Rockets hit southern Israel as Obama prepares to meet Palestinians, push peace talks
JERUSALEM (AP) — On the second day of a Mideast tour, U.S. President Barack Obama is set to emphasize the importance of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, a message underscored Thursday when Palestinian militants in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel.
After a visit to Israel's national museum — where he was inspecting the Dead Sea Scrolls, which highlight the Jewish people's ancient connection to the land that is now Israel — Obama will head to the West Bank to tell the Palestinians that the creation of a Palestinian state remains a priority.
He is not bringing a new plan to relaunch peace talks, but in meetings with the Palestinians and a speech to Israeli students later in the day, he will appeal to both sides to halt unilateral actions that make negotiations more difficult.
Those troublesome actions include continued construction of Jewish housing settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians and repeated Palestinian efforts to achieve recognition at the United Nations in the absence of a peace agreement.
On Wednesday, Obama reaffirmed the unwavering U.S. commitment to Israel's security and noted there had been no fatal attacks on Israelis from the West Bank, which is controlled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
ECB: cannot help Cypriot banks after Monday unless European-IMF aid program in place
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The European Central Bank says it will keep emergency aid for Cyprus' troubled banks in place at least until Monday but will have to cut it off after that unless an international rescue program is drawn up.
The ECB is keeping the Cypriot banks alive by allowing them to draw on emergency support from the local central bank. But the ECB has said it would cut that aid off if there is no bailout deal soon.
The ECB said Thursday that its governing council decided to maintain the current level of so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance until Monday.
But it says that, after that, such assistance can only be considered if an EU-IMF program is in place that would ensure the banks' solvency.
GOP-dominated House expected to pass budget plan promising slashing cuts, balance in 10 years
WASHINGTON (AP) — A familiar budget plan to sharply cut safety-net programs for the poor and clamp down on domestic agencies performing the nuts-and-bolts programs of the government is cruising to passage in the tea party-flavored House.
The Republican measure is advancing to the finish line in the House as the Senate starts a lengthy slog toward passage of a rival budget measure. It takes a sharply different view, restoring automatic cuts to agency budgets and increasing taxes by $1 trillion over the coming decade.
The dueling budget plans are anchored on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum in Washington, appealing to core partisans in the warring parties gridlocked over persistent budget deficits. President Barack Obama is exploring the chances of forging a middle path that blends new taxes and modest curbs to government benefits programs.
The sharp contrast over the 2014 budget and beyond came as the House is positioned to clear unfinished budget business — a sweeping, government-wide funding bill to keep Cabinet agencies running through the 2013 budget year, which ends Sept. 30.
The Senate passed the bipartisan 2013 measure by a sweeping 73-26 vote Wednesday after easing cuts that threatened intermittent closures of meat packing plants starting this summer and reviving college tuition grants for active-duty members of the military. The cuts were mandated by automatic spending cuts that took effect at the beginning of the month.
AP-NORC Center survey shows low-wage workers not taking advantage of training, education
WASHINGTON (AP) — As they struggle to get ahead, many low-wage workers are not taking advantage of job training or educational programs that could help them make the leap to better-paying jobs. They are often skeptical about whether such programs are even worth the trouble, a new survey shows.
In many cases, workers in low-wage positions are not using the training programs their employers offer because they don't even know they exist, the two-part AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of both workers and employers found. Two-thirds of employers said they offer coaching or mentoring programs and 61 percent provide on-the-job training. But only 36 percent of low-wage workers reported that their employers offer such programs.
The ability to move up the career ladder has become more important as America's economic recovery is fueled by a surge in low-wage jobs at restaurants, health care centers and manufacturing sites. Job training and education can play a major role in helping these workers advance their careers and someday reach middle-class status. At the same time, employers say they invest in job training to retain current workers, reduce turnover and improve the quality of products and services.
Yet the surveys revealed a wide disparity between employers and workers in how they view the importance of training programs. While 83 percent of employers said job training is extremely or very important for upward mobility, only half of low-wage workers felt as strongly about additional training. Similarly, 77 percent of employers rated education as extremely or very important, while only 41 percent of low-wage workers rated it similarly.
Of those who were aware their employers offer such training programs, 64 percent report participating in them, the surveys found. About a quarter have taken advantage of tuition assistance benefits. Yet workers who have used these programs say they are no more likely to feel confident about their prospects for advancement than those who have not received the extra training.
Initial investigation links Chinese address to SKorea cyberattack; experts suspect North Korea
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Investigators have traced a coordinated cyberattack that paralyzed tens of thousands of computers at six South Korean banks and media companies to a Chinese Internet Protocol address, but it was not yet clear who orchestrated the attack, authorities in Seoul said Thursday.
The discovery did not erase suspicions that North Korea was to blame. IP addresses are unique to each computer connected to the Internet, but they can easily be manipulated by hackers operating anywhere in the world. The investigation into Wednesday's attack could take weeks.
By Thursday, only one of the six targets, Shinhan Bank, was back online and operating regularly. It could be next week before the other companies have fully recovered.
North Korea has threatened Seoul and Washington in recent days over U.N. sanctions imposed for its Feb. 12 nuclear test, and over ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills. It also threatened revenge after blaming Seoul and Washington for an Internet shutdown that disrupted its own network last week.
North Korea "will never remain a passive onlooker to the enemies' cyberattacks," state media said last week in a commentary. "The U.S. and its allies should be held wholly accountable for the ensuing consequences."
Influential pediatricians group backs gay marriage; says kids raised that way do just as well
CHICAGO (AP) — The nation's most influential pediatrician's group has endorsed gay marriage, saying a stable relationship between parents regardless of sexual orientation contributes to a child's health and well-being.
The American Academy of Pediatrics' new policy, published online Thursday, cites research showing that the parents' sexual orientation has no effect on a child's development. Kids fare just as well in gay or straight families when they are nurturing and financially and emotionally stable, the academy says.
The academy believes that a two-parent marriage is best equipped to provide that kind of environment. Their policy says that if a child has two gay parents who choose to marry, "it is in the best interests of their children that legal and social institutions allow and support them to do so."
The policy cites reports indicating that almost 2 million U.S. children are being raised by gay parents, many of them in states that don't allow gays to marry.
The academy announced its position Thursday. Officials with the group said they wanted to make the academy's views known before two gay marriage cases are considered by the U.S. Supreme Court next week.
In Myanmar's Kachin state, heroin addiction lurks in shadow of ethnic conflict
MYITKYINA, Myanmar (AP) — Freshly dumped hypodermic syringes litter alleys, cemeteries and shaded corners in Myitkyina, the provincial capital of Kachin state, on Myanmar's northern border with China.
Myitkyina is known for having one of the highest concentrations of drug addicts in the world. The Kachin Baptist Convention, an evangelical group with more than 300 churches in the state, says nearly 80 percent of ethnic Kachin youth are addicts. Their drug of choice is heroin.
Opium is grown here, and heroin is cheap and easy to find. Help in overcoming addiction, however, is rare.
The men who come to the Kachin Baptist Convention's rehabilitation camp, one of the few places addicts can seek help, hope to find healing in God. They warm their hands around bowls of rice in the morning chill. Then they gather to sing gospel songs, their faces lit with tears as the sun rises. Just 31 of the 49 men who came to the camp — the first the convention has ever set up — managed to finish the three-month program in February.
The government also runs a drug rehabilitation hospital in Kachin state, but some here say officials have done far too little, and even accuse them of turning a blind eye to drug abuse to decimate young people who might otherwise become rebels.
Head of Colo. Corrections Dept. shot and killed at home when he answered door; gunman sought
MONUMENT, Colo. (AP) — In the weeks before Colorado's top prisons official was fatally shot after answering his front door, he carried out a variety of functions including requesting execution chemicals and speaking to legislators about security issues.
It's unknown what role Tom Clements' position as executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections might have played in the shooting Tuesday, but investigators said they aren't ruling out any possible motives, including whether it was random or a work-related attack.
Colorado corrections spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson would not comment on whether Clements had security at his home. Security was stepped up for other state officials, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was ashen-faced as he addressed reporters at the Capitol before signing bills placing new restrictions on firearms.
"Tom Clements dedicated his life to being a public servant, to making our state a better place and he is going to be deeply, deeply missed," Hickenlooper said Wednesday.
While small in numbers, similar attacks on officials have been increasing in the U.S. in recent years, said Glenn McGovern, an investigator with the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office in California who tracks such incidents worldwide. He said there have been roughly as many in the past three years — at least 35 — as the entire prior decade. Revenge is usually the motive, he added.
Profiles of 7 Marines dead in explosion at Nevada Army depot
A mortar shell explosion Monday at an Army depot in Hawthorne, Nev., killed seven Marines and injured eight other servicemen. Here are profiles of the victims:
AARON RIPPERDA, 26
Ripperda was a football player while he attended high school in Highland, Ill., near St. Louis. He was respectful and hardworking, according to Highland High School Assistant Principal Karen Gauen, and "definitely had the discipline for the military."
Ripperda had dreams of becoming a professional chef. His aunt, Beverly Lesicko, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he joined the Marines for a chance to explore the world. He was scheduled to come home in May.
JOSH TAYLOR, 21
BracketRacket: Still wrestling with your picks? You've got plenty of high-priced company
Welcome to BracketRacket, your one-stop shopping place for all things NCAA.
Today, LeBron James struggles with "The Decision" (Again? Seriously?), Fox anchor Neil Cavuto tries to order takeout food off a bracket sheet, men debate "hotness," best-selling crime novelist Robert Crais plots a happy ending for the NCAAs (clue: Duke wins! Duke wins!), and one very sad Kentucky fan refuses to take off his hat.
Oh, and the real tournament begins.
But first, let's crank up the time machine.