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Associated Press

Posted on January 28, 2014 at 11:02 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 29 at 4:00 PM

Analysis: Obama's ambitions and the limits of power, politics and a late-night speech

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's year of action could amount to a lot of running in place.

The constitutional constraints on his authority and lack of cooperation in Congress are a recipe for low-yield initiatives with limited reach. But limited executive actions, such as the ones he announced Tuesday night, might be all government can bear to do in an election year when Congress' balance of power is on the line.

The president renewed his call for Congress to increase the national minimum wage, to overhaul immigration laws, to broaden access to preschool education, to expand international trade. These were all features of his 2013 State of the Union address and remain unmet goals of his second term. This time Obama presented them as pieces of a larger whole, parts of an overarching opportunity agenda that acknowledges that even in a recovering economy, not all Americans are reaping the benefits.

"Let's make this a year of action," Obama declared, in what has become the rallying cry of his sixth year in office. "What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class."

But the new packaging can't mask the hard slog Obama still faces in Congress. And his path might be obstructed not just by adversaries, but by allies as well.

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FACT CHECK: Modest ideas from Obama, dressed up to sound grand

WASHINGTON (AP) — It seems to be something of an occupational hazard for President Barack Obama: When he talks about his health care law, he's bound to hit a fact bump sooner or later.

So it went Tuesday night, when he declared Medicare premiums have stayed flat thanks to the law, when they've gone up. As for an even bigger theme of his State of the Union address, the president's assertion that "upward mobility has stalled" in America runs contrary to recent research, while other findings support him.

A look at some of the facts and political circumstances behind his claims, along with a glance at the Republican response to his speech:

OBAMA: "Because of this (health care) law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she's a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare's finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors."

THE FACTS: He's right that insurers can no longer turn people down because of medical problems, and they can't charge higher premiums to women because of their sex. The law also lowered costs for seniors with high prescription drug bills. But Medicare's monthly premium for outpatient care has gone up in recent years.

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Southern-style snowstorm that barely qualifies up North brings gridlock, also Good Samaritans

ATLANTA (AP) — Students camped out with teachers in school gyms and commuters abandoned cars along the highway to seek shelter in churches, fire stations — even grocery stores — after a rare snowstorm left thousands of unaccustomed Southerners frozen in their tracks.

Tuesday's storm deposited mere inches of snow, barely enough to qualify as a storm up North. And yet it was more than enough to paralyze Deep South cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham, and strand thousands of workers who tried to rush home early only to never make it home at all.

There were hundreds of fender-benders, and some fatal crashes too. Jackknifed 18-wheelers littered Interstate 65 in central Alabama. Ice shut down bridges on Florida's panhandle and the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the world's longest spans, in Louisiana.

Some stranded commuters pleaded for help via cellphones while still holed up in their cars, while others trudged miles home, abandoning their vehicles outright.

Atlanta, hub to major corporations and the world's busiest airport, once again found itself unprepared to deal with the chaos — despite assurances that city officials had learned their lessons from a 2011 ice storm that brought the city to its knees.

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Ukraine's parliament considering protester amnesty, but with conditions

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's parliament is considering measures to grant amnesty to those arrested during weeks of protests in the crisis-torn country, but possibly with conditions attached that would be unacceptable to the opposition.

Two amnesty proposals are up for a parliamentary vote Wednesday, one of which says amnesty would be granted only if demonstrators leave the streets and vacate buildings that they occupy.

Over the course of two months, anti-government protesters have established a large tent camp in the main square of Kiev and seized three buildings that they use as operations centers and sleeping quarters. They have also erected large barricades of ice, wood and other material.

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Thai businesses feel squeeze of political crisis, seek role in ending turmoil

BANGKOK (AP) — Hotel occupancy rates in central Bangkok have plunged. Conventions have been canceled. Business deals have been postponed. Tourist bookings for coming months are way down.

The latest spasm in Thailand's near decade of political upheaval is taking an economic toll as anti-government protesters barricade Bangkok's major intersections and confrontations between protesters and supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra periodically flare into deadly clashes.

Since a 2006 coup ousted Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister, Thailand's economy has bounced back from several episodes of violent political conflict. However, the underlying failure to resolve deep divisions in Thai society has diminished its reputation as a reliable country for foreign business and raised the prospect of ever increasing instability.

Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy could wallow below 3 percent growth this year, if the anti-government protests continue into the second quarter, the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce projected. That is far below potential for Thailand, one of the world's top tourist destinations and a base for global companies in industries from autos to hard drives. As recently as 2012 the economy grew 6.5 percent and growth of nearly 4 percent will be reported for 2013 when official figures are released.

"It's terrible. It's worse than ever. We can't see an end to it," said Virat Jaturaphutphitak, vice president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents. Reservations from European and North American travelers to Bangkok through April are down 70 percent. Bookings from Asia are down 30 percent. "If this situation continues, we will have to close many businesses."

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As universities crack down on sex assaults, Missouri investigates swimmer's death, rape claim

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The case of a former University of Missouri swimmer claimed she was raped in an episode that her parents say led to her suicide underscores the problems higher education institutions in the U.S. face in cracking down on sexual assaults.

The parents of Sasha Menu Courey say the university and its athletics department by now should have investigated her alleged off-campus rape by as many as three football players in February 2010.

University leaders say they didn't learn about the purported attack until after Menu Courey, a Canadian, committed suicide 16 months later. They also said that the followed the letter of the law because they didn't have specific knowledge of the attack and no victim to interview.

Schools nationwide are spending more time and money fighting campus rape in response to stricter federal enforcement of gender discrimination laws under Title IX. The White House has called it a public health epidemic, and President Barack Obama last week announced formation of a new task force on college sex assault, citing statistics that show 1 in 5 female students are assaulted while in college, but only 1 in 8 victims report attacks.

But balancing the needs of individual students — including those who report attacks but don't want a criminal investigation — with protecting the larger community is vexing for many schools.

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Group aims to fight obesity by making healthy food more available at corner stores in Philly

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — From the outside, Carmen Medina's convenience store appears to be an oasis in the food desert of gritty north Philadelphia, from its bright yellow-and-white striped awnings to the fake palm tree sculptures on the sidewalk.

A glimpse inside proves the image is no mirage. The Indiana Food Market is part of the Healthy Corner Stores Network, which aims teach residents about nutritious eating through grocery promotions and outreach efforts like cooking demonstrations.

Customers were recently offered slices of pizza made on site with store-bought ingredients: whole-wheat tortillas, tomato sauce, part-skim mozzarella cheese and diced green peppers and onions.

"We try to get people to try a sample, and in that process we talk to them about eating whole grains, and trying out new things, and showing them where healthy items are in their corner store," said program educator Maria Vanegas.

Led by the Philadelphia health department and The Food Trust, the corner store initiative has enlisted about 650 of the city's 2,000 or so corner stores to broaden their inventory of fresh produce, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

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Doubling of number implicated in Air Force nuke missile cheating puts more strain on force

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Air Force's nuclear missile corps faces new strains after dozens more officers were implicated in an investigation of cheating on missile-launch proficiency tests. The number implicated in the probe has roughly doubled from the original 34 officers, meaning that about 14 percent of all launch officers are now sidelined.

Officials on Tuesday said the number of officers implicated now approaches 70 — all at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., which is responsible for 150 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles, or one-third of the entire Minuteman 3 force.

The officials who disclosed the higher number spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information by name while the investigation is ongoing.

The scandal is one aspect of a growing array of personnel problems facing the Air Force's nuclear missile corps. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was scheduled to host a meeting Wednesday at the Pentagon of top nuclear officials, including the heads of the Air Force and Navy nuclear weapons organizations, as well as U.S. Strategic Command, which is responsible for nuclear war planning and for oversight of the nuclear forces.

Hagel said last week he was determined to get to the bottom of the problems, which include poor morale, and find quick solutions.

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Mo. execution temporarily stayed; inmate's lawyer argues against secrecy of drug's origin

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule Wednesday on two petitions regarding Missouri death row inmate Herbert Smulls, The Missouri Attorney General's office says.

Smulls' execution was temporarily stayed late Tuesday night with an order from the high court signed by Justice Samuel Alito. It was sent about two-and-a-half hours before Smulls was scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

Missouri statutes allow executions to occur at any time on the day they are scheduled — that's why the state always sets the execution time for a minute after midnight, in case there are court delays. If the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decides in favor of the state, the execution could occur later Wednesday.

Smulls' lawyer, Cheryl Pilate, had made last-minute pleas Tuesday to spare his life, focusing on the state's refusal to disclose from which compounding pharmacy they obtain the lethal-injection drug, pentobarbital. But Missouri has argued the compounding pharmacy is part of the execution team — and therefore its name cannot be released to the public.

Smulls, 56, was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a St. Louis County jeweler and badly injuring his wife during a 1991 robbery.

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'They're dropping hints to me': Manning jokes Broncos think he's retiring after Super Bowl

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Every time Peyton Manning sets foot in the locker room lately, he comes across No. 18 jerseys that other members of the Denver Broncos left for him to sign.

Nothing out of the ordinary. Happens all season. Except nowadays, instead of asking him to donate an autograph for some sort of fundraising endeavor, teammates are eyeing a personal keepsake — as if they're worried they won't get another chance.

No matter that the 37-year-old Manning has made plain he has no intention of retiring right now, whether his Broncos win or lose against the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's Super Bowl.

"A lot of them had a note: 'Sign this for me.' So I must have signed 10 jerseys for my teammates," Manning said Tuesday at media day, "which makes me think they think I probably should be out of here after this game."

As he spoke, Manning jutted out his right thumb, using the universal symbol for "Take a hike!"

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