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World briefly for Jan. 7

POSTED: January 7, 2013 9:59 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defying congressional opposition, President Barack Obama will nominate Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary, setting up a potentially contentious confirmation fight over the former Republican senator's views on Israel and Iran.

The president will announce Hagel's nomination from the White House Monday, a senior administration official said, requesting anonymity in order to discuss the nomination ahead of Obama. Hagel, 66, served in the Senate with Obama and the two grew close during congressional trips overseas.

A moderate Republican and decorated Vietnam veteran, Hagel would add a whiff of bipartisanship to Obama's Cabinet if confirmed. But the former Nebraska lawmaker has faced withering criticism from Congress — Republicans in particular — since emerging as the front-runner for the Pentagon post. Still, GOP lawmakers have stopped short of saying they might try to block the nomination.

Hagel is the second straight Obama favorite for a top national security post to face criticism from Capitol Hill even before being nominated. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration for secretary of state amid charges from GOP senators that she misled the public in her initial accounting of the attacks on Americans at a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.

After Rice withdrew, Obama named Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, to lead the State Department. Kerry is expected to be easily confirmed by his longtime Senate colleagues.

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White House, GOP draw red lines in debate on US debt limit, vow not to budge

WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling for the upper hand in the next round of debt talks, Republicans and Democrats this weekend drew lines in the sand they said they'd never cross when it comes to the U.S. debt limit.

The tough talk on the Sunday morning talk shows doesn't bode well for voters who are frustrated by the political gridlock.

"I believe we need to raise the debt ceiling, but if we don't raise it without a plan to get out of debt, all of us should be fired," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Last week's deal to avert the combination of end-of-year tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" held income tax rates steady for 99 percent of Americans but left some other major pieces of business unresolved.

By late February or early March, the Treasury Department will run out of options to cover the nation's debts and could begin defaulting on government loans unless Congress raises the legal borrowing limit, or debt ceiling. Economists warn that a default could trigger a global recession.

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Prosecution set to outline case against theater shooting suspect, 6 months after the killings

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Nearly six months after a bloody rampage in a Colorado movie theater left 12 people dead, prosecutors will go to court Monday to outline their case against the suspect, James Holmes.

Holmes is charged with more than 160 counts including murder and attempted murder.

Investigators say he was wearing body armor and a gas mask when he tossed two gas canisters and then opened fire in a theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora on July 20. A midnight showing of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" had just begun.

In addition to the 12 dead, 70 were wounded.

Many of the survivors and family members of the dead are expected to attend the preliminary hearing, and court officials expect an overflow crowd of reporters and spectators.

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People in Connecticut and Colorado less excited about buying guns than those in other states

WASHINGTON (AP) — In Connecticut and Colorado, scenes of the most deadly U.S. mass shootings in 2012, people were less enthusiastic about buying new guns at the end of the year than in most other states, according to an Associated Press analysis of new FBI data. The biggest surges in background checks for people who want to carry or buy guns occurred in states in the South and West.

The latest government figures reflect huge increases across the U.S. in the number of background checks for gun sales and permits to carry guns at the end of the year. After President Barack Obama's re-election, the horrific school shooting in Connecticut and Obama's promise to support new laws aimed at curbing gun violence, the number of background checks spiked. In Georgia, the FBI processed 37,586 requests during October and 78,998 requests in December; Alabama went from 32,850 to 80,576 during the same period.

Nationally, there were nearly twice as many more background checks for firearms between November and December than during the same time period one year ago.

"It's a fear there will be a crackdown," said Thomas Wright, who runs Hoover Tactical Firearms near Birmingham, Ala. Wright said he took on more employees to handle the sales crush after 20 children were killed in Newtown, Conn. "We used to have what was called our wall of guns. It's pretty much empty now." Every high-capacity magazine in Wright's store was sold out.

The government's figures suggested far less interest in purchasing guns late in the year in Connecticut and Colorado, where background checks also increased but not nearly as much as most other states. Twelve people died in July in a shooting at a Colorado movie theater. The numbers of checks in Colorado rose from 35,009 in October to 53,453 in December; checks in Connecticut went from 18,761 to 29,246 during the same period. Only New Jersey and Maryland showed smaller increases than Colorado in December from one month earlier.

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Google executive chairman and ex-New Mexico Gov Richardson arrive in North Korea

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — The Google chairman wants a first-hand look at North Korea's economy and social media in his private visit Monday to the communist nation, his delegation said, despite misgivings in Washington over the timing of the trip.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of one of the world's biggest Internet companies, is the highest-profile U.S. executive to visit North Korea — a country with notoriously restrictive online policies — since young leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago. His visit has drawn criticism from the U.S. State Department because it comes only weeks after a controversial North Korean rocket launch; it has also prompted speculation about what the businessman hopes to accomplish.

Schmidt arrived on a commercial Air China flight with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has traveled more than a half-dozen times to North Korea over the past 20 years.

Richardson, speaking ahead of the flight from Beijing, called the trip a private, humanitarian mission.

"This is not a Google trip, but I'm sure he's interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this," Richardson said without elaborating on what he meant by the "social media aspect."

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Sandy prompts some elderly who lived alone to opt for new homes in assisted living facilities

MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. (AP) — For the first time in her life, Marion Johnston says she feels old.

The petite 80-year-old retired school secretary who uses a walker is still adjusting as one of the newest residents at the Bristal Assisted Living retirement community. She moved in November after the howling winds and rising flood waters of Superstorm Sandy destroyed her Long Island waterfront condominium.

Johnston had often thought about moving, but Sandy revealed an uncomfortable truth: "I just can't be on my own."

Although New York and New Jersey health care officials say it's too soon to confirm a spike, some senior care operators say they've seen a surge in older people relocating to assisted-living or retirement communities after Sandy. Prolonged power outages, wrecked homes and flooded streets have helped convince even the most stubborn seniors that they may not be capable of living independently.

"Very often you need that little push over the cliff to make you realize," said Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. She is not surprised to hear facilities are experiencing increased demand. "When your home is leaking and flooding and you're sitting in the dark, you come to realize you no longer have the skills of survivorship."

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Iowa prison let inmates watch movies with sexual content, ignoring female officer's pleas

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Administrators let offenders at one of Iowa's most dangerous prison units watch violent and sexually explicit movies and TV shows for years, despite repeated complaints from a female officer who said it encouraged inmates to sexually harass her.

Murderers, sexual predators and other men housed at a unit for mentally ill inmates at the maximum-security state prison in Fort Madison were allowed to watch movies such as "Deranged," a horror film that includes a scene in which a woman is beaten, raped, hung upside down and skinned. Among other movies inmates watched were "Delta of Venus," an erotic film; "Coffey," which shows sadism and attempted rape; and "Cruel Intentions," records show.

Despite correctional officer Kristine Sink's complaints, administrators told her not to turn off the movies or shows. When she did, they accused her of insubordination, according to department records that Sink provided to The Associated Press. One warden blamed Sink for causing problems by complaining, and another supervisor suggested her outfits — a standard-issue uniform — were enticing inmates.

Sink said she has fought a lonely battle under four wardens against movies that caused inmates to become sexually aggressive — through "10 years of misery." She filed a lawsuit Nov. 30 against prison officials alleging sexual harassment, discrimination and workplace retaliation, seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

"It's inconceivable. If I had not lived through it myself, I wouldn't believe this," she said.

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Column: Center of electorate said work it out — and, for once, political leaders listened

WASHINGTON (AP) — Every election year, they become the popular ones, the celebrities with the power to hire or fire politicians. Then, when actual governing begins, they become the forgotten ones — jilted wallflowers watching as the leaders they elected are devoured into a political system dominated by extremes.

These middle-of-the-road American voters feel betrayed, and many grow cynical. Why, they wonder, did they bother to cast ballots at all?

It's always a dramatic fall for the ideological center of the country, independents and moderates in swing-voting states and regions that hold outsized sway in determining the balance of power in Washington. One minute, every candidate promises to represent your interests. The next, freshly elected lawmakers carry the water of their parties' far wings and ignore the wishes of everybody else.

Now, after Republicans and Democrats alike reluctantly shunned their core supporters and reached a bipartisan compromise to avert a fiscal crisis, there's a reasonable question to ask: Did American lawmakers actually — for a moment, at least — listen to the regular Joes and Janes pleading for a gridlocked Washington to get something, anything, done?

Nobody on the spectrum's far ends was truly happy with the "fiscal cliff" accord. Conservatives were apoplectic that Republicans agreed to tax increases on the wealthiest Americans. Liberals complained that President Barack Obama gave in on too much. It was an ugly fight. But, in an often deadlocked capital, the result was attractive: significantly bipartisan votes in both chambers of Congress on a hard-fought and important matter. In modern Washington, that's become almost extinct.

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Class of 2012: Europe grads in diploma dilemma as universities flunk teaching for real world

PARIS (AP) — Estelle Borrell knew she wanted to work in law since she was a teenager, when she interned at a court in Versailles, France. "The lawyers in their black robes, they were like gods to me," said the 24-year-old Parisian.

Borrell studied law at Vienna University, where she dreamed of putting her passion into practice at an international organization. She got a shock when she began working at a Vienna law firm.

"I knew how to resolve cases on paper, but when I got into the law firm it was really ridiculous," Borrell said. "My boss asked me to call a judge and I was absolutely not able to do it. I didn't even have the vocabulary I needed to do a really simple call."

Borrell, who is now back in France seeking work while continuing legal studies in Paris, had found out firsthand what educators, industry and governments across the continent are slowly coming to acknowledge as globalization intensifies competition and a devastating economic crisis swells youth unemployment: Europe's universities, many founded during the Middle Ages, are failing to prepare students for the demands of the 21st century world.

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Burned by the lockout, some NHL fans vow not to return to the sport they love

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Flyers owner Ed Snider had a simple message on the day the NHL lockout ended:

Welcome back.

Welcome back, NHL.

Welcome back, NHL fans.

Lost in the squabble between the league and players over the 113-day labor dispute was how the hardcore fans were losing interest with each messy board room update from an idle sport. Keeping the faith turned into planning boycotts. The Winter Classic gave way to the winter doldrums for even the most passionate fans in hockey-mad markets.

 

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