For the government, economic clouds are lifting for now but dire storms warnings lie ahead
WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite constant budget wrangling and finger-pointing by the nation's policy-makers, the government's short-term fiscal outlook isn't all that bad. It's actually getting better — at least for now.
Washington is borrowing about 25 cents for every dollar it spends, down from over 40 cents just a few years ago.
The federal budget deficit will drop to $845 billion this year after topping $1 trillion for four straight years, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects. Even if Congress does nothing further to cut spending or raise tax revenues, deficits will continue to shrink — to $430 billion by fiscal 2015, the CBO said.
But, barring a major fix by the president and Congress, the government's finances will start to worsen again as the three major entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — become more and more expensive and unmanageable under the increasing weight of retiring baby boomers.
Recent budget improvements were helped along by increasing tax revenues as corporate America and many better-off Americans snapped back from the economic downturn and paid more in taxes. Stocks are setting new multi-year levels and corporate profits are soaring.
FDA head says menu calorie labeling 'thorny' issue as supermarkets lobby to be exempted
WASHINGTON (AP) — Diners will have to wait a little longer to find calorie counts on most restaurant chain menus, in supermarkets and on vending machines.
Writing a new menu labeling law "has gotten extremely thorny," says the head of the Food and Drug Administration, as the agency tries to figure out who should be covered by it.
The 2010 health care law charged the FDA with requiring restaurants and other establishments that serve food to put calorie counts on menus and in vending machines. The agency issued a proposed rule in 2011, but the final rules have since been delayed as some of those non-restaurant establishments have lobbied hard to be exempt.
While the restaurant industry has signed on to the idea and helped to write the new regulations, supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers that sell prepared food say they want to no part of it.
"There are very, very strong opinions and powerful voices both on the consumer and public health side and on the industry side, and we have worked very hard to sort of figure out what really makes sense and also what is implementable," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Who's up, who's down: Cardinals hold final talks amid debate over manager or pastoral pope
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday to elect the next pope amid more upheaval and uncertainty than the Catholic Church has seen in decades: There's no front-runner, no indication how long voting will last and no sense that a single man has what it takes to fix the many problems.
On the eve of the vote, cardinals offered wildly different assessments of what they're looking for in the next pontiff and how close they are to a decision. It was evidence that Benedict XVI's surprise resignation has continued to destabilize the church leadership and that his final appeal for unity may go unheeded, at least in the early rounds of voting.
Cardinals held their final closed-door debate Monday over whether the church needs more of a manager to clean up the Vatican's bureaucratic mess or a pastor to inspire the 1.2 billion faithful in times of crisis. The fact that not everyone got a chance to speak was a clear sign that there's still unfinished business on the eve of the conclave.
"This time around, there are many different candidates, so it's normal that it's going to take longer than the last time," Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz of Chile told The Associated Press.
"There are no groups, no compromises, no alliances, just each one with his conscience voting for the person he thinks is best, which is why I don't think it will be over quickly."
Long-awaited plea could come Tuesday in Colorado movie theater shootings
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — In the nearly eight months since James Holmes first shuffled into court with vacant eyes and reddish-orange hair, neither he nor his lawyers have said much about how he would plead to charges from the deadly Colorado movie theater shooting.
There have been plenty of hints, however. As his hair turned more natural-looking and his demeanor more even at court hearings, Holmes' lawyers repeatedly raised questions about his mental health, including a recent revelation that he was held in a psychiatric ward for several days last fall, often in restraints, because he was considered a danger to himself.
If, as many expect, they enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on his behalf Tuesday, it will clarify the court battle ahead: Was Holmes, 25, legally insane — unable to tell right from wrong — at the time of the shootings?
Pleading insanity could be the only way he can avoid life in prison or execution, given the evidence that has emerged so far, some legal experts said.
Prosecutors laid out a case that Holmes methodically planned the shooting for months, amassing an arsenal and elaborately booby-trapping his apartment to kill anyone who tried to enter. On the night of the attack, they say, he donned a police-style helmet, gas mask and body armor, tossed a gas canister into the seats and then opened fire.
Senate panel ready to OK Dems' bill on gun background checks, fate in full Senate less sure
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are ready to muscle expanded background checks and other gun curbs through a Senate committee, giving President Barack Obama an initial if temporary victory on one of his top priorities.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was to debate a bill Tuesday that would broaden the requirement for federal background checks to nearly all firearms purchasers. It was also considering a ban on assault weapons and an increase in federal aid for school security, though senators may not consider the assault weapons measure until later in the week.
Requiring background checks for private gun transactions between individuals — they're currently mandatory only for sales by licensed dealers — is a centerpiece of Obama's proposal to reduce firearms violence. The system is designed to prevent criminals, people with severe mental problems and others from getting guns.
Tuesday's meeting comes five days after the panel approved Congress' first gun control measure since December's carnage at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 26 students and educators dead. That bill, by the Judiciary Committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and others, establishes long prison terms for illegal gun traffickers and straw purchasers, people who buy a firearm for criminals or others forbidden to buy one.
The Judiciary Committee is expected to approve all three bills it is debating this week, with full Senate consideration next month.
When the only life a dog knows is taken away, even if it's cruel, fear can ravage the animal
LOS ANGELES (AP) — People want their dog to be a friend, not afraid.
But sometimes, fear grips dogs so tightly they shake, cower, bite, growl or pee. It can be constant, painful and hard to overcome. Such dread can consume a dog when it's freed from a cage at a puppy mill or hoarder's home because that's the only life the dog has ever known.
Until now, it was up to animal shelters to ease the fears, knowing if they didn't, euthanasia was the likely alternative. But this week, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals opens its Behavioral Rehabilitation Center at St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, N.J.
It's a two-year research project being financed by the ASPCA.
For now, dogs seized from puppy mills and hoarders will be the primary patients, said Kristen Collins, ASPCA's director of anti-cruelty behavior rehabilitation and director of the center. It will also include some dogs that have been confined for long stretches as evidence in court cases.
Official: Helicopter crash kills 5 US troops in southern Afghanistan near city of Kandahar
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan has killed five American service members, officials said Tuesday.
Monday night's crash brought the total number of U.S. troops killed that day to seven, making it the deadliest day for U.S. forces so far this year. Two U.S. special operations forces were gunned down hours earlier in an insider attack by an Afghan policeman in eastern Afghanistan.
The NATO military coalition said in a statement that "initial reports" showed no enemy activity in the area at the time. The cause of the crash is under investigation, the statement said.
A U.S. official said all five of the dead were American. The official said the helicopter went down outside Kandahar city, the capital of Kandahar province. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been formally released.
The five dead included everyone aboard the UH-60 Black Hawk, said Maj. Adam Wojack, a spokesman for the international military coalition in Afghanistan.
Pharmaceutical companies boosting support for Interpol's fight against fake prescription drugs
More than two dozen of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies have agreed to provide funding and other support to Interpol's battle against counterfeit prescription drugs, the international police agency said Tuesday.
Interpol's newly created Pharmaceutical Crime Program aims to help health agencies, police and customs bureaus in countries around the globe stem the supply of bogus brand-name and generic medicines, as well as identify and dismantle the organized crime rings distributing them.
Those rings, which operate across borders, are raking in billions of dollars every year, costing legitimate drugmakers a small fortune in lost sales. Meanwhile patients who unknowingly take counterfeit drugs often are poisoned or get sicker because they're not receiving what the doctor prescribed. Experts estimate hundreds of thousands of people around the world die because of counterfeit medicines each year.
The pharmaceutical companies have pledged a total of €4.5 million, or nearly $5.9 million, over three years to help Interpol with efforts including training local law enforcement officials on investigative procedures, evidence handling and how to better work with partners outside their countries.
Interpol also will help those authorities build up their infrastructure and target enforcement actions against crime rings that make and sell fake drugs, and also divert medication illegally to countries where it's not approved.
White smoke or black smoke? Maybe a text message is better
NEW YORK (AP) — White smoke or black smoke? Maybe it's easier just to wait for a text message that a new pope has been elected.
A Catholic organization has set up a website, www.popealarm.com, that lets people register to receive a text or email notification when a pope has been selected.
While the process of selecting a new pope is as old as the ages, there are enough changes to the media to make the last papal conclave — in 2005 — seem like ancient history.
The text service was set up by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS, and had proven so popular with more than 40,000 respondents that the popealarm website said Monday it was accepting no new registrants. The site hopes to increase its capacity before the cardinals begin voting, said Jeremy Rivera, spokesman for the Christian campus ministry.
"When the smoke goes up, you'll know what's going down" is the website's motto.
Olynyk leads top-ranked Gonzaga to 65-51 win over Saint Mary's in West Coast title game
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gonzaga played well enough to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, all season and in the West Coast Conference title game.
Whether the top-ranked Zags get that top spot won't be decided until the weekend, not that it matters all that much to them.
"We've been playing great basketball all year," Gonzaga forward Elias Harris said after the Zags rolled over Saint Mary's 65-51 in the WCC final Monday night. "We believe in ourselves, we believe in our coaches, we believe in our teammates."
Already headed to the NCAA tournament for the 15th straight season, Gonzaga (31-2) sure had the look of a No. 1 seed against their West Coast rivals, dominating at both ends.
The deep Zags shot 52 percent, controlled the paint and teamed up to hound Gaels leading scorer Matthew Dellavedova everywhere he went. Kelly Olynyk had 21 points and 12 rebounds, Harris added 19 points and Gonzaga had a 42-18 advantage in the paint to win its 14th straight game.