Under recommendations, NSA record-gathering and spying would continue amid more oversight
WASHINGTON (AP) — If President Barack Obama follows even half of the recommendations urged by his advisory panel, the National Security Agency would significantly change the way it does business.
The collection of U.S. phone records and the spying on other governments and their citizens would continue. But Americans' phone records would be held by phone companies, not the NSA, and multiple court orders, rather than just one, could be required before the information could be searched.
Other changes: The president would have to sign off personally on spying on foreign leaders, and foreigners would have greater rights not to be spied upon. Foreign countries could enter into do-not-spy agreements with the U.S. The White House would have to sign off on spying on just about anything deemed sensitive.
The 300-page report released Wednesday by a five-member panel of intelligence and legal experts proposed 46 recommendations that, taken together, call for more oversight of the government's vast spying network. Still, few programs would be ended.
Obama is not bound by a single recommendation. He's already rejected one of them — that oversight of the NSA and the Cyber Command be split, allowing a civilian to head the NSA. The White House said he is considering the other recommendations.
The Fed chair finds a way to temper the news that many had been dreading
WASHINGTON (AP) — In his final performance, Ben Bernanke rewrote the script.
Investors had been on edge for months about when the Federal Reserve might slow its economic stimulus. A pullback in the Fed's bond purchases, they feared, could jack up interest rates and whack stocks. Bernanke's mere mention of the possibility in June had sent stocks tumbling.
So on Wednesday, Bernanke showed something he'd learned from leading the Fed and addressing the public for eight years: Tough news goes down best when it's mixed with a little sweetener.
At his last news conference as chairman, he explained that the Fed would trim its monthly bond purchases by $10 billion to $75 billion — a prospect that had worried the markets.
Yet Bernanke also calmed nerves by walking back a plan to consider raising short-term rates once unemployment reaches 6.5 percent from the current 7 percent.
White House greets modest budget deal with caution but hope for a better year
WASHINGTON (AP) — There were no champagne corks popping at the White House after Congress passed a two-year budget deal, no declarations of a new era of cooperation in President Barack Obama's second term.
Instead, the modest agreement that passed Wednesday served as a stark year-end reminder of how low expectations for Washington sank in 2013, particularly for a president who hoped his resounding re-election would clear the way for progress on immigration, the long-term debt and tax reform.
The president's advisers say they're still searching for the larger meaning in the bipartisan budget deal, if there is one at all. At best, it could provide an opening for making progress next year on Obama's stalled legislative agenda. It also could be a political play by Republicans to keep the focus on the disastrous rollout of Obama's health care law and avoid another partial government shutdown like the one in October that tanked the party's approval ratings.
Or it could simply be an isolated move by lawmakers eager to head for the exits after a year that was perhaps even more dismal for Congress than for the president.
The president's press secretary, Jay Carney, said administration officials were "not getting overexcited because we're not naive about the obstruction that continues to exist and the partisanship that tends more often than not to paralyze Washington and Congress."
Egypt's Muslim Sisterhood put at forefront of protests in bid to gain public sympathy
CAIRO (AP) — They tirelessly hold rallies, whether at night or under cold rain, chanting for the return of Egypt's ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. They clash with police, hurling back fuming tear gas canisters and getting dragged by their veils and thrown behind bars. At protests in universities, they get into fistfights with rival female students.
Women supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have stepped into the front line of Islamist protests, one of the few branches of the organization not crushed by a heavy crackdown since Morsi's removal in a July 3 coup.
Former group members say it's an intentional survival tactic by the Brotherhood, aiming to keep its street pressure alive and betting that security forces are less likely to strike heavily against women — and that if they do, it will win public sympathy for the Islamists' cause.
It's a major change in role for the Muslim Sisterhood, as the women's branch is known. Like the Brotherhood's male cadres, its women are highly disciplined and undergo years of indoctrination instilling principles of obedience — often from childhood — but in the women's case, they have largely been trained to play a mostly backseat, family-centered part.
In daily protests the past months, they have proven determined and ferocious.
Putin: NSA surveillance needed to fight terrorism, but must follow rules and norms
MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the National Security Agency surveillance is necessary to fight terrorism, but added that the government needs to "limit the appetite" of the agency with a clear set of ground rules.
Putin's comment at a major news conference was surprising support for President Barack Obama's administration, which has faced massive criticism over the sweeping electronic espionage program.
Putin, a 16-year KGB veteran and the former chief of Russia's main espionage agency, said that while the NSA program "isn't a cause for joy, it's not a cause for repentance either" because it is needed to fight terrorism.
He argued that it's necessary to monitor large numbers of people to expose terrorist contacts.
"On political level, it's necessary to limit the appetite of special services with certain rules," he said.
Protests on Pakistan route may force US to fly war cargo out of Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials, frustrated that hundreds of military shipments heading out of Afghanistan have been stopped on the land route through Pakistan because of anti-American protests, face the possibility of flying out equipment at an additional cost of $1 billion.
More than a week after Pakistani officials promised Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that they would take "immediate action" to resolve the problem, dozens of protesters are still gathering on the busy overland route, posing a security threat to convoys carrying U.S. military equipment out of the war zone before combat ends a year from now.
U.S. officials said Wednesday they have seen no effort by the Pakistanis to stop the protests, which prompted the U.S. three weeks ago to halt NATO cargo shipments going through the Torkham border crossing and toward the port city of Karachi.
A Pakistani official says the government is looking for a peaceful settlement but notes that citizens have the right to protest as long as they are not violent.
The U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the planning, said flying the military equipment out of Afghanistan to a port will cost five to seven times as much as it does to truck it through Pakistan. About a hundred trucks are stacked up at the border, and hundreds more are loaded and stalled in compounds, waiting to leave Afghanistan.
Officials say rise of oil trains is fueling concerns about preparedness in small towns, cities
WOLF POINT, Mont. (AP) — It's tough to miss the trains hauling crude oil out of the Northern Plains. They are growing more frequent by the day, mile-long processions of black tank cars that rumble through wheat fields and towns, along rivers and national parks.
As common as they have become across the U.S. and Canada, officials in dozens of towns and cities where the oil trains travel say they are concerned with the possibility of a major derailment, spill or explosion, while their level of preparation varies widely.
Stoking those fears was the July crash of a crude train from the Bakken oil patch in Lac Megantic, Quebec — not far from the Maine border — that killed 47 people. A Nov. 8 train derailment in rural Alabama where several oil cars exploded reinforced them.
"It's a grave concern," said Dan Sietsema, the emergency coordinator in northeastern Montana's Roosevelt County, where oil trains now pass regularly through the county seat of Wolf Point. "It has the ability to wipe out a town like Wolf Point."
The number of carloads hauled by U.S. railroads has surged in recent years, from 10,840 in 2009 to a projected 400,000 this year.
Indian government official says diplomat arrested in NYC reported blackmail attempt by maid
NEW DELHI (AP) — An Indian diplomat who was arrested in New York City and accused of paying her housekeeper about $3 dollars an hour had claimed the woman blackmailed her over the summer, an Indian official said Thursday.
The case has sparked a diplomatic furor between the United States and India, which is incensed over what its officials described as degrading treatment toward Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York.
The U.S. Marshals Service confirmed it had strip-searched Khobragade and placed her in a cell with other female defendants last Thursday, saying the measures are "standard arrestee intake procedures."
Khobragade was charged with lying on a visa application, saying she paid the housekeeper — an Indian national — $4,500 a month, but actually paid her far below the minimum wage. She pleaded not guilty and was released on $250,000 bail.
The case has sparked outrage across India, where the idea of an educated, middle-class woman facing a strip-search is almost unimaginable, except in the most brutal crimes. In an unusual step, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan publicly defended Khobragade's treatment, and questioned why there was more outrage for Khobragade than for the housekeeper.
In latest deadly tragedy in Reno area, surgeons fight to save the lives of 2 of their own
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Surgeons at a Reno hospital have treated victims in a series of deadly tragedies in recent years, including a horrific crash at the Reno Air Races, a fiery Amtrak accident, a shooting rampage at a pancake restaurant and a murder-suicide at a middle school just two months ago.
This week, they found themselves fighting to try to save the lives of two of their own after a suicidal California man opened fire with a 12-gauge shotgun in the examination room area of a urology clinic. One doctor was killed, another critically wounded and a third person seriously injured by the shotgun blasts.
Victims were rushed to an emergency room in the Renown Regional Medical Center campus after the shooting, carried out by a gunman who witnesses said warned patients and their children in a waiting area to "get out."
"Unfortunately our community has experienced yet another tragedy," Renown Regional Medical Center CEO Kris Gaw said Wednesday. "This is something that has hit our medical community, not just Renown. It happened on our own doorstep."
Police identified the slain doctor as Charles G. Gholdoian, 46, a urologist at Urology Nevada. His colleague, Dr. Christine Lajeunesse, was conscious Wednesday but remained in critical condition at Renown.
Poll: Relief from deportations more important to Hispanics, Asian-Americans than citizenship
WASHINGTON (AP) — With immigration legislation stalled in Congress, Hispanics and Asian-Americans say getting relief from deportations is more important for many of the 11 million immigrants here illegally than creating a pathway to U.S. citizenship, a new study finds.
Two polls released Thursday by the Pew Research Center expose a potential conflict for two minority groups that voted overwhelmingly last year for President Barack Obama, a Democrat. Obama is under pressure from immigration supporters to use his executive power to stop deportations.
Strong majorities of both Hispanics and Asian-Americans continue to back a pathway to citizenship, 89 percent and 72 percent, respectively. Still, by 55 percent to 35 percent, Hispanics said being able to live and work in the U.S. legally without the threat of deportation was more important. Among Asian-Americans, the ratio was 49 to 44 percent.
Among both groups, noncitizens are more apt than citizens to consider it important to remove the threat of deportation.
Not all Latino immigrants in the U.S. seek to become American citizens, according to the Pew study. Of Hispanic immigrants who came to the U.S. legally, just 44 percent have become citizens, due in part to the cost of applying as well as worries about passing the English part of the citizenship test. Among immigrants from Mexico, the largest country of origin, the share is even lower, at 36 percent.