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Associated Press

Posted on February 7, 2014 at 6:02 AM

As health care deadline nears, White House and allies scramble to enroll the young and healthy

WASHINGTON (AP) — "Do you guys have health insurance?" David Bransfield asks each time a group of backpack-toting college students passes by.

Some nod yes. A few promise to stop back after class. Others don't bother removing their headphones.

Nearly every day, Bransfield comes to a satellite campus of the University of the District of Columbia in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, sitting for hours behind a table in the lobby of a classroom building. Armed with an Apple laptop and a pile of fliers, he's part of the army of workers and volunteers fanned out around the country trying to enroll young — and probably healthy — people in health insurance available through President Barack Obama's signature law.

Run largely by groups with close ties to the White House, the on-the-ground recruiting effort is based in part on lessons learned from Obama's two presidential bids, which revolutionized the way campaigns tracked and targeted voters.

"On the campaign, you want to be able to find an Obama voter and you want to get them to vote," said Matt Saniie, who worked on the 2012 campaign's data team and is now analytics director at the organization Enroll America. "In the enrollment world, you want to find someone who is uninsured and you want to get them to enroll."

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Amid fears of an economic slowdown, US jobs report for January might be hard to interpret

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of the most highly anticipated U.S. jobs reports in months might also prove to be among the most puzzling.

Friday's report on hiring during January follows signs of economic weakness in the United States and overseas that have sent stock prices sinking. Upheaval in developing countries has further spooked investors. All the turmoil has renewed doubts about the Federal Reserve's next steps.

Solid job gains and a healthy decline in the unemployment rate could reverse much of the pessimism. They would suggest that recent reports of tepid job growth and other economic weakness were merely temporary. Dismal hiring, though, would inflame fears that the U.S. economy has begun to falter.

Several factors could muddy the results. Unseasonably cold winter weather could distort January's hiring figures. Revisions to last year's job growth and U.S. population figures might further skew the data.

Finally, a cutoff of extended unemployment benefits in December might have caused an artificial drop in January's unemployment rate. That could give a misleading snapshot of the job market's health.

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Sochi Olympics' opening ceremony to feature pseudo-lesbian singers, opera diva

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A pseudo-lesbian pop duo, a famed opera singer and a romp through Russian history await viewers as the Sochi Winter Olympics launch Friday with an opening ceremony meant to showcase to the world the ultimate achievement of Vladimir Putin's Russia.

In a provocative choice, Russian singers Tatu will perform before the 3,000 athletes march through a stadium on the shores of the Black Sea, one of the many newly built facilities in the most expensive Olympics in history.

The women in Tatu put on a lesbian act that is largely seen as an attention-getting gimmick. It contrasts with the very real anger over a Russian law banning gay "propaganda" aimed at minors that is being used to discriminate against gays. Some world leaders and activists have protested the law, and President Barack Obama is skipping the opening ceremony and sending a delegation that includes prominent gay athletes instead.

The opening ceremony is Russia's chance to show itself and its post-Soviet identity to the world. It is likely to lean on Putin's version: a country with a rich and complex history emerging confidently from a rocky two decades and now capable of putting on a major international sports event.

The ceremony will focus on Russia and Olympic ideals of sportsmanship and achievement — not on repression of dissent, fears of terrorism or international political tensions over neighboring Ukraine.

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Analysis: Democrats and GOP point fingers at each other over government paralysis

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and Congress stand at a junction.

The road the country has been on for the past five years is now beginning to come to an end. The Federal Reserve, which pumped $3 trillion into the economy to keep the Great Recession from worsening, is withdrawing its financial lifeline amid signs of fresh economic growth. The nation's gross domestic product is inching up and annual federal budget deficits are heading down.

How Washington policymakers respond to the improvements in the economy may even sow the seeds for more cooperation in Washington.

But don't count on it.

Finger-pointing still abounds between the Democrats who control the White House and the Senate and the Republicans who control the House of Representatives ahead of midterm elections later this year that will determine control of Congress for the remainder of Obama's presidency.

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After 22 years, Jay Leno said goodbye to 'Tonight,' with help from Billy Crystal, Garth Brooks

NEW YORK (AP) — Make way for Jimmy Fallon,

"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno ended a stellar if sometimes stormy run Thursday night with high emotion at concluding what he termed "the greatest 22 years of my life."

Calling himself "the luckiest guy in the world," Leno went out on top, which was where he stayed for most of his stretch as the successor to "King of Late Night" Johnny Carson.

His exit, not entirely by choice, now clears the deck for yet another chapter of the 60-year-old talk show, with Fallon taking over as "Tonight" moves back to New York from its longtime Los Angeles home on Feb. 17.

"You're very kind," Leno told his audience at the start of his last monologue. "I don't like goodbyes. NBC does. I don't care for them."

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Weavers' villages in India suffer TB epidemic, exacerbated by poverty and malnutrition

LOHATA, India (AP) — This cluster of poor villages, long known for its colorful silk saris, now is known for something else: tuberculosis. Nearly half of Lohata's population has it — some 100,000 people — and the community's weaving tradition is part of the reason it is on the front line of a major Indian health crisis.

The area of Uttar Pradesh state is under unofficial quarantine because of the epidemic. Strangers rarely venture into these villages outside the ancient city of Varanasi. Even rickshaw drivers refuse to enter, turning away the few passengers looking for a lift.

The high rate of TB cases in Lohata is unusual, even for India, where the disease kills about 300,000 people every year. Poverty and malnutrition are factors, but the fact that so many people in Lohata are weavers also is significant, said Dr. J.N. Banavalikar, vice chairman of the TB Association of India, a government agency.

Thousands of sari weavers work all day in cramped rooms, breathing in minute threads that weaken their lungs and make them more susceptible. "They work in poorly ventilated rooms for hours, and that spreads germs very fast," Banavalikar said.

India has made important strides in health in recent years, most recently by launching a successful polio vaccination campaign. But tuberculosis has remained a stubborn problem in India, which has more than a quarter of the world's new TB cases.

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For many elderly people, retirement in Puerto Rico far from idyllic

SAN GERMAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Maxi Fajardo smiles as she recalls moving to New York City from Puerto Rico in her late teens, falling in love, finding a job at the Chiclets factory and raising four children.

Her goal all along, like that of many Puerto Ricans, was to work in the United States and then retire to her sun-dappled island, living her final years worry-free surrounded by family and friends. "The dream is always to return to your country," said the elegant 82-year-old who settled in Puerto Rico in 1992 along with her husband Florencio, a former subway conductor.

Now she and her husband see their move as a mistake. An eight-year recession, run-away prices and the flight of doctors have convinced them it's time to join a growing number of Puerto Rican retirees heading back to the U.S. mainland.

"There's been a big exodus," said 78-year-old Luis Vincenty. "I'd like to go back. Things are getting rough here. Everything's expensive."

Retirees are struggling with rising water, power and other utility prices, which the government hiked to trim a budget deficit projected to hit $820 million this year. The weak economy also has reduced pensions for retired Puerto Rican public workers, although some people such as the Fajardos still enjoy U.S. Social Security income coupled with pensions from their former jobs in the U.S.

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Long sidelined, Arabs see increasing efforts to include them in Israel's tech sector

JERUSALEM (AP) — Ibrahim Sana worked for a global tech company, then broke off to start his own venture. Last year, he was crowned one of Israel's seven most promising young entrepreneurs by a financial newspaper.

Sana's story isn't typical — he is one of only a few hundred Arabs who have broken into Israel's booming tech sector, a source of national pride from which the minority has been largely sidelined.

Now, there is growing awareness among Israeli entrepreneurs and the government that excluding such human capital from a booming industry can have detrimental effects not only on Arabs but also on Israel's economy. Efforts are underway to promote their inclusion.

"These people are a quality workforce," said Sana, 33, who also works to bolster the inclusion of Bedouin Arabs in the tech sector. "They should be capitalized on."

Israel's flourishing tech industry, where major global companies have bases and startups abound, has earned the country the nickname "Startup Nation."

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Obama signing into law wide-ranging farm bill that trim food stamps aiding 1 in 7 Americans

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is carrying out a presidential duty that he hasn't had a lot of opportunity to perform recently: signing into law a major piece of bipartisan legislation.

Obama planned to sign a far-reaching farm bill Friday at Michigan State University, a rare celebration of Washington political compromise being held in heartland America. The bill expands federal crop insurance and ends direct government payments to farmers, but the bulk of its cost is for the food stamp program that aids 1 in 7 Americans.

The bill cuts food stamps by $800 million a year, or around 1 percent, one-fifth of the cut approved last fall by the Republican-led House. Conservatives remain unhappy with the bill and its subsidies for groups ranging from sheep farmers to the maple syrup industry.

A partisan dispute over food stamp spending held up the legislation for two years, and last fall lawmakers were warning of an impending spike in milk prices without a deal on the bill, which contains federal dairy supports. The prospect of compromise seemed bleak at the time, when lawmakers couldn't even pass a budget to keep the government running.

The first thing Obama did after a deal finally was reached to end the partial government shutdown was to call on Congress to build on that progress by passing the farm bill, along with a budget and an immigration overhaul. In four months he's gone 2 for 3, with chances for achieving immigration legislation appearing increasingly iffy.

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Google makes colorful statement about Russian anti-gay law with Winter Games-themed 'Doodle'

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — With the Winter Games underway in Sochi, Google Inc. quietly but vibrantly added its voice Thursday to the chorus of U.S. companies speaking out against Russia's law restricting gay-rights activities by updating its iconic search page logo to depict illustrations of athletes skiing, sledding, curling and skating against a rainbow-colored backdrop.

The company declined to comment on the new Google Doodle that appeared on its home pages worldwide, saying it wanted the illustration to speak for itself. But the logo clearly was meant as a show of support for gay rights and a rebuke of the law that bans pro-gay "propaganda" that could be accessible to minors: below the updated logo appears a two-sentence section of the Olympic charter that reads, in part, "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind."

"Google has made a clear and unequivocal statement that Russia's anti-LGBT discrimination is indefensible," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, whose Washington-based group has been lobbying American corporations, especially those sponsoring the Games in Sochi, to condemn the law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. "Now it's time for each and every remaining Olympic sponsor to follow their lead. The clock is ticking, and the world is watching."

Although Google is not an Olympics sponsor, its action came a day after three sponsors of the U.S. Olympic Committee — AT&T, DeVry University and yogurt maker Chobani — issued statements explicitly speaking out against the Russian law.

Google typically updates its themed daily Doodles at midnight Eastern time, but the Olympics-gay pride version made its debut in the late afternoon. While Google is not as popular in Russia as it is in the U.S., the timing meant it would be seen in Russia on Friday, when the Games' opening ceremonies will be held. The local time in Sochi is 12 hours ahead of California, where Google is headquartered.

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