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For the past six years in Somalia, Western countries have been putting up the cash and African nations have been supplying the soldiers, a formula that has pushed back al-Qaida-linked militants and allowed Somalia to elect it's first democratic government in 20 years.

"We can fix our problems in Africa," says Brigadier Michael Ondoga, a contingent commander with the African Union Mission in Somalia or AMISOM. "All we need is your support."

It's not at all hard to see why this plan is so agreeable to the American government.

AMISOM has driven al-Shabaab out of Somali cities and major towns, and it's done so at a low cost in terms of money.

America's contribution in weapons, wages and training for these troops is around $350 million. That is less than Washington spends on the war in Afghanistan in a day and a half.

And in a new development, the U.N. Security Council on Friday authorized sending 2,500 troops to eastern Congo and gave them the unprecedented mandate to launch offensive operations.

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House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Friday condemned the use of the term "wetbacks" by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, one of the party's most senior members of Congress.

Young's statement, his quick apology, and Boehner's statement that the remark was "beneath the dignity of the office he holds," come at a particularly sensitive time for the Republican Party in its relationship with Hispanic voters.

Latinos voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in November, and the GOP is attempting to navigate calls for changes in immigration law, with more party leaders now backing a so-called path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which is opposed by many conservatives.

Young used the term "wetbacks" in describing Hispanic migrant workers who used to pick tomatoes on his father's family ranch. He made the comments in an interview released Thursday with an Alaska radio station.

"My father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 or 60 wetbacks and — to pick tomatoes," Young said. "You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suffered only a blow to his dignity when a lawyer hurled a shoe at him Friday as he entered the High Court in the southern city of Karachi.

The shoe missed its target but made its point. Many in Pakistan's legal fraternity still harbor anger toward the former president for a number of actions he took against the judiciary during his military rule from 1999 to 2008.

In many Muslim countries, shoes are regarded as unclean, and hurling them is considered extremely insulting.

Musharraf, who has been in self-imposed exile for the past four years, returned to Pakistan this week. He was greeted by both supporters and opponents at the court. It was the first time the former military ruler had appeared before a court to defend himself against legal charges.

He's accused of failing to provide adequate security for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007, and for removing judges who refused to take their oath under the emergency rule that Musharraf imposed.

The court on Friday extended his bail.

Musharraf, meanwhile, says he wants to lead his political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, in elections set for May.

Brimming over with sadism and the occasional touch of kink, Blancanieves piles on the pathology that's the birthright of any fairy tale worth its salt. Yet it's still a tale of lost innocence, and Berger keeps faith with a prototype revered by the Disneys and the Grimms alike: the resilient, enterprising girl who overcomes wave after wave of adversity. Blancanieves gets a lot of help on her journey through life, but her salvation, such as it is, will turn out to be the twin performance arts she inherited from her parents.

And so it should be. I'm fond of the helpers, but a girl has got to be able to look after herself. If this Snow White becomes a superstar in her own right, it's because she followed Dad's advice and learned never to take her eyes off the bull.

With nearly 7 million visitors a year, the Chateau of Versailles in France is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. But one day a week, it's closed.

So what happens at Versailles on its day off? A spa day, of sorts — involving cleaning and conservation work.

Catherine Pegard, president of Versailles, says the palace is always caught between history and modernity.

"There's always an equilibrium to be struck between preserving the history of the palace and operating in the 21st century, a constant pull between conservation and creation," she says. "But the better the conservation is, the more creative we can be."

A lot of conservation takes place on Mondays. We get to climb some scaffolding to the top of a room, where artists are dabbing at a magnificent ceiling fresco with tiny paintbrushes.

The team is removing cracks in the ceiling of the Salon d'Abondance. The last restoration of this ceiling took place 65 years ago, and head artisan Xavier Beugnot says the team is having a hard time removing the previous paint job. He says reversibility is a core principal of restoration work these days.

"Our work has to look good but it must be reversible. It must come off easily some day in the future when better methods are available," he explains.

Louis XIII built Versailles as his hunting lodge in 1624. Louis XIV loved spending time there so much that in 1680 he moved his entire court and government to Versailles and continued building. The grandiose chateau became the official residence of French kings and the seat of government until the revolution brought down the monarchy in 1789.

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Brimming over with sadism and the occasional touch of kink, Blancanieves piles on the pathology that's the birthright of any fairy tale worth its salt. Yet it's still a tale of lost innocence, and Berger keeps faith with a prototype revered by the Disneys and the Grimms alike: the resilient, enterprising girl who overcomes wave after wave of adversity. Blancanieves gets a lot of help on her journey through life, but her salvation, such as it is, will turn out to be the twin performance arts she inherited from her parents.

And so it should be. I'm fond of the helpers, but a girl has got to be able to look after herself. If this Snow White becomes a superstar in her own right, it's because she followed Dad's advice and learned never to take her eyes off the bull.

Occasionally, as when David realizes that one of his daughters has a heroin problem, he feels moved to step forward and help without revealing his identity; in other cases, he simply feels a certain joy in getting to know these strangers who are just a little like him. (Though very few of them actually resemble him.)

David's initial dismay at having launched so many lives turns into elation, temporarily distracting him from his debt problems and gradually preparing him for a more involved kind of fatherhood. Huard doesn't overplay the big transformation, and his performance may be the key to the movie's effectiveness. (The picture is being remade in Hollywood under the title The Delivery Man, starring Vince Vaughn.)

David is a guy hoping to sprint through middle age: He still plays football — the European kind — regularly, but you can sense the soft thickening of his middle beneath that track suit. He shaves only intermittently, and the thick patches of gray in his beard make him look both slightly distinguished and a little tired.

But Huard's David is also a man who's still capable of surprise, and of change — even his rather dull job, as a delivery man for his family's butcher business, ends up providing a solution to one of his chief problems.

There are certain plot points in Starbuck, it's true, that either don't make much sense or are simply underexplained. But the picture is so breezily warm, without being too insistently ingratiating, that those flaws don't matter much.

How many kids are too many? The Monty Python guys once sang, ironically, that every sperm is sacred. In Starbuck, charmingly enough, it's actually sort of true.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index broke new ground today, closing at 1,569, an all-time high that erased the record set on Oct. 9, 2007.

The S&P joins the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which broke its 2007 record earlier this month.

Both indices have now recovered all the losses they suffered during the Great Recession.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

"The S&P 500 had flirted with its closing record for two weeks before finally vaulting over that level Thursday. It had come within five points of the closing high in seven of the past 10 sessions.

"'The market has been trying and trying, and we finally crossed the line,' said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial, PRU -0.20% which manages roughly $1 trillion in assets. 'Having the Dow reaching new highs was good, but the S&P 500 is broader, it's bigger... it's an important message for investors.'"

The housing recovery continues:

Average home prices rose 7.3 percent from December to January in their 10-city composite index and 8.1 percent in a broader 20-city list, according to the data crunchers who produce the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

The biggest year-over-year gains were in Phoenix, where prices were up 23.2 percent from January 2012.

Tuesday's report is just the latest in a string of positive signs about the housing sector, which began a long slide in 2008.

Later this morning, the private Conference Board is due to release its March consumer confidence report. We'll update when that happens.

Update at 10:15 a.m. ET. Confidence Drops:

The Conference Board's consumer confidence index fell to 59.7 in March from 68.0 in February, the business research group says.

Lynn Franco, the board's director of economic indicators, says in a press release that "this month's retreat was driven primarily by a sharp decline in expectations, although consumers were also more pessimistic in their assessment of current conditions. The loss of confidence, particularly expectations, mirrors the losses experienced this past December and January. The recent sequester has created uncertainty regarding the economic outlook and as a result, consumers are less confident."

McDonald's in France is offering the McCamembert — a burger with Camembert cheese. Here's what one review had to say, once I ran it through Google Translate:

We, on the bottom rather than the goat!

When he rang the doorbell, Zia hadn't planned to step inside. He was there to pick up his fiancee who was babysitting, but she couldn't leave (the parents were running late) so Zia agreed to hang out for a bit. His fiancee said, "Let me introduce you to the kids" — the 2-year-old girl, the 7-year-old boy and, most important, squatting, with no shoes on, surrounded by ants on the back patio, the oldest — the 9-year-old — the one he would make world-famous on YouTube.

This is the boy he now calls "The Philosopher."

Nine is what fourth-graders are. You don't expect them to be wise; they're still boys. When the two started talking, there was no hint of what was about to happen, except for the slightly odd introduction. His girlfriend said he "is interested in cosmology." "Really?" Zia thought, "cosmology?" So he leaned in and asked — just to be a badass — "What do you think about dark matter? Any ideas?"

Wait! I Need To Film This

The boy looked up, started to answer, and almost immediately Zia thought, "Wait!" Zia Hassan is a Washington, D.C.-based musician, blogger, teacher-in-training and video cameraman and he's learned to act on instinct, and his instincts were telling him, "I need to film this." He said to the boy, "Uh, can I film this? Is that all right with you?"

The boy didn't mind. And here, a million-and-a-half views later, is what the boy told him about the universe. I don't know the right words to describe what I feel watching this. Quiet surprise? Joy? Mystery? You should just look for yourself ...

Banks in Cyprus reopened Thursday morning — after two weeks in which they had to keep their doors closed as European leaders worked out a bailout deal for the island's struggling financial sector in a bid to keep its problems from triggering similar crises in other ailing EU nations.

As Joanna Kakissis tells our Newscast Desk, "to prevent bank runs, the government has severely restricted cash withdrawals. These controls could last months." Daily withdrawals, for example, are limited to 300 euros (about $384), and no one can take more than 1,000 euros ($1,284) out of the country. Depositors who have more than 100,000 euros ($128,400) in their accounts face heavy taxes.

Banks in Cyprus reopened Thursday morning — after two weeks in which they had to keep their doors closed as European leaders worked out a bailout deal for the island's struggling financial sector in a bid to keep its problems from triggering similar crises in other ailing EU nations.

As Joanna Kakissis tells our Newscast Desk, "to prevent bank runs, the government has severely restricted cash withdrawals. These controls could last months." Daily withdrawals, for example, are limited to 300 euros (about $384), and no one can take more than 1,000 euros ($1,284) out of the country. Depositors who have more than 100,000 euros ($128,400) in their accounts face heavy taxes.

Even with the restrictions in place, the BBC adds that "branches were replenished with cash overnight and police and private security guards deployed amid fears of a run on the banks by customers."

On Morning Edition, Joanna explained how Cyprus became an international tax haven after 200,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to flee the northern part of the island when Turkish troops invaded in 1974 (current population: about 1.1 million). "Because the best agricultural land was in the north," Joanna reported, the new nation [in the south] based its economy on financial services." And over time, it became a popular place for wealthy Russians and other internationals to park their money.

But Cypriot banks made what turned out to be bad investments — notably, in Greek bonds that went bust after that nation's economy went sour in 2010.

Now, says Joanna, many Cypriots face the prospect of losing their jobs and the country "may have to start from scratch again, just like it did in 1974."

Morning Edition also had a conversation with University of Michigan Law School Professor James Hines about tax havens. According to Hines, the best tax havens are those with strong, transparent finance laws and a free press. Dictatorships, he noted, aren't attractive places to stash cash because dictators tend to make up the rules as they go along and there isn't an independent news media to keep them honest.

The world's biggest tax haven? Hines says it's the U.S. "By some measures, we are the best tax haven in the world, it just doesn't apply to "Americans," he said. "We're a great big one and Britain is probably No. 2."


The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – emerging economies that collectively are referred to as BRICS – announced Wednesday the creation of a development bank to fund infrastructure projects in developing nations.

"We have decided to enter formal negotiations to establish a BRICS-led new development bank based on our considerable infrastructure needs, which amounts to around $4.5 trillion for the next five years, but also to cooperate with other emerging markets and developing countries in future," South African President Jacob Zuma, the meeting's host, said Wednesday in Durban.

He added that the nations would also establish a "BRICS contingent reserve arrangement," which The Associated Press calls "a pool of money to cushion member states against any future economic shocks and further lessen their dependence on Western institutions" such as the World Bank.

Four of the five nations have been meeting since 2009 to discuss issues of mutual economic interests. South Africa began attending two years ago.

The bank would be the first institution set up by the informal grouping. But the leaders of the five nations failed to agree on just how much capital such a bank would need amid fears that China would play a dominant role in the institution, much as the United States and Europe do at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Here's more from The New York Times about the grouping and the differences among individual members:

"For all the talk of solidarity among emerging giants, the group's concrete achievements have been few since its first full meeting, in Russia in 2009. This is partly because its members are deeply divided on some basic issues and are in many ways rivals, not allies, in the global economy.

"They have widely divergent economies, disparate foreign policy aims and different forms of government. India, Brazil and South Africa have strong democratic traditions, while Russia and China are autocratic.

"The bloc even struggles to agree on overhauling international institutions. India, Brazil and South Africa want permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council, for example, but China, which already has one, has shown little interest in shaking up the status quo."

Myanmar's top military commander says the armed forces, which ruled the country (also known as Burma) for nearly five decades, will continue to play a "leading role" as it transitions to democracy.

Wednesday's statement comes as pro-democracy opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest on orders of Myanmar's ruling junta, attended her first Armed Forces Day military parade. She sat in the front row next to a senior general, in a scene that The New York Times says "symbolized what members of her [National League for Democracy] party say is a fledgling partnership, jarring to some, that recognizes the military's continuing power in a country moving toward greater democracy."

The country's top general, Min Aung Hlaing, addressing the attendees, called for a "well-disciplined democratic nation."

"While the country is moving toward modern democracy, our military plays a leading role in national politics," he said. "We will keep on marching to strengthen the democratic path wished by the people."

The Associated Press reports at Wednesday's parade in Naypyitaw:

"Helicopters buzzed over the hills. Fighter planes let off flares. Dozens of mud-green tanks, armored personnel carriers and small artillery guns rolled by. A commander barked out orders, and the clicking of row after row of boot-polished heels came back like thunder. ...

"[Myanmar's president], Thein Sein, is a former general himself but has led a flurry of democratic changes. Still, the military remains a potent political force and is guaranteed 25 percent of seats in parliament, which is enough to block constitutional amendments."

Brad Guzan swatted away shot after shot and the U.S. team hung on for a 0-0 draw with Mexico Tuesday night, earning only its second point in a World Cup qualifier at Azteca Stadium.

The tie moved the U.S. into third place in World Cup qualifying for the North and Central American and Caribbean region after three of 10 matches, one point behind Panama and behind Costa Rica on goal difference. The Americans and Costa Ricans both have four points, but the Ticos, who earlier Tuesday lost their appeal over Friday's loss to the United States in a Colorado snow storm, are ahead on goal difference.

Mexico coach Manuel de la Torre is sure to come under fire after a third straight draw, which dropped El Tri to second-to-last place in the standings. Mexico had plenty of chances, but El Tri was plagued by poor finishing and dismal execution on set pieces. Mexico had 15 corner kicks, including three in the last two minutes of stoppage time, and Guzan body-blocked a dangerous shot by Angel Reyna.

Azteca is one of the world's most imposing venues, and the Americans have a miserable track record there. They are 0-13-2 in World Cup qualifiers in Mexico, with their only other point — also from a 0-0 draw — coming in 1997.

But the Americans got a boost of confidence from their win in an exhibition last summer, and not even a patchwork — and inexperienced — lineup could shake them. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann gambled by starting Matt Besler at center back, only the second appearance for the Americans by the young defender. But he and Omar Gonzalez — the last two Major League Soccer defenders of the year — looked like grizzled veterans as they repeatedly snuffed out shots by Javier Hernandez, Javier Aquino and Jesus Zavala.

Mexico dominated possession, and Aquino, Hernandez and Zavala repeatedly tested the inexperienced American defense, picking on DaMarcus Beasley in particular after he picked up a yellow card in the eighth minute. But Gonzalez came up with one big play after another, and Besler looked quite comfortable in the Azteca pressure-cooker.

But they got some help from El Tri, which blew numerous chances, including what should have been a couple of gimmes for Hernandez.

The Manchester United striker misplayed a bouncing corner kick in the 87th, getting only the back of his right foot on it. He pitched forward and into the net, but the ball popped skyward and over the goal. In the 28th minute, Jorge Torres Nilo sent a perfect cross in to Chicharito, who was right in front of the goal, just a few feet from Guzan. But Hernandez skied that one, too.

Guzan, who made his first start since 2010 in Friday night's qualifier, was superb. When Carlos Salcido lobbed a gorgeous chip shot to Zavala in the 43rd, Guzan ended the threat by coming out and slamming into Zavala. Not only did Guzan clear the ball, Zavala was called for a foul.

The Americans also got a bit lucky. Mexico could have been awarded a penalty kick for a first-half foul by Michael Bradley on Chicharito. And El Tri probably should have been awarded one in the 76th when Maurice Edu took down Aquino from behind with a sliding tackle. The Mexico players were livid when no penalty was called, surrounding Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez. Lopez didn't back down, though replays showed Edu had clipped Aquino's foot.

The United States never really challenged Mexican goalkeeper Guilermo Ochoa. But their defense was offense enough, and the Americans were thrilled to leave Azteca with a rare point.

A political dispute in India over relations with Sri Lanka has spilled over into the country's national pastime: cricket.

We told you last week about a key ally of India's ruling coalition withdrawing its support to the government over neighboring Sri Lanka's conduct against ethnic Tamils during the bloody civil war in that country. On Tuesday, the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, one of the world's top-paying sporting events, announced it won't feature any Sri Lankan players in games played in the southern city of Chennai. The league attracts the best players from the world's top cricketing nations.

Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu state, whose Tamil population has linguistic and cultural links to Sri Lanka's Tamils. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the political party that withdrew support from India's ruling coalition last week, is the main opposition party in the southern state.

This week, Tamil Nadu's ruling party joined the fray. The ruling party is the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and it is a bitter rival of the DMK. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaraman, who heads the ruling party, wrote to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday, telling him she won't allow Sri Lankan players to play in IPL matches in the state.

Here's an excerpt from her letter (h/t: Live Mint):

"In view of the popular antipathy and anger in Tamil Nadu against the actions of the government of Sri Lanka, the government of Tamil Nadu is of the view that IPL matches involving Sri Lankan players, umpires and other officials should not be played in Tamil Nadu."

Last week, I started a discussion of what I call "The Three Origins," focusing first on the origin of life. Although we are far from knowing how non-living matter became living organisms on primitive Earth some 3.5 billion years ago (or more), or how to repeat the feat in the laboratory, I consider this the "easiest" of the three questions.

Contrary to the origin of the Universe and the origin of mind, the origin of life is something we can study from the outside in, where we can have an external and objective view of what is going on. Even if, as I have argued, it seems impossible to know exactly how life originated on Earth (unless it could be proven that there is only one pathway from nonlife to life), we can still investigate the biochemical pathways leading to what we may call a living organism. In the case of the cosmos or the mind, things are subtler.

From what we know, all cultures have a creation narrative describing the origin of tche world, of how everything came from nothing. As I explored in The Dancing Universe: From Creation Myths to the Big Bang, there are only a small number of possible answers to the origin of the cosmos. All creation myths presuppose the existence of some kind of divine or absolute power capable of creating the world. In the vast majority of cases, the Bible being one example, this absolute power is embodied in God, or a group of gods. In others, the Universe is eternal, without a starting moment in the distant past: it has existed forever and will exist forever. In others still, the cosmos emerges without any divine interference from a primal Nothingness, from an innate tendency to exist. This Nothing can be complete emptiness, a primal egg, or even a struggle between chaos and order. Not every creation myth uses divine intervention or supposes that time started in some moment in the past.

According to modern science, the origin of the universe is part of cosmology. In trying to describe a creation process through scientific language we encounter a serious challenge: if every effect results from a cause, we can follow the chain of causation backwards in time until we arrive at the First Cause. But what caused this cause? Aristotle, for one, used some kind of divine entity to solve this conundrum, the Unmoved Mover, the one that can cause without having been caused. Very convenient, but not scientifically satisfying.

As current astronomical observations resolutely point to a Universe with a beginning in the distant past (according to the latest measurements from the Planck satellite related here last week, at about 13.8 billion years ago), scientific models of the origin of the Universe must face the challenge of explaining or doing away with the problem of the First Cause.

The fundamental question is this: even if a scientific explanation exists, is it an acceptable answer to the question of the origin of the Universe? Defenders of scientism might argue that this is the best that we can do, that it is the only reasonable thing that we can do. Fair enough, if you believe that science should provide an answer to this question and if you are happy with the answers given.

The best answer we have at this point is that the Universe emerged spontaneously from a random quantum fluctuation in some sort of primordial quantum vacuum, the scientific equivalent of "nothing." However, this quantum vacuum is a very loaded nothing: it assumes the whole machinery of quantum field theory, the modern description of how elementary particles of matter interact with one another, was already in operation.

In the quantum realm, even the lowest energy state, the "vacuum," is not empty. Even if the energy of a quantum system is zero, it is never really zero due to the inherent quantum fluctuations about this state. A zero energy quantum state is as impossible as a perfectly still lake, with absolutely no disturbances on its surface. This quantum jitteriness amounts to fluctuations on the value of the energy; if one of these fluctuations is unstable it may grow big, like a soap bubble that blows itself up. The energy remains zero on average because of a clever interplay between the positive energy of matter and the negative energy of attractive gravity. This is the result that physicists like Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, Mikio Kaku and others speak of when they state that the "universe came out of quantum nothingness," or something to that extent.

The essential question, though, is whether this is indeed a satisfactory explanation to the question of cosmic origins, or simply part of one. The philosopher David Albert raised similar points in a recent review of Lawrence Krauss's book. Here is Krauss's response.

It is obvious that this quantum nothingness is very different from an absolute nothingness. Physicists may shrug this away stating that concepts like absolute nothingness are not scientific and hence have no explanatory value. It is indeed true that there is no such thing as absolute nothingness in science, since the vacuum is pregnant with all sorts of stuff. Any scientific explanation presupposes a whole conceptual structure that is absolutely essential for science to function: energy, space, time, the equations we use, the laws of Nature. Science can't exist without this scaffolding. So, a scientific explanation of the origin of the universe needs to use such concepts to make sense. It necessarily starts from something, which is the best that science can ever hope to do.

Even if we move on to the multiverse, things still need to be formulated in terms of fields, energy, spacetime, derivatives, etc. Furthermore, scientific hypotheses need to be testable and falsifiable, and we don't yet know how to do this with a quantum fluctuation that generates a universe. We can't set this experiment in the laboratory and examine the right conditions for universes to emerge from the quantum vacuum. Contrary to the origin of life question, we can't step out of the Universe to examine it from the outside in. At best, and this should be quite enough for a scientific explanation of cosmic origins, a model for the quantum origin of the Universe should lead to a cosmos compatible with current observations. Stepping out into the abstract multiverse may provide us with different plausible cosmoids and help us understand why our own Universe is so special. But unless there is a very clear selection principle that doesn't predicate our existence, the question as to why this Universe and not another will remain open.

And this is not at all bad. The fact that science answers so many questions doesn't mean it should answer all; or that some questions should only be answered through science. Before I am accused of advocating obscurantism, let me be clear. What I mean is that a scientific explanation to the origin of the Universe, at least one based in the current way we do science, cannot be self-contained. Sometimes we must have the humility to accept that our modes of explanation have limits and make peace with what we can do; and marvel at how much we can do without the pretense of knowing how to do everything.

The deal we posted about Sunday evening — a $13 billion bailout by international creditors for the beleaguered banking system on Cyprus — is being met with skepticism on that Mediterranean island nation.

On Morning Edition, correspondent Joanna Kakissis reported from Nicosia that some Cypriots fear the world they've come to know is coming to an end. Encouraged to build their banking sector into an international haven for foreign investment, Cypriots are now watching as the island's second-largest bank — Laiki — is being restructured and as large depositors are seeing their investments shrivel because of the taxes they'll now have to pay.


At the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, the moment had finally arrived. After four years of litigation in the lower courts, the Supreme Court was hearing a challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage. But minutes into oral arguments, it became clear that the justices may not give either side the clear-cut victory it wants.

All eyes were on Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely viewed as a swing vote and very possibly the deciding vote in the case, but he seemed reticent about the court dealing with the California case at all. "I just wonder if the case was properly granted," he mused.

The showdown at the same-sex-marriage corral seemed to get derailed from the get-go by the procedural issues involved in the case — a legal test of the ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage that was passed by the California voters in 2008.

Charles Cooper, the lawyer defending the California ban on same-sex marriage, got just 34 words out of his mouth before he was interrupted by Chief Justice John Roberts, who instructed him to address the boring, but essential procedural question: Should the case be in the Supreme Court at all?

The state of California has refused to defend the ban, known as Proposition 8. So, with the state declining to defend the law, did the sponsors of the ballot initiative have legal standing to substitute for state officials in defending the law?

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked Cooper, "Have we ever granted standing to proponents of ballot initiatives?"

No, he conceded, but in this case the California Supreme Court ruled that the initiative sponsors do have legal standing under state law.

To Proposition Proponents, A Question For The Public

The justices went back and forth on the issue for 15 minutes before Cooper was allowed to move on to his central argument. Public opinion and knowledge about same-sex marriage is "changing rapidly," he said.

The question the court has to answer, he said, "is whether the Constitution puts a stop to that ongoing democratic debate and answers this question for all 50 states."

Pressed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Cooper conceded that it would be unconstitutional to discriminate against gays and lesbians on matters such as employment. If that is true, she asked, then why can homosexuals be singled out for different treatment in their ability to marry?

"At bottom," Cooper said, "same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are simply not similarly situated," and it is reasonable to believe that over time, the institution of marriage itself would be harmed if marriage were redefined as a "genderless institution."

Justice Elena Kagan followed up, asking what exactly is the "harm to the institution of marriage or to opposite-sex couples? How does this cause and effect work?"

That's not the right question to ask, Cooper responded. "The correct question is whether or not redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would advance the interests of marriage?"

It's All Politics

Key Moments: Cellphones, The Internet And Fertility Over 55

The chairman of the Bank of Cyprus abruptly stepped down after a special administrator was appointed to oversee its restructuring in the wake of a painful bailout of the island nation by international lenders.

Andreas Artemis' resignation, The New York Times reports, was "not wholly unexpected," but "still caught the market by surprise and was a further reminder of how volatile and uncertain Cyprus' financial system has become in recent days."

John Psaropoulos, reporting for NPR from the capital, Nicosia, says Artemis' resignation comes as the Bank of Cyprus prepares to absorb the country's second-biggest lender, Laiki Bank. In the process, depositors with more than $130,000 in their accounts will be levied a one-time charge of as much as 40 percent of their savings.

"But while both banks are crunching the numbers, nobody knows what their assets will be at the end of the day," Psaropoulos says. "Today's resignation [of Artemis] could throw a wrench in the entire process."

He says employees, unsure about their jobs, protested outside the Bank of Cyprus headquarters in Nicosia.

On Monday night, Cyrpus' central bank appointed Dinos Christofides to act as a special administrator for the Bank of Cyprus. He tells Reuters he will oversee "the restructuring of the bank and the absorption of part of Cyprus Popular Bank," known as Laiki Bank.

"It means that from now until further notice I will be running the bank," he said. "It could be short term ... or it could be longer."

Meanwhile, Greece's Piraeus Bank agreed Tuesday to buy the Greek operations of three Cypriot banks for $678 million, according to The Associated Press:

"Piraeus, which was selected last Friday to take over the Greek units of the Bank of Cyprus, Laiki and Hellenic ... says the Cypriot bank branches in Greece would reopen Wednesday, a day earlier than in Cyprus."

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act — the federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. And among those asking the justices to strike it down is a broad cross section of corporate America.

Nearly 300 companies have filed a brief arguing that the law — called DOMA for short — hits them where it counts: their bottom lines.

Boston lawyer Sabin Willett smiles, remembering when he sent the brief to be printed at a shop in New York.

"The printer, he said: 'All these pages and pages of corporations,' he says, 'you know what that's going to cost? My God,' he says, 'You have to list them all?!' I said, 'That's the whole point!' " Willet recalls.

On the list are Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks and Citigroup. There's Apple, Nike and Morgan Stanley, too. And it even includes municipal employers — Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles, and some counties and chambers of commerce. So many signed up — 278 in all — that the appendix listing them is longer than the written argument itself.

Jack Christin, associate general attorney at eBay, says the case against DOMA is pretty simple. "It's bad for business," he says. "It's bad for our company and our employees. And it simply needs to go."

The Defense of Marriage Act prevents same-sex couples from getting medical coverage and other tax and retirement benefits that other employees receive for their spouses. And that complicates things for any business that employs people in any of the nine states and Washington, D.C., where same-sex couples are lawfully married.

"We're basically treating people differently," says Mark Roellig, general counsel at MassMutual Financial. He says DOMA forces his company to keep track of a dual system, and that costs time and money.

"You have to keep separate sets of books. You've got to continually be adjusting. And then also picking up the potential legal risk if you make a mistake," he says. "So it's ongoing administrative costs that are pretty significant."

His company does not want to discriminate, Roelling says. So MassMutual uses a workaround to give employees benefits for their same-sex spouses. But then DOMA forces those employees to pay more in taxes and MassMutual pays more, too.

Profit cuts are not the only reason businesses are complaining about the law — it's also about the work environment. Hannah Grove, executive vice president at State Street, a financial firm, says DOMA is hurting company's ability to create an inclusive atmosphere.

"In order to compete in today's global competitive environment, our employees are one of our greatest assets," Grove says.

“ Cultural change takes time, and I think this is the time."

The news of Yahoo's purchase of Summly, the news-summarizing app created by 17-year-old British wunderkind Nick D'Aloisio, rippled through the news world on Tuesday.

The acquisition, while notable for going to an entrepreneur so young, is hardly the largest or most surprising. The app had millions of downloads after its November release, but it had no real monetization strategy. And unlike, say, Facebook buying Instagram and leaving it intact, Yahoo said it is killing the app (in fact it is already gone from the iOS App Store); so Yahoo isn't buying an audience or a user base, either.

What the Internet company appears to be taking a big gamble on is a good story, some young talent and an algorithm. It bought math.

While Yahoo did not disclose the amount of the deal, Kara Swisher of All Things D told NPR's Jeff Brady that it was "about $30 million ... 90 percent in cash and 10 percent in stock." She says the purchase is part of the restructuring under new CEO Marissa Mayer and her plan to bolster Yahoo's mobile efforts.

Increasingly, technologies, like finance, and, in Summly's case, news aggregation, are becoming algorithm based; an algorithm simply being a set of step-by-step instructions to produce an output. So could these algorithms, math essentially, be the next tech bubble?

In his TEDx talk, Christopher Steiner, author of Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World, said, "The story of the next 20 years is the story of big data and algorithms."

Including finance and the tech world, algorithms and algorithmic science is already finding heavy use in medicine, sports and the music industry, Steiner says, and that is only going to increase.

"Just how much will we allow algorithms to take over?" Steiner wonders.

Part of that might depend on whether other companies follow Yahoo's lead and begin doling out large payouts for algorithms that solve their problems. One can posit a future in which computer science and math students simply create and sell algorithms, and not products, to the highest bidder. Why go through the trouble of bringing an app to market when you can just sell the science?

During the dot-com bubble, you saw companies pouring huge amounts of money into unproven websites of all stripes, based on the hype of the Internet boom. Many of those sites failed, and companies lost billions.

As we saw in the "Flash Crash" of 2010, algorithms can also fail to huge consequences. As we increasingly integrate these algorithms into things that drive our daily lives, failures are inevitable.

Writing on Slashdot, however, Nick Kolakowski isn't sure we're quite headed for a new bubble quite yet:

"It's tempting to view all that acquisition and IPO activity and think, 'bubble.' But a true tech bubble occurs only when irrationality takes over, and otherwise-sane investors start pouring fortunes into, say, Websites that specialize in pet accessories. While much of the current activity appears bubbly, many of the companies shelling out the billions also boast solid fundamentals: nobody is going to confuse Google, Apple, or Amazon with Pets.com. Even Facebook, which saw its stock price tumble from its IPO heights, still makes money thanks to a viable corporate strategy."


Outside the Supreme Court, lines began forming nearly a week ago. By Monday, the line had snaked down the court steps and to the corner, with people braving freezing temperatures and snow in anticipation of the historic arguments on same-sex marriage on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The justices are first hearing a constitutional challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage. A second day is devoted to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples married in the nine states where such unions are legal.

The two cases fall into the category of the truly momentous. So much so that Supreme Court advocate Tom Goldstein literally pounded the table when speaking to law students last month. "This is special," he declared, observing that there were no cases like it when he was in law school." This will be a "foundational decision" that "is going to be decided for centuries."

On one side of the argument in these cases is the idea of equality. On the other, traditional notions of how society has ordered itself.

The same-sex-marriage cases come in the face of a shift in public opinion that even opponents of same-sex marriage admit is unprecedented. Polls show that support for gay marriage has jumped from percentages in the low 40s just four years ago to majorities now as high as 58 percent. And 13 other countries, from Canada to Argentina, have legalized same-sex marriage.

The Voter Initiative

California's Proposition 8, known simply as Prop 8, was enacted by voter initiative in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage. Challenging the constitutionality of the ban are Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier. They have been together 13 years and raised four boys — Perry's twins, and Stier's two sons from a heterosexual marriage many years ago.

Perry, a children's advocate, and Stier, a technical systems expert, got married in 2004, when same-sex marriage was briefly legalized in San Francisco, but the marriage was later voided by the state courts.

They contend that California's ban on same-sex marriage amounts to a badge of inferiority, a stigmatizing mark on all gay couples. "There is no more important decision as an adult than who you choose to love and build a family with," Perry says. "And I'm not allowed to enter into that institution simply because of the gender of who I love — not because I've done anything illegal, not because I'm not contributing, not because I've done anything other than end up this way."

Perry says that Proposition 8 not only hurts her; it hurts her parents, her kids and her community.

The sponsors of the proposition declined to be interviewed for this piece, as did their lead lawyer, Charles Cooper. But in briefs filed in the case, Cooper defends the constitutionality of Proposition 8 this way: "Marriage owes its existence to the undeniable biological reality that opposite-sex unions — and only such unions — can produce children."

Society, he says, has no interest in regulating other relationships, no matter how close. Cooper told a federal appeals court during oral arguments that "the name of marriage is effectively the institution, and the issue here is whether it will be redefined, essentially to be genderless in that it bears little or no ... relationship to the traditional historic purpose of marriage."

Rebutting that argument in the Supreme Court Tuesday, lawyer Ted Olson will tell the justices that "the ability or willingness to procreate or the interest in having children sexually has never, ever been a condition for entry into marriage anywhere in this country."

Olson, who represents Perry and the other challengers to Proposition 8, notes that people too old to have children, or who don't want to have children, have a constitutional right to marry. Even people in prison have a right to marry. And yet, as he puts it, "The state of California is saying you can marry whoever you want, provided it must be a person of the opposite sex."

He argues that just as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws banning marriage between people of different races, it should strike down laws banning marriage between people of the same gender.

State Power And Equal Protection

Those defending Proposition 8 point out that the citizens of California have twice, since 2000, voted to ban same-sex marriage. "We are claiming that the Supreme Court should not try to remove the decision on the future of marriage from the hands of the people, that the people are sovereign, that they do have a right to maintain marriage as one man and one woman," says Austin Nimocks, counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the groups involved in defending Proposition 8.

Olson replies that the 14th Amendment of the Constitution stands in the way of that argument because it guarantees all citizens equal protection of the law. It was "specifically enacted as a check on the power of the states," Olson observes, "whether exercised by the people directly, as in Proposition 8, or by a state legislature."

Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

The Same-Sex Marriage Cases: A Primer

McDonald's in France is offering the McCamembert — a burger with Camembert cheese. Here's what one review had to say, once I ran it through Google Translate:

We, on the bottom rather than the goat!

Illustrations produced by an Indian ad agency showing scantily clad cartoon women bound, gagged and stuffed into the hatch of a Ford Figo have led both the car company and the ad agency's parent to issue apologies.

The images, according to FirstPost.Business, were "scam ads — ads that are created not to sell products and services, but to win awards at awards shows such as the Abby or at Cannes."

The agency, JWT India, does do work for Ford in that country. But Business Insider says that "Ford did not approve the ads; the agency was just publishing some speculative renderings to show off its creative chops."

Still, as The Wall Street Journal reports, Ford said in a statement that "we deeply regret this incident and agree with our agency partners that it should have never happened. The posters are contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within Ford and our agency partners."

The illustrations reportedly appeared briefly on the website Ads of the World, but have since disappeared from there.

JTW India's parent, WPP Plc, has also apologized, according to Bloomberg News.

In one of the illustrations, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (in caricature) looks back from the front seat and flashes a peace sign as three bound and gagged women look on from the hatch. The tag line for the would-be ad: "Leave your worries behind with Figo's extra-large boot." As Business Insider says, the image is a clear reference to "Berlusconi's many affairs and bunga bunga parties."

In another illustration, celebrity Paris Hilton is in the driver's seat and three of her TV reality rivals — the Kardashians — are in the hatch.

A third version has race car driver Michael Schumacher in front and three of his (male) rivals in the back. They're tied and have tape over their mouths.

We don't have the rights to any of the images at this time, but you can see them by following the links to the various other reports.

Ford is hearing about the ads on its Facebook page. "Your Ford India ad is disgusting," says one comment posted there. "You are promoting the Rape culture that exists in India."

Violence against women in India has been dominating the news there since the rape of a young woman by a group of men on a bus last December. She later died from her injuries. The crime sparked protests across the country. It has been followed by other such attacks, however, including the rape of a Swiss earlier this month.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Willa Cather's letters are being published next month (never mind that the author of My Antonia was militantly opposed to her letters being made public), and The New York Times has excerpts: "In other matters — things about the office — I can usually do what I set out to do and I can learn by experience, but when it comes to writing I'm a new-born baby every time — always come into it naked and shivery and without any bones. I never learn anything about it at all. I sometimes wonder whether one can possibly be meant to do the thing at which they are more blind and inept and blundering than at anything else in the world." Scholars have long thought Cather was a lesbian and that she guarded her correspondence to keep it a secret. (Joan Acocella famously tried to debunk that theory in The New Yorker in 1995 [paywall protected].)

Jane Goodall is putting her new book on hold after The Washington Post revealed that some passages were copied from other sources without attribution. Her publisher, Grand Central, said in a statement, "We look forward to publishing Seeds of Hope at a later date."

Philip Roth talks with NPR's Scott Simon about the joys of napping: "Let me tell you about the nap. It's absolutely fantastic. ... I come back from the swimming pool I go to and I have my lunch and I read the paper and I take this glorious thing called a nap. And then the best part of it is that when you wake up, for the first 15 seconds you have no idea where you are. You're just alive. That's all you know, and it's bliss. It's absolute bliss."

"Books about the Inquisition and the crusades are a guilty pleasure because I feel guilty reading bad things about the Catholic Church — though it's hard to avoid these days." — Caroline Kennedy on her reading habits, in the Times.

The Best Books Coming Out This Week:

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler paints a portrait of Zelda Fitzgerald — the beautiful but notoriously unstable wife of Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout is the latest novel from the author of Olive Kitteridge, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. The book, about a family's reaction to a shocking transgression by one of its members, is a sensitive portrait of a family in crisis.


In 1953, the Swiss chemical company Ciba came to Toms River, N.J. By all accounts, the community was delighted to have it. The chemical plant for manufacturing textile dye brought jobs and tax revenue to the small town on the Jersey shore. The company invested in the town's hospital and donated land for a golf course.

The arrangement was good for Ciba, too. Its manufacturing process created far more wastewater than it did actual dye, and it needed somewhere to dump the water. It went into sandy holding ponds and into the Toms River, for which the town was named. Other chemical plants up the road were doing the same with their waste, dumping it rather than paying to ship it away.

Then, nearly two decades after Ciba first came to town, a cancer epidemic was identified in the community. Dan Fagin, who chronicled the community's fight for answers in his new book Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, talks to Don Gonyea, host of weekends on All Things Considered, about the origins of dumping in Toms River and its legacy today.

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