Obama stands his ground on fiscal disputes, seeks more spending amid looming fiscal deadlines
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama devoted one word — "deficit" — to the issue that brought Washington to the brink of fiscal crises time and again during his first term.
But it was the paragraph that followed in his inaugural address that foreshadowed what's to come — more hard bargaining and more last-minute deals driven by Obama's own conviction that he now wields an upper hand.
"We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future," he said. "The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great."
This was the language of his re-election campaign.
And while his speech contained no reference to either political party, his pointed rejection of "a nation of takers" was an implicit reminder of Mitt Romney's infelicitous declaration that Obama's support came from the 47 percent of American voters "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."
Israelis expected to return Netanyahu to office with even more hawkish government
JERUSALEM (AP) — JERUSALEM (AP) — Israelis focused on economic woes, the stalled Mideast peace process and Iran's nuclear program as they voted Tuesday in an election expected to return Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to office with an even more hawkish government.
The election comes at a troubled time for Israel, and talks with the Palestinians often took a backseat to social issues in the three-month campaign.
Still, many voters said they'd give Netanyahu a third term because they see no viable alternative. Polls suggest hard-line and religious parties that have been his traditional allies will form the core of his next coalition government.
The big question is whether Netanyahu will be able to woo centrist parties with more moderate positions on peacemaking into his governing coalition — and whether they would have any influence on his policies.
Netanyahu's hard line on concessions to the Palestinians has put Israel into conflict with the international community, increasing its diplomatic isolation.
Menendez, Royce usher in changes to Congress' foreign policy committees
WASHINGTON (AP) — A harrowing nighttime flight over the African jungle and a wild search for a rebel leader helped forge a relationship between Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Republican Rep. Ed Royce, two men standing at the forefront of Congress' changing guard on foreign policy.
It was May 1997 and the lawmakers boarded a small plane to the African bush to plead with Jonas Savimbi, leader of the Angolan UNITA party, about ordering his forces to put down their arms and ending the country's civil war. Nearly 16 years later, Menendez and Royce are together again, collaborating as the new chairmen, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees.
They will lead a new group of foreign policy figures certain to challenge President Barack Obama on a growing list of issues: the civil war in Syria, the tenuous U.S. relationship with Pakistan, al-Qaida-linked groups in Africa and the threat from Iran's nuclear development program.
Menendez, then a House member, and Royce had been heading a congressional delegation to Angola, trying to persuade Savimbi to take part in elections and join the government. The effort failed, and they soon discovered that Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos had a unique way of showing his displeasure with the congressional mission.
"Dos Santos gave the order to close down the landing lights at the airport and you can't see anything over that jungle in the dead of night, including the air strip," Royce recalled recently. "We kept flying around and he (the pilot) could not find anywhere to land. Luckily for us, it turned out that night that Mobutu Sese Seko (the Congo leader) had been overthrown and there was a plane that came into that airport in Angola and when they turned the lights on to that plane, we came in right behind the plane."
Call to eradicate New Zealand's pet cats draws hisses from cat lovers
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Gareth Morgan has a simple dream: a New Zealand free of cats. But the environmental advocate triggered a claws-out backlash Tuesday with his new anti-feline campaign.
Morgan called on his countrymen Tuesday to make their current cat their last in order to save the nation's unique native birds. He set up a website, called Cats To Go, depicting a tiny kitten with red devil's horns. The opening line: "That little ball of fluff you own is a natural born killer."
He doesn't recommended people euthanize their current cats — "Not necessarily but that is an option" are the site's exact words — but rather neuter them and not replace them when they die. Morgan, an economist and well-known businessman, also suggests people keep cats indoors and that local governments make registration mandatory.
But Morgan's campaign is not sitting well in a country that boasts one of the highest cat ownership rates in the world.
"I say to Gareth Morgan, butt out of our lives," Bob Kerridge, the president of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the current affairs television show Campbell Live. "Don't deprive us of the beautiful companionship that a cat can provide individually and as a family."
A more sober mood, but enthusiasm remains for many as Obama is sworn in for second time
WASHINGTON (AP) — Schoolteacher Patricia Cooper gazed out at the many hundreds of thousands of people lining the National Mall, moments after Barack Obama had been sworn in for the second time as president.
"The media kept saying there were going to be so many fewer people," said Cooper, 51, from Upper Marlboro, Md. "But look out there!" she beamed. "We still have a pretty big crowd."
True, the crowd was roughly half that of Obama's momentous inauguration in 2009, and the sense of history, and pure excitement, far less potent. But despite a more sober national mood, there was plenty of enthusiasm — even among people who'd been there the first time, like Cooper — and oh yes, star power, as the capital threw its marathon, once-every-four-years party.
"I was there last time, and I was just so proud to be here again this time," Cooper said. "And the weather was great!"
It was a warmer day indeed, with a noon temperature of 40 degrees. And if the day was balmier, it seemed its whole aura was mellower, too, with not only the president but his whole family looser than four years ago. Malia and Sasha, no longer adorable little girls but rather stylish young women, chatted on the podium, showing how comfortable they'd become after four years in the public spotlight, and Michelle Obama sported a hip new haircut: blunt-cut bangs. Even Chief Justice John Roberts seemed more relaxed; well, he breezed through the oath of office that he had stumbled over four years ago.
Fresh challenges await Obama as he embarks on first working day of second term
WASHINGTON (AP) — Four years ago, President Barack Obama and his staff spent the first day in the White House learning the basics. Not just the basics of governing, but also figuring out how to get cleared into their offices by the Secret Service, log on to their government computers and find keys to unlock office drawers.
They solved those problems long ago. Also in the rearview mirror are the economic recession, the Iraq war and the hunt for terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.
But plenty of fresh challenges lie ahead as the president and his team begin the first working day of the second term Tuesday.
Obama will quickly confront three fiscal deadlines that demand cooperation with the Congress, including raising the debt ceiling, which the House scheduled for a vote Wednesday. The deaths of three Americans in a siege on a natural gas plant in Algeria have renewed fears about the rise of terrorism in North Africa. And Obama must soon finalize the next phase of the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In his inaugural address Monday, the president also previewed an ambitious progressive agenda, one that will require cooperation from a divided Congress in an era of looming budget cuts.
Islamist extremists gone from Mali town of Douentza; France says 1,000 African troops in Mali
SEGOU, Mali (AP) — Malian forces on Tuesday controlled the strategic town that was under extreme Islamist rule for four months, as the French-led military intervention pushed northward in its second week.
Douentza had been the outer edge of Islamist rebel control until the militants surged southward earlier this month. While far from the capital, Douentza is only 190 kilometers (120 miles) northeast from Mopti, which marks the line-of-control held by the Malian military.
On Monday, French and Malian troops arrived in Douentza to find that the Islamists already had retreated from the town, local adviser Sali Maiga told The Associated Press.
"The Malian military and the French army spent their first night and the people are very happy," Maiga said Tuesday.
A curfew went into effect at 8 p.m., and there was no gunfire or other incidents reported overnight, he said.
Olympic heavyweight China bemoans crisis of declining fitness among grades-obsessed students
BEIJING (AP) — Xiao Ru spent her last year of high school studying from morning until late at night. That didn't help her complete one particular assignment in her first year of college: a 1,500-meter run.
With two friends setting the pace beside her, she finished the university fitness requirement — barely. Moments later, she doubled over and vomited.
"The weather got cold, so I haven't been training much," she murmured. "Then suddenly today I had to do this run ... and I just ... couldn't do it."
Clad in a purple wool sweater to fend off the winter morning chill, the 18-year-old student collapsed in the arms of her friends after the run at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University. They held up each of her elbows as they escorted her from the track.
Such dramas are increasingly common on the tracks and fields of China, which, despite its formidable performance in recent Olympic Games, has seen the fitness of its young people decline.
Files show how LA church hierarchy maneuvered behind the scenes to shield molester priests
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles officials maneuvered behind the scenes to shield molester priests, provide damage control for the church and keep parishioners in the dark, according to church personnel files.
The confidential records filed in a lawsuit against the archdiocese disclose how the church handled abuse allegations for decades and also reveal dissent from a top Mahony aide who criticized his superiors for covering up allegations of abuse rather than protecting children.
Notes inked by Mahony demonstrate he was disturbed about abuse and sent problem priests for treatment, but there also were lengthy delays or oversights in some cases. Mahony received psychological reports on some priests that mentioned the possibility of many other victims, for example, but there is no indication that he or other church leaders investigated further.
"This is all intolerable and unacceptable to me," Mahony wrote in 1991 on a file of the Rev. Lynn Caffoe, a priest suspected of locking boys in his room, videotaping their crotches and running up a $100 phone sex bill while with a boy. Caffoe was sent for therapy and removed from ministry, but Mahony didn't move to defrock him until 2004, a decade after the archdiocese lost track of him.
"He is a fugitive from justice," Mahony wrote to the Vatican's Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. "A check of the Social Security index discloses no report of his demise, so presumably he is alive somewhere."
Indonesian court sentences British woman, 56, to death over drug smuggling to Bali
BALI, Indonesia (AP) — An Indonesian court sentenced a British grandmother to death on Tuesday for smuggling cocaine worth $2.5 million in her suitcase onto the resort island of Bali — even though prosecutors had sought only a 15-year sentence.
Lindsay June Sandiford, 56, wept when judges handed down the sentence and declined to speak to reporters on her way back to prison, covering her face with a floral scarf. She had claimed in court that she was forced into taking the drugs into the country by a gang that was threatening to hurt her children.
Indonesia, like many Asian countries, is very strict on drug crimes, and most of the more than 40 foreigners on its death row were convicted of drug charges.
Sandiford's lawyer said she would appeal. Appeals take several years. Condemned criminals face a firing squad in Indonesia, which has not carried out an execution since 2008, when 10 people were put to death.
A verdict is expected in the trial of Sandiford's alleged accomplice, British man Julian Anthony Pounder, on Wednesday. He is accused of receiving the drugs in Bali, which has a busy bar and nightclub scene where party drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy are bought and sold between foreigners. Two other British citizens and an Indian have already been convicted and sentenced to prison in connection with the bust.