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Associated Press

Posted on January 28, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Obama speech: New overarching theme, familiar content and go-it-alone initiatives

WASHINGTON (AP) — Newly repackaged, President Barack Obama's State of the Union address will deliver familiar content along with some targeted first-time initiatives that both test and illustrate the limits of divided government in an election year.

His message to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday will identify measures where he and Congress can cooperate, and he will press issues that will distinguish him and Democrats from Republicans. He'll also make a case for acting alone.

The address will be wrapped in a unifying theme: The federal government can play a key role in increasing opportunities for Americans who have been left behind, unable to benefit from a recovering economy. Yet, at the core of the address, the president will deliver a split message.

Even as he argues that low-income Americans and many in the middle class lack the means to achieve upward mobility, Obama will also feel compelled to take credit for an economy that by many indicators is gaining strength under his watch. As a result, he will talk positively about a recovery that remains elusive to many Americans.

Some Democrats are warning Obama to tread carefully.

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AP Exclusive: US considers how to prevent spying on NSA's searches of Americans' phone records

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Obama administration considers ending the storage of millions of phone records by the National Security Agency, the government is quietly funding research to prevent eavesdroppers from seeing whom the U.S. is spying on, The Associated Press has learned.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has paid at least five research teams across the country to develop a system for high-volume, encrypted searches of electronic records kept outside the government's possession. The project is among several ideas that could allow the government to store Americans' phone records with phone companies or a third-party organization, but still search them as needed.

Under the research, U.S. data mining would be shielded by secret coding that could conceal identifying details from outsiders and even the owners of the targeted databases, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with researchers, corporate executives and government officials.

The administration has provided only vague descriptions about changes it is considering to the NSA's daily collection and storage of Americans' phone records, which are presently kept in NSA databanks. To resolve legal, privacy and civil liberties concerns, President Barack Obama this month ordered the attorney general and senior intelligence officials to recommend changes by March 28 that would allow the U.S. to identify suspected terrorists' phone calls without the government itself holding the phone records.

One federal review panel urged Obama to order phone companies or an unspecified third party to store the records; another panel said collecting the phone records was illegal and ineffective and urged Obama to abandon the program entirely.

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Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov submits resignation

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The prime minister of protest-torn Ukraine submitted his resignation on Tuesday, saying he hoped the move would help bring peaceful resolution to the crisis that has gripped the country for two months.

Mykola Azarov's resignation would remove one of the figures most despised by the opposition. It came as the parliament opened a special session that is expected to repeal harsh anti-protest laws that were imposed this month. Those laws set off the police-protester clashes in which at least three protesters died.

His resignation must be accepted by President Viktor Yanukovych, but that appears to be only a formality. Yanukovych last week offered the premiership to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, one of the opposition's top figures. Yatsenyuk turned down the offer on Monday.

In addition, Yanukovych says an amnesty for dozens of protesters arrested in the demonstrations would be implemented only if protesters leave the streets and vacate buildings that they have occupied. Ending the protests without having other demands met appears unlikely.

The Tuesday moves would fall short of opposition demands, which also include Yanukovych's resignation and a call for new elections.

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Pete Seeger, troubadour and activist for more than a half-century, has died in NYC at age 94

NEW YORK (AP) — Buoyed by his characteristically soaring spirit, the surging crowd around him and a pair of canes, Pete Seeger walked through the streets of Manhattan leading an Occupy Movement protest in 2011.

Though he would later admit the attention embarrassed him, the moment brought back so many feelings and memories as he instructed yet another generation of young people how to effect change through song and determination — as he had done over the last seven decades as a history-sifting singer and ever-so-gentle rabble-rouser.

"Be wary of great leaders," he told The Associated Press two days after the march. "Hope that there are many, many small leaders."

The banjo-picking troubadour who sang for migrant workers, college students and star-struck presidents in a career that introduced generations of Americans to their folk music heritage died Monday at the age of 94. Seeger's grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, said his grandfather died peacefully in his sleep around 9:30 p.m. at New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he had been for six days. Family members were with him.

"He was chopping wood 10 days ago," Cahill-Jackson recalled.

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South Africa: opposition groups join forces to challenge ruling party ahead of elections

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A former anti-apartheid activist who was close to Steve Biko and was a World Bank executive merged her party Tuesday with South Africa's main opposition party and will be its presidential candidate, challenging the ruling African National Congress whose popularity has eroded amid corruption scandals and other problems.

Mamphela Ramphele, who also is a medical doctor, had a son with activist Steve Biko, who in 1977 was tortured and died in police custody. Last year, Ramphele formed her own party to challenge the ANC, but said Tuesday the merger with the Democratic Alliance is in the country's best interests.

"Millions want to make a different choice in this election. They say is enough is enough," Ramphele said. "This is your government-in-waiting."

President Jacob Zuma and the ANC are the electoral front-runners but they have lost some support because of corruption, poverty, unemployment, police brutality and a lack of adequate government services.

Ramphele spoke in Cape Town alongside Helen Zille, the head of the Democratic Alliance and premier of the Western Cape, the only one of nine South African provinces not run by the ANC. Zille was a journalist on the now-defunct Rand Daily Mail at the time of Biko's death, and played a lead role in uncovering the circumstances of his death despite denials of wrongdoing from officials in the white racist government.

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Southerners warned of icy mess in the days ahead, putting schools and road crews at ready

ATLANTA (AP) — A blast of freezing precipitation expected to arrive Tuesday could scatter snow and ice across the Deep South, prompting officials from New Orleans to North Carolina to ready road crews and close some schools.

Popular warm-weather tourist destinations including Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., Pensacola, Fla., and New Orleans were expecting ice and even snow — both rare occurrences in places that seldom even see prolonged sub-freezing temperatures.

In coastal Charleston, for instance, it was a balmy 62 degrees Monday. But the approaching weather led the College of Charleston to cancel classes Tuesday as a "precautionary measure." There was a forecast of rain, and sleet in the late afternoon, with the first snow expected Wednesday morning.

Much of Georgia was placed under a winter storm watch for Tuesday and Wednesday. While some areas could see as much as 3 inches of snow, the bigger concern with plummeting temperatures was ice.

"The snowfall amounts are going to matter very little in this situation because of the ice potential," said Jason Deese, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Ga. "Some parts of the state may end up seeing the greatest impact just because they get more ice than snow."

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Another phenomenon for tech-savvy parents in the iPhone era: Toddlers who love taking selfies

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Every so often, Brandi Koskie finds dozens of photos of her 3-year-old daughter, Paisley, on her iPhone — but they aren't ones Koskie has taken.

"There'll be 90 pictures, sideways, of the corner of her eye, her eyebrow," said Koskie, who lives in Wichita, Kan. "She's just tapping her way right into my phone."

The hidden photos, all shot by Paisley, illustrate a phenomenon familiar to many parents in today's tech-savvy world: Toddlers love selfies. Observant entrepreneurs have caught on to these image-obsessed tots, marketing special apps that make taking photos super-easy for little fingers. You can even buy a pillow with a smartphone pocket so toddlers can take selfies during a diaper change.

But toddlers aren't the only ones taking photos nonstop. It's not unusual for doting parents to snap thousands of digital photos by the time their child is 2. Today's toddlers think nothing of finding their own biopic stored in a device barely bigger than a deck of cards.

While the barrage of images may keep distant grandparents happy, it's not yet clear how such a steady diet of self-affirming navel-gazing will affect members of the first truly "smartphone generation." Tot-centric snapshots can help build a healthy self-image and boost childhood memories when handled correctly, but shooting too many photos or videos and playing them back instantly for a demanding toddler could backfire, said Deborah Best, a professor of cognitive developmental psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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'Long-term unemployed' parents shield kids, keep looking for work — one family's story

AURORA, Ill. (AP) — Down the road from an emergency food pantry where a small crowd waits for the chance to gather free groceries, there is a church sign that reads: "If you need help, ask God. If you don't, thank God."

Debbie Jurcak, one of those in line, will tell you that it is indeed divine help — or, anyway, faith-based organizations — that she and her family have relied on in recent weeks. Late last month, the federal government ended her unemployment benefits, six months after she was laid off from an administrative job.

Having passed that six-month mark, she had joined the ranks of the "long-term unemployed," a growing group of more than 1.3 Americans for whom Congress recently declined to extend benefits. It is a label that Jurcak, a former teacher with two master's degrees, never expected would apply to her.

"It's not something you want to go around talking about all the time. I think a lot of people don't share what the depth of their need is," the 43-year-old mother of three said, wiping tears from underneath her glasses as she waited for her turn at the West Suburban Community Pantry, outside Chicago.

"But . there' no room for pride," she added, "because we all come to a point in our life — whether it's financial reasons, or medical reasons, or mental health reasons, or whatever they are — where you recognize your need for help."

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For UN's patient Syria mediator Brahimi, no war is irresolvable through peace talks

GENEVA (AP) — Lakhdar Brahimi has seen faces like these before, barely able to remain in the same room, much less speak to each other. Lebanese, Afghans, Iraqis, now Syrians. Even, two decades ago, Algerians like himself.

For days now, the veteran U.N. mediator has presided over peace talks intended to lead the way out of Syria's civil war. He brought President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition face to face for the first time on Saturday, while still ensuring that they don't have to enter by the same door or address each other directly. He is 80. He is patient.

"I am often accused of being too slow. But I think that being slow is a better way of going fast than precipitation. If you run, you may gain one hour and lose one week," he told journalists at the end of another long day. "So, we are going slow, and I hope we will continue to go slow."

He speaks deliberately and fluently in French, English and Arabic, often switching among the three. Without a microphone, he would be nearly inaudible. By the end of several days of negotiating in Geneva, the creases in his face seem deeper and he enters the room slowly before easing into a chair. But he inevitably has enough spark left for a gently sarcastic comment or two — just enough to draw laughs.

Brahimi's negotiating style is famous among diplomats. Young ones emulate him, and veterans hope for favorable comparisons.

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Palestinian prisoners secretly earn university degrees while serving time in Israeli prisons

TUBAS, West Bank (AP) — Jamal Abu Muhsin was a first-year Palestinian university student when he was convicted of stabbing a 76-year-old Israeli man to death in 1991, in retaliation for the killings of five Palestinian stone-throwers by Israeli soldiers.

Recently released from prison, he's now beginning a new chapter of his life thanks to a pair of university degrees — all earned behind bars.

Abu Muhsin is among hundreds of Palestinians who have spent their time in Israeli prison pursuing higher education — a program that was supported by the Israeli prison system for two decades until it was cut in 2011 as part of a series of sanctions against prisoners. Since then, prisoners secretly have organized their own courses, with backing from universities in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian officials say.

Uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, the most famous Palestinian prisoner, teaches a master's degree course in Israel Studies, and Abu Muhsin was one of Barghouti's students.

Abu Muhsin said studying helped him get through 23 years behind bars.

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