December 31st, 2011
06:39 AM ET

2011: College sports' most scandalous year?

Even as early as last summer - when several big name college programs were roiling under allegations of improper gifts, academic fraud and recruiting violations - sports analysts had dubbed 2011 the year of college sports scandals.

But then came the fall, when the child abuse allegations at Penn State and Syracuse eclipsed everything that came before. Allegations that, many said, exposed the ugly underbelly of long-buried secrets at these august traditions.

"There is no question this is the most scandal-plagued collegiate year ever," said Eddie George, a former Ohio State running back and Heisman trophy winner.

"You look at Miami and Ohio State earlier and now the unthinkable at Penn State and Syracuse - this year, the stories off the field far overshadowed the play on the field."

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Filed under: Sports • U.S. • World
December 31st, 2011
06:38 AM ET

Report: Chinese man dies of bird flu

A 39-year-old man in southern China died Saturday from what appears to be a contagious strain of avian flu, state media reported Saturday.

The man - identified by Xinhua as a bus driver with the surname Chen - was hospitalized in Shenzhen on December 21 as he battled a fever. He tested positive for the H5N1 avian influenza virus, the provincial health department said in a statement, according to the official news agency.

The man had not traveled out of the city of Shenzhen, nor did he have direct contact with poultry in the month before he came down with the fever, according to the department.

Shenzhen borders Hong Kong, where more than 17,000 chickens were ordered culled on the same day that Chen was hospitalized. That decision came after a chicken carcass tested positive for avian flu.

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Filed under: Uncategorized
December 31st, 2011
06:37 AM ET

India death toll climbs in wake of Cyclone Thane

The death toll from a storm that has pummeled India's southeastern coastline rose Saturday to 27, with thousands forced to seek refuge in emergency shelters, officials in the worst affected area said.

The Tamil Nadu district of Cuddalore, south of the city of Chennai, bore the brunt of Cyclone Thane's fury Friday, with winds gusting at almost 90 miles per hour at its peak.

The storm uprooted trees, ripped off traffic signals from their posts and sent shards of glass and other debris whizzing through the air.

Amuthavalli, the district's top official who goes by a single name, told CNN the number of residents killed stood at 27 as of Saturday but is not expected to climb much higher. Some lost their lives when walls collapsed or downed power lines caused electrocution.

One of those killed was a French national, the French Foreign Ministry said Saturday. France presents its sincere condolences to the victim's family and his loved ones, the ministry said.

The first priority is to restore power supplies, she said. Workers will then start clearing fallen trees and other wreckage from the district's roads.

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Filed under: India • World
December 31st, 2011
06:35 AM ET

Iran, world powers to hold nuclear talks

Another round of talks between Iran and world powers is expected to be held soon, Iran's ambassador to Germany said.

Alireza Sheikh Atta said the discussions will occur after Iran's Supreme National Security Council secretary Saeed Jalili submits a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Saturday.

Attar said negotiations have been held to prepare another round of talks between Iran and the so-called 5+1 group, which includes Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

"In addition to our recent letters to the European Union, we will soon send another letter and then a meeting will be arranged," Atta said, according to Mehr.

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Filed under: Iran • World
December 31st, 2011
03:27 AM ET

Monkey business: Thieves swipe primate from California zoo

Concern was growing Saturday for the welfare of a much-loved male squirrel monkey stolen from an enclosure at San Francisco Zoo in California.

Zoo workers discovered the theft Friday morning, when they found a back perimeter gate had been breached and two holes cut in the mesh fence of the squirrel monkey exhibit.

The missing monkey, known as Banana-Sam to his keepers, is 17 years old, over 12 inches tall and weighs about 2 lb.

But his keepers warn that while he looks very cute, he is not a pet - and can deliver a nasty nip.

"He has extremely sharp teeth and will definitely bite if provoked, which can cause infections right away," the zoo said.

Primate curator Corinne MacDonald told CNN affiliate KTVU she was very worried about Banana-Sam's well-being.

"Stress can actually kill a monkey that small," she said. "They are highly social animals and should not be alone, and he's got cage-mates here that he's lived with almost all his life that are his friends, so to speak, that he needs to be with."

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Filed under: U.S.
December 31st, 2011
03:26 AM ET

Police: Arizona parents duct tape kids, post photos on Facebook

An Arizona couple remained in custody Saturday morning after police said they duct taped the wrists, ankles and mouths of their two children and posted the photos on Facebook.

The children in the photo were a 2-year-old boy and a 10-month old girl, according to a Coconino County Sheriff's incident report. One showed the boy hanging upside down by his ankles from a weight machine.

A friend who saw the photos called the state child abuse hotline Wednesday, prompting the sheriff's office to arrest the parents, Frankie Almuina, 20, and Kayla Almuina, 19.

The mother told investigators the photos were "all in fun" and that the children were unharmed and were smiling afterward.

She also showed the reporting officer, Sgt. Michael Curtis, several other photographs on her cell phone that showed the little girl similarly bound.

"They indicated they did this as a joke," county Sheriff's Commander Rex Gilliland told CNN affiliate KTVK. "But there was fear on the children's faces in the pictures."

"I don't know how anybody can rationalize tapin

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Filed under: Crime • U.S.
December 31st, 2011
02:35 AM ET

Follower says he was expelled from FLDS for violating Warren Jeffs' sex ban

A long-time follower of a jailed polygamist sect leader says he has been ex-communicated after admitting to having sex with his wife - a violation of an order that Warren Jeffs apparently issued from behind bars.
Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also dissolved his marriage, the follower told CNN late Friday.
The church member spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The report follows news that Texas officials are investigating whether Jeffs violated his prison phone privileges by calling his congregation with orders, according to CNN affiliate KSL-TV in Salt Lake City.

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Filed under: Crime • Justice • U.S.
December 31st, 2011
02:20 AM ET

No holiday break for candidates as Iowa caucuses near

It may be New Year's Eve weekend, but with the Iowa caucuses closing in, there will be no holiday for all but one of the Republican presidential candidates.

Rep. Ron Paul is heading home to Texas to spend the holiday with his wife. But his campaign said the congressman will be back on the trail Monday morning.

Tuesday's Iowa caucus kicks off the primary and caucus calendar.

Paul, who's making his third run for president, has seen his poll numbers in Iowa rise over the past couple of weeks. In the latest surveys of likely GOP caucus-goers, Paul is battling former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the top spot in the field of candidates.

With his jump in polls, Paul has come under increased attack from the other candidates and from some conservative groups, who call his views on foreign policy dangerous.

Romney, the other front-runner in Iowa, returns to the state from New Hampshire on Saturday and will campaign there through caucus day.

The other candidates have a full calendar as well.

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Filed under: Politics • U.S.
December 31st, 2011
01:41 AM ET

California officials post $60,000 reward after 21-fire arson spree

Twenty one fires, set in rapid succession in the Hollywood area, have prompted authorities in California to post a $60,000 reward in what they say is one of the worst arson spree in recent memory.

In almost every case, the fires were started on parked cars within a span of about five hours early Friday morning, officials said.

Some spread to nearby buildings.

Among the homes damaged was one that was once occupied by Doors frontman Jim Morrison. The street where the house sits - Rothdell Trail - was the inspiration for the Doors song, "Love Street."

Seventeen fires were set in Hollywood; four others in West Hollywood - all of them within a 2-square mile area.

Fire officials said they were relieved no one was hurt, although a firefighter suffered a non-life threatening injury.

"If you're setting something alight when people are going to bed, you obviously don't expect them to wake up," resident Mark Todd told CNN affiliate KTLA. "It sort of goes past arson to attempted murder."

The Hollywood area is home to about 20,000 people per square mile, said Los Angeles fire spokesman Erik Scott.

And the fires caused $350,000 in property damage - a "conservative estimate," he said.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told reporters Friday afternoon that authorities are "dead serious about trying to apprehend the individual or individuals who are responsible for this."

"We want to get these SOBs before they hurt somebody," he said.

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Filed under: Crime • U.S.
December 31st, 2011
12:52 AM ET

U.N deploys peacekeepers to protect South Sudan town facing attack

The United Nations is deploying peacekeeping troops to the remote town of Pibor in South Sudan, saying it faces an imminent attack by thousands of fighters engaged in ethnic clashes in the war-torn region.

Ethnic tensions in the South Sudan state of Jonglei have been inflamed by tribes fighting over grazing lands and water rights - disagreements that have dissolved into a number of cattle raids during which women and children were abducted.

About 6,000 members of the Lou Nuer tribe are marching on Pibor, home to the Murle tribe, said Lise Grande, the U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan. An advance group of about 500 fighters have taken up positions outside the town, she said Friday.

"We deemed that there was a very serious risk to civilians (and) in support of the government of South Sudan's primary responsibility to protect civilians, we have gone ahead and deployed a battalion-size force in Pibor with the aim of deterring violence and helping the government to protect its own people," she said.

The deployment of peacekeeping troops follows reports earlier this week that Lou Nuer fighters raided the own of Lukangol, burning it to the ground and forcing thousands to flee toward Pibor.

"We are so alarmed by the situation that during the course of the afternoon we have reinforced our positions in Pibor," Grande said.

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Filed under: Africa • South Sudan • World
December 31st, 2011
12:12 AM ET

Tentative agreement averts strike by New York office cleaners

The union representing some 22,000 commercial office cleaners in New York has reached a tentative agreement with the workers' employers, averting a strike set to begin just after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day.

Local 32BJ - which is part of the larger Service Employees International Union - had said if no agreement was reached, its members would walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

The employer group that the union is negotiating with - the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations - confirmed the tentative agreement late Friday night, saying it was subject to approval by the board and the union.

The realty board said details of the new contract will be released once it is approved.

The union, in a news release, said the agreement provides for a nearly 5.6% wage increase over the life of the four-year contract as well as bonuses totaling $1,100. It also maintains employer-paid health care coverage.

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Filed under: U.S.
December 31st, 2011
12:11 AM ET

After a momentous year, people worldwide to ring in 2012

After a year marked by a wave of popular uprisings, deadly natural disasters and continued economic uncertainty, millions around the world are set to ring in 2012 with a party.

The fun, and the new year, starts first in western Pacific - with 2012 beginning for residents of Samoa, Tokelau and the Christmas Islands at 5 a.m. ET.

From there, the midnight revelry will work its way west. That means fireworks over Sydney Harbor, Moscow, London and places in between.

North and South America will be the last continents to usher in 2012, with small parties and massive celebrations. Many will raise a toast to the new year, with a distinctive "drop" at midnight - from an oversized guitar in the country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee, to a drag queen in Key West, Florida.

One of the most watched such events will be in New York City, where organizers estimate hundreds of thousands will pack Times Square while more than 1 billion people tune in on television.

Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Drake will be among those performing ahead of the 105th annual drop of the New Year's Eve Ball, which weighs in at 11,875 pounds and contains 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles.

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30 years in, parade volunteer still coming up Roses
Adolpho Garcia sits in the driver's seat of a Rose Parade float. “We’re just the unsung heroes,” he says.
December 30th, 2011
08:25 PM ET

30 years in, parade volunteer still coming up Roses

Adolpho Garcia is famous - you just don’t know it yet. During a 10-year span lasting until 2002, he drove floats in the Rose Parade.

“All they see is a float going down and that’s all they see,” the 63-year-old says of parade-goers.

Historically, drivers are hidden inside the float. “We’re just the unsung heroes,” he says.

For the past 23 years, he’s been a volunteer for the Phoenix Decorating Co., which builds floats. On Monday at the Rose Parade in Pasadena the company will showcase 44 floats - half of all those featured in the parade. Garcia provides security for the float builder now, but driving is in his blood.

A Loyola Marymount float ready for the parade.

“The process of driving is: The driver sits in the back, basically blind. You have an observer in front and he’s basically telling you what to do. ‘Left … right … a little faster … slow down.’”Garcia says. “We don’t see anything, so we’re relying on our observer.”

The engines are usually V-8s. Equipped with power steering, they possess the longest drive trains in the world.

The Rose Parade, officially the Tournament of Roses Parade, is an annual New Year’s Day rolling party that features a potpourri of colorful floats, marching bands and thousands of adoring parade-goers. The parade is in its 123rd year. The Rose Bowl, the annual college football game is a little younger, being added in 1902.

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oregon preview

This year millions will watch the parade then tune into the game, featuring the Wisconsin Badgers against the Oregon Ducks.

What they won't see are the ins and outs of a float.

“Some of them (floats) are 60-70 feet long,” Garcia says. “When you’re 40 feet from the front, the observer’s telling you to do something, and by the time you do it, you make the turn you're still in the back. It’s like driving a semi (truck) blind,” he says.

Maximum speed is a mere 4 miles per hour. But when your’e so low to the ground it seems like you’re really moving, Garcia says. Around the driver is a steering wheel, a cable for the throttle and a foot brake to stop.

iReport: The 123rd Rose Parade

“The thing about a driver is, if you hit somebody it’s not your fault. It’s the observer's fault, because you’re doing what he tells you,” he says.

Opposite sides of the stadium: Family football rivalries

Once Garcia crawls into the float, he’s there four to six hours. “I don’t drink or eat six hours before, he says. “That way I don’t have the feeling.”

With no windows and the engine block next to you, it gets hot inside - up to 150 degrees, Garcia says. “You start out in sweats” he says, “and by the time you get to the end you’re in shorts because it gets warm in there.”

If there are pyrotechnics, the floats may have a separate operator. Sometimes they pose as riders waving to the crowd with one hand and pressing a button to shoot fireworks in the other. In other cases, the driver uses a lever to raise or lower the moving parts on a float.

Phoenix Decorating spokesman Brian Dancel says drivers are held in high esteem.

“When you tell me I’m going to drive 5 1/2 miles down a stretch of very important road in Pasadena I’m going to tell you that you’re crazy,” Dancel says. “To be one of the chosen few (drivers) is an honor.”

With that honor comes hazards — try left-behind horse manure stuck in a hot engine compartment.

“I’ve known drivers that have gotten it all over them, says Garcia. “They run over it and it comes right inside the float.”

The only recognition Garcia gets is by sticking his hand out under the float. Looking through a crack in the door, he can see the fans pointing at his waving hand. He said he once heard from another volunteer that "some lady came running to him and said that they were dragging a body underneath the float - and it was me waving to people.”

“People wonder how it happens that no one sees you in there and all of a sudden, they see you crawl out and they go ‘Wow! Must be neat!’  ‘How do you get to do that?’ ‘Where do you sign up?’ and I tell them well you gotta’ get a license to drive a float!” he says.

“Not true,” he chuckles.

“If you do it once you’ll want to do it again, guarantee it!”

“As long as you’re not scared of confined areas."

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Filed under: California • U.S.
Overheard on CNN.com: Goodbye 2011, hello year-in-review lists
As 2012 nears, we look back at reader comments on 2011 stories, big and small.
December 30th, 2011
06:39 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Goodbye 2011, hello year-in-review lists

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

"My amazing event for 2012, I would have to say it would be: Hearing how our brave Navy Seals took out bin Laden, and knowing there is only one more day of this crappy year."
–Superdupperyea

If you haven't heard, the year is almost over and then it's going to be 2012. We've made our lists, and the comments have been nice. Together, we can figure out who's been naughty, and who's been nice.

Here are some of our favorite comments on the stories and trends that piqued our readers' interest in 2011. FULL POST

Verizon says it's scrapping $2 payment fee
December 30th, 2011
03:25 PM ET

Verizon says it's scrapping $2 payment fee

Verizon Wireless said it will scrap a proposed $2 fee for one-time online or telephone payments, citing "customer feedback."

The fee, which Verizon said would have been a "convenience charge" for customers who make one-time bill payments using a debit or credit card, either online or by telephone, was set to go into effect on January 15.

Verizon had said the fee was designed to "address costs incurred by us for only those customers who choose to make single bill payments."

The plan still would have allowed customers to enroll in a service that would debit their bank accounts or charge their credit cards on a recurring basis for free. Customers also could have avoided the fee by paying at a Verizon store or mailing checks to the company.

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Massachusetts man in critical condition in state's first human rabies case in 75 years
Massachusetts public health officials suspect the man contracted rabies from a bat at his residence.
December 30th, 2011
01:59 PM ET

Massachusetts man in critical condition in state's first human rabies case in 75 years

A Massachusetts man is in critical condition after contracting rabies, the state’s first human case of the disease in 75 years, a Public Health Department spokesman confirmed to CNN on Friday.

The Barnstable County man is in his 60s and is not being identified, Health Department spokesman John Jacobs said.

Health officials suspect the man, who is in Cape Cod Hospital, contracted the virus from a bat at his residence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are performing tests to confirm the species, according to a Health Department news release.

The man’s family may have been exposed and are being treated, CNN affiliate WCVB reported.

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Filed under: Animals • U.S.
Baylor, Washington smash offensive records in Alamo Bowl
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III threw for nearly 300 yards Thursday, but the Bears' running game was more eye-popping.
December 30th, 2011
10:40 AM ET

Baylor, Washington smash offensive records in Alamo Bowl

If you ever wanted to see two skillful college football offenses make the presence of two defenses look fairly pointless, Thursday night’s Alamo Bowl was your chance.

No. 15 Baylor and Washington obliterated bowl records including those for combined points in a regulation bowl game and yards of total offense in Baylor’s 67-56 come-from-behind victory in San Antonio, Texas.

“I'll say the Valero Alamo Bowl and ESPN got what they were hoping for tonight,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said after the televised matchup. “What a game. ... (Baylor wasn’t) the No. 2 offense in the country just for a fluke.”

Baylor, helped by a typically fine night from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, had a FBS bowl record 777 yards of total offense. But the most-eye popping output might have come from Baylor running backs Terrance Ganaway, Tevin Reese and Jarred Salubi, each of whom ran for more than 100 yards, sometimes untouched for dozens of yards at a time.

Ganaway alone ran for 200 yards and five touchdowns. Griffin threw for a touchdown and 295 yards, and ran for 55 more and another touchdown.

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Filed under: College football • Football • Sports • Texas • Washington state
December 30th, 2011
09:19 AM ET

4 killed in Afghanistan roadside bomb attack

Four people were killed in Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan province Friday when a civilian vehicle hit a roadside bomb, according to the country's Interior Ministry.

One person was injured in the incident, which occurred near the provincial capital of Tarin Kowt.

The attack was quickly condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Gen. John R. Allen, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

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Gotta Watch: Your 15 minutes are over
Doug Hutchison and Courtney Stodden on their wedding day.
December 30th, 2011
09:01 AM ET

Gotta Watch: Your 15 minutes are over

They say everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame, and boy did these people squeeze every possible second out of theirs. But now their time is up. Relive these popular diva moments from a few of our favorites from this past year.  FULL POST

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Filed under: 2011 Year in Review • Gotta Watch • U.S.
December 30th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

What was your top news story of 2011?

From the Arab Spring to a global economic crisis, from the destruction caused by an earthquake and tsunami in Japan to the killing of Osama bin Laden, 2011 has been defined by historic and dynamic events that will shape the world in the years ahead.

But which one was the top story of the year? We asked you, the readers, to vote and let us know what story was the most important for 2011.

We gave you 20 stories and asked you to list them in order of importance. More than 30,000 of you helped shape the list.

Here's what you decided were the top 10 stories of the year:

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