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Robinson exit to cost New York Times over $15 million

(iBBC News) - Janet Robinson, who will step down as chief executive of the New York Times Co on December 31, will receive an exit package in excess of $15 million, according to people familiar with the situation.

In addition to a $4.5 million consulting fee, the Times Co will pay Robinson $10.9 million in pension benefits that she accrued over 28 years of service, they said.

According to a regulatory filing, Times Co's policy previously stipulated that Robinson, 61, would not be eligible for full pension benefits until she was 63 and had been with the company for 30 years. But people familiar with the matter said the Times Co agreed to pay out the full amount as part of her separation agreement.

Taken together, Robinson is walking away with just under $15 million exclusive of the value of the stock options she accumulated over her tenure with the company. The details of her severance agreement, which would also include her base salary, performance bonus, and stock options, are expected to be disclosed in the Times Co's 10K regulatory filing in March.

Against the backdrop of an 80 percent decline in the Times Co's stock over her seven-year tenure as CEO, the size of Robinson's exit package prompted some criticism in the newsroom. Times Co shares are down 25 percent this year alone.

But Robinson is getting less than half of the $37.1 million Craig Dubow received from a combination of severance, pension, disability, and stock payments when he retired as Gannett Inc's CEO in October, after six years at the helm of the newspaper publisher and amid similarly dismal financial results.

FRICTION WITH SULZBERGER

While the Times Co has not given an official reason for Robinson's sudden decision to retire, people familiar with the matter said it was not related to an impending financial event such as a big decline in advertising sales or digital subscriptions or a large quarterly loss.

Some newsroom staffers believe that Robinson's efforts to "raise her profile" were interpreted by Arthur Sulzberger Jr, the family scion and company chairman, as an unwelcome power grab. They say that Robinson pushed for a larger publicity effort around the business side after seeing the attention heaped on the newspaper when Jill Abramson took over as editor-in-chief.

Robinson embarked on an outreach effort that included speaking engagements at recent UBS and Goldman Sachs media conferences, hosting lunches for investors and analysts at the company's Lorenzo Piano-designed headquarters, and conducting editorial meetings with Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg and others.

The aim of these meetings was to tell the story of how the Times Co's business has recovered since 2008, highlighting its quick repayment of a $250 million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, its sale of noncore assets, and its successful implementation of a digital paywall, among other things.

"She wanted to convince investors to come back to us; that we had turned the corner so they should buy the stock again - that was the objective," said one source.

Though Robinson and Sulzberger had worked cordially and efficiently together as CEO and chairman, sources said friction has been building between the two recently for reasons ranging from their differing management styles to how Wall Street interpreted their respective roles to Sulzberger wanting a leader with more digital acumen.

Whether Robinson's PR efforts represented the breaking point for Sulzberger is unclear, however.

"Arthur is the operating head of the company, he makes the final decisions," said longtime Times Co-watcher Alex Jones, author of "The Trust" about the company. "Janet wouldn't be out doing anything without his blessing."

Two resign from Kodak board; represented KKR

(iBBC News)Two Eastman Kodak directors resigned from the board last week, the struggling photography company said in a filing with U.S. regulators on Tuesday.

Both directors - Adam Clammer and Herald Chen - were representatives of private equity firm KKR & Co on Kodak's board. Kodak said Clammer and Chen notified the company of their resignations on December 21.

Kodak did not give any further details as to why the directors resigned, and a spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Kodak earlier this year drew down on its revolving credit facility and on November 3 told investors that it may need to issue new debt or complete a multibillion-dollar patent sale to survive the next year.

Kodak has hired Jones Day, a law firm known for restructuring cases, as well as restructuring firm FTI Consulting, but has denied that it intends to file for bankruptcy. It has been struggling to cope with the collapse of its film business.

Federal judge ends BP's probation for Alaska spill

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (iBBC News) — A U.S. district judge has dismissed the federal government's request to revoke a BP subsidiary's probation for a 2009 oil spill on Alaska's North Slope.

Judge Ralph Beistline also lifted BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.'s probation altogether in a written order issued Tuesday.

BP was convicted of negligent discharge of oil in 2007 for a 200,000-gallon (757,000-liter) spill on the North Slope a year earlier.

There was another spill of 13,500 gallons (51,100liters) in 2009.

Last month, government lawyers sought to have BP's probation revoked for the latest spill, meaning the probation period could have been lengthened or the company could have faced additional penalties.

In his ruling, Beistline said the government failed to prove the company committed criminal negligence.
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Request by WVU to dismiss Big East suit denied

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (iBBC News) — A Rhode Island judge on Tuesday denied a request by West Virginia University to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Big East Conference over the university's bid to make a quick exit for the Big 12.

Providence County Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein rejected all of the university's arguments for dismissal.

The school had argued the Rhode Island courts did not have the authority to decide the matter and should defer to the courts in West Virginia, where the first civil suit was filed in this dispute.

The university also claimed it can't be sued in Rhode Island because it has sovereign immunity as an agency of the state of West Virginia and was not properly notified by the Big East of its lawsuit.

Court spokesman Craig Berke said the timetable for future legal proceedings in Rhode Island has not been determined.

The Big East's lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and an order that West Virginia stay in the conference for 27 months.

West Virginia accepted an invitation from the Big 12 in October and hopes to join in time for the 2012 football season.

Since then the school and Big East have each sued the other and filed motions to dismiss the other's lawsuits. A West Virginia judge earlier this month refused to dismiss a university lawsuit against the Big East.

A trial in the case filed in West Virginia is scheduled for June 25, which is five days before the university plans to leave the Big East.

The Big East countersued in Rhode Island on Nov. 4, four days after the university filed its suit, alleging that West Virginia helped craft the bylaws and cannot now ignore them. The Big East says an early exit by the university would do irreparable harm to the conference.

WVU has already sent half of the required $5 million exit fee to the Big East, and it contends that by accepting the down payment, the conference agreed to the immediate withdrawal.

WVU contends the conference violated its responsibility to members by failing to balance the number of football-playing and non-football schools. But the Big East says the bylaws have no such requirement.

Lawyers for the Big East did not immediately return messages on Tuesday.

Appeals court says Anschutz owes $17.3M in taxes

DENVER (iBBC News) — A federal appeals on Tuesday agreed with a tax court that determined Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz owed at least $17.3 million in taxes.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld the tax court's 2010 ruling. The court said the Anschutz Co., which Anschutz owns, is also liable for at least $77 million in taxes.

Anschutz spokesman Jim Monaghan said Anschutz already paid the taxes but appealed that he owed them. Anschutz's wife, Nancy, was also named in the case because they file tax returns jointly.

The taxes are from stock transactions in 2000 and 2001.

At issue were stock deals that were structured to spread the tax liability out over several years. Judges agreed with tax regulators that that the transactions were sales, and not pending transactions as Anschutz argued.

Such transactions executed through so called variable prepaid forward contracts and share-lending agreements are a fairly common practice by large shareholders hoping to raise money while deferring taxes, according to Robert Willens, a former Lehman Brothers director who now heads a Wall Street tax and accounting firm.

According to the court documents, the Internal Revenue Service in 2003 issued guidance on how the transactions should be structured to avoid taxes, but Willens said the IRS in 2006 issued another letter warning that the arrangements could result in taxable income. In a friend-of-the-court filing in the case, Liberty Media Corp. argued the transactions amount to loans, not sales, and that they provide an important way for companies to raise money and create jobs.

Liberty said it raised money through derivative transactions, including variable forward contracts, to invest $400 million in Sirius XM Radio Inc. and save the satellite radio provider from bankruptcy. Liberty also noted that Anschutz used money raised from his transactions to assemble Regal Entertainment Group, the world's largest motion picture exhibitor.

Anschutz argued that the transactions followed the IRS guidance to the letter, but the judges disagreed and ruled that the transactions were sales partly because the stocks were sold shortly after Anschutz transferred them to a securities firm.

"The IRS making its ruling retroactive caught us in the 2000 timeframe by surprise," Monaghan said. "The IRS took the position that this is just a tax maneuver. ... It's a bona fide business procedure in which we raise capital."

Monaghan said no decision has been made whether to appeal the court's ruling.

"It's pretty much over," Willens said. "Those transactions will be treated as sales, the gain from the sale will be recognized as soon as the year it was entered into. The IRS will be attempting to locate those taxpayers and incidents of similar arrangements."

Oklahoma City-based IRS spokesman David Stell declined to comment on the ruling.

Anschutz is one-time oil wildcatter from Kansas who has built an empire over four decades with an instinct for turning underdeveloped areas into successes.

He's invested in railroads, real estate, sports teams and founded Qwest Communications, which was recently acquired by CenturyLink Inc.

New York Times selling regional papers for $143M

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — The New York Times Co. says it will sell its Regional Media Group to Halifax Media Holdings LLC for $143 million.

The division being sold runs 16 small, regional newspapers including The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif.; the News Chief in Winter Haven, Fla.; and The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

New York Times Co. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger says the sale enables the company to continue its transformation to a digitally-focused media company.

The company had said Dec. 19 that it was in advanced talks to sell the business to Halifax Media, owner of the Daytona Beach News-Journal in Florida.

The sale is expected to close in a few weeks. The New York Times Co. plans to use proceeds from the sale for general corporate purposes.

Carol Channing's husband, Harry Kullijian, dies

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (iBBC News) — Harry Kullijian, a former Northern California city councilman who married Broadway star Carol Channing some 70 years after the childhood sweethearts lost contact, has died on the eve of his 92nd birthday.

Kullijian collapsed at the couple's Rancho Mirage home after suffering an aneurysm, according to family spokesman Harlan Boll. He died Monday at a nearby hospital, Boll said.

Kullijian met Channing while attending middle school in San Francisco, where they dated for a few years before going off to college. The pair lost touch for decades — as Channing became a musical theater hit with her Tony-winning role in "Hello, Dolly," while Kullijian went to war and then local politics. But they never forgot about each other.

In her 2000 memoir, "Just Lucky, I Guess," Channing reflected on her first love, saying the years spent with him were the happiest of her life.

"The leader of the school band was Harry Kullijian. I was so in love with Harry I couldn't stop hugging him," she wrote.

A mutual friend who read the book urged the recently-widowed Kullijian to call Channing. They got engaged two weeks after their reunion and married three months later, when Channing was 82 and Kullijian 83.

"We went on talking from the last conversation when we were 15 years old," Channing said of their first meeting in seven decades, in a 2003 interview on CNN's "Larry King Live." ''We just picked up from that. The years between disappeared, just disappeared."

Born in Turlock, Kullijian settled in nearby Modesto after fighting in World War II and the Korean War and went into walnut farming and real estate. He served two terms on the Modesto City Council, and then spearheaded a local campaign against pornography.

After he married Channing, the couple formed the Channing-Kullijian Foundation to support arts education in schools, and he took over as her manager. The couple split their time between homes in Modesto and Rancho Mirage.

"We go to these celebrity events and, of course, everyone knows and loves Carol and wants to talk to her," Kullijian told The Modesto Bee in October. "Then they point to me and ask, 'Who's he?' So I've adopted a new name: Who's he? It doesn't matter who I am; it only matters that I'm helping someone else."

Kullijian is survived by Channing; his two children with late wife Gerry Amos, John and Leslee; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Convenience store group spent $655,000 lobbying

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — The National Association of Convenience Stores spent $655,000 during the third quarter lobbying the federal government on issues related to price gouging, energy policy, credit card fees, tobacco regulation and other business matters, according to a disclosure document.

That is up from the $620,000 it spent in the second quarter and the $570,000 it spent in the third quarter last year.

In addition to Congress, the trade group, which represents more than 2,100 retail chains and 1,600 suppliers for convenience stores, also lobbied the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Federal Reserve System and others, according to a disclosure report file with the House clerk's office.

Acquitted pastor's ex-wife dies years after attack

DALLAS (iBBC News) — Peggy Railey, the former wife of a Dallas minister who was acquitted at a sensational trial of trying to strangle her, has died in East Texas nearly 25 years after the attack that left her incapacitated.

Ron Gamel of the Tyler Memorial Funeral Home confirmed Railey's death but declined to release details Tuesday, citing a family request for privacy.

Railey, 63, never recovered from the savage choking assault at her Dallas-area home in April 1987 and remained in what doctors called a vegetative state. Walker Railey, her husband at the time of the attack, was once a rising star at Dallas' First United Methodist Church. He was acquitted in 1993 of attempted murder, though he acknowledged lying about his whereabouts the night of the attack to hide an affair.

Walker Railey, who has maintained his innocence, lost an $18 million civil judgment in his wife's attack but the award was later set aside as part of bankruptcy proceedings and a settlement between Railey and his former wife's family.

"I'm grateful that Peggy's medical struggles have finally come to an end," Walker Railey told The Associated Press in a brief telephone interview Tuesday. "She suffered a long time."

Peggy Railey had been staying at an undisclosed nursing home in Tyler, where she required 24-hour care, was fed through tubes, had no muscle control, was awake intermittently and made noises and cries. The Tyler Morning Telegraph first reported her death.

In the spring of 1987, Walker Railey was a dynamic and socially conscious senior minister at the 6,000-member First United Methodist Church. He had received threatening, racially charged letters and even wore a bulletproof vest to deliver the Easter Sunday sermon that would be his last at the church.

On the night of April 21, Peggy Railey was choked with a cord and left convulsing and near death on their garage floor. The couple's two children, Ryan, 5, and Megan, 2, were left inside, unharmed. Railey told police he discovered his wife about 12:40 a.m. when he returned from doing research at Southern Methodist University.

A little more than a week after the attack, Railey locked himself in a hospital suite and began to write. A security guard found him unconscious, empty pill bottles and a long, rambling note lying nearby. Police described it as a suicide note. In the letter, Railey wrote of a lifelong battle with the "demon inside my soul" and said it had lured him into doing things he did not want to do. "My demon has finally gotten the upper hand," he claimed.

He surrendered custody of his children to longtime friends and moved to California with his lover Lucy Papillon, a psychologist and the daughter of a Methodist bishop who, like Railey, once served as senior minister at First Methodist.

Dallas prosecutors didn't immediately bring criminal charges against Railey. In a civil judgment in 1988, however, a state district judge ruled that Railey "intentionally, knowingly, maliciously, and brutally attempted to strangle his wife" and to cover up his actions with a "false alibi."

More than four years later, Railey went on trial for attempted murder. Investigators developed evidence through his cell phone calls that he was not on the SMU campus but nearer his own home at a critical time the night of the attack. Evidence also showed the threatening notes were written on a church typewriter and Railey's DNA was on a licked envelope. A grand jury indicted him.

At his trial in San Antonio, prosecutors tried to show that Railey plotted to kill his wife so he would be free to marry Papillon, arguing that he knew a divorce would jeopardize his rise through the church hierarchy.

On the witness stand, Railey swore he wasn't covering up trying to kill his wife but had been trying to hide his affair.

"I was lying to my wife and creating an alibi to go see Lucy Papillon," Railey testified, and said the suicide note was him "confessing the guilt and the sense of betrayal I felt for not being there when my family needed me."

The jury acquitted him. "It's like 'Murder, She Wrote,' " Railey told The Associated Press the night after the verdict. "Everybody wants to solve it. Well, I want to solve it, too."

Railey's married his second wife, Donna, in 1998, less than two weeks after he signed final papers ending his marriage to Peggy Railey. She later died of liver failure.

Dairy group spent $420K lobbying in 3Q

The International Dairy Foods Association spent $420,000 in the third quarter lobbying federal officials on milk pricing, dietary guidelines, ethanol policy and other issues, according to a recent disclosure report.

That's 27 percent more than the $331,000 that the trade group for the nation's dairies and their marketers and suppliers spent in the second quarter. And it's 87 percent more than the group spent $225,000 in the third quarter of 2010. That's according to legally required reports the group has filed with Congress.

Its members include Dean Foods Co., Lifeway Foods Inc. and ConAgra Foods Inc. It also lobbied on trade, the 2012 Farm Bill, food safety and dairy marketing programs.

Besides Congress, the group lobbied the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Executive Office of the President and other agencies during the July through September period, according to the report filed with the House clerk's office Oct. 20.

Suspect in soldier shooting was attacked:Attorney

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (iBBC News) — An attorney said Tuesday that the man jailed in the critical wounding of an Afghanistan war veteran at a California homecoming party was being attacked and was on the ground when the shooting took place.

Attorney Michael J. Holmes said he wants to talk to 19-year-old client Ruben Ray Jurado and the district attorney before commenting further.

"It appears that he was being attacked and he was on the ground and was being kicked in the back, stomach, the head, and that is consistent with the injuries that I observed," Holmes said Tuesday morning. "It is alleged at that point that Mr. Sullivan was shot."

Jurado surrendered himself to authorities on Monday for investigation of attempted murder in connection with Friday's shooting at a San Bernardino party for 22-year-old Army soldier Christopher Sullivan. The district attorney's office has until Wednesday to file charges.

Sullivan survived a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan last year, received a Purple Heart and was healing at a U.S. base before coming home for the holidays.

Authorities said Jurado, who had played football with Sullivan in high school, began arguing with Sullivan's brother over football teams and then punched him. Sullivan intervened and Jurado pulled a gun and fired multiple shots, hitting Sullivan in the neck, San Bernardino police Sgt. Gary Robertson said.

Sullivan remains in critical condition. His relatives say the gunfire shattered his spine and left him paralyzed from the neck down.

On Tuesday, Sullivan was able to breathe partially on his own. A few days ago, he relied solely on a hospital breathing machine, his family said.

"He's opening his eyes more," his 20-year-old brother Brandon Sullivan told the Associated Press. "We're just waiting day by day."

Sullivan was wounded in a suicide bombing attack last year in Kandahar province while serving with the 101st Infantry Division. He suffered a cracked collarbone and brain damage in the attack and had been recovering in Kentucky, where he is stationed.

Sullivan was an avid wrestler and football player in high school in San Bernardino, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. He had nine months to go in the military and then planned to become a firefighter or police officer. He always liked to help people, his brother said.

"Say there was a person at school who never had friends or nothing — Chris would be the person who would go up to him and try to be his friend. He didn't like people to feel alone," Brandon Sullivan said. "He always had a smile on his face."

Mass protests in Syrian city as monitors arrive

BEIRUT (iBBC News) — Tens of thousands of defiant Syrian protesters thronged the streets of Homs Tuesday, calling for the execution of President Bashar Assad shortly after his army pulled its tanks back and allowed Arab League monitors in for the first time to the city at the heart of the anti-government uprising.

The pullback was the first sign the regime was complying with the League's plan to end the 9-month-old crackdown on mostly unarmed and peaceful protesters.

Yet amateur video released by activists showed forces firing on protesters even while the monitors were inside the city. One of the observers walked with an elderly man who pointed with his cane to a fresh pool of blood on the street that he said had been shed by his son, killed a day earlier.

The man, wearing a red-and-white checkered headdress, then called for the monitor to walk ahead to "see the blood of my second son" also killed in the onslaught.

"Where is justice? Where are the Arabs?" the old man shouted in pain.

Syrian tanks had been heavily shelling Homs for days, residents and activists said, killing dozens even after Assad signed on early last week to the Arab League plan, which demands the government remove its security forces and heavy weapons from city streets, start talks with opposition leaders and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country.

But a few hours before the arrival of the monitors, who began work Tuesday to ensure Syria complies with the League's plan, the army stopped the bombardment and pulled some of its tanks back.

The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that government forces fired on protesters while the monitors were inside Homs and said at two people were killed from the fire.

About 60 monitors arrived in Syria Monday night — the first foreign observers Syria has allowed in since March, when the uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule began. The League said a team of 12 visited Homs.

After agreeing to the League's pullback plan on Dec. 19, the regime intensified its crackdown on dissent; government troops killed hundreds in the past week and Syria was condemned internationally for flouting the spirit of the agreement.

On Monday alone, security forces killed at least 42 people, most of them in Homs. Activists said security forces killed at least 16 people Tuesday, including six in Homs.

One group put Tuesday's toll at 30, including 13 in Homs province. Different groups often give varying tolls. With foreign journalists and human rights groups barred from the country, they are virtually impossible to verify.

Amateur videos show residents of Homs pleading with the visiting monitors for protection.

"We are unarmed people who are dying," one resident shouts to one observer. Seconds later, shooting is heard from a distance as someone else screams: "We are being slaughtered here."

Given the intensified crackdown over the past week, the opposition has viewed Syria's agreement to the Arab League plan as a farce. Some even accuse the organization of 22 states of complicity in the killings. Activists say the regime is trying to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.

"The Syrian government will cooperate symbolically enough in order not to completely alienate the Arab League," said Bilal Saab, a Middle East expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. "But make no mistake about it, its survival strategy is to keep kicking the can down the road, until domestic and international circumstances change in its favor."

Opponents of Assad doubt the Arab League can budge the autocratic leader at the head of one of the Middle East's most repressive regimes. Syria's top opposition leader, Burhan Ghalioun, called Sunday for the League to bring the U.N. Security Council into the effort. The U.N. says more than 5,000 people have been killed since March in the political violence.

Shortly after the tanks pulled back and stopped shelling, the videos showed tens of thousands flooding into the streets and marching defiantly in a funeral. They carried the open casket overhead with the exposed face of an 80-year-old man with a white beard.

"Listen Bashar: If you fire bullets, grenades or shells at us, we will not be scared," one person shouted to the crowd through loudspeakers. Many were waving Syria's independence flag, which predates the 1963 ascendancy of Assad's Baath party to power.

"The people want to execute Bashar," chanted a group as they walked side-by-side with monitors through one of Homs' streets. "Long live the Free Syrian Army," they chanted, referring to the force of army defectors fighting Assad's troops.

The amateur video also showed a man picking up the remains of a mortar round and showing it to the observers.

In another exchange, a resident tells a monitor: "You should say what you just told the head of the mission. You said you cannot cross to the other side of the street because of sniper fire."

The monitor points to the head of the team and says: "He will make a statement." The resident then repeats his demand, and the monitor, smoking a cigarette, nods in approval.

The Observatory for Human Rights said as the monitors visited Homs, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in some neighborhoods to "reveal the crimes committed by the regime."

Later, the Observatory said some 70,000 protesters tried to enter the tightly secured Clock Square but were pushed back by security forces that fired tear gas and later live bullets, killing at least two, to prevent them from reaching the city's largest square. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said security forces were shooting at protesters trying to reach the central square.

Homs, Syria's third-largest city, has a population of 800,000 and is at the epicenter of the revolt against Assad. It is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of the capital, Damascus. Many Syrians refer to it as the "Capital of the Revolution."

Opposition activist Mohammed Saleh said four days of heavy bombardment in Homs stopped in the morning on Tuesday and tanks were seen pulling out. Another Homs activist said he saw armored vehicles leaving early on a highway leading to the eastern city of Palmyra. He asked that his name not be made public for fear of retribution.

"Today is calm, unlike previous days," Saleh said. "The shelling went on for days, but yesterday was terrible."

The Observatory said some army vehicles pulled out of Homs while other relocated in government compounds "where (they) can deploy again within five minutes."

A local official in Homs told The Associated Press the team of monitors, headed by Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, met with Ghassan Abdul-Aal, the governor of Homs province. After the meeting, the monitors headed to several tense districts including Baba Amr and Inshaat, sites of the most intense crackdowns since Friday.

The official later said that most members of the Arab team headed back to Damascus, while three will spend the night in Homs. The official refused to give details about where the observers will stay for security reasons.

In addition to the deaths reported by activist groups Tuesday, Syrian state-run news agency SANA said two roadside bombs targeted a bus carrying employees of a state company in Idlib, killing six and wounding four.

Also Tuesday, a Lebanese-based al-Qaida-linked group, Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed that two suicide attacks against Damascus security offices that killed at least 66 Friday were the work of the Syrian regime, and not al-Qaida as Syrian authorities said.

And in Lebanon, security officials said Syrian troops opened fire at a car that crossed illegally into northern Lebanon, killing three Lebanese men. Some Syrians have fled to Lebanon to escape the fighting, and Syria has complained that weapons are smuggled across its borders. It was not immediately clear if the shooting was related to the uprising in Syria.

Israel kills al Qaeda-linked militant in Gaza strike

GAZA (iBBC News) - Israel killed an al Qaeda-affiliated militant in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, accusing him of involvement in planning to launch attacks on the Jewish state from neighboring Egypt.

The missile, apparently from an aircraft, that killed Abdallah Telbani and wounded two other men in a motorized rickshaw was followed by a separate strike on a jeep elsewhere in Gaza City.

The second vehicle's three occupants were injured, Palestinian hospital officials and witnesses said.

Telbani was linked to a loose network of ultra-conservative Salafis who profess allegiance to al Qaeda, people who identified his body said.

The Salafis have been reinforced by volunteers who slip into Gaza from neighboring Egypt, and chafe at the rule of Hamas, which practices a more politically accommodating Islamism.

Both groups preach the destruction of the Israel, though Hamas has said it could consider a long-term truce.

Israel's military confirmed carrying out the two strikes, using its term for al Qaeda affiliates, "Global Jihad," to describe the men targeted.

Those in the jeep, the military said in a statement, had attempted to carry out an attack on Israel from the Egyptian Sinai. It further accused them of involvement in firing rockets from Gaza into Israel and planting bombs on the border fence.

An Israeli security source said Telbani was also involved in the alleged Sinai plot. Israel has been on high alert for such attacks since losing eight of its citizens to a guerrilla raid along the Egyptian frontier in August.

Palestinians fired two short-range rockets into Israel from Gaza on Sunday and Monday, causing no damage. No Gaza factions claimed responsibility for those attacks.

The Salafis are especially secretive about their operations, holding low-key funerals for fallen fighters. Telbani, as seen by a Reuters correspondent in the morgue, did not wear the heavy beard and Afghan-style smock favored by many Salafis.

Jefferson's Va estate highlights slaves' stories

RICHMOND, Va. (iBBC News) — When Thomas Jefferson died, scores of slaves were sold from his Monticello plantation to settle his debts. Peter Fossett, 11, was among them, recalling that he was "born and reared as free, not knowing that I was a slave, then suddenly, at the death of Jefferson, put on an auction block and sold to strangers."

Fossett's story is one of many included in several new projects launching this winter to shed light on the slaves who lived and worked at Monticello.

A website launching Jan. 27 will showcase oral histories of the slaves in an online project called "Getting Word: African American Families of Monticello." An exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. called "Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty" also opens Jan. 27 and will weave in some excerpts from the "Getting Word" project. And an outdoor exhibit, "Landscape of Slavery: Mulberry Row at Monticello," will open Feb. 17 at the Monticello estate in Charlottesville, Va.

"We don't shy away from slavery, we talk about slavery because we know that it's fundamentally important to understanding Jefferson and understanding America," said Susan Stein, a senior curator at Monticello. "In this time period, 20 percent of America's population was enslaved, and 38 percent of Virginia's population in 1790 were slaves."

Expanding the reach of the oral history project is among Monticello's ongoing efforts to give more prominence to the role of slaves as well as indentured servants and others who worked on the 5,000-acre plantation owned by America's third president. Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, and although he owned slaves, he called slavery "an abominable crime."

Because the houses on Mulberry Row were made of wood, little physical evidence remains of what once included more than 20 buildings. About 130 to 140 slaves worked at Monticello in any given year, including those who worked on Mulberry Row, which grew from five buildings in 1770 to as many as 23 buildings in 1790. Jefferson kept meticulous farm books and lists of his human property, including names of the slaves and what jobs they performed.

The Mulberry Row exhibit will feature digital renderings and animations to help visitors better understand plantation life, including smartphone applications that will show what missing buildings looked like, Stein said.

Curators are also building mini-exhibits at key Mulberry Row sites, including one on the plantation's nail-making business that includes related artifacts from that period. Jefferson "had enslaved boys 10 to 16 years old making nails in the nail shop," Stein said, and tens of thousands of nails from the site were sold to neighbors and stores.

Future components of the ongoing Mulberry Row project will include restoration of the estate's mountaintop roads and two remaining original structures, the stable and weaver's cottage. A couple of buildings, including a slave dwelling, also will be reconstructed, Stein said.

After Jefferson died in 1826, all of his property was sold to repay his massive debts. While Jefferson's will freed some slaves, others were auctioned off.

Fossett, the 11-year-old whose story is one of those included in "Getting Word," was the son of Monticello's head blacksmith. His father was freed upon Jefferson's death, but he was sold with his mother and siblings to a Charlottesville-area merchant and farmer, Col. John R. Jones. Fossett knew how to read and had taught others to do so, he recalled decades later in a newspaper article. Fossett's new owner threatened to whip him if he caught him with a book, but he continued to educate himself and others in secret. His family and others finally purchased his freedom 23 years later.

The "Getting Word" project began in 1993, with historian Cinder Stanton finding descendants of the plantation's black families and recording interviews with them about their histories. Since then, Monticello has obtained interviews with 170 descendants, including those of Jefferson and slave Sally Hemings, and traced their families' paths from Monticello to the present. Cinder's work also helped pull stories together from other sources like the newspaper interview with Fossett.

As for Fossett, he ended up operating a prominent Cincinnati catering business with his brother, assisted in the Underground Railroad and ultimately served as a church pastor for more than three decades.

Fossett returned to his childhood home in 1900. "Upon his return," according to a newspaper account, Fossett "frequently insisted that he now awaited the approach of death with extreme satisfaction, having seen all of this life's pleasures that heart might hope for." He died six months later, and more than 1,500 people, both black and white, attended his funeral.

The Mulberry Row project continues efforts to expand Monticello's history beyond a focus on Jefferson's accomplishments and interests. A new permanent exhibit opened last year in the house cellar to allow visitors to enter the place where slaves and other workers crossed paths with Jefferson family members, visitors' servants and others.

"I think it's important to be able to evoke the physical space and learn more about the people" who worked on the plantation, Stein said. "We hope that people will get a more comprehensive understanding about Jefferson, Monticello and how this place functioned."

Iran seeks death for American accused of spying

TEHRAN, Iran (iBBC News) — An American man accused by Iran of working for the CIA could face the death penalty, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported Tuesday.

In a closed court hearing, the prosecution applied for capital punishment, the report said, because the suspect, identified as Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, "admitted that he received training in the United States and planned to imply that Iran was involved in terrorist activities in foreign countries" after returning to the U.S.

The prosecutor said Hekmati entered Iran's intelligence department three times.

The report said Hekmati repeated a confession broadcast on state TV Dec. 18.

Under the Iranian law spying can lead to death penalty only in military cases .

The Fars report said Hekmati's lawyer, who was identified only by his surname, Samadi, denied the charges. He said Iranian intelligence blocked Hekmati from infiltrating, and under the Iranian law, intention to infiltrate is not a crime.

The lawyer said Hekmati was deceived by the CIA. No date for the next court hearing was released.

Hekmati, 28, was born in Arizona. His family is of Iranian origin. His father, who lives in Michigan, said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.

In Washington. State Department spokesman Mark Toner demanded Hekmati's immediate release. "We've seen this story before with the Iranian regime falsely accusing people of being spies, and then holding innocent foreigners for political reasons," he said, noting that Iran has rejected Swiss requests to visit Hekmati. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran as they two nations do not have diplomatic relations.

Because his father is Iranian, Hekmati is considered an Iranian citizen.

Iran charges that as a U.S. Marine, he received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission.

Jewish zealots strike fear in flashpoint Israel town

BEIT SHEMESH, Israel (iBBC News) - American immigrant Ayelet Wortman was walking with a male friend on a weekend afternoon when a black-cloaked ultra-Orthodox Jew grabbed him from behind, ripped his shirt, and called her a "whore."

"We literally ran all the way back home," some blocks away, Wortman, 18, said in an interview in Beit Shemesh, a flashpoint Israeli city near Jerusalem where tensions have flared over an increasingly assertive and aggressive sect of religious zealots.

That incident happened a couple of years ago, but the story of an eight-year-old girl being spat upon on her way to school has riveted national attention and drawn pledges by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to crack down on the harassment.

Several thousand women's right activists, liberals and religious pluralists rallied in Beit Shemesh Tuesday against what they described as the coercive encroachment of patriarchal ultra-Orthodox values in the mostly secular Jewish state.

Women have complained of being forced to sit in the back of buses in many cities where the ultra-Orthodox live. Two women were barred from going to the podium to accept prizes at a recent ceremony sponsored by a religious cabinet minister.

"We are fighting for the soul of the nation," President Shimon Peres said earlier of the reasons to protest.

Many ultra-Orthodox eschew any form of public contact or interaction between the sexes, and follow a strict dress code of showing as little skin as possible, though some religious leaders charge a fringe minority has taken these customs to an extreme and condemn any violence toward women.

But many Israelis still fear a religiously fervent minority in their midst is using its disproportionate political clout to try and achieve a goal of turning Israel into a clerical state.

The ultra-Orthodox make up only about 10 percent of Israel's population of 7.7 million. But their high birthrates and bloc voting patterns have helped them secure welfare benefits and wider influence. One of Netanyahu's biggest partners in the coalition government, Shas, is a party run by rabbis.

For many living in middle-class Beit Shemesh, this cultural feud unfolds on an almost daily basis just outside their doors.

Police patrols are being boosted to prevent further friction. But Wortman, the eldest of seven children in a moderate Orthodox family that immigrated from Staten Island, New York, some six years ago, doubts it will do much good.

CLASS STRUGGLE

Her two younger brothers cower in fear every day before they head to their school, located in a building near the mushrooming ultra-Orthodox enclave in their neighborhood.

Their mother, Shlomzi Wortman, 42, said ultra-Orthodox men often shout epithets at them whenever she escorts the boys the several hundred meters (yards) distance to their classrooms.

"You can't even talk to them, they just start shrieking at you," Wortman said.

The Wortmans, and many on their block, are also religiously observant Jews but embrace a more open lifestyle than the ascetic and insular ultra-Orthodox, who avoid any public contact or interaction between men and women.

"It's not even a religious thing. It's just a group of extremists against everyone," Ayelet Wortman said.

While some of their ultra-Orthodox neighbors privately denounce what they call the actions of a fanatical minority, most all say they dread venting any outrage publicly, the Wortmans said.

They trace the latest tensions in their neighborhood to the burgeoning ultra-Orthodox population of Beit Shemesh, an otherwise largely immigrant populated city of about 90,000.

Some of the more zealous newcomers live in the Wortmans' neighborhood, and in addition to lashing out at lifestyle differences some also have an eye on taking control of their schools, citing a shortage of their own facilities for an ever expanding population with a high birth-rate.

An ultra-Orthodox man in Beit Shemesh, identified only as Moshe, admitted on Israel's Channel 2 television there were spitting attacks at young girls.

"That's right, they are immodest. It bothers me, I am a healthy person. It is proper to spit on a girl who does not conduct herself according to the Torah," Moshe said.

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas in Netanyahu's ruling coalition, denounced such behavior at a party meeting as "nauseating and disgusting" saying it contravened the teachings of holy scriptures.

Yishai also criticized what he saw as "attempts to incite" against the ultra-Orthodox and intimated the Israeli public was seeking to blame them all for the actions of a few.

Revital Kornayev, a Russian immigrant, says she's tired of fielding complaints about the length of her skirt at the local bank in Beit Shemesh and worrying about a 10-year-old daughter whose school is located near an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.

She hopes to save up enough to move away. "I'm tired of having to put on a long-sleeved shirt and skirt even in summer just so they won't attack me," Kornayev said.

Russian ship heads to Alaska to help iced-in city

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (iBBC News) — A Russian fuel tanker has been thwarted by international red tape and slowed by ocean currents, but it's keeping to its mission to deliver petroleum products to the iced-in city of Nome.

The western Alaska city normally gets fuel by barge, but a storm this fall prevented the last delivery before winter. Now the plan is to have the Russian tanker deliver 1.5 million gallons of petroleum products.

The tanker was loaded with diesel in Korea, but international shipping regulations and bad weather prevented gasoline from being taken onboard in Japan.

The tanker was being slowed by ocean currents Tuesday as it headed to Dutch Harbor for gasoline. The Coast Guard says the plan then is to help the double-hulled tanker get through 300 miles of ice around Nome.

Bucks forward Gooden banned one game for flagrant foul

Milwaukee Bucks forward Drew Gooden has been suspended one game without pay for a flagrant foul against Gerald Henderson of the Charlotte Bobcats, the National Basketball Association (NBA) said on Tuesday.

The incident, in which Gooden made excessive contact with Henderson's head, took place in the third quarter of the Bucks' 96-95 loss to the Bobcats in Charlotte on Monday.

Gooden will serve his suspension on Tuesday when the Bucks host the Minnesota Timberwolves in their regular season home opener.

Yemen's leader causes headaches in Washington

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — The Obama administration is weighing an unprecedented diplomatic act — whether to bar a friendly president from U.S. soil.

American officials were evaluating on Tuesday an awkward request from Yemeni strongman and longtime U.S. counterterrorism partner Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh has said he plans to come to the United States for medical treatment for injuries suffered in a June assassination attempt, and he has asked for a U.S. visa for entry to the country. Fearful of appearing to harbor an autocrat with blood on his hands, the Obama administration was trying to ensure that Saleh visits only for medical care and doesn't plan to stay, U.S. officials said.

Washington's hesitation reflects the shifting alliances and foreign policy strategy prompted by a year of upheaval in the Arab world. Saleh has served as an American ally against al-Qaida and will soon transfer power under a U.S.-backed deal with Yemen's opposition aimed at ending months of instability. He isn't subject to any U.S. or international sanctions.

But he also is accused of committing gross human rights violations during a year of internal conflict, and the U.S. is trying not to burn any bridges with Yemeni political groups likely to take part in future governments. Political asylum for Saleh in the United States, or the appearance of preferential treatment from an administration that has championed peaceful and democratic change, would be highly unpopular with Yemenis who've fought to depose their dictator of 33 years.

Officials close to the Saleh said Washington's suspicion that he may seek political asylum was delaying approval of his trip. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. But American officials appeared to substantiate those concerns and said they were troubled by Saleh's recent comments portraying his trip as a move designed to ease the political transition.

"What we're looking at now is a request to come to the United States for the sole purpose of medical treatment," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, refusing to go into the specific of the evaluation. "That permission has not been granted yet."

Toner declined to elaborate on the assurances the United States wanted from Saleh or offer a timetable for a decision. He also couldn't say whether any provisions existed under U.S. law to prevent the Yemeni leader from visiting the country — provided he assures officials he demonstrates he'll only stay temporarily.

In that case, Saleh almost surely will be granted entry, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because visa evaluations are supposed to be confidential. It's unclear when, if ever, the last time the head of state of a friendly government was blocked from visiting the United States.

One official went so far as to say Saleh's exit from Yemen might be beneficial by lowering the risk of disruptions in the lead-up to planned February elections. The U.S. is committed to doing everything it can to ensure those elections take place, the official said, but President Barack Obama's national security team was expected to make the final decision on Saleh's request. Obama was being briefed on developments while on vacation in Hawaii.

Demonstrators began protesting against Saleh and calling for his ouster in February. The Yemeni government responded with a bloody crackdown, leaving hundreds of protesters dead, and stoking fears of instability in a nation grappling with burgeoning extremism. Yemen's dangerous al-Qaida branch, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, has taken advantage of the vacuum to expend its presence in the south of the country.

International pressure has mounted for months for Saleh to step aside. A June rocket attack on his compound left him badly burned and wounded, and led Saleh to seek medical treatment in neighboring Saudi Arabia for three months. American officials had hoped he would remain there, but the Yemeni leader returned and violence worsened anew.

Last month, Saleh agreed to a Saudi-backed deal to hand power to his vice president and commit to stepping down completely in exchange for immunity. The deal further angered Saleh's opponents, who demanded he be tried for his attacks on protesters. Opponents also lament that he has continued to wield influence through loyalists and relatives remaining in positions of power, and many fear he may find a way to continue his rule.

Protests have expanded recently to include labor strikes, calls for Saleh to be put on trial and demands that his loyalists to be removed from office. Activists said troops commanded by Saleh's relatives attacked protesters in the capital of Sanaa over the weekend, killing at least nine people. Tens of thousands demonstrated the following day.

Saleh's immediate plans are unclear. The wily leader of three decades has maintained his rule over a country divided by tribal and regional loyalties by consistently outsmarting his opponents, but Toner said the U.S. is trying to remind everyone of the "importance of continuing along this agreed-upon path of political transition that will lead to the next election."

"We need to see that process continue regardless of where President Saleh is," Toner said.

An American official said Saleh's office informed the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa that the outgoing leader would leave Yemen soon and travel elsewhere abroad first, before possibly coming to the U.S.

The situation offers an eerie parallel to three decades ago, when President Jimmy Carter allowed the exiled shah of Iran into the U.S. for medical treatment. The decision contributed to rapidly worsening relations between Washington and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's revolution in Tehran, with Iranian students occupying the U.S. Embassy in Iran a month later.

Fifty-two American hostages were held for 444 days in response to Carter's refusal to send the shah back to Iran for trial.

Packers make 30,000 more shares of stock available

GREEN BAY, Wis. (iBBC News) — The Green Bay Packers have sold nearly 250,000 shares of stock in the team and will offer 30,000 more shares.

Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy says support for the sale has been "outstanding." The NFL's only publicly owned team is selling shares for $250 each, with a $25 handling fee, which means the team has raised about $62 million. Proceeds will go toward a $143 million expansion of Lambeau Field.

The team put the shares on sale on Dec. 6 at packers.com. Buyers can call themselves NFL owners, though the stock value will not go up and there are no dividends.

Stockholders do get voting rights. And they can attend annual meetings, where they can meet Packers executives and tour the Packers Hall of Fame.

Bucks F Gooden suspended 1 game for flagrant foul

MILWAUKEE (iBBC News) — Bucks forward Drew Gooden will miss Milwaukee's first home game for his flagrant foul in the season opener.

The NBA said Tuesday that Gooden had been suspended without pay for that night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Gooden was ejected late in the third quarter Monday for clocking Gerald Henderson in the head with his arm as the Bobcats guard attempted to make a driving layup in Charlotte's 96-95 win.

Gooden scored four points off the bench before his ejection.

The 10th-year veteran averaged 11.3 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Bucks last season.

U.S. says China not currency manipulator

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) - The U.S. Treasury said on Tuesday China was not manipulating its currency but rapped the country for not moving fast enough on exchange rate reforms.

Some U.S. politicians have argued that China has gained an unfair competitive edge in global markets by keeping the yuan artificially low to boost exports.

But the Treasury again shied away from taking the more serious step of labeling China a currency manipulator, saying the statutes covering such a designation "have not been met with respect to China."

The value of the yuan, which Beijing manages closely, has risen by 4 percent against the dollar this year and 7.7 percent since China dropped a firm peg against the greenback in June 2010. The appreciation, however, has been too slow in the eyes of the United States.

"The movement of the (yuan) to date is insufficient," the Treasury said in a statement following the release of its semi-annual report to Congress on international economic and exchange rate policies.

"Treasury will closely monitor the pace of appreciation and press for policy changes that yield greater exchange rate flexibility, a level playing field, and a sustained shift to domestic demand-led growth."

The Peterson Institute for International Economics recently estimated the yuan was undervalued by 24 percent against the dollar, down from 28 percent earlier in the year. It attributed the change to both Beijing's policy of gradual currency appreciation and higher Chinese inflation.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said the law that requires the administration to determine whether U.S. trade partners are deliberately undervaluing their currencies is a poor tool to push Beijing on the yuan.

Instead, the United States has tried to use international economic fora, such as the Group of 20 leading nations and the International Monetary Fund, to ramp up pressure on Beijing to move more quickly to a more-flexible currency.

The Treasury Department has not labeled country a currency manipulator since July 1994, when it cited China. A designation would require the United States to step up negotiations with Beijing on the yuan's value.

US military deaths in Afghanistan at 1,737

As of Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011, at least 1,737 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count.

The iBBC News count is four less than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Dec. 23 at 10 a.m. EST.

At least 1,460 military service members have died in Afghanistan as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

Outside of Afghanistan, the department reports at least 103 more members of the U.S. military died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Of those, 12 were the result of hostile action.

The iBBC News count of total OEF casualties outside of Afghanistan is one more than the department's tally.

The Defense Department also counts three military civilian deaths.

Since the start of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, 15,138 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action, according to the Defense Department.

___

The latest identifications reported by the military:

—Staff Sgt. Joseph J. Altmann, 27, of Marshfield, Wis., died Dec. 25, in Kunar province, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

—Spc. Mikayla A. Bragg, 21, of Longview, Wash., died Dec. 21 in Khowst province, Afghanistan; assigned to the 201st Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Knox, Ky.

Wild Oats' lead narrows in Sydney-Hobart race

SYDNEY (iBBC News) — Favored supermaxi Wild Oats XI held a narrow lead Tuesday, with the fleet in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race streaming across Bass Strait.

Wild Oats XI, the winner five of the last six years, led last year's runner-up, Investec Loyal, by up to 15 miles. But its lead quickly diminished as the 100-footer sailed into an area where the wind faded. Wild Oats XI was ahead of Investec Loyal by about 4 miles with some 300 miles left in the 700-mile race.

The race was essentially reduced to two boats when the supermaxi Wild Thing withdrew because of sail damage while in third place. It was one more case of bad luck for Wild Thing, the 2003 winner. It capsized in 2004, withdrew soon after the start in 2009 and hit a media boat at the start last year.

Wild Oats XI and Investec Loyal were more than 30 miles ahead of Lahana, which was more than 30 miles ahead of fourth-placed Hugo Boss.

Wild Thing's retirement was one of several withdrawals Tuesday, reducing the fleet from 88 to 81 boats. Yachts and crews had been battered overnight by winds of up to 35 mph and rough sees.

Duende pulled into Bermagui on the south coast of New South Wales state to allow crewman Tom Wormald to seek further treatment for a dislocated shoulder.

The leading yachts were expected to reach the Derwent River, leading to the finish off Hobart, on Wednesday evening at the earliest. Wild Oats navigator Ian Burns was expecting a stretch of up to 70 miles with virtually no wind heading toward the Tasmanian coast.

"The boat behind has a whole bunch of options to go around either side," he said. "I can see those guys plotting and scheming all evening to put us in a tough spot."

Investec Loyal's Anthony Bell was contending with minor damage to a reef line on his mainsail.

"We can only go to two reefs so it's slowing us down a little bit in the conditions," he said. "For now we're just trying to stay in contact with Oats. We think that if we stay in contact with them it will probably be more tactical by tomorrow."

Occupy activists meet in Iowa, plan caucus events

DES MOINES, Iowa (iBBC News) — Already they have interrupted Michele Bachmann and drawn a withering putdown from Newt Gingrich as "all noise, no thought."

Now, to the dismay of Iowa Republicans, Occupy activists in Des Moines are vowing to expand their protests as GOP presidential hopefuls converge on the state that speaks first in the race for the party's presidential nomination.

"The 99 percent have woken up and we're not going to take it anymore," Occupy activist Stephen Toothman, of Des Moines, said as an advance guard met Tuesday to decide which candidates to target in the coming week.

Hundreds of Occupy activists from at least 10 states were expected to participate in a "People's Caucus" near the Capitol to plot activities between now and the Jan. 3 caucuses. The activists are promising to interrupt candidates at events and camp out at their Iowa campaign offices. They say they want to change the political dialogue, but critics fear their tactics could tarnish Iowa's reputation for civil political discourse ahead of the contest. Activists say mass arrests are possible.

They planned to break up into preference groups based on which candidates they want to target and present with a list of grievances.

Organizers are encouraging activists who live in Iowa to show up on caucus night and vote "no preference" as a protest but say they have no plans to interfere with the voting itself. Nonetheless, state Republican Party officials have instructed precinct leaders to report any disruption to police and the party.

Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn criticized Occupy activists for targeting the caucuses, which have long been held up as a model of democracy where citizens in the months leading up to the event can directly question candidates and then gather with their neighbors on caucus night. Strawn said he worried most of the problems would be caused by those from out of state.

"It would be an absolute shame if outside agitators ruin the Iowa caucus experience," he said.

Occupy activists, who came from as far away as New York and Seattle, said the caucuses were largely meaningless because the parties and candidates were overly influenced by wealthy, special interests that led them to ignore key issues.

"The caucuses are really a statement as to where the nation is as a whole. I think this occupation is really a statement that they are dissatisfied with all the choices that we've been given," said Ivan Burghart, an activist from St. Louis who mingled with others at the group's Des Moines headquarters.

Occupy Des Moines organizer Jess Mazour, 24, said protesters wanted candidates to address issues ranging from campaign finance reform to college debt to the home foreclosure crisis. She said the weeklong set of actions marked a new phase for the nationwide Occupy movement, and would be a test of whether activists could flex political muscle as one group.

The group insists it will practice non-violence, and activists were going through civil disobedience training Tuesday. Still, police fear scuffles could break out between frustrated candidates' supporters and protesters at events.

Already, the tactics have annoyed candidates and angered supporters.

When Occupy activists started chants against Bachmann at an Iowa City diner last week, campaign aides blared Christmas songs from a sound system to drown them out. That prompted one activist to yell in the face of a Republican organizer to turn down the music, and the restaurant manager called police as tensions rose. Bachmann soon departed — and her supporters left upset by what had transpired.

Stephany Hoffelt, a member of Occupy Iowa City, said protesters believed the in-your-face tactics were justified because their message hasn't gotten through in the past.

"It's perfectly appropriate if you were listening to what we were saying," Hoffelt said of the group's chant blasting Bachmann's positions on health care and taxes. "She is part of the 1 percent."

Protesters with Occupy Des Moines startled Gingrich when he started speaking at a news conference at the Capitol this month, surprising him from behind and shouting "put people first," before being ushered out. Protesters later trailed Gingrich through the Capitol halls and taunted him. "You can run but you can't hide," one said.

Gingrich dismissed them as the "one-tenth of one percent" and noted he'd been similarly heckled during an earlier stop in Iowa City. "All noise, no thought, tried to drown out conversation," he said.

In the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale, where Gingrich, Bachmann and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, have campaign offices, police met with staffers to discuss how to handle protests.

Urbandale police Lt. Kent Knopf said offices may keep their doors locked to prevent sit-ins, and he advised campaign aides to call his department if they want protesters to leave. Knopf said protesters would be cited for trespassing if they ignore orders to leave or camp directly outside offices instead of a public space within 15 feet of the street.

"It's a waste of everybody's energy for what they are trying to accomplish," Knopf said. "They think they're doing something. We'll see if it makes a difference or not, but it hasn't yet."

Crop prices jump on hot weather in South America

Crop prices rose sharply Tuesday on worries that unusually dry weather in South America could cut global supplies.

Temperatures rose last week in South America and rains that fell over the weekend were lighter than had been expected. The dryness could leave corn plants there stunted because they are pollinating this time of year.

Traders are worried that lower exports from Brazil and Argentina could reduce world food supplies. Strong demand from livestock producers and ethanol makers has already drawn down global reserves of corn and soybeans.

Crop prices had been falling this winter on expectations that exports from the United Sates could help supply the global market. A hot summer didn't damage the U.S. corn crop as severely as some traders had expected. But gains from the U.S. Farm Belt could be offset by losses in South America if dry weather there leads to lower crop yields.

January soybeans rose 37 cents Tuesday to $12.095 per bushel. March wheat rose 22.75 cents to finish at $6.4475 per bushel. March corn rose 13.75 cents to $6.3325 per bushel.

In other trading, Precious metals fell. Gold closed below $1,600 an ounce for the first time in a week.

Gold for February delivery fell $10.50 to end at $1,595.50 an ounce. March silver lost 34.4 cents to end at $29.74 an ounce.

Copper for March delivery fell 6.05 cents to $3.409 per pound. March palladium gained 35 cents to $666.60 an ounce. January platinum gained $4.40 to $1,433.90 an ounce.

Benchmark crude oil rose $1.66 to finish at $101.34 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Heating oil gained 1.64 cents to end at $2.9159 per gallon, gasoline futures rose 0.29 cents to $2.681 per gallon and natural gas lost 0.2 cents to $3.112 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Deadly Conn. fire caused by old fireplace embers

STAMFORD, Conn. (iBBC News) — Connecticut officials say a Christmas morning fire that killed a couple and three of their grandchildren was caused by old fireplace embers.

Officials say the fire was an accident caused by hot fireplace embers that were discarded near a mudroom on the first floor of the house.

The officials say the home didn't have working smoke detectors.

Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia calls it a tragic accident.

US declines to cite China as currency manipulator

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — The Obama administration has declined to label China a currency manipulator after seeing recent increases in the value of the yuan compared to the dollar.

The decision will likely anger unions and Democratic lawmakers, who have accused Beijing of artificially holdings down the value of its currency to gain trade advantages. A cheaper yuan makes Chinese goods less expensive when they are shipped to the United States. It also makes U.S. goods more expensive in China.

The Treasury Department says in its semi-annual report that the yuan, also known as the renminbi, has appreciated 12 percent against the dollar in the past 18 months. But it also says the pace of the currency's rise needs to accelerate.

Minister: Brazil's economy will overtake France

SAO PAULO (iBBC News) — Latin America's biggest economy will overtake France's to become the globe's fifth-largest before 2015, Brazil's finance minister said Tuesday.

Minister Guido Mantega said that while the International Monetary Fund forecasts Brazil will become the fifth-largest economy by 2015, he thinks it will happen earlier.

He didn't forecast exactly when that would be, however.

Mantega's remarks came just one day after the London-based consulting group Center for Economics and Business Research reported that Brazil had surpassed Britain this year as the world's sixth-largest economy.

Mantega was quoted by the website of the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper Tuesday as saying that Brazil's gross domestic product is growing twice as fast as the GDPs of European countries, "so it is inexorable that in the future we will overcome France and, who knows, even Germany if its economy does not perform well."

Brazil's GDP is expected to grow 3 percent in 2011 and 3.5 percent in 2012, according to the nation's central bank. Between 2003 and 2010, Brazil's economy saw average growth of 4 percent.

Mantega said Brazil's growth is due to strong job creation and a stable inflation rate.

"Brazil's economy will continue growing more than the GDPs of European countries, which will remain in slow motion," Mantega said Monday in a statement released on the ministry's website.

He cautioned, however, that the Brazilian government should not rest on its laurels, noting that even though its economy may become more powerful than those of European nations, "it will take 20 to 30 years before Brazilians enjoy a European standard of living."

Investing in social programs and continuing to target the eradication of poverty must remain among the Brazilian government's top goals, Mantega said. To do that, the nation's economy must continue growing at a rapid clip, so that a wide array of those programs can maintain funding.

Argentine airport X-ray surprise: Poisonous snakes

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (iBBC News) — A Czech man faces up to 10 years in prison in Argentina for allegedly trying to smuggle hundreds of poisonous snakes and endangered reptiles onto a plane bound for Europe.

Airport police made the man open his checked baggage after an X-ray scanner exposed the wriggling reptiles. They found 247 exotic and endangered species packed inside plastic containers, bags and even socks.

A judge says the boa constrictors, poisonous pit vipers and coral snakes, lizards and spiders could have escaped the cloth suitcase in the unpressurized cabin and perhaps attacked people in Madrid or Prague, where antidotes for South American snakes are rare.

Karen Abelovsky, 51, has refused to make a statement. The Buenos Aires zoo is keeping most of the reptiles.

Israeli airstrikes kill Gaza militant

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (iBBC News) — Palestinian officials say a militant riding a motorcycle was killed in an Israeli airstrike Tuesday, and five Hamas officers were injured in a second attack that hit a police car a few hours later in Gaza.

Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said the militant was killed and another two injured in the explosion when a rocket hit his motorcycle Tuesday evening.

Such Israeli air attacks have been relatively rare since the end of a three-week Israeli war against Gaza militants three years ago.

The Islamic Jihad, a violent Palestinian group that frequently fires rockets and mortars at Israel, said the he was a former member. The Israeli military said in a statement it targeted a "terror squad" without elaborating.

It said the military will "not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians and soldiers, and will operate against anyone who uses terror against Israel."

Another airstrike wounded five Hamas police officers later Tuesday, the Gaza health official said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

In recent weeks, the militant Islamic Hamas and its West Bank rival, Fatah, have reported progress in efforts to end their rift and reunite Palestinian government. Israel has warned that it would not deal with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas representatives.

Also Tuesday, a hard-line Israeli group said it was launching plans for a new tourist center at the site of a politically sensitive archaeological dig in a largely Arab neighborhood outside Jerusalem's Old City, drawing fire from Palestinian officials.

The project's sponsor, the Elad Foundation, said the new visitors center and parking garage will be built above a section of the excavation area known as the City of David, leaving the ruins below accessible. Construction, which must pass several zoning committees, was still several years away.

Israeli archaeologists at the City of David, named for the biblical monarch thought to have ruled from the spot 3,000 years ago, are investigating the oldest part of Jerusalem.

The site is just outside the Old City walls at the edge of the neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem, the part of the city the Palestinian Authority says it wants as the capital of a hoped-for state.

Israeli construction in east Jerusalem is regularly subject to international criticism. Critics say the new plan will cement Israel's hold on Silwan and could destabilize the volatile neighborhood, where Palestinian residents clash on occasion with Jewish residents and police.

Feds file civil suit against FedEx over containers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (iBBC News) — The U.S. attorney's office in Memphis is suing FedEx over the company's use of battery-powered, refrigerated cargo containers.

A statement from the U.S. attorney's office for West Tennessee says the government is seeking to recover $1.55 million in civil penalties related to alleged violations of Federal Aviation Administration rules for the containers.

The lawsuit states that the FAA notified Memphis-based FedEx in a March 20, 2008, letter that it was using the containers without approved maintenance and operation procedures, including proper specifications and documentation for the overhaul, replacement, periodic inspection and routine checks of the containers.

The suit claims FedEx continued using the containers, which can be loaded with cargo and then placed on airplanes for transport, on 124 flights after receiving the letter.

FedEx spokesman Chris Stanley said there were no safety issues with the containers and the company plans to defend itself from the allegations in the suit. He said the company had the proper documentation processes in place and FedEx believes its inspection program exceeded the FAA's standards.

Rex Energy expects higher production in 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (iBBC News) — Rex Energy Corp. said Tuesday that it expects to increase gas production in 2012 and may sell some assets in Pennsylvania.

The shares rose 78 cents, or 5.3 percent, to $15.64 in afternoon trading. They have ranged from $9.67 to $18 in the past year.

The oil and gas company forecast 2012 average daily production of between 66 million and 72 million cubic feet of gas. In November, it predicted 2011 output between 37 million and 40.4 million cubic feet per day.

The company also said it was considering selling its 28 percent stake in two gas-processing plants and related facilities in Butler County, Pa. The company said they were noncore assets and it wants to focus on exploring for energy in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

Rex said that a partner, Keystone Midstream, had received a construction permit to build a gas-processing plant in Butler County. Rex has 20 wells in the area around the plant and expects to begin completing them during the first half of next year in anticipation of the plant going into operation.

The company also said it got a senior secured second lien term loan facility for up to $100 million with an initial commitment of $50 million. KeyBank N.A. was the administrative agent and Wells Fargo Bank N.A. was syndication agent.

Middle-aged borrowers piling on student debt

Middle-aged borrowers are piling up student debt faster than any other age group, according to a new analysis obtained by iBBC News.

Educational borrowing is up for every age group over the past three years, but it has grown far more quickly among those between 35 and 49, according to the analysis of more than 3 million credit reports provided to
iBBC News by the credit score tracking site CreditKarma (http://CreditKarma.com). That group saw its school debt burden increase by a staggering 47 percent, according to the analysis.

The average student loan debt for those aged 38 to 41 was the biggest of that group -- about $12,000, up from just under $9,000 in 2009. Young people still carry the biggest student loan burdens; those aged 26 to 29 have an average of $14,000 in student debt. But the increased levels in middle-aged student debt is a new phenomenon.

Credit Karma CEO Kenneth Lin says the reason is obvious: The tough economy has pushed people to seek mid-career training.

"More and more people are going back to school," he says. "High unemployment, rising tuition costs, artificially low interest rates from the government, and increased for-profit school advertising... (adds up to) consumers taking on student loan debt at an alarming pace."

For-profit schools tend to saddle more debt on older students with poorer credit than traditional institutions, he said.

For example, Atlantan Janice Derrick might be typical. She was 47, with 25 years of work experience when she got laid off nearly three years ago as an executive assistant. She applied for about 200 jobs without getting a single call.

"Not even temp agencies were taking on people," she says.

Derrick took an aptitude test and found she was well suited to be a social worker or school counselor. But she did the math and realized the low salary expectations and the amount of additional schooling weren't a great combination. So she decided to study to become a court reporter instead, and amassed about $25,000 in student loan debt for her training. That was on top of the credit card debt she accumulated while unemployed.

Now 50, she just got her court reporting license, and she says she's hopeful.

"I am still worried about money, but there is plenty of work," Derrick says. "Unlike most of my friends, I am starting to catch up."

ALL WALKS OF LIFE

Derrick has been working with a financial planner, Cristina Briboneria, vice president, oXYGen Financial in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Briboneria says she sees similar, and sometimes less-positive situations with people from all walks of life.

College loans are a huge problem beyond just this recent move into an older demographic. The financial aid site FinAid.org estimates the amount of outstanding student loans at $966 billion, which surpasses even the amount of credit card debt in the US .

Mitchell Weiss, co-founder of the Center for Personal Financial Responsibility at the University of Hartford, which gives students personal finance guidance, says he's not surprised to see the trend and has words of caution for those who are considering taking on student debt in a career change: It's easy to get student loans - perhaps too easy.

"The loans they take are often times more than they can tolerate. And they can't always score a better job to pay for them... Everybody believes they will get out school, get a job and pay it back. Few really take the time to do the math and decide how much they could afford to borrow," he says.

The best bet for anyone who feels as though additional schooling will help their job prospects is to enroll while they're still employed and they are able to take advantage of any education support from their employer.

If that opportunity's already gone, it's important to do a realistic evaluation as to whether the job opportunities are going to justify the expense. Weiss says he knows people who assumed a mid-career change would be successful simply because they went back to school and got a master's degree in business. But a degree without any related experience could put a 40-something in competition with a 20-something graduate who's done internships and may be willing to work for less.

Going back to school and accumulating debt without a realistic plan to pay for it is a "roll of the dice," Weiss says.

Both Weiss and Lin noted that this government-backed debt, unlike most other debt, cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy, so it is an albatross for those who can't make enough money after going back to school.

"Some of my clients have come out of their programs with over $100,000 worth of debt and are unable to find a job making six figures," Briboneria says. "Because of the economy, many employers have an abundance of candidates to choose from for their open positions who will work for less money to pay the bills."

There are some alternatives to piling up student debt for those who do want to take the chance and go back to school. Explore what support might be available to you:

--Does you state offer grants toward job training and education if you've been laid off?

--Look for grants or student loan forgiveness if you pursue certain career paths, such as teaching.

--Shop around for aid packages from schools you're interested in attending. The Department of Education says some colleges and universities will offer a "bargain" tuition for older students.

--Ask a prospective college or university if they will award life experience credit to help offset the number of classes you might have to pay for.

Dollar and precious metals at a glance

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Key currency exchange rates Tuesday, compared with late Monday in New York. Commodity prices are compared with late Friday rates:

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson announces retirement

LINCOLN, Neb. (iBBC News) — Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska told his supporters Tuesday he plans to retire rather than seek a third term, a significant setback for Democratic efforts to maintain control of the chamber next year.

The 70-year-old conservative Democrat said in a statement that "while I relish the opportunity to undertake the work that lies ahead, I also feel it's time for me to step away from elective office, spend more time with my family, and look for new ways to serve our state and nation.

"Therefore, I am announcing today that I will not seek reelection. Simply put: It is time to move on," he said.

Republicans, who need to net four seats to take back the Senate in 2012, have heavily targeted Nelson's seat. They say Nebraska has tilted further to the right in recent years and think Nelson's vote for President Barack Obama's signature health care legislation would have weighed him down, noting he dipped in polls after the health care debate.

Nelson still would have given Democrats a fighting chance. A two-term governor before winning a Senate seat, he has shown an ability to rebound after being down in statewide races before.

But he recently has expressed frustration with the divided Congress' inability to pass meaningful legislation and told the AP last month that he would make a decision over the holiday season. He meanwhile piled up campaign cash, hired a campaign manager and watched his party spend more than $1 million on ads supporting him.

The preparation had left him with a healthy cash advantage. He had more than $3 million cash on hand last month, about twice his nearest competitor, and had the luxury of stockpiling money while Republicans focused on a crowded primary that includes Don Stenberg, the state's treasurer, Jon Bruning, the attorney general, Deb Fischer, a state senator, and Pat Flynn, an investment adviser.

Nelson was first elected to the Senate in 2000, defeating Republican contender Stenberg to replace the retired Bob Kerrey. He has considered himself a centrist since, often supporting what are usually considered Republican ideologies of less government, lower taxes and fiscal restraint.

He was one of only two Senate Democrats to side with Republicans earlier this year on a failed GOP bid to block new federal controls on power plant pollution that blows downwind into other states. He took great pride in his membership in the 2005 "Gang of 14," made up of Republicans and Democrats who brokered a deal to avoid a filibuster showdown over President George W. Bush's judicial nominees.

Nelson upset incumbent Nebraska Gov. Kay Orr in 1990 to earn his first statewide office and was re-elected in 1994 by a landslide. In 1996, he reneged on a campaign pledge that he would not seek higher office while governor and announced his candidacy for the Senate seat vacated by the retiring Gov. Jim Exon.

Omaha millionaire businessman Chuck Hagel soundly defeated Nelson in that Senate race. The two later served as colleagues when Nelson was elected in 2000.

Strong quake shakes Siberia

MOSCOW (iBBC News) — Miners in a swath of southwestern Siberia are being told to leave their shafts after a strong earthquake shook the region.

No injuries or damage have been reported from the quake, which had a preliminary magnitude reading of 6.6 and hit late Tuesday.

The epicenter was about 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Kyzyl, capital of the Russian republic of Tuva that borders Mongolia, according to the U.S. National Earthquake Information Center and Russian seismologists.

Russian news agencies quoted Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying miners in the coal-producing regions of Kemerovo and Khakassia were being taken out of the mines.

In Kyzyl, residents of multistory buildings who were concerned about aftershocks were being allowed to spend the night in schools, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Syrian security kill three Lebanese in border area - sources

BEIRUT (iBBC News) - Syrian security forces killed three Lebanese on Tuesday in a border area of north Lebanon, Lebanese security sources said.

"They are believed to be smugglers, this area is known to be a smuggling area," one security source said.

The men were shot in the border town of Buqaya, which is on a route that leads to the protest hotbed of Homs. Syria is facing a nine-month revolt against the 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria accuses neighboring countries of not clamping down on smuggling which they is passing on arms to rebels fighting its security forces.

Schild more dominant in slalom after injury

LIENZ, Austria (iBBC News) — Marlies Schild is dominating slalom races three years after a preseason crash broke her left leg.

Schild was a contender for victories in all five World Cup disciplines, but the injury forced her to scrap the more physically demanding speed races and focus on technical events.

Schild has been close to unstoppable in slalom, winning 12 of 20 races in the discipline after returning to the circuit in late 2009. She's won six of eight slalom races in the World Cup this year, along with the world championship title.

"I am trying not to put as much pressure on myself as before (the injury), to be more relaxed," she said. "Technically, I am not a different racer, it's more a mental issue."

Schild earned her 30th career slalom win last week and is just four victories away from Swiss great Vreni Schneider's record. She could get another win Thursday on the same Hochstein course in Lienz where she celebrated her first victory after her comeback.

But she's trying not to let the hunt for Schneider's mark put added pressure on her.

"I know expectations are sky-high and, of course, I want to win every race," she said. "I try to forget about it and just focus on what I have to do. That works at the push of a button, I don't need any rituals going into a race. At course inspection, at warmups, at the start, I always have a clear mind."

Austria women's head coach Herbert Mandl said overcoming the year-long injury has made Schild stronger on and off the course.

"It was a lot of hard work, and she has gone through a lot of pain, even when she started racing again," Mandl said. "She is a role model in every respect — as an athlete as well as a person. She's very valuable to the team as she has shown us all how to get back from injuries or other lows in a career."

In the years before the 2008 injury, Schild had four podium finishes in downhill and super-G, making her a contender for the overall title.

Now Mandl expects Schild to return to speed racing at some point.

"The speed disciplines have disappeared because of the injury," Mandl said. "She has done great to get back to the world top in slalom and she's on her way to do the same in GS. I am sure she then will get back into speed racing as well. She has so much fun in racing and in training."

However, Schild was more reluctant to speculate on a possible return to downhill and super-G.

"At the moment, it's no issue. Surely not this season, but I won't rule it out forever," Schild said. "My body is grateful that I don't compete in all disciplines anymore. It's good to have time to regenerate, to train, to test material in between races. To me, that's more fun at the moment than hurrying from one race to another."

Holiday season marked by different shopper types

Four types of American shoppers have altered the shopping landscape this holiday season.

There's the bargain hunter who times deals. The midnight buyer who stays up late for discounts. The returner who gets buyer's remorse. And the "me" shopper who self-gifts.

It's the latest shift by consumers in the fourth year of a weak U.S. economy. Shoppers are expected to spend $469.1 billion during the holiday shopping season that runs from November through December. While it won't be known just how much Americans spent until the season ends on Saturday, it's clear they are shopping differently than in years past.

"We're seeing different types of buying behavior in a new economic reality," says C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group.

THE BARGAIN TIMER

Cost-conscious shoppers haven't just been looking for bargains this season. They've also been more deliberate about when to find those deals. Many believe the biggest bargains come at the beginning and end of the season, which has created a kind of "dumbbell effect" in sales.

For the week ended on Nov. 26, which included the traditional start of the holiday shopping season on the day after Thanksgiving, stores had the biggest sales surge compared with the prior week since 1993, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Stores Sales Index. The cumulative two-week-sales drop-off that followed marked the biggest percentage decline since 2000. Then, stores had another surge in the final days, as retailers stepped up promotions again.

"Shoppers are budgeting their money and time," says Paco Underhill, whose company, Envirosell, studies how consumers behave in stores. "They're focused on being opportunistic bargain shopping vultures."

Kalilah Middleton, 30, of Queens, is one of them. Starting late on Thanksgiving night, she spent five hours and $400 at Wal-Mart and Target. She bought a TV and clothing at 50 percent off. Then, she waited until Christmas Eve to shop again because she believed she'd find lower prices later in the season.

"This is when you get the best deals," says Middleton, an office manager, about her holiday shopping.

Shoppers expect even bigger discounts later in the season. According to America's Research Group, about one-third of shoppers say they want to see post-Christmas discounts of about 70 to 80 percent.

THE MIDNIGHT BUYER

Bargain shoppers used to wake up at the crack of dawn to take advantage of big discounts on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. This year, some shoppers instead stayed up late on Thanksgiving night.

This shift in behavior was in large part due to retailers' efforts to outdo each other during the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. Stores like Macy's, Best Buy and Target for the first time opened at midnight on Thanksgiving night, offering deals that once were reserved for the next day.

Twenty-four percent of Black Friday shoppers were at stores at midnight, according to a poll by the National Retail Federation, the industry's biggest trade group. That's up from 9.5 percent the year before when only a few stores were open during that time.

But those hours mostly appealed to the younger set. Of those shopping at midnight on Black Friday, 37 percent were ages 18 to 34. Older shoppers weren't as quick to run to the malls. Only 23.5 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds were in stores by midnight.

Macy's, for one, drew 10,000 people to its midnight opening. Terry Lundgren, Macy's CEO, says many of them were young people who turned out for the Justin Bieber $65 gift sets and discounted fashions.

Anika Ruud, 15, of Boca Raton, Fla., went out with her four cousins to Macy's at midnight and then shopped at Target until 2:30 a.m. She picked up two bras at Macy's for $10. Then, she and her cousins went home to bed.

"It's always been inconvenient," Ruud says of the traditional 4 a.m. Black Friday openings of years past. "No one likes to wake up early."

THE RETURNER

Shoppers who were lured into stores by bargains gleefully loaded up on everything from discounted tablet computers to clothing early in the holiday season. But soon after, many suffered a case of buyer's remorse and rushed back to return some of the items that they bought.

For instance, Elizabeth Yamada, 55, of Fort Lee, N.J., says she got caught up in the shopping frenzy over the Thanksgiving weekend and purchased a $350 coat that was marked down more than 50 percent at Macy's. She returned it a week later.

"It was nice, but I didn't need it," says Yamada, who works part-time as a waitress and a hospital aide. "It was impulsive shopping. But I am doing more reflecting."

For every dollar stores take in this holiday season, it's expected they will have to give back 9.9 cents in returns, up from 9.8 last year, according to the a survey of 110 retailers the NRF. It would be the highest return rate since the recession. In better economic times, it's about 7 cents.

Stores have themselves to blame for the higher returns. They lured shoppers in with deals of up to 60 percent off as early as October. Because of the deals, shoppers spent more than they normally would — and then many felt bad about it. Retailers' policies have been more lax since 2008, with some making it even easier to return purchases this year, so a lot of items that were purchased early in the season went back.

THE "ME" SHOPPER

One for you; one for me.

After scrimping on themselves during the recession, Americans turned more self-indulgent. It's a trend that started last year, but became more prevalent this season.

According to the NRF, spending for non-gift items will increase by 16 percent this holiday season to $130.43 per person. That's the highest number recorded since it started tracking it in 2004.

"This season, the consumer put herself ahead of the giving," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with market research firm The NPD Group.

Betty Thomas, a health care coordinator at a hospital in Raleigh, N.C., says she spent $1,700 on a ring and bracelet for herself and a rug for her home during the holiday season. That's up dramatically from the $200 she spent last year.

"I have been putting other people first," Thomas says. "I definitely felt I earned it."

Stores have been encouraging such self-gifting.

AnnTaylor's "Perfect Presents: One for you. One for her" campaign highlighted merchandise like brightly colored sweaters. Brookstone's print ads urged shoppers to get accessories for their iPads and other electronics with the words: "gifts for your gadgets." And Shopittome.com, an online site that alerts consumers to clothing sales they're interested in, launched "Treat Yourself Tuesday" after Thanksgiving weekend.
 
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