Tom Hudson: China’s new leaders plan quiet transition

If everything goes smoothly, you won’t hear much out of China in the new week. And that’s the way its new leaders want it. Even though the world’s second largest economy officially seats a new president and premier, the beginning of China’s parliamentary session on Tuesday comes without the usual pomp and circumstance. Instead, China’s new leaders hope to show their own version of austerity. For instance, there will be no booze at official meals.

The party leaders want a sober beginning to their terms as the hope for a more sober Chinese economy. They want to avoid any significant pronouncements that could threat China’s gentle economic recovery. The country’s biggest trading partner, Europe, continues to struggle, tensions with Japan have been rising and Chinese workers have been demanding (and in some cases getting) pay raises. Chinese home prices have heated up again as the Beijing government moved late last year to stimulate its economy.

It came after China’s economy grew at its slowest pace in 13 years. The new government knows that its political stability depends upon a steady economy. With choking air pollution, a horrendous record on food safety and sanctioned corruption, the new slate of leaders taking their seats this week would like to reduce China’s reliance on exports to fuel its economic expansion, reassure its trading partners it wants to play fair and stoke a steady and sustainable rise of living standards.

Since early December as the stimulus efforts began, the Shanghai Stock Exchange index has shot up 21 percent. Electricity production is rising and manufacturing has rebounded too. But the political volume has been muted.

Tom Hudson is a financial journalist based in Miami. He is the former co-anchor and managing editor of Nightly Business Report on public television.

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Attorney for dad of missing Hallandale Beach baby says evidence was damaged

The tiny bones recovered from a backyard grave have a story to tell: Are these the remains of Dontrell Melvin, a baby whose family didn’t report him missing for 18 months? And how was the baby killed?

According to notes in the Hallandale Beach police lead investigator’s file, there was blunt force trauma to the child’s cranium after his death, likely caused during the search and recovery of the skeleton.

And that, says attorney Ed Hoeg, who is representing the baby’s father, could have an impact on the case against his client.

“If evidence is compromised, it could change how the case goes,” Hoeg said. “You would hope the evidence would be in pristine condition.”

Meanwhile, the missing child’s parents remain in Broward County jails. Brittney Sierra, 21, faces two counts of felony child neglect; Calvin Melvin, 27, was charged with three felony counts of providing false information to police.

But those charges could be increased if a Texas lab confirms that DNA from a tiny skeleton unearthed in January behind the couple’s former Hallandale Beach rental home matches that of their baby, Dontrell Melvin.

Dontrell, who would have turned 2 last month, had not been seen for nearly 18 months before police learned of his disappearance on Jan 9.

At first, Melvin told Hallandale Beach police that the child was with his family in Pompano Beach. But when police went there, they were told by the grandparents that they didn’t have the child and hadn’t seen him.

During questioning by police, Melvin changed his story several times, investigators said.

At one point, he told them he’d taken the baby to a fire station under Florida’s Safe Haven Law.

But police didn’t believe him and began questioning Sierra, as well. The couple, who have another child together, pointed fingers at one another, police said.

Their answers led police to the backyard of their former rental home at 106 NW First Ave.

It was there that tiny bones were found.

Nearly 90 percent of the baby’s remains were recovered and reconstructed. An initial review of the bones did not reveal any trauma to the bones, said Hallandale Beach Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy.

However, on Jan. 25, forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh-Haney briefed investigators, including Flournoy, Maj. Thomas Honan and Capt. P. Abut, on the case. In his notes, a Hallandale Beach investigator, who was not identified, wrote: “Dr. Walsh-Haney stated that there were no signs of perimortem blunt trauma. However, there was evidence of a postmortem blunt trauma to the cranium. She stated that said postmortem trauma had probably occurred during the search and recovery of the skeleton.”

The notes were provided to The Miami Herald by Hoeg.

The damage to the cranium, Hoeg said, could prove problematic for the case against his client.

“If there is only trauma afterward, did the damage destroy evidence?” he said.

But on Friday, Police Chief Flournoy insisted there was not any damage caused post-mortem to the skeleton. “The bones were not compromised in any way,” said Flournoy.

Regardless, the Texas lab working to identify the baby’s remains has enough evidence to work with.

All a scientist needs is a small bone fragment to create a DNA profile, said John Fudenberg, the president-elect for International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners.

“Unless there is significant trauma noted, it’s very difficult for a medical examiner to determine the cause of death,” Fudenberg added.

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Ellen DeGeneres Pens Open Letter to Supreme Court to Pass Prop 8 for Gay Marriage

With a touch of her trademark humor, Ellen DeGeneres tackles a very serious topic close to the talk show host's heart: gay marriage.

In an open letter posted to her website, Ellen reaches out to members of the Supreme Court, who will soon decide the fate of same-sex couples who wish to wed.

Pics: 'Amazing Race' Stars Cheer Up Bullied Gay Fan

"Portia and I have been married for 4 years and they have been the happiest of my life," she blogs of her longtime partner Portia De Rossi. "And in those 4 years, I don't think we hurt anyone else's marriage. I asked all of my neighbors and they say they're fine."

Ellen, who tied the knot in 2008 during a brief period when gay marriage was legal in California, now urges the powers that be to open their heart and extend the privilege to every gay couple.

"I hope the Supreme Court will do the right thing, and let everyone enjoy the same rights," Ellen writes. "It's going to help keep families together. It's going to make kids feel better about who they are. And it is time."

Related: Neil Patrick Harris: I Knew I was Gay at 6

In closing the comedian writes, "In the words of Benjamin Franklin, 'We're here, we're queer, get over it.'"

Read Ellen's entire plea to the supreme court here.

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Shel biz as usual

ALBANY — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver yesterday defended his decision to be featured as the “honored guest” at a fund-raiser for the chairman of a legislative ethics panel reviewing Silver’s hush settlement of Vito Lopez’s alleged sexual harassment of young staffers.

“The speaker, as leader of the Democratic conference, routinely allows members to use his name for fund-raising purposes,” his spokesman, Michael Whyland, told The Post.

The fund-raiser next week is for Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-LI), who notes on the invite that he chairs the Assembly Ethics Committee, one of two legislative committees weighing possible sanctions against Lopez and Silver.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

NY Post: Chad Rachman

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

The same committee must also decide whether to release a report by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the state’s ethics watchdog, on the case.

Staten Island DA Dan Donovan, the appointed special prosecutor for the case, has asked the committees not to release JCOPE’s report until his team concludes its criminal investigations.

Silver approved a $103,800 “confidential” Assembly payment to settle harassment claims that two female staffers had brought against Lopez.

Silver later stripped Lopez of his leadership duties and called for him to resign after a separate ethics probe concluded that Lopez groped and abused two other female staffers.

Government-watchdog groups say the timing of the fund-raiser is suspect and gives the appearance that Lavine, rather than being an independent monitor, is beholden to Silver.

“The fact that it’s just business as usual is not the standard we want applied,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York. “There is a pervasive culture in Albany that upsets most New Yorkers, that their elected representatives don’t see this as a problem.”

Lerner said her group is closely watching the Lopez case to see if the creation of JCOPE was an adequate measure for enforcing government ethics.

“We have concern that it’s not sufficiently removed from [Silver’s] appointed control,” she said.

Silver’s spokesman insisted the fund-raising has nothing to do with the investigation.

“We’re confident that the commission has found no legal or ethical violation by Speaker Silver or his staff,” Whyland said.

Silver said he hadn’t seen the report. By law, it would have been released to him had he been the target of the investigation, sources told The Post.

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Banah Sugar company says it will pay debts

Banah Sugar’s executive director, Yurek Vásquez, said the company will make payments to the more than 200 people and companies it owes money to, after the beginning of a reorganization process supervised by a federal court was revealed.

“This is a reorganization that gives us time to pay our providers,” Vásquez said. “Our intention is to continue working with them, fulfill our duty to them.”

Vásquez spoke to El Nuevo Herald for the first time after the sugar company filed for bankruptcy last week under Chapter 11, which allows continued operations while restructuring.

On Monday, several representatives of creditors expressed outrage at Banah’s non-compliance, accusing it of making payments with checks without funds.

Vásquez, who took over the leadership at Banah in November, said that the previous administration of the company faced “management problems.”

“One of these problems was a flawed communication between the previous administration and providers,” Vásquez said. “The fact that payments were pending did not mean that they were not going to get paid, but no one heeded the providers, nobody explained a payment plan to them so they would know when they were getting paid.”

Banah’s former executive director, Diego Leiva, told El Nuevo Herald he retired from the sugar company in October after learning the background of owner Alex Pérez, who served four years in prison for cocaine trafficking.

But Vásquez said Leiva did know about Pérez’s past and the real reason he left had to do with a mutual agreement after management problems were detected.

“I came to make an evaluation of the company and, after seeing the poor performance and deficiencies, I decided to make staff changes,” Vásquez said. “Leiva agreed with the changes, which included his resignation.”

The company operates with 15 employees. He said the size of the staff would depend on growth of production and new markets.

He said Banah is “now more efficient,” with a plant that can produce 24 million bottles of liquid sugar a year. Before, it imported liquid sugar at substantial cost.

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’Les Mis’ touring company works out to stay in shape at Wilton Manors gym

Even if you’re a Broadway dancer in top shape, it’s not easy looking good and staying fit when you’re on the road with a show like Les Misérables.

"Touring is a difficult life because you’re constantly moving," said Trinity Wheeler, production stage manager for the Les Mis touring company, playing through Sunday at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.

"It’s not like you can go to a grocery store and have a kitchen and cook the foods that you want and have a consistent workout schedule. We created something that is consistent for the cast," said Wheeler, who is also a certified trainer. "Eating out every meal and stuff can be challenging to stay healthy. Being healthy and on tour is a goal we all try to accomplish."

Thursday morning, Wheeler held a “Guns of the Barricade” boot camp at Steel Gym in Wilton Manors. The workout session allows cast members and others to stay in shape while they’re on the road, Wheeler said.

The Les Mis touring company has 89 people who travel with the show: cast members, crew and musicians, according to Wheeler.

"It’s a large group of people that have this nomadic lifestyle," he said. "Having fitness incorporated into it, you feel better, you wake up, have more energy. It’s been really great for us as individuals, but also for the show."

Among the touring cast members: Wheeler’s partner, Alan Shaw, who plays Joly. The couple own a house in Fort Lauderdale’s Poinsettia Heights neighborhood.

" Les Mis is three hours long and we do eight shows a week. I realized early on because I’ve been with the show over two years now that if I don’t take care of my body and if I don’t eat right and if I don’t really stay on top of it, I can’t do eight shows a week," Shaw said. "We’re onstage in front of 2,000 people on average every night. You have to look your best. It’s part of our job."

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The CW Says Goodbye to 90210

The CW's remake of the '90s hit show 90210 will reportedly end its five-year run in May.

PICS: The High School Hotties of 90210

According to Us Weekly, the show (starring AnnaLynne McCord, Shenae Grimes, Matt Lanter, Jessica Stroup and Jessica Lowndes) has been canceled due to meager ratings.

The show has reportedly averaged 1.23 million viewers this season, being overshadowed by new hits The Vampire Diaries and Arrow.

"The CW has had five great seasons with America's favorite zip code, 90210," CW network president Mark Pedowitz announced in a statement. "I'd like to thank the talented cast, producers, and crew for all their hard work and dedication to the series. We are very proud of the West Beverly High alumni."

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Mt. Sinai & Continuum announce merger plans

Mount Sinai Medical Center and Continuum Health Partners announced a tentative merger agreement in a bid to control costs and provide more extensive medical care to patients.

The proposed marriage of two Manhattan medical behemoths comes amid continuing pressure on hospitals to comply with ObamaCare and adapt to other market forces sweeping the industry.

City residents have endured several hospital closures in recent years — most notably St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village.

In Brooklyn, Long Island College Hospital is on the chopping block.

Mount Sinai is a specialty/research hospital on the Upper East Side with its own medical school and is considered financially sound.

Continuum is largely a community-hospital network that includes Beth Israel, St. Luke’s and Roosevelt hospitals and the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary. One industry insider described Continuum’s financial condition as “fragile.”

Continuum had conducted merger talks with NYU Langone Medical Center, but NYU broke off the talks last year when it got wind that Continuum was also in discussions with Mount Sinai.

In announcing a “memorandum of understanding,” hospital officials described the merger as a good fit of two entities providing a complement of services.

“The combination will create more economies of scale, increase efficiencies and expand access to advanced primary and specialty care throughout this citywide network,” said Sinai CEO Dr. Kenneth Davis.

Continuum CEO Stanley Brezenoff added, “This collaboration makes available an extraordinary range of resources for the provision of compassionate, state-of-the-art care for patients. In joining with Mount Sinai, we will further enhance our ability to provide the full spectrum of outstanding care to the population we serve.”

Continuum doctors would become part of Mount Sinai’s Medical School faculty, and the merger presents opportunities to bolster research, officials said. Beth Israel, for example specializes in treatment of substance abuse and psychiatric disorders.

“If you are bigger, you have more bargaining power when you negotiate rates with insurance companies and contracts with labor unions. And you can negotiate better prices for food services and laundry,” said David Sandman, senior vice president of the New York State Health Foundation.

He said the merger provides an opportunity to eliminate duplicative services and more easily route patients to proper care.

Under ObamaCare, he said, hospitals will have to do a better job of providing clinical treatment rather than more expensive, in-patient surgical care.

“The emphasis is on primary care and keeping people out of the hospital,” Sandman said.

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Knight Foundation holding IdeaJam Saturday

The Knight Foundation is hosting a free Knight News Challenge IdeaJam Saturday in conjunction with a nationwide contest it is running on open government that is seeking innovative ideas to improve the way citizens and governments interact ( through information and technology. Winners will get a share of $5 million and support to make their projects happen. The local IdeaJam will be at 3 p.m. at The LAB Miami, 400 Northwest 26th Street in Wynwood. It’s part of a full day of activities for The LAB’s grand opening from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., including a shark tank for entrepreneurs. To register for the IdeaJam and the grand opening events:

Nancy Dahlberg

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Friday is the deadline for homestead exemption applications

Friday is the deadline to apply for a homestead exemption or other property-tax break with the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser.

Two new exemptions are on the books. One aims to cut the tax burden for low-income seniors who have lived in their homes more than 25 years. The other is for the spouses of police and fire-rescue workers who have died in the line of duty.

Homeowners can apply for homestead and other tax cuts at the Property Appraiser’s offices or by calling 305-375-4091 for forms.

Information and online filing for homestead exemption also is available at the Property Appraiser’s website at

A homestead exemption excludes $50,000 of the assessed value of a primary residence from taxation and caps the annual increase in a property’s assessed value at a maximum of 3 percent.

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ET at The Sunset Sessions: What do Fun The Black Keys and Jason Mraz Have in Common

When I'm driving home from work listening to the radio I sometimes wonder, How do these radio programmers know what new music is out there? I hear the constant streaming of Top 40 hits, but where are the underground singer-songwriters? Where can radio and music lovers find the new IT group or artist that is going to blow up? Well I found the answer and I have three words for you... the Sunset Sessions.

PICS: New Music Tuesday!

For over 16 years, the sessions have opened their doors to new and upcoming artists, and you won't believe the list of alumni: Grammy winners Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat, The Zac Brown Band, The Black Keys, and Fun., just to name a few, and did I mention they are all Grammy winners?

Michele Clark, who founded the Sunset Sessions, wanted to create an event that would bring together music supervisors, radio programmers, music managers, all in one place to discover artists and bands no one else is playing.

This past weekend I got to spend some time in San Francisco with some of music's most talked about new artists and groups including the much buzzed about, AlphRev and Saints of Valory. When I arrived at the Grand Hyatt Hotel right in the center of downtown you could feel the energy of the musicians as you stepped into the many rooms and stages to watch the various artists. Though they were all music industry professionals there on business, at the end of the day they are all music lovers in search of new music.

The Parlotones, the multi-platinum selling Johannesburg-bred quartet, who has shared the stage with bands like Coldplay, say that the event has "a cool vibe, everyone's music lovers and meeting each other so it's just a cool vibe." Kansas born rock band, Gooding, who were at the sessions for the first time, said "one of the things that makes it very special is the quality of not only just talent, but the people ... there's just a lot of passion here."

The opportunity is very different than other music industry events as rock and roll songstress, Anna Rose, says "it's rare, you don't get to sit in front of people like this and play ... especially for an independent musician like myself." Country spitfire Emily Bell says that the music professionals "really accept all these up and coming artists with open arms."

The Sunset Sessions have also gathered artists all over the world to come and showcase their music including Sweden's Anna Bergendahl, who performed for the first time in the US during the sessions, Keith Harkin from Ireland, Chris Assaad from Canada, and they even went to the island of Hawaii to bring singer songwriter Anuhea to join the fun; throughout her career she has jammed with the likes of Bruno Mars and Ziggy Marley.

I wasn't sure what to expect but after a full weekend of new music, I was refreshed and cannot wait to see where this year takes all of these new and amazing artists.

To see what other up and coming artists like Faulkner, Savannah Philyaw, and Fernando Perdomo, had to say about the Sunset Sessions and their performances watch the video above and follow @sunsetsessions on Twitter or go to for more details on the next Sunset Sessions in Carlsbad, California.

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Bronx mother-murder suspect posed with mom's severed head: sources

The twisted Bronx man who allegedly killed his mother and chopped up her body reveled in the slaying by snapping a picture of himself holding her severed head, sources told The Post yesterday.

Bahsid McLean, 23, pulled out a cellphone camera, posed in front of a bathroom mirror and snapped the gruesome photo of himself smirking while holding his mother’s head under his arm like a trophy, the sources said.

Then McLean and a buddy stuffed his mom’s head in a bag, packed away the rest of her mutilated body, and dumped the parts with the neighborhood trash — in several locations, cops said.

Robert Kalfus

JUST SICK: Bahsid McLean cut off mom Tanya Byrd’s

head and held it to take a picture, sources said.

Tanya Byrd aka Tanya Mclean

One of the four bags holding the remains of Tanya Byrd, 45, a home health aide and devoted mother of three, was found in Morrisania early Tuesday morning by a father and son walking their dog.

Her body parts were wrapped in plastic, with some stuffed in luggage, cops said.

Detectives were already disgusted by details of the case: the brutal bedroom stabbing, the blood drained in the bathroom, and the body hacked with a brand-new power saw.

“He’s definitely sick,” a law-enforcement source said. “It’s a ghoulish act. This guy is so mentally defective to do that. That’s pretty outrageous. That’s hardcore s--t.”

Byrd was killed probably late Sunday night or early Monday morning in her Westchester Avenue home, sources said. McLean asked a friend, William Harris, 26, to help him get rid of the body, sources said.

Surveillance video picked up the two men in a Third Avenue hardware store in The Bronx, where they bought a power saw with cash, sources said.

A blade and a box were found in the apartment McLean shared with his mother; the saw was found in Harris’ home, sources said.

McLean was charged last night with second-degree murder, police said. Both men were charged with hindering prosecution and unlawful dissection of a human body. They blamed each other for Byrd’s death.

Cops said McLean killed Byrd because she “wanted him to grow up and move out and be a man.”

Additional reporting by Matt McNulty

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Coral Gables native Martin Zweig, Wall Street wiz, dies in Florida

A decade before he foresaw the 1987 stock market crash, Coral Gables native Marty Zweig was already considered a Wall Street wizard.

Renown business journalist Dan Dorfman called him “the country’s hottest investment adviser” in 1981, his picture appeared on the cover of Money Magazine in 1982, and he was frequent guest on the PBS financial show Wall Street Week.

He wrote two best-selling books: Winning on Wall Street, in 1986, and Winning with New IRAs, in 1987.

On Oct. 19 that year, just as Zweig had predicted three days earlier on Wall Street Week, the market plummeted 23 percent.

Zweig, whose three-story Pierre Hotel penthouse is one of New York City’s most lavish residences, died Feb. 18 at another of his homes, on South Florida’s Fisher Island. He was 70. Zweig had been treated for cancer, and underwent a liver transplant in 2010 with tissue from his younger son.

Born Martin Edward Zweig on July 2, 1942, in Cleveland, he spent his formative years growing up in Coral Gables where he was known as Marty Gateman after his widowed mother remarried.

He attended Coral Gables Elementary and Ponce de Leon Junior High schools, was a Coral Gables High School varsity basketball player and track star — class of 1960 — and 2001 Cavalier’s school Hall of Famer.

Childhood friend Richard B. Bermont, a Miami financial adviser, remembered Zweig as a great poker player even in high school, “pretty much a jokester, and the ladies loved him.’’

He legally changed his last name back to Zweig when he was 21, after his mother and Dr. Gateman divorced, said former wife Mollie Friedman.

Zweig wrote that his interest in financial began when the 1948 Cleveland Indians were playing in the World Series.

“I was the kid who knew the most about the team and had a vague idea about what batting averages mean. I had begun to love numbers. Perhaps this was a tip-off that I’d later graduate to the market.’’

He earned a bachelor’s in economics from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1964, later an M.B.A. from the University of Miami and a doctorate in finance from Michigan State University.

In 1984, Zweig joined with stock picker Joe DiMenna, with whom he co-founded Zweig-DiMenna Partners, their first long/short hedge fund.

Zweig also created two closed-end funds traded on the New York Stock Exchange, according to his corporate biography: The Zweig Fund in 1986 and The Zweig Total Return Fund in 1988.

In his first book, he wrote: “When playing the market, remember you must deal with probabilities, employ sensible strategies to limit risk, and get aggressive only when conditions warrant.’’

He was as quirky in his private life as he was serious about investing. Stan Smith, a Fisher Island friend, said that last year, Zweig installed a “banana yellow’’ 1934 Packard convertible in his living room.

Zweig’s memorabilia collection includes the dress Marilyn Monroe wore to sing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962, a pair of JFK’s silk pajamas, the suits The Beatles wore on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Super Bowl rings, Heisman Trophies, Oscar statuettes and Gold Records; one of the Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide motorcycles that actor Peter Fonda rode in the film “Easy Rider;” an outfit that Jimi Hendrix wore in concert; and the booking sheet from one of Al Capone’s arrests, and a letter written by baseball legend Mickey Mantle describing a sexual encounter at Yankee Stadium.

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Broward commissioner withdraws pit bull ban proposal

Pit bull lovers came out in force on Tuesday to oppose a county commissioner’s effort to get the breed banned in Broward County.

After hearing dozens make emotional pleas, County Commissioner Barbara Sharief agreed to withdraw her proposal for a ban and work with experts to help keep neighborhoods safe from all dangerous dogs.

Read the full story at

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Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Will Never Host the Oscars Together

To the dismay of William Shatner and fans around the world, Tina Fey recently revealed that she has no intention of ever emceeing the Academy Awards ceremony with or without her BFF, and Golden Globes co-host, Amy Poehler.

Pics: The 2013 Oscars!

When asked if she'd ever consider the gig, Fey told The Huffington Post that she wouldn't dare sign up for the task because the Oscars are far too much work.

"I just feel like that gig is so hard," she said, adding that her gender would make hosting duties extremely taxing.

Related: Stars React to Tina & Amy's Golden Globes Hosting Gig

Mused Fey, "The amount of months that would be spent trying on dresses alone ... no way."

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Univision bumps NBC into fifth place

A failing NBC has left Univision the fourth most popular network in the United States — at least for now.

The latest ratings from the February “sweeps” race — a milestone moment for network ratings in the television business — had NBC fall behind its Spanish-language rival. The Doral-based network finished the sweeps period with a viewership that amounted to 1.5 percent of all adults between 18 and 49. That’s considered the key demographic for television advertisers, and it’s the most common yardstick for measuring a network’s success.

The 1.5 percent share was ahead of NBC’s 1.2 percent share. CBS dominated the contest with a 4.9 percent share, followed by Fox (2.0 percent) and ABC (1.7 percent), according to

Univision has beaten CBS before in the ratings race, but this is the first time the Spanish-language powerhouse has bested NBC. The victory is a bit sweeter since NBC owns Univision’s cross-town rival, Telemundo. As NBC slid, Univision saw audience for its news programs and telenovelas grow.

But the ratings pecking order can be topsy-turvy. In November, NBC took the fall sweeps contest with a No. 1 ranking, thanks to big audiences brought in by The Voice, Revolution and Sunday Night Football.


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Hialeah sugar firm Banah files for bankruptcy

A sugar processing company that brought hype to Hialeah after it moved into a 300,000-square-foot space last July — promising to hire up to 300 workers — has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The company’s move to its new headquarters even prompted Miami-Dade County to rename a stretch of Southeast 10th Avenue “Banah Sweet Way” in honor of the company. Several local leaders, including county Mayor Carlos Giménez, attended the naming ceremony.

But late last week, the company, which is owned by a convicted drug trafficker and which had sought taxpayer benefits from a government program promoting investments, left behind a line of outraged creditors. The company had only 15 employees.

Banah Sugar International Group Inc. reported that it owed between $1 million and $10 million to a list of 232 people and companies, according to public records.

The company’s administrative director, Luis Estrada, told El Nuevo Herald on Monday that the company’s owner, Alex Pérez, was meeting with company officials and added that he was not authorized to comment on the issue.

The bankruptcy was filed under Chapter 11, which allows for an attempt to reorganize the company. It allows the company’s management to continue day-to-day operations, but the bankruptcy court must make all the company’s important decisions.

On Monday, several creditors criticized Banah’s owner for failing to make payments.

“I feel frustrated and deceived,” said Alexander A. Pérez, owner of Florida Patrol Investigators (FPI), a Hialeah company that provided security services to the company. “They sent me checks that bounced, and we sued them.”

FPI’s owner said that the company owes him close to $70,000 for security services at Banah his company at 215 SE 10th Ave.

Hialeah’s mayor, Carlos Hernández, declined to comment on the sugar company’s bankruptcy filing, but he defended renaming Southeast 10th Avenue after the company, saying that Banah had promised to make significant investments in the area.

County spokesperson Fernando Figueredo said that Giménez had attended the ceremony “in good faith,” since its intention was to highlight an investment made in a 10-acre plant where 200,000 bottles of liquid sugar were supposed to be processed every day.

“The mayor knew nothing about the company’s background,” Figueredo said. “He attended because the company was creating jobs and was being recommended to be recognized in Hialeah.”

Hiram Mendoza, an aide to County Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, said that in 2012 Banah requested to be included in a program to receive county and state financial incentives. He added, however, that Banah did not meet the goal of creating 300 jobs it had promised. “They have not received any financial aid from the state or the county,” Mendoza said. “It’s true that they asked for it, but they did not meet the goals.”

Last year, Banah executives announced it would hold a job fair.

On Monday, Estrada said the company never had a job fair. Currently it has 15 employees, he said.

In October, Francisco Alvarado, a New Times reporter, revealed that in 2001 the federal government had indicted Banah’s owner on felony charges of conspiracy of cocaine possession and possession with intent to sell. Two years before, DEA agents had arrested two men with six kilograms of cocaine hidden in a vehicle. The men declared under oath that Pérez, Banah’s owner, had handed them the drugs.

In 2003, Pérez pleaded guilty of one of the charges and served four years in a federal prison.

Diego Leiva, Banah’s former executive director, said he was surprised by the bankruptcy. “I left the company when Pérez’s past came to light,” said Leiva, who is among the company’s creditors. “I didn’t know anything about that.”

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Exclusive Pic: Seth Rogen on 'The Mindy Project'

Comedic actor Seth Rogen is set to guest star on Tuesday's episode of Mindy Kaling's The Mindy Project, in which he plays her long-lost lover. ETonline has your exclusive first look.

In his cameo on the comedy series, which premiered its first season last fall, Rogen reunites with Kaling's self-named character, "Mindy," after being her first kiss years ago. According to the episode's synopsis, the reunited pair recall their time at summer camp together and later rekindle their teenage flame.

PICS: Stars Without Makeup!

As we see in the photo, Rogen sports a U.S. Army T-shirt in the episode, which is part of the Hollywood-backed veteran campaign "Got Your 6" that is aimed to "bridge the civilian-military divide."

Watch Rogen's full cameo on The Mindy Project Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on FOX.

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Horror as hot air balloon catches fire in Egypt, killing 18 foreigners

LUXOR, Egypt — A hot air balloon flying over Egypt's ancient city of Luxor caught fire and crashed into a sugar cane field on Tuesday, killing at least 18 foreign tourists, a security official said.

It was one of the worst accidents involving tourists in Egypt and likely to push the key tourism industry deeper into recession. The casualties included French, British, Japanese nationals and nine tourists from Hong Kong, the official said.

Three survivors of the crash — two tourists and one Egyptian — were taken to a local hospital.

According to the Egyptian security official, the balloon carrying at least 20 tourists was flying over Luxor when it caught fire, which triggered an explosion in its gas canister, then plunged at least 300 meters (1,000 feet) from the sky.

It crashed into a sugar cane field outside al-Dhabaa village just west of Luxor, 320 miles south of Cairo, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Bodies of the dead tourists were scattered across the field around the remnants of the balloon. An Associated Press reporter at the crash site counted eight bodies as they were put into body bags and taken away. The security official said all 18 bodies have been recovered.

The official said foul play has been ruled out. He also said initial reports of 19 dead were revised to 18 as confusion is common in the aftermath of such accidents.

In Hong Kong, a travel agency said nine of the tourists that were aboard the balloon were natives of the semiautonomous Chinese city. It did not say whether all nine were killed. The information was posted on the agency's website.

In Paris, a diplomatic official said French tourists were among those involved in the accident, but would give no details on how many, or whether French citizens were among those killed.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to be publicly named according to government policy, the official said French authorities were working with their Egyptian counterparts to clarify what happened. French media reports said 2 French tourists were among the dead but the official wouldn't confirm that.

Hot air ballooning, usually at sunrise over the famed Karnak and Luxor temples as well as the Valley of the Kings, is a popular pastime for tourists visiting Luxor.

The site of the accident has seen past crashes. In 2009, 16 tourists were injured when their balloon struck a cellphone transmission tower. A year earlier, seven tourists were injured in a similar crash.

Egypt's tourism industry has been decimated since the 18-day uprising in 2011 against autocrat leader Hosni Mubarak and the political turmoil that followed and continues to this day.

Luxor's hotels are currently about 25 percent full in what is supposed to be the peak of the winter season.

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Miami medicine goes digital

About 10 years ago, Dr. Fleur Sack quit her practice as a family physician to become a hospital department head. Spurring her decision was the need to switch from paper records to electronic ones to keep her private practice profitable. “At that time, it would have cost about $50,000,” Dr. Sack recalled. “It was too expensive and it was too overwhelming.”

But times and technologies changed, and last year, Dr. Sack left her hospital job to restart her medical practice with an affordable system for managing electronic patient records. She agreed to a $5,000 setup fee and a subscription fee of $500 per month for the system. Her investment also qualified her for subsidy money, which the federal government pays in installments, and to date, her subsidy income has paid for the setup fee and about two years of monthly fees. “So far, I’ve got my check for $18,000,” she said. “There’s a total of $44,000 that I can get.”

That kind of cash flow is one reason why so-called EHR software systems for electronic health records have been among the hottest-selling commercial products in the world of information technology. EHR system development is a growth industry in South Florida, too. Life sciences and biotechnology are among the high growth-potential sectors identified by the Beacon Council-led One Community One Goal economic development initiative unveiled in 2012; already, the University of Miami has opened a Health Science Technology Park while Florida International University has launched a program in its graduate school of business oriented toward biotechnology businesses.

For many young businesses in the area’s IT industry, government incentives are paving the way. The federal government is pushing doctors and hospitals to use electronic health records to cut wasteful spending and improve patient care while protecting patient privacy — sending digital information via encrypted systems, for example, rather than regular email.

Under a 2009 federal law known as the HITECH Act, maximum incentive payments for buying such systems range up to $44,000 for doctors with Medicare patients and up to $63,750 for doctors with Medicaid patients. Hospitals are eligible for larger incentive payments for becoming more paperless. The subsidy program isn’t permanent; eligible professionals must begin receiving payments by 2016. But by then, the federal government will be penalizing doctors and hospitals that take Medicare or Medicaid money without making meaningful use of electronic health records.

“What the government did is, they incentivized, and now they’re going to penalize,” said Andrew Carricarte, president and CEO of IOS Health Systems in Miami, one of the largest South Florida-based vendors of online software service for physician practices. He said insurance companies also may start penalizing physicians for failing to adopt electronic health records because “the commercial payers always follow Medicare and Medicaid.”

It’s all part of the growth story at IOS Health Systems, which has more than 2,000 physicians across the nation using its online EHR system. Carricarte said many of the company’s customers buy their second EHR system from IOS after their first one flopped. “Almost 40 percent of our sales come from customers who had systems and are now switching over to something else,” he said.

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Archbishop Wenski leads 90-mile motorcycle run

After a blessing, motorcycles roared their engines and drove out of St. Richard Catholic Church in Palmetto Bay to participate in the first Motorcycle Poker Run organized by the Archdiocese of Miami.

Heading the bikers: Archbishop Thomas Wenski wearing a biker’s leather jacket and riding his black Harley-Davidson Street Glide motorcycle.

“Bikers are people that are accustomed to praying because if you’re going to ride a motorcycle, you should know how to pray,” said Wenski, who has been riding his motorcycle for about 10 years. “This is a way to bring some good attention, find financial support for St. Luke’s Center [Catholic Charity] and have a good time.”

Behind him, more than 60 other riders followed for about 90 miles through South Florida roads.

“Today he is not just my spiritual leader,” said Natacha Quiroz, the only woman driving a motorcycle on her own. “He is my road leader.”

At every stop, including Robert Is Here, the fruit and vegetable farm stand in Florida City, Cafe 27 in Weston, and Peterson’s Harley-Davidson in Miami Gardens, the contestants picked up a card, eventually collecting a complete poker hand.

The bikers were also able to interact with the archbishop and others while competing for the $500 Harley-Davidson gift card.

But Wenski’s favorite stop was at the Schoenstatt Center in Homestead, where riders were able to stop at the chapel, say a private prayer and enjoy refreshments.

“It’s always good to ride with good people,” said Bob Borges of Hollywood, who rode with his daughter. “The problem with a lot of other rides is that they all go from bar to bar to bar, and I don’t drink when I ride.”

The Chrome Knights Motorcycle Association and other groups helped the archdiocese organize the poker run and guided the inexperienced drivers. Volunteers from the organization also helped guide the riders and stop traffic at intersections.

For Quiroz, who had never experienced riding in a group, the privilege of riding with the archbishop was indescribable.

“My heart is pounding so hard,” said Quiroz, who took out her motorcycle from her garage for the fist time in more than a year. “My motorcycle is the tiniest among these huge machines, and if you see me I look like a butterfly among eagles. But to know that I’m the only girl makes me feel like an eagle, I am proud.”

The Poker Run, according to the Rev. Luis Rivero, was also a way to show others that following Christ can be fun.

“It’s a way for us to learn to use the tools of today, speak the language of the younger generations and bridge the gap between the ancient and the new,” said Rivero, who has been riding his three-wheeled Spyder for the past three years. “The archbishop makes fun of me and says that because I have three wheels I’m still in training.”

The proceeds of the run will go to programs that help people in the community recover from various types of addiction, and Wenski is hoping to establish the poker run as annual event to support St. Luke’s.

“Many people know I’ve been riding a motorcycle for some years now, so hopefully they’ll support it even if they don’t ride a motorcycle,” Wenski said. “I pray before, during and after I ride my bike.”

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Best Actress Winner Jennifer Lawrence Talks Oscar Fall

First the SAG Awards and now the Oscars!? Jennifer Lawrence isn't having the best of luck with her gowns this awards season.

After suffering an unfortunate fall at Sunday night's ceremony while accepting her Best Actress statuette for Silver Linings Playbook, a mortified Lawrence explained to the Academy Awards press room that she had (once again) fallen victim to her elaborate dress.

Pics: The 15 Best Oscar Dresses of All Time

"I tried to walk up stairs in this dress, that's what happened," the humiliated 22-year-old star said of her stumble moments before, laying the blame on her Dior gown's lengthy train. "I think I just stepped on the fabric and they waxed the stairs."

So what was Lawrence thinking when the embarrassing moment played out live to millions around the world?

Related: The Complete Oscars 2013 Winners List

"[I thought about] a bad word that I can't say [on TV]," she laughed, elaborating that the phrase 'starts with an 'F.'"

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Lawrence floored by Best Actress win; 'Argo,' Daniel Day-Lewis also take home Oscars

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Actress Jennifer Lawrence stumbles as she walks on stage to accept the award for best actress in a leading role for "Silver Linings Playbook" during Sunday's Oscars ceremony.

It was the rise and fall and rise of a great young star.

Twenty-two-year-old “Silver Linings Playbook” star Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar for Best Actress last night — but then took an embarrassing header on her way to accept her statue.


Daniel Day-Lewis

John Shearer/Invision/AP

Anne Hathaway

Getty Images

Actor-producer-director Ben Affleck, winner of the Best Picture award for "Argo."

Lawrence sprawled on the stage steps at the Dolby Theatre after tripping over her flowing gown. It was another award-show faux pas — after her dress slipped on her way to accept a Screen Actor’s Guild award last month.

“Les Misérables” star Hugh Jackman tried to sprint to the rescue, but the red-faced beauty pulled herself up and made it up the steps.

“That’s really embarrassing,” she said, trying to make a joke of the tumble as she accepted her award. “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell,” she said to a standing ovation.



The 85th Academy Awards’ biggest prize, Best Picture, went to Ben Affleck’s “Argo. The Iran hostage thriller also won Best Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing. Affleck, one of the movie’s producers, had been snubbed in the Best Director category.

As he took the Best Picture award, he was magnanimous.

“You have to work harder than you think you possibly can, and you can’t hold grudges,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life because that’s going to happen,” he added. “All that matters is that you gotta get up.”

In a surprise twist, the Best Picture award was presented to “Argo” by First Lady Michelle Obama, who opened the envelope via satellite from the White House.

“These nine movies took us back in time and all around the world,” she said of the nominees. “They taught us that love can endure against all odds.”

“Lincoln” star Daniel Day-Lewis made history by becoming the first person to win three Best Actor Oscars.

As he accepted the award from Meryl Streep — who won Best Actress last year playing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — Day-Lewis turned his acceptance speech into a comedy routine.

“It’s funny, because three years ago, we agreed to do this swap. I had actually been committed to play Margaret Thatcher,” he quipped, adding: “Meryl was [director] Steven’s [Spielberg] first choice for Lincoln . . . I’d like to see that version.”

Ang Lee took home the directing prize for his magical lost-at-sea tale, “Life of Pi.”

The native of Taiwan poked fun at the fakery of Hollywood acceptance speeches. After thanking his lawyer and agent, he bluntly joked, “I have to do that.”

Anne Hathaway took home her first career Oscar last night, winning for Best Supporting Actress in “Les Misérables.”

The award for Best Supporting Actor went to Christoph Waltz for his role as a bounty hunter in the Quentin Tarantino flick “Django Unchained.”

Tarantino later won for Best Original Screenplay.

Oscar had a rare tie last night with “Skyfall” and “Zero Dark Thirty” sharing sound-editing honors. It was the first tie since 1994.

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The faces of Florida’s Medicaid system


The tea party governor now says he wants to expand Medicaid. The Republican Legislature isn’t so sure.

Hanging in the balance?

Access to healthcare for 1 million or more poor Floridians.

Billions of dollars in federal money.

The state budget, which already pumps $21 billion a year into care.

Florida’s Medicaid system today serves more than 3 million people, about one in every six Floridians. The decision whether to expand the system by a full third will be made by men and women in suits in Tallahassee’s mural-filled chambers this spring.

But the impact is elsewhere, in children’s hospitals in Tampa and Miami, in doctors’ offices in New Port Richey and in the home of a woman who recently lost her full-time teaching job.

The Suddenly uninsured

This was not how she envisioned her 60s.

Jean Vincent dreamed of turning her five-bedroom home into a bed and breakfast. She painted murals on walls, created mosaics on floors and let her imagination guide the interior decorating. There is a “garden” room, a “bamboo” room and a “canopy” room.

In 2010, Vincent lost her full-time job teaching in Citra north of Ocala. Her mother became sick with cancer and needed around-the-clock care before dying in August. Then, doctors began prescribing Vincent costly medications to treat osteoporosis and early-onset diabetes.

“I started getting a little behind with my mortgage,” said Vincent, 61. “All of a sudden, I found out I had to have an emergency retina eye surgery.”

Today, Vincent is searching for roommates to move into her home and help pay the bills. She begs Gainesville’s Sante Fe Community College and City College to schedule her for as many classes as she can handle as an adjunct geography professor; this semester’s four is the most she’s ever had.

But her biggest worry? Not having comprehensive healthcare.

Vincent — who is too young for Medicare — is enrolled in CHOICES, a health services program the Alachua County government created for the uninsured. It covers preventative care like her flu shots and helps with her drug therapy. But if Vincent ever got so sick she needed to go to the hospital, she’d be on her own.

Under current Florida law, adults with no dependents are not eligible to participate in Medicaid no matter how little they make. Vincent’s four children are all grown, which means even as her income has dwindled she can’t become eligible for the health insurance program run jointly by the federal and state governments.

If Florida decides to expand the Medicaid system, people in Vincent’s position for the first time could be covered.

The expansion would allow any single adult making about $16,000 a year eligible for Medicaid.

On the matter, Vincent has become an activist. She joined with patient rights group Florida CHAIN and traveled to Tallahassee to lobby lawmakers.

“When I gave my testimony, that’s all I wanted them to do was see there were people out there that weren’t just trying to take advantage of the system,” she said.

This summer, she expects to only be assigned one class at Sante Fe. That will provide about $2,000 for her to live on for three months. Meanwhile, her retirement dreams are put on hold.

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Miami Dolphins hopeful on stadium referendum date

The Miami Dolphins are hopeful the Miami-Dade County Commission will approve a May 14 date for a referendum on the $400 rehabilitation of their stadium, time enough to get South Florida in play for Super Bowl 50, a Dolphins spokesman said Saturday.

Spokesman Ric Katz said the language of the proposed referendum has yet to be decided, and ultimately the commission decides the date.

But, he said, “we’d be very happy with” May 14 because “that gives us a week to communicate to the NFL before they make the important decision of Super Bowl 50.”

NFL owners are slated to meet on May 22 to pick the site of the 2016 Super Bowl — seen as a tourist revenue prize for whichever host city gets the 50th anniversary contest.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez met Friday with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and CEO Mike Dee to discuss the proposed stadium rehabilitation.

From the mayor’s side, there has been no agreement on a date and Gimenez does not plan to bring the proposed May 14 referendum to the commission at this time, said spokeswoman Suzy Trutie.

Friday’s was a “first meeting” at which “many things were discussed,” including the Dolphin’s preference for May 14.

But, “We continue negotiating with the Dolphins with regards to finances.”

One proposed financing plan would increase the bed tax in mainland Miami-Dade by 1 percent and increase the sales tax rebate the team already gets at the stadium in Miami Gardens. Ross had initially offered to pay at least $201 million in his financing plan. But Katz, a Miami publicist representing the team in the stadium campaign, said the two sides were still in negotiation on what the mayor would ask the commission to put to taxpayers in a referendum.

Trutie said the proposed referendum would gauge public opinion on increasing hotel taxes from 6 to 7 percent to fund the stadium renovations.

Of the commission, Katz said, “We do not take them for granted. They have the prerogative.”

Attorney Kendall Coffey did not return calls asking whether the Dolphins had hired him to write the ballot language.

Dolphins lobbyist Marcelo Llorente had said in recent weeks that the team was considering May 7 and 14 as possible referendum dates.

Any activity by the Florida Legislature would likely have to be undertaken before then. The regular session is slated to end May 3.

Miami Herald staff writers Patricia Mazzei and Doug Hanks contributed to this report.

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Oscar Pistorius's brother Carl faces homicide charges in 2010 car crash: report

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Carl Pistorius, older brother of tarnished athlete Oscar, faces homicide charges in a 2010 car crash, according to reports.

Oscar Pistorius’s older brother Carl also faces homicide charges in South Africa over a 2010 car crash, it was reported today.

Carl Pistorius allegedly struck and killed a female biker in the daytime crash, his lawyer told eNCA news, a South African TV channel.

Prosecutors accused Carl Pistorius of driving recklessly in the accident.

But his lawyer, Kenneth Oldwage, denies the charges and told the TV channel that Carl Pistorius was not drunk.

Oldwage says the woman died because she drove into Carl Pistorius’s car.

Carl Pistorius is charged with culpable homicide, a lesser charge than the premeditated murder case against his brother.

The charge carries a possible 15-year prison term.

Carl’s trial was supposed to begin on Thursday, the same day his Olympian brother was freed on bail.

But the case was postponed until next month.

Word of another Pistorius homicide case shocked South Africa.

“Looks like Carl & Oscar will keep each company in jail,” tweeted Johannesburg resident Rebecca Chiedza Goba.

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