AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on December 20, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Updated Friday, Dec 20 at 6:02 AM

Consumers react to Target security breach of up to 40M credit and debit cards

NEW YORK (AP) — Potential victims of credit card fraud tied to Target's security breach said they had trouble contacting the discounter through its website and call centers.

Angry Target customers expressed their displeasure in comments on the company's Facebook page. Some even threatened to stop shopping at the store. Target apologized on Facebook and said it's working hard to resolve the problem and is adding more workers to field calls and help solve website issues.

The fury and frustration come as the nation's second-largest discounter acknowledged Thursday that data connected to about 40 million credit and debit card accounts was stolen as part of a breach that began over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The theft is the second-largest credit card breach in U.S. history, exceeded only by a scam that began in 2005 involving retailer TJX Cos. That incident affected at least 45.7 million card users.

Target disclosed the theft a day after reports that the company was investigating a breach. The retailer's data-security troubles and its ensuing public relations nightmare threaten to drive off holiday shoppers during the company's busiest time of year.

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Congress sends defense bill cracking down on sexual assault in military to Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) — The women of the Senate who led the fight to change how the military deals with sexual assault in its ranks are hailing passage of a comprehensive defense bill that now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Senate voted 84-15 Thursday night for the $632.8 billion bill that covers combat pay, new ships, aircraft and military bases. Drawing the greatest attention were provisions cracking down on perpetrators of sexual assault and rape.

The military's handling of high-profile cases united Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate in a concerted effort to change the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with Senate women leading the fight. Estimates from the Pentagon that 26,000 members of the military may have been sexually assaulted last year, though thousands were afraid to come forward for fear of inaction or retribution, emboldened lawmakers to act.

"Today represents a huge win for victims of sexual assault, and for justice in America's armed forces, but this is no finish line," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., one of seven women on the Armed Services Committee who pushed for the changes. "In the months and years ahead, vigilance will be required to ensure that these historic reforms are implemented forcefully and effectively."

The legislation would strip military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, require a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case and require that any individual convicted of sexual assault face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal. The bill also would provide victims with legal counsel, eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases, and criminalize retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault.

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Govt offering stopgap measures for those having trouble replacing canceled insurance policies

WASHINGTON (AP) — People whose existing health care insurance has been canceled because of the Affordable Care Act will not be hit with tax penalties for failing to line up new coverage as required under the law.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she will use authorities in the law to issue a "temporary hardship exemption" from those penalties.

Under another stopgap option Sebelius announced Thursday, those whose plans were canceled will be able to buy a bare-bones catastrophic plan regardless of their age. Such plans had been intended for those under 30.

A dedicated hotline for people who got cancellations, 1-866-837-0677, is being set up by the Health and Human Services Department as part of the effort to head off more bad news coming from the chaotic rollout of President Barack Obama's health care law.

Democrats praised the steps as a common-sense backup in a difficult situation while Republicans panned the administration action as another patch to an unworkable law. The insurance industry immediately criticized the moves.

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Structural assessment in progress after London theater collapse injures more than 75

LONDON (AP) — Authorities are carrying out a structural assessment at the Apollo Theatre after the partial collapse of its ceiling injured more than 75 people in the packed auditorium.

An initial report is expected Friday after an overnight survey. The building remains cordoned off.

Eyewitnesses have described chaos and panic as large hunks of plaster and dust rained down on the audience 45 minutes into a performance of "The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time."

Playwright Simon Stephens used Twitter to thank the public for messages of support. The play was adapted from Mark Haddon's successful novel.

The Edwardian theater is more than 100 years old. Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, described the incident as "shocking and upsetting."

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Spy panel that urged changes in NSA surveillance wants duplicate oversight board replaced

WASHINGTON (AP) — For months, two review panels given nearly identical assignments by President Barack Obama have been studying how the White House should change or limit the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. They have functioned separately — with different experts and private and public hearings — but with almost the same mandate.

So it was at least a little surprising when the first panel, which recommended changes to NSA's programs this week, urged the White House to abolish the second panel and replace it with a new one.

Among 46 recommendations spelled out in a 300-page document released Wednesday by the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies is a proposal to scrap the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which plans to issue its own report on NSA surveillance in January.

The review group concluded that the independent oversight board, which is authorized only to look into matters dealing with counterterrorism and intelligence, should also consider all foreign intelligence issues. To do this, the review group urged creation of a completely new oversight board — a move that would require new legislation since Congress set up the existing one.

The new board, the review group said, "should have broad authority to review government activity relating to foreign intelligence and counterterrorism whenever that activity has implications for civil liberties and privacy."

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Portland, Ore., bar provides bright place to raise a glass on the shortest day of the year

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Saturday marks the shortest day of the year — the pinnacle of dread for people who feel depressed when there's less sunshine. When they go out for a drink or coffee in the dreary wintertime Pacific Northwest, they could also order up a dose of something else entirely: a few rays of bright light.

Designed to mimic sunlight, light boxes are now being featured at a bar in Portland and a cafe in Seattle to help those with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, an energy-sapping depression that occurs at the same time each year and affects an estimated 3 percent to 5 percent of Americans.

"I really call it atmosphere therapy in here more than anything," says Alex Carlson, the owner of Portland's Lightbar, where walls leading to the high, barrel-vault ceiling are bathed in ever-changing colors, such as a deep blue that mimics the sky just before sunrise and a red that evokes a winter sunset.

Booths have light-therapy lamps that can be dialed up to 10,000 lux, the recommended dosage for SAD sufferers, and are draped by white canopies that provide a cocoon-like coziness. DJs play ambient music as bartenders serve craft cocktails under a tree-like chandelier that includes hundreds of crystals.

A Seattle cafe owner started offering light therapy this fall after learning of Lightbar.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin signs decree pardoning jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed a decree pardoning jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the man who has been described as his archrival.

Khodorkovsky has spent the past 10 years in prison on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement. His arrest in 2003 and the subsequent prosecution have been widely considered to be Putin's retribution for Khodorkovsky's political ambitions.

Putin first spoke about pardon after a news conference on Thursday, saying that Khodorkovsky has applied for the pardon because his mother's health is deteriorating. The Kremlin's website published a decree Friday morning saying that Putin was "guided by the principles of humanity" when he decided to pardon Khodorkovsky.

The development — along with an amnesty for two jailed members of the Pussy Riot punk band and the 30-member crew of a Greenpeace protest ship — appears aimed at easing international criticism of Russia's human rights record ahead of February's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Putin's pet project.

Khodorkovsky's lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, would not say when or where his client would be released, but he said this may happen any moment.

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First humanoid robot in space talks with astronaut, says zero gravity is 'no problem at all'

TOKYO (AP) — The first humanoid robot in space made small talk with a Japanese astronaut and said it had no problem with zero gravity on the International Space Station.

Footage released by the robot's developers on Friday showed Kirobo performing its first mission on the station, talking in Japanese with astronaut Koichi Wakata to test its autonomous conversation functions.

Wakata says he's glad to meet Kirobo, and asks the robotic companion how it feels about being in a zero-gravity environment.

"I'm used to it now, no problem at all," Kirobo quips.

Kirobo is programmed to process questions and select words from its vocabulary to construct an answer, instead of giving pre-programmed responses to specific questions.

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A&E suspends Robertson for anti-gay comments; 'Duck Dynasty' fans talk boycott until return

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When the A&E network suspended "Duck Dynasty" patriarch Phil Robertson for disparaging gay people, it may have followed a time-honored TV tradition of quickly silencing a star who, for better or worse, speaks his mind. But in doing so it also ruffled the feathers of possibly millions of fans of its most popular show.

Fourteen hours after it was learned that Robertson had been placed on indefinite "hiatus" for telling GQ magazine, among other things, that gays are headed to hell, more than a half-million people liked an impromptu Facebook page demanding the show be boycotted until he returns.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who had her picture taken with Robertson just last month, complained that his free-speech rights were being trampled. Bobby Jindal, governor of the state of Louisiana, where the show is filmed, complained that Miley Cyrus got a pass for twerking on TV while Phil got shown the door.

T-shirts, of course, went on the market with the words "I Don't Give a Duck About A or E, Bring Back Phil."

"It's a show that is promoting clean living and good moral values, and that's something we need more of today," one of the program's many fans, Rick Peter of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, told The Associated Press.

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Ex-NBA star Rodman holds tryouts for Pyongyang exhibition game, plans to announce US team soon

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Former NBA star Dennis Rodman held tryouts Friday for a North Korean team to face a dozen NBA veterans in an exhibition game on leader Kim Jong Un's birthday next month — though he hasn't convinced all the players on the American team that it's safe to come to Pyongyang.

The flamboyant Hall of Famer said plans for the Jan. 8 game are moving ahead but some of the 12 Americans he wants are afraid to come.

Some foreign analysts say the dramatic purge and execution of Kim's once-powerful uncle less than a week ago has cast doubt on Kim's future. But officials here say there is no instability and Kim remains firmly in control.

"You know, they're still afraid to come here, but I'm just telling them, you know, don't be afraid man, it's all love, it's all love here," Rodman told The Associated Press after the tryouts at the Pyongyang Indoor Gymnasium. "I understand what's going on with the political stuff, and I say, I don't go into that venture, I'm just doing one thing for these kids here, and for this country, and for my country, and for the world pretty much."

Rodman, who arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday, said he expects to announce the roster soon. He also said he is planning another game in June.

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