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World briefly for Dec. 14

POSTED: December 14, 2012 9:14 a.m.

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (AP) — The Pentagon says it will send Patriot air defense missiles and 400 troops to Turkey as part of a NATO force meant to protect Turkish territory from potential Syrian missile attack.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed a deployment order Friday en route to Turkey from Afghanistan.

The order calls for 400 US soldiers to operate two batteries of Patriots at undisclosed locations in Turkey, Little told reporters flying with Panetta.

Turkey is a founding member of NATO and requested that the alliance provide Patriots. They will be sent by NATO members Germany and the Netherlands as well as the U.S. for an undetermined period.

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Kerry vaults to top of list to lead State as Rice declines, Hagel front-runner for Pentagon

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who unsuccessfully sought the presidency in 2004 and has pined for the job of top diplomat, vaulted to the head of President Barack Obama's short list of secretary of state candidates after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice suddenly withdrew from consideration to avoid a contentious confirmation fight with emboldened Republicans.

The exit of Rice and elevation of Kerry shook up Washington on Thursday and was coupled with the potential for even bolder second-term changes in Obama's national security team next month. Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, emerged as the front-runner to serve as defense secretary.

The possible selection of Kerry and Hagel would put two decorated Vietnam War veterans — one Navy, the other Army — at State and the Pentagon.

Official word on replacements for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in an Obama Cabinet remake could come as early as next week. The choice of Kerry would open a Massachusetts Senate seat, boosting the prospects for recently defeated Republican Sen. Scott Brown to win back a job in Washington.

Kerry, a senator for nearly three decades and the current Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, has won praise from his Senate Democratic and Republican colleagues and should be confirmed easily, if nominated. He has been Obama's envoy to hot spots such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, the administration's point man in 2010 on a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia and was a stand-in for Republican Mitt Romney during Obama's debate preparation.

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Breaching the 'fiscal cliff' may clear path for Congress to reach January tax-spending accord

WASHINGTON (AP) — To get to "yes" on a "fiscal cliff" accord, Congress and the White House first might have to get to "no."

That is, an impasse that sends them over the cliff by missing their Dec. 31 deadline to pass a major deficit-reduction plan.

Such a breach would immediately change the political dynamics, making it easier for many lawmakers — especially Republicans — to agree to a second-chance compromise in the new year.

This scenario strikes a good number of Washington insiders as irresponsible and improbable — who knows how the markets will react? But others argue it will be easier to round up the congressional votes needed for a big compromise if the deadline passes and lawmakers rush back to Washington next month under a starkly new political reality.

The new landscape would allow President Barack Obama to face his liberal base — and, more importantly, let House Republicans face their conservative constituents — and say in essence: "See, I did the best I possibly could, and it didn't work. The other side didn't blink. Now everyone's taxes have gone up, and it's time for compromise."

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AP-GfK Poll: Belief in global warming rises with thermometers, even among science doubters

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 4 out of 5 Americans now think temperatures are rising and that global warming will be a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done about it, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.

Belief and worry about climate change are inching up among Americans in general, but concern is growing faster among people who don't often trust scientists on the environment. In follow-up interviews, some of those doubters said they believe their own eyes as they've watched thermometers rise, New York City subway tunnels flood, polar ice melt and Midwestern farm fields dry up.

Overall, 78 percent of those surveyed said they thought temperatures were rising and 80 percent called it a serious problem. That's up slightly from 2009, when 75 percent thought global warming was occurring and just 73 percent thought it was a serious problem. In general, U.S. belief in global warming, according to AP-GfK and other polls, has fluctuated over the years but has stayed between about 70 and 85 percent.

The biggest change in the polling is among people who trust scientists only a little or not at all. About 1 in 3 of the people surveyed fell into that category.

Within that highly skeptical group, 61 percent now say temperatures have been rising over the past 100 years. That's a substantial increase from 2009, when the AP-GfK poll found that only 47 percent of those with little or no trust in scientists believed the world was getting warmer.

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Russia's Foreign Ministry denies its Syria point man talked of Assad's impending defeat

MOSCOW (AP) — A day after a senior Russian official was widely quoted as saying that Syria's President Bashar Assad was losing control, Russia's Foreign Ministry on Friday rolled back on his assessment by insisting that Moscow's stance on the crisis hasn't shifted.

Russia's pointman on Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, was quoted by three Russian news agencies, two of them state-owned, telling a Kremlin advisory body on Thursday that "there is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," adding that "an opposition victory can't be excluded."

But the Foreign Ministry insisted in a statement Friday that Bogdanov only was referring to the claims of the "Syrian opposition and its foreign sponsors forecasting their quick victory over the regime in Damascus."

"In that context, Bogdanov again confirmed Russia's principled stance that a political settlement in Syria has no alternative," the ministry's spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich said in the statement.

Bogdanov was speaking before the Public Chamber, a Kremlin advisory body. His statement quoted by Russian news agencies marked the first official acknowledgment from Moscow that Assad's regime may fall and was certain to be seen as a betrayal by the Syrian ruler, further eroding his grip on power amid the opposition successes on the ground and a recognition of the Syrian opposition by the United States and other leading world powers.

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Rocket shows North Korea's young leader willing to take risks, defy international criticism

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — A triumphant North Korea staged a mass rally of soldiers and civilians Friday to glorify the country's young ruler, who took a big gamble this week in sending a satellite into orbit in defiance of international warnings.

Wednesday's rocket launch came just eight months after a similar attempt ended in an embarrassing public failure, and just under a year after Kim Jong Un inherited power following the death of his father.

The surprising success of the launch may have earned Kim global condemnation, but at home, the gamble paid off, at least in the short term, projecting the 20-something Kim to his people as powerful, capable and determined.

Pyongyang says the rocket put a crop and weather monitoring satellite into orbit. The rest of the world, however, sees it as a thinly-disguised test of banned long-range missile technology. And the fresh round of U.N. sanctions it could bring would increase his country's international isolation and potentially strengthen the hand of the only entity that poses a threat to his rule: the military.

To his people, the launch's success, 14 years after North Korea's first attempt, shows more than a little of the gambling spirit in the third Kim to rule North Korea since it became a country in 1948.

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Health care overhaul could reduce treatment options for nation's 11 million illegal immigrants

ALAMO, Texas (AP) — For years, Sonia Limas would drag her daughters to the emergency room whenever they fell sick. As an illegal immigrant, she had no health insurance, and the only place she knew to seek treatment was the hospital — the most expensive setting for those covering the cost.

The family's options improved somewhat a decade ago with the expansion of community health clinics, which offered free or low-cost care with help from the federal government. But President Barack Obama's health care overhaul threatens to roll back some of those services if clinics and hospitals are overwhelmed with newly insured patients and can't afford to care for as many poor families.

To be clear, Obama's law was never intended to help Limas and an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants like her. Instead, it envisions that 32 million uninsured Americans will get access to coverage by 2019. Because that should mean fewer uninsured patients showing up at hospitals, the Obama program slashed the federal reimbursement for uncompensated care.

But in states with large illegal immigrant populations, the math may not work, especially if lawmakers don't expand Medicaid, the joint state-federal health program for the poor and disabled.

When the reform has been fully implemented, illegal immigrants will make up the nation's second-largest population of uninsured, or about 25 percent. The only larger group will be people who qualify for insurance but fail to enroll, according to a 2012 study by the Washington-based Urban Institute.

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Company that owned ill-fated Jenni Rivera plane under investigation by DEA

PHOENIX (AP) — The company that owns a luxury jet that crashed and killed Mexican pop superstar Jenni Rivera is under investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the agency seized two of its planes earlier this year as part of the ongoing probe.

DEA spokeswoman Lisa Webb Johnson confirmed Thursday the planes owned by Las Vegas-based Starwood Management were seized in Texas and Arizona, but she declined to discuss details of the case. The agency also has subpoenaed all the company's records, including any correspondence it has had with a former Tijuana mayor who U.S. law enforcement officials have long suspected has ties to organized crime.

The man widely believed to be behind the aviation company is an ex-convict named Christian Esquino, 50, who has a long and checkered legal past. Corporate records list his sister-in-law as the company's only officer, but insurance companies that cover some of the firm's planes say in court documents that the woman is merely a front and that Esquino is the one in charge.

Esquino's legal woes date back decades. He pleaded guilty to a fraud charge that stemmed from a major drug investigation in Florida in the early 1990s and most recently was sentenced to two years in federal prison in a California aviation fraud case. Esquino, a Mexican citizen, was deported upon his release. Esquino and various other companies he has either been involved with or owns have also been sued for failing to pay millions of dollars in loans, according to court records.

The 43-year-old California-born Rivera died at the peak of her career when the plane she was traveling in nose-dived into the ground while flying from the northern Mexican city of Monterrey to the central city of Toluca early Sunday morning. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, and had branched out into acting and reality television.

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Roommate: Oregon mall shooter had 'weird look on his face' when he left their house

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — His mother died before he was 3 years old, and he was estranged from the aunt who raised him. His dream of becoming a Marine was dashed by a broken foot, he hadn't yet settled on a career path, and a new plan, to move to Hawaii, ended when he apparently missed his flight.

None of it, however, reveals a motive in Jacob Tyler Roberts' decision to put on a hockey-style mask, walk into a Portland mall and randomly shoot three strangers, killing two and wounding a third, before committing suicide.

In the days since Tuesday's rampage, friends, relatives and neighbors have all said Roberts was a relaxed, friendly and outgoing guy. Police have yet to reveal if the young man known to all as Jake wrote a suicide note or left some hint of the violence he would unleash.

"Of everyone in my entire life, if I could put them on a list of how crazy they are, how likely they are to snap, I'd put him at the very bottom," said Jaime Eheler, 26, the gunman's close friend and roommate. "He'd be the very last person."

The Clackamas County sheriff's office said Roberts had several fully loaded magazines when he arrived at the mall as thousands did their Christmas shopping. Roberts parked his 1996 Volkswagen Jetta in front of the second-floor entrance to Macy's. He then walked through the store into the mall and began firing randomly in the food court, authorities said.

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Review: New Google Maps app big step up from Apple software, previous version

NEW YORK (AP) — Like a lot of people, I was happy and relieved to see Google Maps return to the iPhone.

I'd been frustrated with the Apple mapping software that had replaced it three months ago. For one thing, it didn't have public transit directions, a feature important for New Yorkers like me. Apple's mapping app also wasn't as good as the old Google app in finding destinations. I often had to type full addresses rather than just the name of a business.

I tried to get by instead with maps on Google's mobile website, but I found that clunky and slower to start up. So when Google Maps returned this week as its own app, I installed it right away. Although it may not be perfect, it is a big step up from both Apple's current software and the old Google-powered Maps app that Apple kicked off the iPhone in September.

For the first time, Google Maps has turn-by-turn voice navigation on the iPhone, and with that, automatic recalculation of routes whenever you make a wrong turn. The feature had been available on Android phones since 2009, but Google's previous refusal to bring it to the iPhone is believed to be a key reason Apple decided to develop its own technology.

The new app also offers public transit information for more than 500 cities around the world. That's a feature Apple's own mapping software lacks.

 

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