Analysis: Google chief visit at odds with Obama administration effort to pressure North Korea
WASHINGTON (AP) — Google chief Eric Schmidt's plan to visit North Korea has put the Obama administration in the awkward position of opposing a champion of Internet freedom engaging with one of the most intensely censored countries.
But the Obama administration is wary for a reason: It fears Schmidt's trip could give a boost to North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong Un, just when Washington is trying to pressure him.
North Korea in December launched a long-range rocket in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the U.S. and its allies are seeking tighter sanctions. That's proving difficult because of resistance from permanent council member China, which likely fears its troublesome ally could respond to punishment by conducting a nuclear test.
U.S. officials are also concerned that the high-profile visit could confuse partners in Asia and suggest a shift in U.S. policy as the administration prepares to install a new secretary of state to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton. The nominee is Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004.
An imminent change of government in South Korea is already raising questions about whether Washington and close ally Seoul can remain in lockstep in their dealings with Pyongyang. Newly elected leader Park Geun-hye is expected to seek a more conciliatory approach toward rival North Korea after she takes up the presidency in February.
Obama could round out national security team next week, with picks for Pentagon, CIA possible
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama may round out his new national security leadership team next week, with a nomination for defense secretary expected and a pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency possible.
Former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is the front-runner for the top Pentagon post. Acting CIA director Michael Morell and Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan are leading contenders to head the spy agency.
White House aides said the president has not made a final decision on either post and won't until he returns from Hawaii, where he is vacationing with his family. Obama is due back in Washington Sunday morning.
Obama nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as his next secretary of state in December, his first step in filling out his second term Cabinet and national security team. Kerry, as well as the nominees for the Pentagon and CIA, must be confirmed by the Senate.
Hagel, the former senator from Nebraska, is a contrarian Republican moderate and decorated Vietnam combat veteran who is likely to support a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. If confirmed, Hagel would give Obama a whiff of bipartisanship in his Cabinet if confirmed.
Some guns shows limiting displays, canceling in wake of scrutiny after Conn. school shooting
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — Four gun shows, all about an hour's drive from Newtown, Conn., all canceled.
A show in White Plains, N.Y., — brought back a few years ago after being called off for a decade because of the Columbine shooting — is off because officials decided it didn't seem appropriate now, either. In Danbury, Conn. — about 10 miles west of Newtown — the venue backed out. Same with three other shows in New York's Hudson Valley, according to the organizer.
Gun advocates aren't backing down from their insistence on the right to keep and bear arms. But heightened sensitivities and raw nerves since the Newtown shooting have led to toned-down displays at gun shows and prompted some officials and sponsors to cancel the well-attended exhibitions altogether.
Some of the most popular guns will be missing from next weekend's gun show in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., after show organizers agreed to bar the display and sale of AR-15 military-style semiautomatic weapons and their large-clip magazines.
"The majority of people wanted these guns out of the city," said Chris Mathiesen, Saratoga Springs' public safety commissioner. "They don't want them sold in our city, and I agree. Newtown, Conn., is not that far away."
6 Russians killed, 2 injured when their snowmobile crashes on Italian slopes
ROME (AP) — Six Russians were killed and two others were injured after their snowmobile slammed into a fence and flipped over into a ditch during a night run down an Italian ski slope.
RAI state radio reported early Saturday that the crash occurred on an unlit slope late Friday on Mount Cermis in northeast Italy.
The Russian consul general in Milan, Alexei Parmonov, said on Russian state television that he was in contact with Italian investigators, who he said suspect the crash was caused by excessive speed. They also were checking the possibility of a mechanical malfunction.
Parmonov identified the four men and two women who died in the crash. Five of them and also one of the injured men were tourists from Krasnodar, a city in southern Russia near Sochi, which is preparing to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics.
One of the dead women and the other injured man worked in Italy in the tourist industry.
Ailing Chavez could be sworn in later on before Supreme Court, Venezuela's vice president says
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez can take the oath of office for his next term before the Supreme Court at a later date if the ailing leader isn't fit to be sworn in next week, his vice president said.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro sent the strongest signal yet that the government may seek to postpone Chavez's inauguration as the 58-year-old president fights a severe respiratory infection more than three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba.
Maduro's position in a televised interview on Friday night generated new friction between the government and opposition over the swearing-in, which the constitution says should occur next Thursday before the National Assembly. Some opposition leaders have argued that if Chavez doesn't make it back to Caracas by that date, the president of the National Assembly should take over as interim president.
Such brewing disagreements are likely to be aired on Saturday when the congress, which is controlled by a pro-Chavez majority, convenes to choose its president and other legislative leaders. Whoever is elected National Assembly president could potentially end up being the country's interim president if Chavez's illness forces him from office.
Speaking on television, Maduro held up a small blue copy of the constitution and read aloud passages as he argued that opponents were using erroneous interpretations to try to drive Chavez from power.
FDA: proposed rules covering farms and processing plants will make food safer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration says its new guidelines would make the food Americans eat safer and help prevent the kinds of foodborne disease outbreaks that sicken or kill thousands of consumers each year.
The rules, the most sweeping food safety guidelines in decades, would require farmers to take new precautions against contamination, to include making sure workers' hands are washed, irrigation water is clean, and that animals stay out of fields. Food manufacturers will have to submit food safety plans to the government to show they are keeping their operations clean.
The long-overdue regulations could cost businesses close to half a billion dollars a year to implement, but are expected to reduce the estimated 3,000 deaths a year from foodborne illness. The new guidelines were announced Friday.
Just since last summer, outbreaks of listeria in cheese and salmonella in peanut butter, mangoes and cantaloupe have been linked to more than 400 illnesses and as many as seven deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The actual number of those sickened is likely much higher.
Many responsible food companies and farmers are already following the steps that the FDA would now require them to take. But officials say the requirements could have saved lives and prevented illnesses in several of the large-scale outbreaks that have hit the country in recent years.
Report: Lance Armstrong weighs whether to admit doping so he can compete in athletic events
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The New York Times reported Friday that Lance Armstrong, who has strongly denied the doping charges that led to him being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, has told associates he is considering admitting to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The report cited anonymous sources and said Armstrong was considering a confession to help restore his athletic career in triathlons and running events at age 41. Armstrong was been banned for life from cycling and cannot compete in athletic events sanctioned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Yet Armstrong attorney Tim Herman denied that Armstrong has reached out to USADA chief executive Travis Tygart and David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Herman told The Associated Press he had no knowledge of Armstrong considering a confession and said: "When, and if, Lance has something to say, there won't be any secret about it."
Armstrong, who recovered from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain, won the Tour de France from 1999-2005. Although he has vehemently denied doping, Armstrong's athletic career crumbled under the weight of a massive report by USADA detailing allegations of drug use by Armstrong and his teammates on his U.S. Postal Service teams.
Starbucks wades into Vietnam despite the country's entrenched local coffee culture
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Nghiem Ngoc Thuy has been slinging coffees to thirsty Vietnamese for 20 years in her colonial-style villa with peeling shutters, and she and her customers aren't too worried that the imminent arrival of U.S. giant Starbucks will alter their time-tested coffee traditions.
Starbucks announced Thursday that it will open its first cafe in Vietnam early next month in Ho Chi Minh City as part of its strategy to expand across Asia, and plans to add more shops throughout the country.
But compared with other Asian markets Starbucks has recently entered, the Seattle-based company faces a unique scenario in Vietnam, where French-inspired coffee culture reigns supreme, two homegrown chains have established presences and family-run sidewalk cafes are as ubiquitous as noodle shops.
"Our prices are affordable for average Vietnamese," Thuy said, pausing for just a moment during an afternoon rush at her family-run cafe in Hanoi, the capital. "Expensive coffee is just for the children of government officials, or people who have lots of money."
Vietnamese coffee, made from ballsy robusta beans, packs a stronger caffeine wallop than European-style espresso, which is made from effete arabica. It has a slightly bitter taste that usually is offset by sweetened, condensed milk known to rattle tourists' eyeballs.
Kobe Bryant joins Twitter, 100s of thousands immediately follow him
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant is no longer a holdout. He's on Twitter.
With five words — "The antisocial has become social" — the Los Angeles Lakers guard sent the first tweet from his account Friday. About 270,000 people followed his verified account, (at)kobebryant, within a few hours and he was up to 365,000 late Friday night as the Lakers played the Clippers.
Bryant tiptoed into the Twitterverse last week when he briefly took over Nike basketball's account, when he sent out things like a photo of him hanging out with his daughter, an ice bath that he was dreading and even a suit he was wearing to a particular game.
Bryant says those few days made him consider starting his own account, saying he enjoyed connecting with fans "with no filters."
Heat star LeBron James has 6.8 million followers, the most of any NBA player.
One-man 'Hamlet'? Marathon shows? Theater festivals fire up a cold New York this winter
NEW YORK (AP) — Listening to Supreme Court justices question lawyers doesn't sound like the stuff of great theater. But somehow it is — in the hands of one of the city's most acclaimed companies.
Elevator Repair Service — the group that performed F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" in its entirely over eight hours — returns this month with a new experiment: Re-enacting the 1991 oral arguments of a high court case about the legality of nude dancing in Indiana.
The show, "Arguendo," will be one of dozens of independent and experimental theatrical pieces from across the globe being mounted in lower Manhattan in the coming weeks. January in New York is when you can see a play about the Indian deity Ganesh, a one-man "Hamlet" or take in a 24-hour-long concert or 12-hour show.
In "Arguendo," four members of Elevator Repair Service play eight of the court's nine justices as well as the two opposing lawyers. The actors rigorously follow the transcript — they even cough and include "umms" heard on tapes of the argument — but they also move about the stage in choreographed rolling office chairs.
"I saw in this case a combination of a kind of entertaining back-and-forth and also something that really pressed some genuinely intellectually stimulating questions," said director John Collins, who helped create Elevator Repair Service in 1991.