Tuesday January 8, 2013

Obama nominates Hagel for top Pentagon post, Brennan to lead CIA

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Despite Republican misgivings, President Barack Obama announced Monday he will nominate former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary, calling him "the leader our troops deserve." He also chose White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.

Controversy surrounds both choices, but the president called on the Senate to quickly confirm both.

"The work of protecting our nation is never done. We’ve got much to do," Obama said at the East Room announcement. "My most solemn obligation is the security of our people."

Obama announced his choice of Hagel, a political moderate who represented Nebraska in the Senate, even as critics questioned the pick over issues including Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran.

Facing a potential fight to get Hagel confirmed by the Senate, Obama praised his independence and bipartisan approach, and said that Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, understands war is not an abstraction. He also praised Hagel, 66, as one who could make "tough fiscal choices" in a time of increasing austerity.

Obama’s choice of Hagel for new U.S. secretary of defense causes jitters in Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next U.S.


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secretary of defense is causing jitters in Israel, where some circles view the former Nebraska senator as unsympathetic or even hostile.

Hagel’s positions on Israel’s two most pressing foreign policy issues -- Iran’s nuclear program and relations with the Palestinians -- appear to be at odds with the Israeli government, and critics here fear the appointment could increase pressure on the Jewish state to make unwanted concessions. The appointment could also signal further strains in what is already a cool relationship between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to win re-election later this month.

"Because of his statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried," Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of the Israeli parliament and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, told The Associated Press. But, he added, the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Israel is strong and "one person doesn’t determine policy."

Netanyahu’s office refused to comment on the appointment, as did officials in the Israeli foreign and defense ministries. But Rivlin’s comments reflected what has been a common sentiment among analysts and commentators here in recent days. In their evening news broadcasts, Israel’s three main TV stations on Monday all portrayed Hagel as cool toward Israel.

Known as a maverick in the Senate, Hagel has raised eyebrows in Israel with a series of comments and actions over the years that some here have deemed insufficiently supportive of the Jewish state.

Fighting in Syria as world slams Assad speech; Netherlands ships Patriots to Turkey

BEIRUT (AP) -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday expressed disappointment with Syrian President Bashar Assad for rejecting the most important elements of an international roadmap to end the country’s civil war -- a political handover and establishment of a transitional governing body.

Assad in a rare speech Sunday outlined his own vision for ending the country’s conflict with a plan that would keep him in power. He also dismissed any chance of dialogue with the armed opposition and called on Syrians to fight what he called "murderous criminals."

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Monday the secretary-general is disappointed that Assad’s speech "does not contribute to a solution that could end the terrible suffering of the Syrian people." Nesirky said Ban and U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will continue to work for a political transition that leads to U.N.-organized elections.

The West, including the U.S. and Britain, denounced Assad’s speech, which came amid stepped-up international efforts for a peaceful settlement to the Syrian conflict.

On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also criticized the Syrian leader’s initiative. He accused Assad of "state terrorism" and called on him to relinquish power.

Families of theater shooting victims listen as police describe trying to save wounded

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) -- Police officers who arrested James Holmes after the Colorado movie theater massacre described the suspected gunman, clad in body armor, as unusually relaxed but fidgety at times.

Holmes didn’t resist arrest behind the theater and volunteered that his apartment had been booby trapped, the officers testified during the opening of a hearing in which prosecutors began laying out their case against the former neuroscience graduate student.

Officer Jason Oviatt said Holmes seemed "very, very relaxed" and didn’t seem to have "normal emotional reactions" to things.

"He seemed very detached from it all," he said.

When Oviatt first saw Holmes in his gear standing next to his car behind the theater, he thought he was a fellow officer but then realized Holmes was standing still, and not rushing toward the theater.

Despite name change decreed by Abbas, ‘State of Palestine’ remains on paper

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- With U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in his pocket, President Mahmoud Abbas wants official documents to carry a new emblem: "State of Palestine."

But scrapping the old "Palestinian Authority" logo is as far as Abbas is willing to go in provoking Israel. He is not rushing to change passports and ID cards Palestinians need to pass through Israeli crossings.

The very modesty of Abbas’ move to change official stationery underscores his limited options so long as Israel remains in charge of territories the world says should one day make up that state.

"At the end of the day, the Palestinian Authority won’t cause trouble for its people," Nour Odeh, a spokeswoman for Abbas’ self-rule government, said of the need for caution.

Abbas won overwhelming U.N. General Assembly recognition for a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in late November, a rare diplomatic victory over a sidelined Israel. The U.N. nod was important to the Palestinians because it affirmed the borders of their future state in lands Israel captured in 1967.

Lottery winner died from cyanide just before he was to collect $425,000

CHICAGO (AP) -- With no signs of trauma and nothing to raise suspicions, the sudden death of a Chicago man just as he was about to collect nearly $425,000 in lottery winnings was initially ruled a result of natural causes.

Nearly six months later, authorities have a mystery on their hands after medical examiners, responding to a relative’s pleas, did an expanded screening and determined that Urooj Khan, 46, died shortly after ingesting a lethal dose of cyanide. The finding has triggered a homicide investigation, the Chicago Police Department said Monday.

"It’s pretty unusual," said Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina, commenting on the rarity of cyanide poisonings. "I’ve had one, maybe two cases out of 4,500 autopsies I’ve done."

In June, Khan, who owned a number of dry cleaners, stopped in at a 7-Eleven near his home in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city’s North Side and bought a ticket for an instant lottery game.

He scratched off the ticket, then jumped up and down and repeatedly shouted, "I hit a million," Khan recalled days later during a ceremony in which Illinois Lottery officials presented him with an oversized check. He said he was so overjoyed he ran back into the store and tipped the clerk $100.

Stratford mayor proposes naming school After teacher slain in Newtown

STRATFORD, Conn. (AP) -- The mayor of a city near Newtown, Conn., on Monday proposed naming a school after Victoria Soto, a teacher who was killed in last month’s elementary school massacre and hailed as a hero.

Soto, a 27-year-old resident of Stratford, was killed as she tried to shield her students from the gunman inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. The shooter killed 20 children and six women at the school on Dec. 14 before committing suicide.

"In the days since the tragedy in Sandy Hook, the stories of bravery and heroism by Stratford’s own Victoria Soto have been both heart-wrenching and abundant," Stratford Mayor John Harkins said. "She gave her life protecting children, and we must make sure her sacrifice is never forgotten."

Some of the children from Soto’s classroom escaped harm, and there have been reports that Soto hid some of her students from the approaching gunman.

Harkins said he had met with Soto’s family and discussed how the town could honor her memory.

’Ultrahigh definition’ comes into sharper focus as makers unveil big, not giant, TVs

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The race to make TVs larger and larger has created a colossal problem for manufacturers: As screens grow, picture quality worsens -- unless the viewer moves farther away from the screen.

The issue is playing out in cozy dens and family rooms around the world. To get the full benefit of a large high-definition screen, viewers must move back from their sets. Since the ideal viewing distance is no closer than three times the height of your screen, or about one and a half times the diagonal length, big TVs have literally forced many families’ backs against the wall.

This year, TV makers are doing their best to give huge-screen fanatics more breathing room. New "ultrahigh-definition" sets were shown off Monday by companies such as LG and Sharp at the International CES gadget show in Las Vegas, with other makers set to follow suit. Consumers tend to buy a new set every seven years or so, and television manufacturers are hoping the technology will give consumers a reason to upgrade.

With nearly 8.3 million pixels, an ultrahigh definition screen contains four times more pixels than an HD TV. Because of the higher resolution, viewers can sit close -- according to some estimates, as close as the diagonal length of the screen, which is about a third closer than before -- without losing clarity. That could be appealing to big-screen fanatics who live in small spaces.

Ultra-HD sets come as small as LG Electronics Inc.’s latest model, which stretches 55 inches diagonally. And estimated prices are dropping from the tens of thousands to below $10,000, bringing these multi-megapixel TVs well within the spending range of early adopters.

In interview with Winfrey, Letterman talks about his public feuds and sex scandals

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Three years after an extortion scandal that led him to bare his infidelities, David Letterman said he sees a psychiatrist once a week to try to be the person that he believed he was.

The late-night talk show host gave an extraordinary interview to Oprah Winfrey in which he talked about his feud with her and Jay Leno, and about his efforts to make amends for his affairs with "Late Show" staff members that became public in 2009.

"For a long time I thought I was a decent guy," Letterman said. "But yet, thinking I was a decent guy, I was still capable of behavior that wasn’t coincidental to leading a decent life. That’s what I’m working on. I want to really be the person I believe that I was. I wanna be a good person."

The interview aired Sunday on Winfrey’s OWN network and will be repeated Jan. 20. It was recorded in November.

Letterman said his wife, Regina, has forgiven him, and he tries every day to regain her trust. He said he still hasn’t forgiven himself.