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

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Associated Press

Posted on January 9, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Updated Thursday, Jan 9 at 6:02 AM

NJ Gov. Christie faces political fallout as aide caught in messages engineering traffic jam

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — This was supposed to be a month of celebration for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's political future.

But after personal messages revealed that his administration may have closed highway lanes to exact political retribution, the prospective Republican presidential candidate is faced with what may be the biggest test of his political career.

Wednesday's revelations thrust a regional transportation issue into a national conversation raising new questions about the ambitious governor's leadership on the eve of a second term designed to jumpstart his road to the White House.

The critics quickly emerged across New Jersey and beyond, high-profile Democrats and Republicans among them, including some who know the 51-year-old governor best.

"What are these people doing?" asked a baffled former New Jersey Republican Gov. Tom Kean, whom Christie has often described as a mentor. "The closer to the governor this is, the more harm that it's going to do."

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Obama expected to restrict NSA access to Americans' phone records, spying on foreign leaders

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is expected to restrict National Security Agency access to Americans' phone records and rein in spying on foreign leaders, according to people familiar with a White House review of the government's surveillance programs.

Obama could unveil his highly anticipated decisions as early as next week. On Thursday, the president is expected to discuss his review with congressional lawmakers, while his top lawyer plans to meet with privacy groups. Representatives from tech companies are meeting with White House staff on Friday.

The White House says Obama is still collecting information before making final decisions.

Among the changes Obama is expected to announce is more oversight of the National Intelligence Priorities Framework, a classified document that ranks U.S. intelligence-gathering priorities and is used to make decisions on scrutiny of foreign leaders. A presidential review board has recommended increasing the number of policy officials who help establish those priorities, and that could result in limits on surveillance of allies.

Documents released by former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. was monitoring the communications of several friendly foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The revelations outraged Merkel as well as other leaders, and U.S. officials say the disclosures have damaged Obama's relations around the world.

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AP Exclusive: Doctors in Turkey describe police assaults, govt harassment over summer protests

ISTANBUL (AP) — It was the height of Turkey's summer of upheaval, and riot police were hammering protesters. The tear gas at Istanbul's Taksim Square was so thick that doctors trying to treat the wounded in a makeshift clinic could barely breathe or see.

So a group of doctors set off to find relief in a nearby hospital. They turned into an alley and came face-to-face with police, just yards away. The officers took aim, lifted their guns and launched tear gas canisters straight at the medics in their white lab coats. "It was clear that we were doctors," Incilay Erdogan said to The Associated Press.

While some medics this summer complained of mistreatment as they treated protesters against the Turkish government, the extent of the harassment has now become much clearer. In interviews with The Associated Press over the five months since, more than a dozen doctors said authorities had assaulted them with tear gas, chased and beat protesters in hospitals, pressured them to reveal the names of patients and ignored calls for more resources, including ambulances.

Nor has the crackdown stopped since. A prosecutorial indictment signed last month against a doctor and a medical student, seen by the AP, starkly contradicts a government statement that it would take no action against medical personnel giving care to protesters. And a bill passed by the Turkish parliament last week, and now before Turkish president Abdullah Gul, could give authorities new powers to prosecute doctors for giving unauthorized care, critics say. The bill follows more recent anti-government protests in recent weeks over a bribery scandal that forced four government ministers to step down.

The medical community says its professionals are hidden victims of a violent lashing out against dissent that has undermined the reputation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a democratic reformer. The United States and European powers see Erdogan as a vital strategic partner, especially in dealing with the Syria conflict, but have become alarmed by what looks like a deepening disregard for human rights.

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Forced late-term abortion highlights abuses in enforcement of China's one-child policy

BEIJING (AP) — When her mind is clear, Gong Qifeng can recall how she begged for mercy. Several people pinned her head, arms, knees and ankles to a hospital bed before driving a syringe of labor-inducing drugs into her stomach.

She was seven months pregnant with what would have been her second boy. The drugs caused her to have a stillborn baby after 35 hours of excruciating pain. She was forced to have the abortion by officials in China's southern province of Hunan in the name of complying with national limits on family size.

"It was the pain of my lifetime, worse than the pain of delivering a child. You cannot describe it," Gong, 25, said in a recent interview in Beijing. "And it has become a mental pain. I feel like a walking corpse."

Since the abortion more than two years ago, Gong has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. She traveled with her husband to the capital to demand help paying for her treatment, but she ended up being hauled away in her pajamas by police, a detention recorded on video by The Associated Press.

Forced abortions are considered an acceptable way of enforcing China's population limits, but they are banned when the woman is more than five months pregnant. Yet no one has been held accountable for Gong's late-term abortion, and other women in similar cases also struggle to get justice and compensation.

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Airlines go on buying spree for 8,200 new jets; old planes get sent to desert chop shop

ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — Capt. Paul Wannberg glides an old Boeing 757 over the New Mexico desert, lining up with the runway. A computerized voice squawks elevation warnings. Forty feet. Thirty. Twenty. Ten. Touchdown.

Outside the cockpit window sit nearly a hundred airplane carcasses, perfectly lined up. They are jets that nobody wants anymore. And — after 26,057 takeoffs and landings — this 24-year-old American Airlines plane is about to join them.

"This is my first time here, and it's a sad place," First Officer Robert Popp tells the control tower. Airlines used to store planes in the desert during slow travel months. Sometimes, unwanted jets would be sold to carriers in Russia or Africa. Today, a man on the other end of the radio responds, "they're chopping them up."

Airlines are on the largest jet-buying spree in the history of aviation, ordering more than 8,200 new planes with manufacturers Airbus SAS and The Boeing Co. in the past five years. There are now a combined 24 planes rolling off assembly lines each week, up from 11 a decade ago. And that rate is expected to keep climbing.

The new planes allow the airlines to save on fuel, now their biggest cost, while offering passengers more amenities — some for a fee. Passengers can plug in to work or be entertained by a seat-back TV and fly some international routes nonstop for the first time. And the commercial divisions of Boeing and Airbus get a steady stream of cash for years, which is a key reason investors have doubled the companies' stock price in the past year.

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Dennis Rodman apologizes for Kenneth Bae comments during trip to North Korea

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Dennis Rodman apologized Thursday for comments about captive American missionary Kenneth Bae in an interview with CNN.

A day after the former basketball star sang "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and led a squad of former NBA players in a friendly game, Rodman issued the apology through publicist Jules Feiler in an email message to The Associated Press.

"I want to apologize," Rodman said. "I take full responsibility for my actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates. My dreams of basketball diplomacy was quickly falling apart. I had been drinking. It's not an excuse but by the time the interview happened I was upset. I was overwhelmed. It's not an excuse, it's just the truth.

"I want to first apologize to Kenneth Bae's family. I want to apologize to my teammates and my management team. I also want to apologize to Chris Cuomo. I embarrassed a lot of people. I'm very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I'm truly sorry."

Rodman has been slammed for not using his influence with Kim to help free Bae, the missionary in poor health who is being confined in the North for "anti-state" crimes. On CNN on Tuesday, Rodman implied Bae was at fault.

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Same aim, different tactics: Obama, Congress split on best way to prevent a nuclear Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration enters the year locked in a battle with Congress over whether to plow ahead with new economic sanctions against Iran or cautiously wait to see if last year's breakthrough nuclear agreement holds.

The new sanctions, widely endorsed by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, would blacklist several Iranian industrial sectors and threaten banks and companies around the world with being banned from the U.S. market if they help Iran export any more oil. The provisions would only take effect if Tehran violates the interim nuclear deal or lets it expire without a follow-up accord.

The House already approved similar legislation last July by a 400-20 vote and would likely pass the new sanctions by an overwhelming margin. But the Obama administration, fearful of squandering a historic diplomatic opportunity to end the nuclear crisis, has succeeded so far in holding off a Senate vote.

The standoff has prompted sharp barbs from both sides.

The Nov. 24 agreement "makes a nuclear Iran more likely," argued Sen. Marco Rubio. Fellow Republican Sen. John Cornyn called it an attempt to distract attention from President Barack Obama's health care rollout. "We really haven't gained anything," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said. The deal "falls short of what is necessary for security and stability in the region," added Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.

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Food companies cut 6.4 trillion calories from their products after 2010 pledge

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some of the nation's largest food companies have cut calories in their products by more than 6.4 trillion, according to a new study.

The study sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that between 2007 and 2012 the companies reduced their products' calories by the equivalent of around 78 calories per person per day. The total is more than four times the amount those companies had pledged to cut by next year.

Seventy-eight calories would be about the same as an average cookie or a medium apple, and the federal government estimates an average daily diet at around 2,000 calories. The study said the calories cut averaged out to 78 calories per day for the entire U.S. population.

The 2010 pledge taken by 16 companies — including General Mills Inc., Campbell Soup Co., ConAgra Foods Inc., Kraft Foods Inc., Kellogg Co., Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Hershey Co. — was to cut 1 trillion calories by 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation signed on to hold the companies accountable, and that group hired researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to painstakingly count the calories in almost every single packaged item in the grocery store. To do that, the UNC researchers used the store-based scanner data of hundreds of thousands of foods, commercial databases and nutrition facts panels to calculate exactly how many calories the companies were selling.

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Offering an alternative to Obama, Republicans pushing ideas for helping America's poor

WASHINGTON (AP) — Faced with an empathy gap before the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans are trying to forge a new image as a party that helps the poor and lifts struggling workers into the middle class.

GOP leaders are using the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty to offer a series of policy proposals that would shift anti-poverty programs to the states, promote job training and offer tax incentives for low-income workers.

The effort aims to offer an alternative to President Barack Obama's economic agenda and shed the baggage of Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid, which was hurt by his suggestion during a private fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on government, view themselves as victims and won't take responsibility for themselves.

The new-year push comes as Obama is pressuring Republicans to extend unemployment insurance and preparing to highlight income inequality in his State of the Union address later this month. The president is expected to seek an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour and discuss ways to help the nearly 50 million Americans living in poverty.

For Republicans, the challenge is to offer a better way.

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Old bookstore run by elderly priest becomes latest victim of Lebanon's growing tensions

TRIPOLI, Lebanon (AP) — The masked men came in the night, ripped off the front door and set the bookstore on fire. They were out to punish the owner, an elderly priest, after false rumors that he had written an anti-Islamic tract.

Thousands of books that lined the walls became the latest victim of Lebanon's sectarian tensions, which have been swelling as civil war rages in neighboring Syria.

But the blaze in the northern city of Tripoli also moved many residents, Muslims and Christians alike, to offer to help repair the 40-year-old shop, showing how some Lebanese are rising up in protest. The outpouring echoes a similar response last month after a teenager was killed in a car bombing that targeted a prominent politician in the Lebanese capital. His death ignited protests and an online campaign.

On Sunday, a day after the fire, a dozen activists gathered in an arched alleyway outside the Saeh bookstore. A music box blared the melancholy song "I Love You, Lebanon" by the country's beloved singer Fairouz. A Lebanese army tank was parked at the end of the street, and soldiers in blue-and-khaki camouflage uniforms milled about. A young man with shaggy hair scrubbed soot off the alley's stone floor with a broom, assisted by a middle-aged Muslim woman in a headscarf.

"Most of the people who came don't know the bookstore," said Mutaz Salloum, a 26-year-old volunteer. "There's always fighting, bombs and attacks on people's property. People are really sick of it. We can't be quiet anymore."

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