims for unemployment benefits last week added to a string of data that suggests the economy improved early this year.

Still, the positive revision to GDP data was expected and the claims continue a trend that is baked into prices. The market lacks catalysts as it digests its recent move higher, according to Kevin Caron, market strategist at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co in Florham Park, New Jersey, where he helps oversee $120 billion in assets under management.

"That's why I think you're seeing a fairly listless trading environment today," Caron said.

The Dow was within striking distance of a record high after a more than 7 percent year-to-date run. The Dow transports index <.djt>, seen as a bet on future growth, is up almost 13 percent this year and hit a record intraday high Thursday before turning slightly negative.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> rose 14.79 points or 0.11 percent, to 14,090.16, the S&P 500 <.spx> gained 3.12 points or 0.21 percent, to 1,519.11 and the Nasdaq Composite <.ixic> added 9.13 points or 0.29 percent, to 3,171.39.

The Dow's intraday record, set October 11, 2007, stands at 14,198.10.

The S&P 500 has gained more than 2 percent in the past three sessions.

Equity markets suffered steep losses earlier in the week on concerns over the impact of an Italian election on the European economy, but bounced back on strong data and recent comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that showed continued support for the Fed's economic stimulus policy.

J.C. Penney Co Inc slumped 17.9 percent to $17.38 after the department store reported a steep drop in sales on Wednesday. Groupon Inc also slumped on weak revenue, with the stock off 20 percent at $4.76.

Cablevision shares tumbled nearly 10 percent after the cable provider took a $100 million hit on costs related to Superstorm Sandy and posted deeper video customer losses than expected.

Mylan Inc shares were on track to close at their highest ever after the generic drugmaker posted a 25 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit and said it will buy a unit of India's Strides Arcolab Ltd. Shares were last up 3.8 percent at $29.66.

Investors were keeping an eye on the debate in Washington over U.S. government budget cuts that will take effect starting Friday if lawmakers fail to reach agreement on spending and taxes. President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders arranged last-ditch talks to prevent the cuts, but expectations were low that any deal would emerge.

With 93 percent of the S&P 500 companies having reported results so far, 69.5 percent have beaten profit expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 6.2 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos, additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Rodman tells Kim Jong Un he has 'friend for life'

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman hung out Thursday with North Korea's Kim Jong Un on the third day of his improbable journey with VICE to Pyongyang, watching the Harlem Globetrotters with the leader and later dining on sushi and drinking with him at his palace.

"You have a friend for life," Rodman told Kim before a crowd of thousands at a gymnasium where they sat side by side, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the U.S. play, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press.

Rodman arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with three members of the professional Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy and a production crew to shoot an episode on North Korea for a new weekly HBO series.

The unlikely encounter makes Rodman the most high-profile American to meet Kim since the young North Korean leader took power in December 2011, and takes place against a backdrop of tension between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test just two weeks ago, making clear the provocative act was a warning to the United States to drop what it considers a "hostile" policy toward the North.

Kim, a diehard basketball fan, told the former Chicago Bulls star he hoped the visit would break the ice between the United States and North Korea, VICE founder Shane Smith said.

Dressed in a blue Mao suit, Kim laughed and slapped his hands on the table before him during the game as he sat nearly knee to knee with Rodman. Rodman, the man who once turned up in a wedding dress to promote his autobiography, wore a dark suit and dark sunglasses, but still had on his nose rings and other piercings. A can of Coca-Cola sat on the table before him in photos shared with AP by VICE.

"The crowd was really engaged, laughed at all of the Globetrotters antics, and actually got super loud towards the end as the score got close," said Duffy, who suited up for the game in a blue uniform emblazoned with "United States of America. "Most fun I've had in a while."

Kim and Rodman chatted in English, but Kim primarily spoke in Korean through a translator, Smith said after speaking to the VICE crew in Pyongyang.

"They bonded during the game," Smith said by telephone from New York after speaking to the crew. "They were both enjoying the crazy shots, and the Harlem Globetrotters were putting on quite a show."

The surprise visit by the flamboyant Hall of Famer known as "The Worm" makes him an unlikely ambassador at a time when North Koreans are girding for battle with the U.S. Just last week, Kim guided frontline troops in military exercises.

North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of the three-year Korean War, which ended in a truce in 1953. The foes never signed a peace treaty, and do not have diplomatic relations.

Thursday's game ended in a 110-110 draw, with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans, Detrick said. The Xinhua News Agency first reported on the game, citing witnesses who attended.

After the game, Rodman addressed Kim in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands of North Koreans, telling him, "You have a friend for life," Detrick said.

At a lavish dinner at Kim's palace, the leader plied the group with food and drinks as the group made round after round of toasts.

"Dinner was an epic feast. Felt like about 10 courses in total," Duffy said in an email to AP. "I'd say the winners were the smoked turkey and sushi, though we had the Pyongyang cold noodles earlier in the trip and that's been the runaway favorite so far."

Duffy said he invited Kim to visit the United States, a proposal met with hearty laughter from the North Korean leader.

"Um ... so Kim Jong Un just got the (hash)VICEonHBO crew wasted ... no really, that happened," VICE producer Jason Mojica wrote on Twitter.

Rodman's trip is the second attention-grabbing U.S. visit this year to North Korea. Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a four-day trip in January to Pyongyang, but did not meet the North Korean leader.

Extending an invitation to a man known as much for his piercings, tattoos and bad behavior as for his basketball may seem inexplicable. But Kim is known to love the NBA, and has promoted sports since becoming leader.

"We knew that he's a big lover of basketball, especially the Bulls, and it was our intention going in that we would have a good-will mission of something that's fun," Smith said. "A lot of times, things just are serious and everybody's so concerned with geopolitics that we forget just to be human beings."

Rodman's agent, Darren Prince, said Rodman wasn't concerned about criticism about making a visit to an enemy nation.

"Dennis called me last night and said it's been a great experience and he made this trip out of the love of the USA ," he said. "It's all about peace and love."


Associated Press NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report from New York. Follow AP's Korea bureau chief Jean Lee at twitter.com/newsjean.

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Syria war is everybody's problem


  • NEW: United States will give food and medical aid to rebel fighters for the first time

  • NEW: It's not clear how much that aid is worth, but $60 million will go to opposition council

  • NEW: "Behave as a human being," opposition leader urges Syrian president

  • U.S. officials are considering more nonlethal military aid

Rome (CNN) -- The United States stepped further into Syria's civil war Thursday, promising rebel fighters food and medical supplies -- but not weapons -- for the first time in the nearly two-year conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives and laid waste to large portions of the country.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the aid would help fighters in the high-stakes effort to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a conflict that has already spawned an enormous humanitarian crisis as refugees flee the fighting.

The ongoing fighting also poses the persistent threat of widening into a destabilizing regional crisis.

"The United States' decision to take further steps now is the result of the continued brutality of a superior armed force propped up by foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah, all of which threatens to destroy Syria," Kerry said after meeting opposition leaders in Rome.

Kerry didn't say how much that aid would be worth, but did announce that the United States would separately give $60 million to local groups working with the Syrian National Council to provide political administration and basic services in rebel-controlled areas of Syria.

READ: U.S. weighing nonlethal aid to Syrian opposition

That's on top of $50 million in similar aid the United States has previously pledged to the council, as well as $385 million in humanitarian assistance, Kerry said.

"This funding will allow the opposition to reach out and help the local councils to be able to rebuild in their liberated areas of Syria so that they can provide basic services to people who so often lack access today to medical care, to food, to sanitation," he said.

Islamist Influence

That aid is partly an effort to hem in radical Islamist groups vying for influence in Syria after the fall of al-Assad, a senior State Department official told CNN.

"If the Syrian opposition coalition can't touch, improve and heal the lives of Syrians in those places that have been freed, then extremists will step in and do it," the official said.

Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, president of the Syrian National Council, said concerns about Islamist influence had been overstated.

"We stand against every radical belief that aims to target Syria's diverse social and religious fabric," he said.

READ: Inside Syria: Exclusive look at pro-Assad Christian militia

U.S. officials hope the aid will help the coalition show what it can do and encourage al-Assad supporters to "peel away from him" and help end the fighting, the official said.

The opposition council will decide where the money goes, Kerry said.

But the United States will send technical advisers through its partners to the group's Cairo headquarters to make sure it's being used properly, the senior State Department official said.

Additional aid possible

In addition to the decision to give rebel fighters food and medical supplies, President Barack Obama is thinking about training rebels and equipping them with defensive gear such as night vision goggles, body armor and military vehicles, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

The training would help rebels decide how to use their resources, strategize and maybe train a police force to take over after al-Assad's fall, one of the sources said.

READ: Syrian army in Homs is showing strains of war

Kerry did not announce that sort of aid Thursday, but said the United States and other countries backing the rebels would "continue to consult with each other on an urgent basis."

An official who briefed reporters said the opposition has raised a lot of needs in the Rome meetings and the administration will continue to "keep those under review."

"We will do this with vetted individuals, vetted units, so it has to be done carefully and appropriately," the official said.

Humanitarian crisis

The conflict began with demands for political reform after the Arab Spring movement that swept the Middle East and Africa, but descended into a brutal civil war when the al-Assad regime began a brutal crackdown on demonstrators.

At least 60,000 people have died since the fighting began in March 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in early January.

Another 940,000 had fled the country as of Tuesday, while more than one in 10 of Syria's 20 million residents have been forced to move elsewhere inside the country because of the fighting, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said.

The situation is nearing crisis proportions, with the dramatic influx of refugees threatening to break the ability of host nations to provide for their needs, Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday

"The host states, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and the North African countries, have been exemplary in their different ways, but we fear the pressure will start to overwhelm their capacities," she told the council, according to a text of her remarks posted on the United Nations website.

Al-Khatib said it's time for the fighting to stop.

"I ask Bashar al-Assad for once, just once, to behave as a human being," he said. "Enough massacres, enough killings. Enough of your bloodshed and enough torture. I urge you to make a rational decision once in your life and end the killings."

READ: Syrian war is everybody's problem

Jill Dougherty reported from Rome, and Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Elise Labott also contributed to this report.

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Pope leaves Vatican before abdication

Pope Benedict XVI gives final farewell at Vatican. (WGN - Chicago)

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict left the Vatican on Thursday after pledging unconditional obedience to whoever succeeds him to guide the Roman Catholic Church at one of the most crisis-ridden periods in its 2,000-year history.

The first pope in six centuries to step down, Benedict flew off in a white Italian air force helicopter for the papal summer villa south of the capital where he took up temporary residence.

Bells rang out from St Peter's Basilica and churches all over Rome as the helicopter circled Vatican City and flew over the Colosseum and other landmarks to give the pontiff one last view of the city where he is also bishop.

"As you know, today is different to previous ones," he told an emotional, cheering crowd in the small town of Castel Gandolfo in his last public remarks as pope.

"I will only be the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church until 8 p.m and then no longer. I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth."

He turned and went inside the villa, never to be seen again as pope.

In an emotional farewell to cardinals on Thursday morning in the Vatican's frescoed Sala Clementina, Benedict appeared to send a strong message to the top echelons of the Church as well as the faithful to remain united behind his successor, whoever he is.

"I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that you are fully accepting of the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new pope," he said. "May the Lord show you what he wants. Among you there is the future pope, to whom I today declare my unconditional reverence and obedience."

The pledge, made ahead of the closed-doors conclave where cardinals will elect his successor, was significant because for the first time in history, there will be a reigning pope and a former pope living side by side in the Vatican.

Some Church scholars worry that if the next pope undoes some of Benedict's policies while his predecessor is still alive, Benedict could act as a lightning rod for conservatives and polarize the 1.2 billion-member Church.

Before boarding the helicopter, Pope Benedict said goodbye to monsignors, nuns, Vatican staff and Swiss guards in the San Damaso courtyard of the Holy See's apostolic palace. Many of his staff had tears in their eyes as the helicopter left.

As the helicopter took off, he sent his last message on Twitter: "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives".

Benedict will spend the first few months of his retirement in the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, a complex of villas boasting lush gardens, a farm and stunning views over Lake Albano in the volcanic crater below the town.

At 8 p.m. (1900 GMT/2 p.m. ET) the papacy will be officially vacant and two Swiss Guards that ceremonially watch over the summer villa will march away and not return until the new pope takes possession of the hilltop residence.

Benedict will stay until April when renovations are completed on a convent in the Vatican that will be his new home.


With the election of the next pope taking place in the wake of sexual abuse scandals, leaks of his private papers by his butler, falling membership and demands for a greater role for women, many in the Church believe it would benefit from a fresh face from a non-European country.

A number of cardinals from the developing world, including Ghanaian Peter Turkson and Antonio Tagle of the Philippines are two names often mentioned as leading candidates from the developing world who listen more.

"At the past two conclaves, the cardinals elected the smartest man in the room. Now, it may be time to choose a man who will listen to all the other smart people in the Church," said Father Tom Resse, a historian and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

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