REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: WIKILEAKS RELEASES C.I.A. REPORT ON HIGH VALUE TAREGTING

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Wikileaks has released a CIA document from 2009 analyzing the positive and negative effects of strikes against high value targets. The U.S. military has used high value targeting of insurgent leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the CIA also uses drone strikes to target high value al Qaeda targets in Pakistan and Yemen. The 18 page secret document is dated July 7, 2009 and is entitled “Best Practices in Counterinsurgency: Making High Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool”. The anti-secrecy Wikileaks posted the report on its website Thursday. A press release accompanying the release said the report was compiled by the CIA’s Office of Transnational Issues and “weighs the pros and cons of killing “insurgent” leaders in assassination plots.” A CIA spokesperson declined to comment on Wikileak’s posting of the report and its contents.

High Value Targets is the term used to describe senior leaders in insurgent organizations. They can be targeted in airstrikes or operations where they are captured for their intelligence value. The report is a historical analysis that found both positive and negative effects from high value targeting. One key finding from the review “suggests that HVT operations can play a useful role when they are part of a broader counterinsurgency strategy.” More to the point the report said the targeting is most effective when a country decides on a strategic outcome before beginning the HVT track and also integrate into other military and civilian counterinsurgency operations. However, the targeting can also have significant negative impacts it could lead to more local support for the insurgent and it could also lead to more radical groups filling the power vacuum created when other insurgent leaders are killed.

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The report includes brief reviews of successful and unsuccessful HVT efforts in other countries and how it fit into their counterinsurgency strategies. For example, descriptions of the British fight against the IRA in Northern Ireland and the Colombian government against FARC rebels. In addition to using open source reporting to recount the experiences to tackle insurgencies, the CIA also interviewed U.S. officials running HVT programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the report that high value targeting had a limited effect against the Talibanbecause of the logistical inability to integrate it into a broader counterinsurgency campaign by the U.S. military and Afghan Government. Moreover, the Taliban had “good succession planning and bench strength, especially at the middle levels” said the report.

A few months after the report was written President Obama would approve a troop surge and counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan that would see U.S. troop levels rise to 100,000. In Iraq, the report says that early targeting against leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq “did little to slow AQI’s momentum”. But that began to change in 2007 as the HVT operations were complemented by “broader Coalition and Iraqi Sunni actions against AQI” that cut the terror group off from its support base and have contributed to its decline since that time.” Years later that group would push into Syria where it would re-emerge as ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham, which has taken over territory in both Syria and Iraq. Clandestine reports also indicated that “the Iraqi Government has chosen not to target Muqtada al-Sadr and many of his top aides because of political sensitivities.” The CIA report said “capture or refraining from lethal operations may be warranted if the government’s goal is to integrate an insurgent group into the political process.”

IN DEPTH: U.S. – CUBA DEAL WAS 18 MONTHS IN THE MAKING

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HAVANA, Cuba | DMN — If ever there was a lingering illusion that Barack Obama might have “accidentally” bumped into the president of Cuba at the funeral of Nelson Mandela last December, it will have vanished like a puff of cigar smoke. What was purportedly an unscripted public handshake at that event in Soweto was, as it turned out, the culmination of six months of secret diplomatic talks held far away in Canada. But it took another year, and the repeated intervention of no less a figure than Pope Francis, to get to a point where officials in Washington and Havana felt able to tell the world what was really going on – after a final phone call between Obama and Raúl Castro on Tuesday to seal the deal. Then, like the Berlin Wall – that other great symbol of Cold War intransigence – something that had seemed a permanent fixture of US and global politics only hours earlier was suddenly crumbling before a stunned world.

The first indication that something was afoot were reports that a deal had been reached in which Cuba would free Alan Gross – a US government aid contractor accused by Cuba of being a US spy – on “humanitarian grounds”. Then, in quick succession, Obama and Castro both announced they would address their respective nations. The two speeches, broadcast simultaneously on split screens across the Americas, laid out the fruits of 18 months of talks. Gross was not the only prisoner to be released – Cuba would also release an unnamed US agent, as well as 53 political dissidents, and in return, the US would free Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino, Cuban agents jailed for spying on anti-Castro groups in Florida. And that was not all. Fifty-three years after US broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba, the two countries would move to restore them and reopen diplomatic missions, and the Obama administration would take steps to relax travel and commercial restrictions.

Legally, Obama’s executive action allowing limited travel, commerce and diplomatic ties can only soften the edges of how the trade embargo is implemented – it will take Congressional approval to end the embargo altogether – but as Congress found to its cost after similar presidential moves on immigration reform last month, legislation is little use without enforcement. More importantly, by taking things as far as he could without changing the law, Obama hopes to indirectly bring about political change in Cuba that will lead to a breakthrough in the stale debate back home – a paradigm shift which will force US politicians to rethink their skepticism at Castro’s ability to change – their opposition to a lasting reversal of sanctions. Peter Schechter, director of the Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, a DC think-tank, made it clear the announcement marked the end of an era: “It’s the beginning of the end of US sanctions on Cuba,” he said.

As in the case of immigration reform, it is hard to imagine that the president could have acted unilaterally in this way until November’s midterm elections were out of the way. A crucial national security meeting at which US officials finalised their end of the plan was held in the White House bunker on November 6, two days after the polls closed. Cuba has long been the third-rail of American politics; an untouchable issue that threatened to lose whichever party that touched it the support of Florida’s 29 electoral college votes in future presidential elections and unite hawkish Democrats and Republicans like no other country bar perhaps Israel. This president might not have to worry about elections any more, but his party does, and he needs the support of Congress on a host of other delicate foreign policy challenges such as similar attempts at rapprochement with Iran. But it also helps that Cuba is no longer the dangerous political issue it once was. Hardline Cuban exiles no longer hold the key to those votes: the old guard who once financed paramilitary raids on Havana harbour is dying out, younger Cuban-Americans with no direct relationship to the island cast their votes based on other issues and the Hispanics who’ve moved to Florida from Puerto Rico, Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America now outnumber the Cubans in the state.

Analysis, Thomas Sparrow, BBC Mundo

It is interesting to note that there is a marked contrast between Cuban Americans around the US, who tend to favour normal relations between the two countries, and leading Cuban American congressmen in Washington. Senators Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, have played very vocal roles in the Senate Foreign Relations committee, and they have both been very critical of President Obama’s announcement yesterday.

Mr Rubio said he didn’t care if “99% of people in polls” disagreed with his stance, a message that could resonate in Florida, the traditional home of the Cuban exile community but also a state that is increasingly becoming more diverse and less dominated by Cuban affairs. Ultimately, comments like these come to show how so-called hardliners still have significant clout when it comes to preventing a new course in bilateral relations, even when common Cubans, especially younger generations, have moved on beyond these traditional views.

Shifting political realities across the region may also help explain Obama’s sudden political bravery: Obama and his officials emphasised the wider geopolitical ramifications of the deal. “Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future – for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world,” he concluded in his speech. Such high-flying talk is not just about polishing the Obama legacy. Taken together with his breakthroughs on immigration policy – which many in Central and South America had long felt treated Hispanics in the US differently to any other migrant group – Obama said he hoped his Cuban bombshell may help finally shift the prevailing view of US hypocrisy in the region.

Senior administration officials repeatedly stressed that they saw other Latin American nations in the hemisphere as key to pressuring the Cuban government to institute political reforms now that Havana could no longer point to Washington as the regional baddie. “It has finally now taken the US out of the equation as a political issue,” Schechter says. “This is no small issue. It is time for people to see what Cuba is without hearing them use the crutch of the US as a big excuse.” Cuba’s role in framing Latin America’s relationship with the US also helps explain why Pope Francis – the first Latin American pope – played such an important part in bringing the two sides together. Both the US and Cuban governments went out of their way to detail his extensive role behind the scenes.

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Contact between the two sides gained vital extra momentum from letters the pope sent to Obama and Castro last summer. The Vatican said the letters called on the two countries “to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations”. The Vatican also hosted delegations from Cuba and the US at what were said to have been the talks at which the breakthrough was made. Papal officials were much more involved, according to the White House, than Canada had been in providing a neutral forum for talks previously. They were active facilitators and helped finalise not just the prisoner exchange but the wider normalisation of relations, according to a US source present at the meetings. “The support of Pope Francis and the support of the Vatican was important to us, given the esteem with which both the American and Cuban people hold the Catholic Church, and in particular Pope Francis who has a substantial history in Latin America and is the first pope to be chosen from Latin America,” a senior administration official said.

Obama also discussed the issue at length with the pope during his public visit to the Vatican in March, where no other issue received more attention in their private discussions, according to US sources. One of the few other world institutions as opaque and as powerful as the Vatican, the Central Intelligence Agency was also brought on side. Opinions may have differed on the role of Alan Gross, who the US insists never had any espionage role, but all sides concede that a vital part of the deal was the release of the unnamed Cuban who spied for America – and who had been in prison for 20 years. The agent has repeatedly been described by officials as one of the most significant “intelligence assets” in modern US history, and his release was described by the director of national security, James Clapper, as a “fitting closure to the Cold War chapter”.

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Obama is determined that the pincer movement of economic modernization and regional and spiritual cajoling will help bring about the longer-term breakthroughs in human rights and democracy that he concedes are largely absent from the existing deal so far. It may be quick and irreversible like Eastern Europe or faltering and uncertain like Russia, but he hopes this change will be as much a part of his legacy as it was for Ronald Reagan. But the real hope of change lies in Cuba. Its president spoke on Wednesday of building “a prosperous and sustainable socialism” in the wake of the deal. The economic and cultural modernization inside Cuba that the White House hopes will follow from the relaxation of US trade and travel restrictions is also important – such modernization certainly played a role in destabilizing the Soviet bloc – but it could just as easily lead instead to another China: an economically open but politically closed regime stubbornly clinging to its Communist past. And the forces of economic change are limited. Americans travelling under certain regulations can bring back cigars from Havana for personal use, but without Congressional action there is no fat Cohiba yet for US industry. Something bigger and longer term will be needed first.

Whether this can be managed remains an open question: Florida senator Marco Rubio, a Republican who is the son of Cuban immigrants and a fierce opponent of “appeasement” of the Castro regime, looked on the verge of tears at a press conference on Capitol Hill as he railed against a deal he could do little to reverse. Congress also remains to be convinced. House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer, a usually reliable ally, issued a statement late on Wednesday welcoming the prisoner exchange but questioning whether Cuba’s “brutal and repressive” regime was really ready to change. “Today’s actions must be met with reciprocal steps by President Raul Castro’s regime,” he said. “Congress ought to do what it can to keep the pressure on the Cuban government to ensure that it begins to move toward greater democracy.” At some point Obama will need lawmakers to finish the job and pull down the rest of the embargo if it is to have lasting effect. Now the president must hope that before he has to change minds in Congress, Cuba will have changed itself.

REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: NORTH KOREA WINS CYBER-WAR ROUND AS SONY CANCELS MOVIE RELEASE

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The White House says it is treating the hacking of Sony Pictures as a serious national security matter, after the film company reportedly scrapped the global release of controversial comedy The Interview. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters the attack was by a “sophisticated actor” and that the president’s top security officials have met daily to discuss a response. The hack of Sony by a group calling itself Guardians Of Peace (GOP) has caused outrage and embarrassment at the Hollywood studio. On Wednesday, Sony cancelled the US theatrical release of the comedy, which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The company later said it “has no further release plans” for the film, including theatrical release, DVD, or video on demand.

Anonymous White House officials have said the US had evidence that the hack was coordinated by North Korea. On Thursday, Earnest said he was not in a position to confirm North Korea’s alleged responsibility. Pyongyang has denied involvement in the hack. In June, North Korea’s UN ambassador called the film “an undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war”. Sony pulled the movie in the US after major movie chains said they would not show the film, due to open on Christmas Day. “In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” the studio said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. That decision followed a threat from GOP to cinemagoers. “The world will be full of fear,” the message read. “Remember the 11th of September 2001.”

POSTER DEPICTING NORTH KOREAN MILITARY POWER DEFEATING US IS DISPLAYED IN PYONGYANG

The scrapping of the movie triggered a furious reaction from Hollywood, where there are concerns that the hackers’ victory will lead to self-censorship by the studios. Another movie based in North Korea and starring Steve Carell has already been cancelled in the wake of the furore. “Sad day for creative expression,” Carell said via Twitter. Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screeplay for The Social Network and The West Wing, said the media who publishing the information leaked by GOP were responsible for the film’s axing. “Today the US succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech by a group of North Korean terrorists who threatened to kill moviegoers in order to stop the release of a movie,” he said in a statement given to Deadline Hollywood. “The wishes of the terrorists were fulfilled in part by easily distracted members of the American press who chose gossip and schadenfreude-fueled reporting over a story with immeasurable consequences for the public – a story that was developing right in front of their eyes.”

Actor and comedian Chris Rock said the scandal had sent shockwaves throughout Hollywood.  “This whole thing is just scary,” he told the New York Times. “It’s e-mails, it’s your private stuff. And the whole town is scared…nobody knows what to do.” Anonymous law enforcement officials quoted by Fox News on Thursday said the FBI was expected to publicly announce North Korea’s connection to the hack. But a spokeswoman for the FBI told the Guardian it was “unclear at this time” if any public announcement would be made. Republican senator John McCain described the decision to cancel the film’s release and the hack’s reported links to North Korea as “profoundly troubling”.  “By effectively yielding to aggressive acts of cyber-terrorism by North Korea, that decision sets a troubling precedent that will only empower and embolden bad actors to use cyber as an offensive weapon even more aggressively in the future,” senator McCain said in statement.

Civil rights leader the Rev Al Sharpton announced he was set to meet Sony co-chair Amy Pascal on Thursday to discuss an email exchange published by the hackers, which included racially insensitive remarks referencing President Obama’s favourite films. Pascal and veteran film producer Scott Rudin joked that Obama would prefer to watch films about African Americans, ahead of meeting at the White House. Both have apologized, but some civil rights leaders have called on Pascal to resign.

REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: GEORGE STINNEY JR. EXONERATED 70 YEARS AFTER HIS EXECUTION

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In March 1944, deep in the Jim Crow South, police came for 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. His parents weren’t at home. His little sister was hiding in the family’s chicken coop behind the house in Alcolu, a segregated mill town in South Carolina, while officers handcuffed George and his older brother, Johnnie, and took them away. Two young white girls had been found brutally murdered, beaten over the head with a railroad spike and dumped in a water-logged ditch. He and his little sister, who were black, were said to be last ones to see them alive. Authorities later released the older Stinney – and directed their attention toward George. “[The police] were looking for someone to blame it on, so they used my brother as a scapegoat,” his sister Amie Ruffner told WLTX-TV earlier this year.

On June 16, 1944, he was executed, becoming the youngest person in modern times to be put to death. On Wednesday, 70 years later, he was exonerated. Stinney’s case has tormented civil rights advocates for years.  He was questioned in a small room, alone – without his parents, without an attorney. (Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark Supreme Court case guaranteeing the right to counsel, wouldn’t be decided until 1963.) Police claimed the boy confessed to killing Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 8, admitting he wanted to have sex with Betty. They rushed him to trial. After a two-hour trial and a 10-minute jury deliberation, Stinney was convicted of murder on April 24 and sentenced to die by electrocution, according to a book by Mark R. Jones. At the time, 14 was the age of criminal responsibility. His lawyer, a local political figure, chose not to appeal.

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Stinney’s initial trial, the evidence – or lack of it – and the speed with which he was convicted seemed to illustrate how a young black boy was railroaded by an all-white justice system. During the one-day trial, the defense called few or no witnesses. There was no written record of a confession. Today, most people who could testify are dead and most evidence is long gone. New facts in the case prompted Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen to throw out the conviction on Wednesday – 70 years after Stinney’s execution. “I can think of no greater injustice than the violation of one’s Constitutional rights which has been proven to me in this case,” Mullen wrote. The case has haunted the town since it happened, but garnered new attention when historian George Frierson, a local school board member raised in Stinney’s hometown, started studying it some years ago. Since then, Stinney’s former cellmate issued a statement saying the boy denied the charges. “I didn’t, didn’t do it,’ ” Wilford Hunter said Stinney told him. “He said, ‘Why would they kill me for something I didn’t do?’ ”

In 2009, an attorney planned to file statements from Stinney’s family members, but waited because he heard a man in Tennessee, who was not related to Stinney, could offer an alibi for the youth. The man never came forward. It reportedly delayed the new trial, but didn’t stop it. “South Carolina still recognizes George Stinney as a murderer,” defense attorney Matt Burgess told CNN earlier this year. “We felt that something needed to be done about that.” New details started to emerge. Stinney’s family claimed his confession was coerced, and that he had an alibi that was never heard. That alibi was his sister, now Amie Ruffner, 77. She said she was with him at the alleged time of the crime, watching their family’s cow graze near some railroad tracks by their house when the two girls rode over on their bicycles. “They said, ‘Could you tell us where we could find some maypops?’ ” Ruffner remembered them saying, according to WLTX-TV. “We said, ‘No,’ and they went on about their business.”

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Stinney was accused of murdering the girls while they picked wildflowers. Stinney’s family fled their home. His brother, Charles, who is now in his 80s, said in a statement they never came forward because they were terrified. “George’s conviction and execution was something my family believed could happen to any of us in the family. Therefore, we made a decision for the safety of the family to leave it be,” Charles Stinney wrote in his sworn statement. Earlier this year, the case picked up speed. At a hearing in January, Stinney’s family demanded a new trial. This week, Mullen heard testimony from Stinney’s brothers and sisters, a witness from the search party that discovered the bodies and experts who challenged Stinney’s confession. A child forensic psychiatrist testified Stinney’s confession should have never been trusted. “It is my professional opinion, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the confession given by George Stinney Jr. on or about March 24, 1944, is best characterized as a coerced, compliant, false confession,” Amanda Sales told the court, according to NBC News. “It is not reliable.” Still, some argued Stinney’s admission of guilt was clear.

At the time a law enforcement officer named H.S. Newman wrote in a handwritten statement: “I arrested a boy by the name of George Stinney. He then made a confession and told me where to find a piece of iron about 15 inches long. He said he put it in a ditch about six feet from the bicycle.” Few other documents from that time, including a trial transcript, exist. James Gamble, whose father was the sheriff at the time, told the Herald in 2003 he was in the back seat with Stinney when his father drove the boy to prison. “There wasn’t ever any doubt about him being guilty,” he said. “He was real talkative about it. He said, ‘I’m real sorry. I didn’t want to kill them girls.’ “ Indeed, just 84 days after the girls’ deaths, Stinney was sent to the electric chair. Today, an appeal from a death sentence is all but automatic, and years, even decades, pass before an execution, which provides at least some time for new evidence to emerge.

Stinney was barely 5 feet tall and not yet 100 pounds. The electric chair’s straps were too big for his frail body. Newspapers at the time reported he had to sit on telephone books to reach the headpiece. And when the switch was flipped, the convulsions knocked down the large mask, exposing his tearful face to the crowd. Frierson and Stinney’s family maintained that they never wanted a pardon. “There’s a difference: A pardon is forgiving someone for something they did,” Norma Robinson, George Stinney’s niece, told the Manning Times.“That wasn’t an option for my mother, my aunt or my uncle. We weren’t asking forgiveness.” Instead, they sought what’s called a “writ of coram nobis.” It means, in essence, mistakes were made.

THE WORLD TONIGHT

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MAJOR WINTER STORM TO IMPACT MILLIONS IN MIDWEST AND ALONG EAST COAST

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Markets Overview

Data as of 4:02:39pm ET
Thursday’s Close:
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  • Nasdaq+104.09
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    +2.24%

  • S&P+48.28
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Dec 18 1:15pm:

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U.S. Stocks »

Gainers Price % Change
ORCLOracle Corp 45.23 +9.89%
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BIIBBiogen Idec Inc 352.88 +6.00%
KRFTKraft Foods Group … 63.12 +5.98%
THCTenet Healthcare C… 51.23 +5.76%
Losers Price % Change
TSOTesoro Corp 71.11 -4.59%
RRCRange Resources Co… 59.96 -3.16%
RCLRoyal Caribbean Cr… 79.25 -2.81%
CAGConAgra Foods Inc 36.38 -1.94%
KORSMichael Kors Holdi… 74.21 -1.90%
Data as of 3:47:44pm ET

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Data as of 1:05pm ET

Currencies »

Price $ Change
Canada Dollar $0.8623 -0.4092%
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Japan Yen ¥118.7600 -0.0673%
Data as of 2:40pm ET

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Bonds & Interest Rates »

Yield
Today
Previous
Yield
3 Month Treasury 0.03% 0.02%
10 Year Treasury 2.20% 2.15%
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Data as of 2:59pm ET

Mutual Funds »

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Fantasy Baseball | December 18, 2014 2:23 pm

Shortstops with thunder? Priceless. Scott White rates Addison Russell and Carlos Correa atop his prospects who can produce runs and stay at the position.
NFL | December 18, 2014 2:16 pm

Weatherspoon responded to Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis’ comments.
MLB | December 18, 2014 2:11 pm

When he was 10, Braves reliever Michael Kohn wrote that he would one day play for the Braves.
NFL | December 18, 2014 2:03 pm

Jimmy Clausen has a 1-9 career record as a starter. Here are the three worst games of his career.
MLB | December 18, 2014 1:50 pm

The Matt Kemp blockbuster between the Padres and Dodgers is still believed likely to happen, but Padres are still weighing things after Kemp’s exam gave them pause.
CBS Sports Radio | December 18, 2014 1:16 pm

CBS NFL Today analyst discusses Jay Cutler’s struggles, Marc Trestman’s job, and Johnny Manziel.
NCAA Football | December 18, 2014 1:13 pm

Memphis coach Justin Fuente has received a contract extension following a 9-3 season that resulted in winning a share of the American Athletic Conference title.
MLB | December 18, 2014 1:07 pm

Manny Ramirez swung a golf club for the first time at David Ortiz’s recent charity golf outing. Here’s video evidence.
NFL | December 18, 2014 1:01 pm

Polk has gotten Philadelphia’s short-yardage and goal-line carries lately, and he’s helped Philadelphia’s red zone offense improve.
NCAA Football | December 18, 2014 12:37 pm

Bo Pelini swears like a sailor? So what, he’s a football coach. More troubling is that his new boss, Jim Tressel, is a university president.
NFL | December 18, 2014 12:31 pm

Chip Kelly says the Eagles will only blame themselves if they become the third team in NFL history to miss the playoffs with an 11-5 record.
NBA | December 18, 2014 12:30 pm

Rare pair of kicks goes for big bucks at auction.
NFL | December 18, 2014 12:18 pm

During Monday Night Football’s Saints-Bears game, ESPN’s cameras got a close-up shot of Sean Payton’s play sheet.
NHL | December 18, 2014 12:16 pm

Some teams end up regretting the big-money deals they sign in free agency. Will any of the teams that went all-in this past summer end up regretting them? Let’s take a look at some of the early returns.