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

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Associated Press

Posted on March 19, 2013 at 8:02 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 20 at 5:30 AM

Obama aims to assure Israel of US support on visit to turbulent Middle East

JERUSALEM (AP) — President Barack Obama is plunging into the turbulent Middle East on a mission aimed primarily at assuring America's top ally in the region and its friends back home that it will not be forsaken amid bitter domestic political squabbles and budget crises in Washington.

Obama arrives Wednesday in Israel for his first visit to the country — and only his second to the Middle East, outside of a quick jaunt to Iraq — since taking office. He will also be making his first trips as president to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan this week. But on an itinerary laden more with symbolism than substance, an Israel that is increasingly wary of developments in Syria and Iran is Obama's main focus.

When Air Force One touches down at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, Obama will be met by an Israeli leadership and public anxious to hear the president affirm America's commitment to the security of the Jewish state while standing on their soil.

Obama sparred frequently with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Palestinian peace process during his first term. And despite public assurances from both sides that relations otherwise remained solid, the president endured four years of criticism from pro-Israel advocates and conservatives in the U.S. and numerous commentators in Israel for not doing enough to back the Mideast's only stable democracy in the face of growing threats to its existence.

So even though U.S. officials have set expectations low and previewed no significant policy announcements, there is a clear metric to measure the success of Obama's three-day stay in Israel and the West Bank: how much he is able to reverse the perception that his administration is not fully committed to Israel's security.

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AP-NORC Center survey shows high pessimism among low-wage workers despite job gains

WASHINGTON (AP) — America's lower-income workers have posted the biggest job gains since the deep 2007-09 recession — but few are bragging.

As a workforce sector, those earning $35,000 or less annually are generally pessimistic about their finances and career prospects. Many see themselves as worse off now than during the recession, a two-part Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of workers and employers shows.

The survey revealed that many people at the lowest rung in the workplace view their jobs as a dead end. Half were "not too" or "not at all" confident that their jobs would help them achieve long-term career goals. And only 41 percent of workers at the same place for more than a decade reported ever receiving a promotion.

Yet 44 percent of employers surveyed said it's hard to recruit people with appropriate skills or experiences to do lower-wage jobs, particularly in manufacturing (54 percent). While 88 percent of employers said they were investing in training and education for employee advancement, awareness and use of such programs among the lower-wage workers was only modest.

Although President Barack Obama made it a national goal to "equip our citizens with the skills and training" to compete for good jobs, the survey shows a U.S. workforce that has grown increasingly polarized, with workers and their bosses seeing many things differently.

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Computer networks crash at South Korean banks, media companies; North Korea attack suspected

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Computer networks at two major South Korean banks and three top TV broadcasters went into shutdown mode en masse Wednesday, paralyzing bank machines across the country and prompting speculation of a cyberattack by North Korea.

Screens went blank promptly at 2 p.m. (0500 GMT), with skulls reportedly popping up on the screens of some computers — a strong indication that hackers planted a malicious code in South Korean systems, the state-run Korea Information Security Agency said. Some computers started to get back online more than 2 ½ hours later.

Police and South Korean officials said the cause was not immediately clear. The government issued a cybersecurity advisory warning website owners to beware of cyberattacks, the state-run Korea Communications Commission said.

But speculation centered on North Korea, with experts saying a cyberattack orchestrated by Pyongyang was likely to blame.

The shutdown comes amid rising rhetoric and threats of attack from Pyongyang in response to U.N. punishment for its December rocket launch and February nuclear test. Washington also expanded sanctions against North Korea this month in a bid to cripple the regime's ability to develop its nuclear program.

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Cyprus archbishop says will put church assets at country's disposal to help emerge from crisis

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The head of Cyprus' influential Orthodox church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, says he will put the church's assets at the country's disposal to help pull it out of a financial crisis, after lawmakers rejected a plan to seize up to 10 percent of people's bank deposits to secure an international bailout.

Speaking after meeting President Nicos Anastasiades Wednesday, Chrysostomos said the church was willing to mortgage its assets to invest in government bonds.

The church has considerable wealth, including property, stakes in a bank and a brewery. Tuesday's rejection of the deposit tax has left the future of the country's international bailout in question.

Cyprus needs 15.8 billion euros to bail out its banks and shore up government finances to avoid default and a potential exit from the European joint currency.

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Nevada town with deep military history mourns Marines who died in training exercise explosion

HAWTHORNE, Nev. (AP) — Hundreds of residents in a rural community steeped in military history turned out to mourn the loss of at least seven Marines as investigators arrived at an ammunition depot to try to determine how a mortar shell exploded at the Nevada base and sent shrapnel flying into troops during a training exercise.

Families with children clutching small American flags were among the nearly 300 people who attended the brief memorial service, where a trumpeter played taps at a city park as a giant American flag flew at half-staff across the street from the base at dusk.

Marine officers from Camp Lejeune, N.C., who arrived at the Hawthorne Army Depot on Tuesday could not attend the memorial, as they began the task of figuring out what caused a mortar shell to explode in its firing tube. The accident prompted the Pentagon to immediately halt the use of the weapons until an investigation can determine their safety, officials said.

"All of the officers are tied up with the investigation," said John Stroud, a Veterans of Foreign Wars official from Fallon who led the memorial service. "For obvious reasons, they've got important work to do."

The explosion Monday night at the sprawling facility during an exercise involved the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune. At least seven men were killed and eight were injured, officials said.

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Rush hour car bomb kills 2 in eastern Baghdad on 10th anniversary of US-led invasion

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi officials say a car bomb in eastern Baghdad has killed two civilians and wounded four on the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion, the day after a series of well-coordinated attacks left scores dead.

Two police officers say the parked car exploded during rush hour Wednesday morning in the capital's eastern Zayona neighborhood. A medical official in a nearby hospital confirmed the casualty figures. All spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

The attack followed a bloody day in Baghdad, when insurgents set off a wave of car bombs and other explosions that killed 65.

Violence has ebbed sharply since the height of insurgency, but militants are still able to stage high-profile lethal attacks.

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New government estimate finds autism more common than before; 1 in 50 school kids diagnosed

NEW YORK (AP) — A government survey of parents says 1 in 50 U.S. schoolchildren has autism, surpassing another federal estimate for the disorder.

Health officials say the new number doesn't mean autism is occurring more often. But it does suggest that doctors are diagnosing autism more frequently, especially in children with milder problems.

The earlier government estimate of 1 in 88 comes from a study that many consider more rigorous. It looks at medical and school records instead of relying on parents.

For decades, autism meant kids with severe language, intellectual and social impairments and unusual, repetitious behaviors. But the definition has gradually expanded and now includes milder, related conditions.

The new estimate released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would mean at least 1 million children have autism.

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From risotto to resoling, Rome's old Borgo district is where up-and-coming cardinals go

ROME (AP) — When a future pope needed new soles, he strolled to a shoe repair shop practically around the corner from the Vatican. When he was pope and nearing retirement, he had the same shoemaker craft a pair of comfy, calfskin slippers.

Borgo, the sleepy, medieval neighborhood with a timeless feel right outside the Vatican's borders, has been at the service of pontiffs for centuries. From resoling to risotto, from light bulbs to linguine, Borgo is the go-to place for up-and-coming cardinals and sometimes even for popes.

Pilgrims may hurry through Borgo's narrow cobblestone streets to catch papal blessings in jam-packed St. Peter's Square. But gastronomically picky, red-hatted prelates and black-robed monsignors often stop to dine in the neighborhood's eateries, debating the qualities of the next pontiff while tucking into tagliatelle and sausage in pistachio pesto or marsala-soaked braised pork.

Stroll Borgo's slow-paced streets between meal times, and you might spot prelates on errands like the ones Joseph Ratzinger ran, when as a German cardinal he lived in an apartment just outside Vatican walls. Proudly displayed inside the shoemaker's shop and in a lighting and electrical repair store are photographs of the businesses' owners with their faithful client Ratzinger, more famous as the recently retired Pope Benedict XVI.

Borgo means "village" in Italian, and, indeed, the neighborhood has a quaint, insular quality, perhaps because some of its streets are closed to traffic.

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Ex-SC Gov. Sanford advances to GOP runoff in House race; Colbert Busch wins Democrats' nod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Mark Sanford says he believes in "a God of second chances," and now the former South Carolina governor has taken the first step toward reviving a political career that was derailed by an extramarital affair.

Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert, always dreamed of a career in politics — and now she has a chance to realize that dream.

As Sanford advanced Tuesday night to an April 2 GOP runoff for an open congressional seat in a southern coastal district, Colbert Busch easily won the Democratic primary to earn a spot on the May 7 general election ballot.

The race has drawn national attention because of Sanford's well-known fall from grace and Colbert Busch's relationship to Steven Colbert, who parodies a conservative political commentator as host of TV's "The Colbert Report."

Colbert Busch swamped perennial candidate Ben Frasier on Tuesday to win the Democratic nomination for the seat vacated by Tim Scott, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate to replace fellow Republican Jim DeMint, now head of The Heritage Foundation.

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With Heat streak at 23 in a row, Lakers recall their record 33-game run

Gail Goodrich knew Miami would beat Boston the other night.

He knew even a 17-point deficit, the largest they had faced in six weeks, wouldn't stop LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

"Once they got back in the game, there was no doubt in my mind they were going to win," Goodrich said of the Heat's 105-103 victory Monday. "They just are better than everybody else."

So were the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.

Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Goodrich were a Big Three to rival what Miami has, the core of a team that racked up routs on the way to an NBA-record 33 straight victories. They rarely felt threatened, either by their opponent or the stress of the streak, making one of sports' most remarkable achievements seem rather routine.

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