AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on January 3, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Congress ushering in new members Thursday with the old, deeply divided government

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is ushering in the new and the old — dozens of eager freshmen determined to change Washington and the harsh reality of another stretch of bitterly divided government.

The 113th Congress will convene Thursday at the constitutionally required time of noon for pomp, pageantry and politics as newly elected members of the House and Senate are sworn in and the speaker of the Republican-controlled House is chosen. The traditions come against the backdrop of a mean season that closed out an angry election year.

A deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" of big tax increases and spending cuts split the parties in New Year's Day votes, and the House's failure to vote on a Superstorm Sandy aid package before adjournment prompted GOP recriminations against the leadership.

"There's a lot of hangover obviously from the last few weeks of this session into the new one, which always makes a fresh start a lot harder," Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said.

For all the change of the next Congress, the new bosses are the same as the old bosses.

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As classes resume for Sandy Hook children, officials plan 'normal' 1st day back since massacre

MONROE, Conn. (AP) — The Newtown schools superintendent says they are preparing for a "normal" day, but it will likely be anything but that when classes resume for Sandy Hook Elementary School students for the first time since a gunman killed 20 of their classmates.

With their original school still being treated as a crime scene, the students will begin attending classes at a refurbished school in the neighboring town of Monroe on Thursday. Law enforcement officers have been guarding the new school, and by the reckoning of police, it is "the safest school in America."

Still, Newtown Superintendent Janet Robinson said officials will do their best to make the students feel at ease.

"We will go to our regular schedule," she said. "We will be doing a normal day."

On Wednesday, the students and their families were welcomed at an open house at their new school, which was formerly the Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe but renamed as the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Students received gift boxes with toys inside and shared joyful reunions with teachers.

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Further budget fights threaten to keep US growth and hiring sluggish for much of 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — Housing is rebounding. Families are shrinking debts. Europe has avoided a financial crackup. And the fiscal cliff deal has removed the most urgent threat to the U.S. economy.

So why don't economists foresee stronger growth and hiring in 2013?

Part of the answer is what Congress' agreement did (raise Social Security taxes for most of us). And part is what it didn't do (prevent the likelihood of more growth-killing political standoffs).

By delaying painful decisions on spending cuts, the deal assures more confrontation and uncertainty, especially because Congress must reach agreement later this winter to raise the government's debt limit. Many businesses are likely to remain wary of expanding or hiring in the meantime.

One hopeful consensus: If all the budgetary uncertainty can be resolved within the next few months, economists expect growth to pick up in the second half of 2013.

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With GOP votes and Biden's role, 2016 presidential politics hung over 'fiscal cliff' debate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP's 2012 vice presidential candidate, voted for the "fiscal cliff" compromise that raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul voted against it. And Vice President Joe Biden helped broker the deal with GOP leaders in the Senate.

As Congress closed out its term this week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie accused fellow Republicans of showing "callous indifference to the suffering of the people of my state" by not holding a vote on Superstorm Sandy aid. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined him in the rebuke.

And Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton drew headlines for a different reason after being hospitalized for a blood clot in her head, an illness that raised questions about the Democrat's political future.

While the next presidential primary voting is still three years away, the political implications of the actions and whereabouts of the potential field of 2016 candidates hung over extraordinary year-end Washington drama.

The fiscal cliff vote forced those in Congress who are eyeing presidential runs to stake out early positions which signal how they may be aligning themselves — and which could come back to haunt them should they move forward.

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NJ Gov. Christie blasts Boehner, Republicans, for failing to vote on storm relief package

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie's blunt talk has long been one of his hallmarks.

But Christie, who has verbally tangled with many, showed Wednesday he's willing to aim his barbs at the highest echelons of his own political party.

In a State House news conference, Christie blasted Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio for delaying a vote on a $60 billion aid package for Superstorm Sandy recovery.

"Do your job and come through for the people of this country," Christie pointedly said about Boehner.

Harsh criticism of Boehner by elected officials in New York and New Jersey turned into a bipartisan affair Wednesday. But it was Christie's remarks that drew the most attention, both for what he said and his willingness, as a Republican with higher aspirations, to so forcefully take on Boehner and Congressional Republicans.

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Under the weather? Disease modelers factor in rain, temperature in forecasting outbreaks

NEW YORK (AP) — Only a 10 percent chance of showers today, but a 70 percent chance of flu next month.

That's the kind of forecasting health scientists are trying to move toward, as they increasingly include weather data in their attempts to predict disease outbreaks.

In one recent study, two scientists reported they could predict — more than seven weeks in advance — when flu season was going to peak in New York City. Theirs was just the latest in a growing wave of computer models that factor in rainfall, temperature or other weather conditions to forecast disease.

Health officials are excited by this kind of work and the idea that it could be used to fine-tune vaccination campaigns or other disease prevention efforts.

At the same time, experts note that outbreaks are influenced as much, or more, by human behavior and other factors as by the weather. Some argue weather-based outbreak predictions still have a long way to go. And when government health officials warned in early December that flu season seemed to be off to an early start, they said there was no evidence it was driven by the weather.

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APNewsBreak: Google's executive chairman to visit final frontier of cyberspace, North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Google's executive chairman is preparing to travel to one of the last frontiers of cyberspace: North Korea.

Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea on a private, humanitarian mission led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that could take place as early as this month, according to two people familiar with the group's plans who asked not to be named because the visit had not been made public.

The trip would be the first by a top executive from U.S.-based Google, the world's largest Internet search provider, to a country considered to have the most restrictive Internet policies on the planet.

North Korea is in the midst of what leader Kim Jong Un called a modern-day "industrial revolution" in a New Year's Day speech to the nation Monday. He is pushing science and technology as a path to economic development for the impoverished country, aiming for computers in every school and digitized machinery in every factory.

However, giving citizens open access to the Internet has not been part of the North's strategy. While some North Koreans can access a domestic Intranet service, very few have clearance to freely surf the World Wide Web.

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Icelandic girl fights government over right to use her name; only 'approved' names allowed

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Call her the girl with no name.

A 15-year-old is suing the Icelandic state for the right to legally use the name given to her by her mother. The problem? Blaer, which means "light breeze" in Icelandic, is not on a list approved by the government.

Like a handful of other countries, including Germany and Denmark, Iceland has official rules about what a baby can be named. In a country comfortable with a firm state role, most people don't question the Personal Names Register, a list of 1,712 male names and 1,853 female names that fit Icelandic grammar and pronunciation rules and that officials maintain will protect children from embarrassment. Parents can take from the list or apply to a special committee that has the power to say yea or nay.

In Blaer's case, her mother said she learned the name wasn't on the register only after the priest who baptized the child later informed her he had mistakenly allowed it.

"I had no idea that the name wasn't on the list, the famous list of names that you can choose from," said Bjork Eidsdottir, adding she knew a Blaer whose name was accepted in 1973. This time, the panel turned it down on the grounds that the word Blaer takes a masculine article, despite the fact that it was used for a female character in a novel by Iceland's revered Nobel Prize-winning author Halldor Laxness.

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Pan-Arab Al-Jazeera buys network cofounded by Al Gore in bid to gain stronger US foothold

LOS ANGELES (AP) — With its purchase of left-leaning Current TV, the Pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera has fulfilled a long-held quest to reach tens of millions of U.S. homes. But its new audience immediately got a little smaller.

The nation's second-largest TV operator, Time Warner Cable Inc., dropped Current after the deal was confirmed Wednesday, a sign that the channel will have an uphill climb to expand its reach.

"Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible," the company said in a statement.

Still, the acquisition of Current, the news network that cofounded by former Vice President Al Gore, boosts Al-Jazeera's reach in the U.S. beyond a few large U.S. metropolitan areas including New York and Washington nearly ninefold to about 40 million homes.

Gore confirmed the sale Wednesday, saying in a statement that Al-Jazeera shares Current TV's mission "to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling."

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Bridgewater, No. 22 Louisville topple No. 4 Florida 33-23 in Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Terell Floyd and the Louisville Cardinals gave the embattled Big East Conference at least one more triumphant night in a major bowl — and at the expense of a top team from the mighty SEC.

Floyd returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown on the first play, dual-threat quarterback Teddy Bridgewater directed a handful of scoring drives and No. 22 Louisville stunned the fourth-ranked Gators 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.

"I can't speak for the whole Big East, but I can speak for Louisville and I think this means a lot for us," Floyd said. "We showed the world we can play with the best."

The Big East is in a transitional phase and losing some of its top football programs in the process. Boise State has recently backed out of its Big East commitment and Louisville has plans to join the ACC.

Even this year, the Big East wasn't getting much respect. Louisville, the league champion, was a two-touchdown underdog in the Sugar Bowl.

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