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World briefly for Dec. 12

POSTED: December 12, 2012 8:50 a.m.

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Koreans danced in the streets of their capital Wednesday after the regime of young leader Kim Jong Un successfully fired a long-range rocket, defying international warnings and taking a big step forward in its quest to develop a nuclear-tipped missile.

The rocket launch will enhance the 20-something Kim's credentials at home a year after he took power following the death of his father Kim Jong Il. It is also likely to bring fresh sanctions and other punishments from the U.S. and its allies, which were quick to condemn the launch as a test of technology for a missile that could attack the U.S. mainland. Pyongyang says it was merely a peaceful effort to put a satellite into orbit.

The White House called it a "highly provocative act that threatens regional security."

Even China, North Korea's closest ally, expressed "regret" that North Korea went ahead with the launch "in spite of the extensive concerns of international community," said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei.

The timing of the launch came as something of a surprise after Pyongyang had indicated technical problems might delay it. That it succeeded after several failed attempts was an even greater surprise.

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Santa, shoppers run for cover as gunman opens fire in Oregon mall; 3 dead, including suspect

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The mall Santa was waiting for the next child's Christmas wish when shots rang out, causing the shopping mall to erupt into chaos.

About to invite a child to hop onto his lap, Brance Wilson instead dove for the floor and kept his head down as he heard shots being fired upstairs in the mall Tuesday afternoon.

"I heard two shots and got out of the chair. I thought a red suit was a pretty good target," said the 68-year-old Wilson. Families waiting for Santa scattered. More shots followed, and Wilson crept away for better cover.

Wilson was among hundreds of horrified people who ducked or ran for cover when a gunman, dressed in camouflage and a mask and possibly wearing body armor, fired dozens of rounds.

When it was over, three people were dead, including the gunman who police say killed himself.

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Ravi Shankar, sitar virtuoso who brought Indian music to West, mentored Beatles, dies at 92

NEW DELHI (AP) — With an instrument perplexing to most Westerners, Ravi Shankar helped connect the world through music. The sitar virtuoso hobnobbed with the Beatles, became a hippie musical icon and spearheaded the first rock benefit concert as he introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over nearly a century.

From George Harrison to John Coltrane, from Yehudi Menuhin to David Crosby, his connections reflected music's universality, though a gap persisted between Shankar and many Western fans. Sometimes they mistook tuning for tunes, while he stood aghast at displays like Jimi Hendrix's burning guitar.

Shankar died Tuesday at age 92. A statement on his website said he died in San Diego, near his Southern California home with his wife and a daughter by his side. The musician's foundation issued a statement saying that he had suffered upper respiratory and heart problems and had undergone heart-valve replacement surgery last week.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also confirmed Shankar's death and called him a "national treasure."

Labeled "the godfather of world music" by Harrison, Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music.

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As fiscal cliff deadline nears, Obama aims to balance public pressure on GOP and private talks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Playing both sides, President Barack Obama is trying to balance his public pressure campaign on Republicans over the looming "fiscal cliff" with his private negotiations with GOP leaders.

The White House is loath to abandon the two-pronged strategy even as the Dec. 31 deadline nears. Obama's advisers see the carrot-and-stick approach as key to winning concessions from Republicans on taxes and reaching a deal to avert the series of year-end tax hikes and spending cuts.

But Obama's campaign to rally public support for his fiscal cliff positions has irked some Republicans. And continuing to publicly lambaste GOP lawmakers as obstructionists for not giving in to White House demands that tax rates rise on the top 2 percent of income earners could undercut trust between Obama and Republicans in their private talks.

For now, the White House says it plans to continue on both tracks. Asked whether the president would be more focused on his public efforts or private talks, White House spokesman Jay Carney said "both."

"We will continue to engage with leaders on Capitol Hill, we will continue to engage with a broader coalition of people who have a stake in this, and that includes ordinary Americans out in the country," Carney said.

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Why US economy could likely withstand a brief fall off the 'fiscal cliff' next year

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's the scenario that's been spooking employers and investors and slowing the U.S. economy:

Congress and the White House fail to strike a budget deal by New Year's Day. Their stalemate triggers sharp tax increases and spending cuts. Those measures shrink consumer spending, stifle job growth, topple stock prices and push the economy off a "fiscal cliff" and into recession.

The reality may be a lot less bleak.

Even if New Year's passed with no deal, few businesses or consumers would likely panic as long as an agreement seemed likely soon. The tax increases and spending cuts could be retroactively repealed after Jan. 1.

And the impact of the tax increases would be felt only gradually. Most people would receive slightly less money in each paycheck.

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From France to New Zealand, worries arise when Chinese invest in traditional industries

GEVREY-CHAMBERTIN, France (AP) — Life in this French village revolves around wine. The backyards of its tidy houses nurture the grapes that have made Burgundy famous the world over. At an auto repair shop, everyone seems to have an opinion about the recent sale of a local vineyard to a Macau casino magnate.

"It's a piece of French heritage that's heading abroad," says mechanic Bertrand Babouhot. Across the road, rows of gnarled vines lead to the rundown chateau that was sold. "It's like selling the Eiffel Tower to the Americans."

On the other side of the globe, farmer Margaret Peacock expresses similar outrage over the sale of 13 dairy farms in New Zealand's rural heartland to a wealthy property developer from Shanghai.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — This story is part of "China's Reach," a project tracking China's influence on its trading partners over three decades and exploring how that is changing business, politics and daily life. Keep up with AP's reporting on China's Reach, and join the conversation about it, using the hashtag (hash)APChinaReach on Twitter.

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What would I do? NYPD officer's generous act inspires talk about a daily urban dilemma

During her two decades living in Houston, Caroline Oliver, like any urban dweller, frequently encountered people in the streets asking for money. She struggled with how to respond. She wanted to help, but in a useful way.

And so when Oliver, a consultant and mother of two who recently moved to Austin, read about the New York police officer who was photographed giving a new pair of all-weather boots to a barefoot man on a cold street, she was moved.

"He saw a need and he provided for that need," she says. "He couldn't just walk away."

And when the story, which went viral thanks to a photograph snapped by a tourist, turned out to be more complicated, as they often do, Oliver admired the officer's gesture just as much. Sure, the man may not have actually been homeless as many had first presumed. And yes, he turned up on the streets soon after, shoeless again, telling The New York Times he'd hidden the boots because they were "worth a lot of money."

But still, the officer, Lawrence DePrimo, "saw a need and fulfilled it," Oliver says. "Even though from his experience, he probably knew it might not necessarily work out the way he hoped."

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Ignoring angry protesters, Republicans make union fortress of Michigan a right-to-work state

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — In a dizzyingly short time span, Republicans have converted Michigan from a seemingly impregnable fortress of organized labor into a right-to-work state, leaving outgunned Democrats and union activists with little recourse but to shake their fists and seek retribution at the ballot box.

The state House swiftly approved two bills reducing unions' strength Tuesday, one dealing with private-sector workers and the other with public employees, as thousands of furious protesters at the state Capitol roared in vain. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the measures into law within hours, calling them "pro-worker and pro-Michigan."

"Workers deserve the right to decide for themselves whether union membership benefits them," Snyder said. "Introducing freedom-to-work in Michigan will contribute to our state's economic comeback while preserving the roles of unions and collective bargaining."

House Speaker Jase Bolger exulted after the vote that Michigan's future "has never been brighter," while Democrats and union activists said workers had been doomed to ever-lower living standards. Lacking enough votes to block the measures or force a statewide referendum, opponents set their sights on the 2014 election.

"Passing these bills is an act of war on Michigan's middle class, and I hope the governor and the Republican legislators are ready for the fight that is about to ensue," said Gretchen Whitmer, the Senate Democratic leader.

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Trendy cocktails at 35,000 feet help airlines keep passengers happy and bring in more revenue

NEW YORK (AP) — Airlines have found a way to take the edge off the stress of flying and make a few extra bucks along the way: fancy new cocktails, craft beers and elegant wines.

The drinks advertised in the back of in-flight magazines — or on sleek seatback touchscreens — are starting to resemble those at the hottest nightclubs.

— Virgin America offers "Grandma's Coffee," an iced cappuccino with Jack Daniels whiskey for $9. Its beer selection includes San Francisco-based 21st Amendment and Black Star from Whitefish, Mont. Both cost $7. A Bud Light is $6.

— US Airways has partnered with mixer company Stirrings to sell mojitos and cosmos for $8 each.

— Delta offers the "Sky Breeze," which is vodka, Fresca and a splash of cranberry-apple juice over ice for $7. It also sells small batch bourbon from Woodford Reserve for $7.

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Congress aims to prod NFL, union to move forward on HGH test nearly 2 seasons after agreement

WASHINGTON (AP) — Back in August 2011, the NFL and the players' union signed off on a new labor deal that set the stage for the league to test for human growth hormone, perhaps as soon as a month later.

Nearly two full seasons now have gone by and nothing's happened.

The NFL Players Association won't concede the validity of a test that's used by Olympic sports and Major League Baseball, and the sides haven't been able to agree on a scientist to help resolve that impasse.

Cue Congress. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to take a look at the science behind tests for HGH.

It's a substance that is hard to detect and believed to be used by athletes for a variety of benefits, whether real or only perceived — such as increasing speed or improving vision.

 

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