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World briefly for Nov. 13

POSTED: November 13, 2012 8:51 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is preparing a timeline of its criminal investigation that brought to light CIA Director David Petraeus' extramarital affair so the bureau can respond to members of Congress asking why they and the White House weren't notified of the probe months ago.

The White House wasn't informed of the FBI investigation that involved Petraeus until Nov. 6, Election Day, although agents began looking at Petraeus' actions months earlier, sometime during the summer. Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., complained that she first learned of the matter from the media late last week, and confirmed it in a phone call to the then-CIA director on Friday.

That was the same day President Barack Obama accepted Petraeus' resignation, and the 60-year-old retired Army general, who headed U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan before taking charge of the CIA, acknowledged an affair with his 40-year-old biographer, Paula Broadwell, and expressed regret.

Defending the notification timing, a senior federal law enforcement official pointed Monday to longstanding policies and practices, adopted following abuses and mistakes that were uncovered during the Nixon administration's Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. The Justice Department — of which the FBI is part — is supposed to refrain from sharing detailed information about its criminal investigations with the White House.

To the extent there is any Justice-White House contact on sensitive criminal investigations, the interaction is supposed to take place between the White House counsel's office and the office of the Deputy Attorney General, Justice's second-ranking official. Direct White House contact with the department's criminal division and its investigators on sensitive probes is out of bounds.

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Pentagon investigating top US commander in Afghanistan for emails to woman in Petraeus scandal

PERTH, Australia (AP) — In a new twist to the Gen. David Petraeus sex scandal, the Pentagon said Tuesday that the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, is under investigation for alleged "inappropriate communications" with a woman who is said to have received threatening emails from Paula Broadwell, the woman with whom Petraeus had an extramarital affair.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a written statement issued to reporters aboard his aircraft, en route from Honolulu to Perth, Australia, that the FBI referred the matter to the Pentagon on Sunday.

Panetta said that he ordered a Pentagon investigation of Allen on Monday.

A senior defense official traveling with Panetta said Allen's communications were with Jill Kelley, who has been described as an unpaid social liaison at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., which is headquarters to the U.S. Central Command. She is not a U.S. government employee.

Kelley is said to have received threatening emails from Broadwell, who is Petraeus' biographer and who had an extramarital affair with Petraeus that reportedly began after he became CIA director in September 2011.

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Polar bears, farmers and fiscal cliff on returning Congress' to-do list

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bears and budgets top the list as Congress returns Tuesday from a seven-week election break to a long list of unfinished business.

Looming large in the lame-duck session is the urgent need for President Barack Obama and Congress to figure out how to avoid the double economic hit of tax increases and automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs that kick in after Jan. 1. Those high-stakes negotiations could take weeks and the issue may not be resolved by year's end.

In the interim, Democrats and Republicans are picking up where they left off on several bills while welcoming the newest members — 12 in the Senate and some 70 in the House — for Congress' version of freshmen orientation.

The Senate has scheduled an early evening procedural vote Tuesday for a sportsmen's bill that will decide the fate of 41 polar bear carcasses that hunters want to bring home from Canada as big-game trophies. Hunters killed the bears just before a 2008 ban on polar bear trophy imports took effect, but were not able to bring them home before the Fish and Wildlife Services listed them as a threatened species.

The House on Tuesday is expected to pass and send to the president legislation that would exclude U.S. airlines from the requirements on emissions that the European Union has sought to impose on all planes flying to and from the European continent.

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Most of America would be hit by tax increases and spending cuts from 'fiscal cliff'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Everyone who pays income tax — and some who don't —will feel it.

So will doctors who accept Medicare, people who get unemployment aid, defense contractors, air traffic controllers, national park rangers and companies that do research and development.

The package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" takes effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal by then. The economy would be hit so hard that it would likely sink into recession in the first half of 2013, economists say.

And no matter who you are, it will be all but impossible to avoid the pain.

Middle income families would have to pay an average of about $2,000 more next year, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has calculated.

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Thousands on Long Island still without power 2 weeks after Sandy; fuming at local utility

HICKSVILLE, N.Y. (AP) — Priscilla Niemiera has a message for officials at the Long Island Power Authority.

"I'd tell them, get off your rear end and do your job," the 68-year-old Seaford resident said. Well, she would if she could get in touch with anyone.

Over the last two weeks since she lost power from Superstorm Sandy, she says, "every time I called they hung up on me."

While most utilities have restored electricity to nearly all their customers, LIPA still has tens of thousands of customers in the dark.

The company said that the storm was worse than anyone could have imagined and that it didn't just damage outdoor electrical lines; it caused flooding that touched home and business breaker boxes. It acknowledged that an outdated computer system for keeping customers notified has added to people's frustration.

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Despite rebel unity deal, Syria has enough firepower to fight

BEIRUT (AP) — Nearly 20 months into the Syrian uprising, President Bashar Assad's message to the world has been nothing if not consistent: His military is strong, his enemies are mere terrorists and he will prevail in the end.

And despite a unity deal signed by Syrian rebels this weekend, which they hope will persuade foreign backers to send more powerful weapons to use to battle the regime, Damascus still has enough firepower and resources to keep up the fight.

"Syria has more than enough weapons for fighting the rebels," said Igor Korotchenko, a retired colonel of Russia's military general staff who is now editor of National Defense magazine. "As long as Bashar Assad has the money to pay his military, it will keep fighting."

He said Syria has more than 1,000 tanks, along with a system of repair shops created during Soviet times and enough experienced personnel to service the weapons.

Analysts say it is difficult to come up with reliable figures on the Syrian air force and air defenses because of the extreme secrecy surrounding its military matters. Assad's regime — its forces stretched thin on multiple fronts — has significantly increased its use of air power against Syrian rebels since the summer.

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Expert questions idea that faulty furnace may have caused deadly Indianapolis house explosion

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — As investigators try to determine what caused a deadly explosion that ravaged an Indianapolis subdivision, an expert says people shouldn't be alarmed by a homeowner's suggestion that his faulty furnace could be to blame.

Investigators have been looking at gas meters and pipelines as they try to figure out what happened Saturday night when a blast killed two people, obliterated two homes and left dozens more uninhabitable.

John Shirley and his ex-wife own one of the homes leveled in the explosion. Shirley, 50, of Noblesville, said his daughter told him recently that the furnace had gone out in the house she shares with her mother and her mother's boyfriend. He said his daughter told him the furnace was working again, but he wondered if a leak from the furnace could have led to the explosion that killed a couple next door. No one was in Shirley's home at the time of the blast, he said.

Scott Davis, president and principal engineer of GexCon US, an explosion investigation firm in Bethesda, Md., said it's hard to believe a furnace could cause the damage seen in the Indianapolis neighborhood. He noted that most furnaces have multiple safety switches that must be triggered before any gas is used.

"For a furnace to allow that much gas through, you'd have to defeat many of the safety features," he said.

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Israel considers resuming targeted killings of Gaza militant leaders to stop rocket fire

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is considering resuming its contentious practice of assassinating militant leaders in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in an effort to halt intensified rocket attacks on Israel's south, according to defense officials.

That Israel might renew a practice that brought it harsh international censure is evidence of the tight spot Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in. With Israeli elections two months away, rocket barrages from Gaza are disrupting the lives of 1 million residents of southern Israel, pressuring the government to come up with an effective response.

In the latest flare-up, Gaza militants have fired more than 100 rockets at Israel in recent days, triggering retaliatory Israeli airstrikes that have killed six people in Gaza.

Some Israelis are demanding a harsh military move, perhaps a repeat of Israel's bruising incursion into Gaza four years ago. Others believe Israel should target Hamas leaders, a method it used to kill dozens of militants nearly a decade ago.

Advocates say targeted killings are an effective deterrent without the complications associated with a ground operation, chiefly civilian and Israeli troop casualties. Proponents argue they also prevent future attacks by removing their masterminds.

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Obama to meet with labor leaders about impending 'fiscal cliff,' prospect of taxes on wealthy

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama opens a new campaign Tuesday to build pressure on Congress to cut the federal debt the way he sees fit, meeting with labor leaders who want lawmakers to raise taxes on the wealthy and guard against slashing health benefits for seniors.

Obama was kicking off a series of meetings this week with labor officials, business executives and congressional leaders aimed at pushing Congress to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" and find consensus on a plan to prevent more financial hardships next year. The week will include a tone-setting news conference Wednesday that will give the president the chance to frame his outlook on the year-ending lame duck session.

The president views his re-election as an affirmation of his belief that raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year is what voters want. Republican House Speaker John Boehner has expressed a willingness to raise revenues but remains opposed to boosting tax rates, pointing instead to closing tax loopholes, lowering rates and fixing entitlement programs.

Both sides have voiced the potential for cooperation, but face a post-election confrontation over a series of expiring tax cuts approved during the George W. Bush presidency and tough, across-the-board spending cuts set to take place because lawmakers failed to reach a deal to reduce the federal debt.

Economists have warned the combination of the expiring tax cuts and reduced spending could hinder the economic recovery.

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Steelers edge hapless Chiefs 16-13 but lose QB Ben Roethlisberger to shoulder injury

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Their franchise quarterback on his way to the hospital, the momentum firmly on the other side of the field after a stunning last-minute rally by one the NFL's worst teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers appeared lost.

Then linebacker Lawrence Timmons provided a reminder that — Ben Roethlisberger or no Ben Roethlisberger — Pittsburgh's identity begins and ends with defense.

Timmons intercepted Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel on the second snap of overtime and Shaun Suisham drilled a 23-yard field goal one play later to lift the Steelers to a 16-13 victory over the hapless Chiefs.

"We just stayed positive," Timmons said. "It's easy to get down on yourself, but we are not like that. We stand up, face adversity."

Good thing, because there's plenty to go around.

 

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