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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Worst Boxoffice Weekend in three years...

New Year's Eve was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend

For more on this story and other industry news, click here for the LA Times Company Town blog.

Not even a bevy of celebrities could attract audiences to the multiplex in large numbers this weekend, resulting in the slowest moviegoing weekend of the year.

"New Year's Eve," the Garry Marshall-directed romantic comedy starring nearly two dozen big-name stars, had a far softer than expected debut. The movie, which features everyone from veteran actor Robert de Niro to young star Zac Efron, collected a weak $13.7 million in North America, according to an estimate from distributor Warner Bros. The weekend's other new film, the R-rated comedy "The Sitter," also got off to a soft start with only $10 million.

Accordingly, ticket sales only amounted to $76 million -- marking not only the worst weekend for the business this year, but since September 2008.

For more on this story and other industry news, click here for the LA Times Company Town blog. 

Eureka Christmas Special (You will love it)

I loved this episode! One of the best of anything on TV for a long long time!
Clever & fun retrospective on animated holiday specials
T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the Smart House, not a creature was stirring...except Carter and Allison.

Sunday Morning News and Views, Part IV

According to a report, Utah ranks among the top 10 healthiest states in the nation, landing in the 7th spot
for the second consecutive year. The United Health Foundation's annual America's Health Rankings report says the state's low smoking, binge drinking and cancer death rates helped keep it in the top 10, but Utah is still trending with national averages on diabetes and obesity. The report also says 23 percent, just under one in four, or about 435,000, Utah residents are obese compared with the national average of 27.5 percent or closer to one in three Americans.  But Utah has the third lowest infant mortality rate in the U.S., and showed a 10 percent drop in the number of preventable hospitalizations among Medicare enrollees for conditions such as asthma, pneumonia, congestive heart failure and diabetes. Utah ranks fifth lowest in violent crimes

The latest battle for control of Alcatraz Island is under way. The National Park Service and organizers of the America's Cup sailing race are tussling over the role Alcatraz will play during the Super Bowl of yacht racing. The park service submitted 22 pages of comments and concerns about the environmental impact the series
of races will have on the Golden Gate National Recreation Area that it manages. Alcatraz is part of the area.The San Francisco Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the city's draft environmental impact on Dec. 15.

The U.S. is proposing its first unmanned border crossing with Mexico in a remote stretch of West Texas. Federal officials tout the port of entry in Big Bend National Park as a security upgrade, noting that wading across the shallow\ Rio Grande undetected is all too easy. By the spring, kiosks could open up allowing people from the
tiny Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen to scan their identity documents and talk to a customs officer in another location, at least 100 miles away. Authorities say extra Border Patrol agents would be stationed in the park if the crossing is approved. A public comment period runs through Dec. 27 on the estimated $2.3 million project, which has support from both countries.

A state senator from Southern California is considering calling for a boycott of Lowe's stores after the home improvement chain pulled its advertising from a reality show about Muslim-Americans.Calling the retail giant's decision "naked religious bigotry," Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said Sunday he would also consider legislative action if Lowe's doesn't apologize to Muslims and reinstate its ads. The retail giant stopped advertising on TLC's "All-American Muslim" after the Florida Family Association complained the program was a danger to "American liberties and traditional values." The show chronicles the lives of several Muslim-American families living in Dearborn, Mich. Lowe's issued a statement apologizing for having "managed to make some people very unhappy." The company did not say whether it would reinstate advertising on the show. Lieu says the apology doesn't go far enough.

Not a good time for theater owners. The holiday spirit is eluding Hollywood, which has stumbled through its worst two weekends of 2011 at a time when business usually starts to pick up as big year-end releases approach. Overall domestic revenues are expected to come in below the dismal $81 million haul a week ago, which had been the low weekend so far this year. This looks like Hollywood's worst total in more than three years, going back to the weekend after Labor Day in 2008, when overall grosses finished below $70 million. The star-filled romance "New Year's Eve" led this weekend with a weak $13.7 million debut. The cast includes Hilary Swank, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Ashton Kutcher and Sarah Jessica Parker. Jonah Hill's comedy "The Sitter" opened at No. 2 with just $10 million.

Voting boundaries that will influence Nevada politics for the next decade are a done deal after months of posturing and punts, with political power shifting to populous Las Vegas at the expense of rural areas. Democrats, who have a 65,000 voter registration edge statewide, also have an advantage in the maps that redraw Nevada's 21 Senate and 42 Assembly districts, and carve out fourth a Congressional seat.  Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell entered his final order Thursday, officially adopting effective dates for the maps drawn by a panel of court-appointed special masters.Two plans approved by Democrats during the legislative session were vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. Sandoval refused to call a special session to tackle the issue, tossing the political hot potato to Russell.

Germany's finance minister says he hopes the European Union will be able to win back confidence of the markets "relatively quickly" after 26 nations agreed to tighten fiscal unity. But he says restoring confidence in the EU's debt-ridden common currency, the euro, won't happen overnight and EU members need to swiftly enact the agreement.There is some concern in several European nation of  German loans leading to the European Union of Germany.

The finance director of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum used his personal credit card to pay for upgrades at the money-losing stadium, earning him enough reward points for first-class air travel and other perks.The Los Angeles Times reports that Ronald Lederkramer's Chase Visa card was charged for a $270,000 sound system at the taxpayer-owned coliseum. Records show Lederakramer paid it off in installments with
government checks that he and a lower-ranking employee signed. In the process, the Times says, he earned roughly enough redeemable reward points for a week at the downtown Ritz-Carlton, two Bulova watches or a pair of first-class round-trip United Airlines tickets to London or Tokyo worth as much as $24,000. What Lederkramer did with the points is unclear. But Controller Wendy Greuel tells the newspaper his actions violate the city's procurement policy.

Sunday Morning News and Views, Part III

British actress Helen Mirren has hailed this year's Nobel Peace Prize to three women as historic, but says it's
shameful that only 12 women have won the prestigious award in 112 years. Mirren said she thinks the award marks an "extraordinary moment in the history of women." The event that brought her to Nobel territory is the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo Sunday, which she will host together with American actress Rosario Dawson. The concert will honor this year's peace prize winners Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and women's right activist Leymah Gbowee, also of Liberia, and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of
Yemen.The lineup of artists includes Yemen's Ahmed Fathi, Liberian-born singer Miatta Fahnbulleh, David Gray, Jill Scott and World Youth Choir.

President Barack Obama and his family are attending a worship service at a church just across the street from
the White House where presidents frequently have visited. The president, first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia made the short walk across Lafayette Park to St. John's Church.One of the pews at the Episcopal church has a small brass plaque designating it as "The President's Pew." Church history claims
that every president since the nation's fourth chief executive, James Madison, has visited.

Voting boundaries that will influence Nevada politics for the next decade are a done deal after months of posturing and punts, with political power shifting to populous Las Vegas at the expense of rural areas. Democrats, who have a 65,000 voter registration edge statewide, also have an advantage in the maps that redraw Nevada's 21 Senate and 42 Assembly districts, and carve out fourth a Congressional seat. Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell entered his final order Thursday, officially adopting effective dates for the maps drawn by a panel of court-appointed special masters.   Two plans approved by Democrats during the legislative session were vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. Sandoval refused to call a special session to tackle the issue, tossing the political hot potato to Russell.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney noted his privileged background during Saturday's debate in Iowa, but said he grew up appreciating hard work because of his parents' influence. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, grew up the son of an automotive CEO and Michigan governor, who rose up from childhood poverty.  "I didn't grow up poor," Romney said. "But I grew up with a dad who had been poor and my dad wanted to make sure I understood the lessons of hard work." Quite the opposite, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann noted her parents' divorce when she was an adolescent, and remembered her mother's struggle to make ends meet.We went to below poverty overnight. I know what it's like for single moms to struggle," Bachmann said. "We're still coupon clippers today."

The BBC explored Romney, and Huntsman's Mormon faith. According to the BBC, LDS not only tithe, but wealthy members like Romney give a larger percentage of their wealth to help the less fortunate than most other faiths. The network was careful to say that that does not necessarily mean that they understand or can put themselves into the shoes of those in need, particularly of different faiths and backgrounds.

Rick Perry insists that GOP presidential rival Mitt Romney continues to support requiring health care coverage for all individuals, and says even a $10,000 bet isn't going to change that.Perry tells "Fox News Sunday" that in the hardcover edition of his book, Romney supported the individual mandate. Perry says that passage was removed in the paperback edition. In Saturday night's presidential debate in Iowa, Romney offered Perry a $10,000 bet when Perry insisted the former Massachusetts governor supported individual mandates. Perry declined the wager from the former Massachusetts governor, and Perry said Sunday, "I was a little taken aback."

Republican presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are tying rivals Mitt Romney and Newt
Gingrich together and calling them not conservative.Bachmann referred repeatedly to "Newt-Romney," saying Gingrich and Romney hold similar views on health care, illegal immigration, cap-and-trade legislation and the payroll tax cut extension. Perry said he agrees with Bachmann. He attacked Romney for including an individual mandate in the insurance plan he signed as governor of Massachusetts. Bachmann says if voters want a "proven conservative, it's not Newt-Romney."

Jon Huntsman skipped the latest presidential debate and is near the bottom in many polls, but says he can surprise his GOP rivals in New Hampshire. He says people don't get serious about the race until perhaps a
week to 10 days before the vote. The former Utah governor has written off the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and is counting on a good performance in the New Hampshire primary Jan. 10.  He tells ABC's "This Week" that "the marketplace is still open, people are shopping" for a candidate. Huntsman says he's going "nowhere but up" in New Hampshire and that state always "upends conventional wisdom" in elections.  He predicts he'll be "right up toward the top" in the vote. Huntsman debates Newt Gingrich in New Hampshire on Monday.

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is lumping together his two leading rivals, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, and saying their records are too much like President Barack Obama's on big issues like health care, climate change and Wall Street bailouts. Santorum is using that comparison to argue that he's a
consistent conservative. It's a slap at their past support of a government requirement to put aside money for health care and their belief in climate change. Santorum says he established a record of steady leadership on
conservative issues in the Senate and that Gingrich's years as House speaker were marked by rebellion among conservatives. Gingrich has risen in recent polls, particularly in Iowa, which has its caucuses in three weeks. Santorum appeared Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Rick Santorum say a candidate's fidelity to their spouse is a factor voters should consider, subtly distinguishing themselves from national poll leader Newt Gingrich. Perry, Texas' governor, said: "If you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner. It's a characteristic people look at." Perry and Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, are both aggressively courting social conservatives, and touting their family lives. "Certainly, it's a factor and it should be a factor
when you're electing a leader," he said. Gingrich, who has admitted past infidelity, was asked the
question last and confronted it as he has throughout the campaign. "I think it's a very important issue," he said. "I've made mistakes at times and I've had to go to God for forgiveness."

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich says he is being factually accurate when he calls the Palestinians an "invented" people and says they are the creation of anti-Israel propaganda.Gingrich's chief rival for the presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, says the former House speaker has
made a mistake in the description and has made it more difficult for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate toward peace. In remarks Saturday night at a candidate debate, Romney said the United States should allow both sides to talk without signaling a preference. Gingrich responded to the criticism by saying he is speaking as a historian but adds that it's time for a candidate to stand up and call Palestinian leaders "terrorists."

Police in San Diego say a 75-year-old man wanted for twice robbing the same U.S. Bank branch returned to the scene and turned himself in. Watch commander Officer Frank Cali says Albert Wallaker walked iinto the bank in the Clairemont Mesa neighborhood Saturday, telling the manager he was turning himself in for the robberies. The branch November 15 and again on December 2. Cali the bank manager called police, who arrested Wallake without incident. A police robbery unit and the FBI are investigating. Another gray-haired California bank robber, who has come to be known as the Geezer Bandit, remains at large. The FBI believes that man in his 60s or 70s has robbed some 16 banks. He began in San Diego County but has recently robbed banks around the state.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators plan to spend more time today at the scene of a tour
helicopter crash in Nevada. Medical examiners in Las Vegas yesterday confirmed the names of three of five people killed. They say pilot Landon Nield of Las Vegas and tourists Delwin and Tamara Chapman of Utica, Kansas., died when the craft plunged into a canyon near Lake Mead. Nield was a relative newlywed, and the Chapman's were celebrating their 25th anniversary with a trip to Las Vegas.

Sunday Morning News and Views, Part II

Pope Benedict XVI says he knows Christmas this year will be difficult, in an acknowledgement of the economic crisis gripping much of the West. But he is urging the faithful to remember there's more to the holiday than gift-buying. Benedict spoke Sunday while visiting a parish in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome. Italians are facing new and higher taxes as the country struggles with a government debt crisis. The pope told parishioners he knows that Christimas will be "very difficult," but that he wanted to wish all a happy holiday. Benedict said that preparing for Christmas "doesn't only mean buying" gifts. Later, greeting pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, he said real joy is linked to something deeper.

It's a case is reminiscent of Wild West robberies, where bandits on horses stole from moving trains.Police in Brazil's southeastern Sao Paulo state are investigating the theft of 50 metric tons (55 U.S. tons) of corn from a moving train. A police report says the thieves greased the train tracks, making the wheels of the 54-wagon locomotive skid and slow down before they used a tow truck with a hook to remove the corn-filled containers. The report says the theft occurred as the train traveled through a rural area about 180 miles (300 kilometers) north of the capital. The train was headed to the southeastern port of Santos with 60 metric tons (66 U.S. tons) of corn and sugar.

Ex-Panama dictator Noriega flown home for new punishment after 22 years in US, French jails. He will be housed in a jungle medium security prison pending a decision by Panamanian courts on where he will serve a 20 year term for ordering the death of political opponents. His attorneys are arguing for house arrest with travel privileges for the aging former dictator. 22 years ago American troop invaded Cuba to capture the dictator on drug charges. He took sanctuary in the Vatican mission there. Our troops surrounded the mission and blasted Van Halon and other rock music at full volume until Noriega came out and turned himself in to American troops.

Are the Taliban in peace talks with the Pakistani government? Two Taliban leaders have made opposite claims. If the claim in true it would fly in the face of the United States position and mission in the region.

A 6.5 quake shook Mexico City last night, with several dead, but early reports have minimal damage considering the strength of the quake.

The Israeli prime minister's office says the Cabinet has approved a $160 million program designed to stanch the flow of illegal African migrants into Israel. The plan calls for speeding up construction to complete within
the coming year a border fence with Egypt. It is also meant to keep out Islamist militants. The program also involves the construction and expansion of detention facilities to hold the illegal migrants. Fines will also
be stiffened for employers who hire them. The prime minister's office said in a statement that the plan, which was approved in principle last year, received funding on Sunday. Israel says that since 2006, more than 40,000 migrants from Sudan, Eritrea, and other African nations have sneaked into the south of the country through the porous border with Egypt.

One of the main observation missions in Congo says the results of the disputed presidential election lack credibility. The Atlanta-based Carter Center founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter had earlier said last month's vote was marred by logistical shortcomings, but that there was not evidence of systematic fraud. In a statement released late Saturday, the Carter Center observers showed evidence of possible vote-tampering in Katanga province, a region favorable to the incumbent Joseph Kabila. They say several constituencies reported "impossibly high rates of 99 to 100 percent voter turnout with all, or nearly all, votes
going to incumbent President Joseph Kabila." Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has rejected the results
and proclaimed himself president.

The chairman of London's 2012 Olympic organizing committee says he's comfortable with Dow Chemical's sponsorship despite criticism over its involvement. The U.S.-based company is linked to a 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India, that killed some 15,000 people. At the time, the plant was run by Union Carbide. Dow bought Union Carbide in 2001 and says legal claims from the disaster have been resolved.Victims of the accident, as well as former Indian Olympians and officials, have been pressuring Olympic organizers to drop Dow as a
sponsor. In Beijing on Sunday, Sebastian Coe, the head of the London organizing committee, noted that Dow did not own the plant in 1984 or in 1989, when a final settlement was reached. Coe was in Beijing for an International Paralympic Committee meeting.

Newt Gingrich's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination are attacking the new front-runner as a lifelong Washington insider. In last night's GOP debate, Gingrich fired back, telling Mitt Romney that the only reason he didn't become a career politician was because he lost a Senate election to Ted Kennedy in 1994. The former Massachusetts governor conceded that was "probably true," but quipped that if he'd achieved his childhood dream, he "would have been a football star" too.The six Republican presidential candidates split down the middle on legislation to extend a Social Security payroll tax cut into 2012. Romney, Gingrich and Ron Paul said they favored it. Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum said they opposed the

After last summer's fight over government borrowing, many rank-and-file Democrats say they are growing more optimistic about President Barack Obama's prospects in 2012. They cite encouraging signs from Obama's.

Sunday Morning News and Views, Part I

Amelia Hempleman-Adams, 16,  this week became the youngest person to ski to the South Pole. She brought along homework, but her father chucked it, books and all, to save weight and make her concentrate on the task ahead.

The impact David Beckham has had on Major League Soccer is undeniable, but his performance was not the walk on water fans expected.. Beckham's contract with LA Galaxy ends December 31.  Beckham's star power has helped make soccer more popular in America, and what the future of the MLS looks like. Beckem and his wife Posh Spice, his working and hanging out with Hollywood stars, did boost soccer as a sport in the US. Major League Soccer has now passed the NBA and NHL in average attendance, something that few thought was possible in America.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki comes to Washington tomorrow, to meet with President Obama.  They'll discuss the two countries' strategic relationship as  as US troops move into the final stages of their withdrawal from Iraq.

United Nations climate talks in Durban have reached a tentative conclusion. If all goes well, the new accord will be wrapped up in 2015, and take effect in 2020.  The conference ended early this morning,  more than two days after it was scheduled to end. A nine year plan was approved, and the continuation of the Keoto Accord.

Would you trust a man who makes a bet that could pay your rent for a year? Mitt Romney did so during last night's presidential primary debate. He may not have been serious but he did offer a $20,000 bet on live television. Most of the evening was spent in a digs and sound bite fight between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, with little actual debate on key issues.

At a summit in Brussels, all 17 nations that use the Euro agreed to integrate their fiscal policies and give the European Union more control over their national budgets.  This new arrangement is designed to keep countries from sinking into debt, save the Euro as the common currency, and save the European economy from collapse. Germany was the prime mover behind this push for greater fiscal discipline.  Some are saying the new agreement, in effect, unites Europe under German control. Resentment against Great Britain for not supporting or adopting the Euro, major differences in financial stability and situations and a recession approaching Depression have put the future of the Euro and potentially the European Union in doubt.

Throughout the recession, a lot of attention has fallen on countries like Greece and Italy, whose economies have teetered under staggering debt.  But America's biggest trade partner, Canada, sailed through the economic downturn almost unscathed, with low unemployment, no mortgage crisis, and not a single major bank failure. Canada has an Achilles is the US. 70% of Canadian exports go to the United States, which means our economy can potentially take the Canadians down with it.