Wednesday January 30, 2013

Obama presses immigration changes, path to citizenship, says ‘now is the time’ for action

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Declaring "now is the time" to fix the nation’s broken immigration system, President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined broad proposals for putting millions of illegal immigrants on a clear path to citizenship while cracking down on businesses that employ people illegally and tightening security at the borders. He hailed a bipartisan Senate group on a similar track but left unresolved key details that could derail the complex and emotional effort.

Potential Senate roadblocks center on how to structure the avenue to citizenship and on whether legislation would cover same-sex couples -- and that’s all before a Senate measure could be debated, approved and sent to the Republican-controlled House where opposition is sure to be stronger.

Obama, who carried Nevada in the November election with heavy Hispanic support, praised the Senate push, saying Congress is showing "a genuine desire to get this done soon." But mindful of previous immigration efforts that have failed, he warned that the debate would be difficult and vowed to send his own legislation to Capitol Hill if lawmakers don’t act quickly.

"The question now is simple," Obama said during a campaign-style event in Las Vegas, one week after being sworn in for a second term in the White House. "Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government to finally put this issue behind us? I believe that we do."

Shortly after Obama finished speaking, cracks emerged between the White House and the group of eight senators, which put out their proposals one day ahead of the president. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, faulted Obama for not making a citizenship pathway contingent on tighter border security, a central tenet of the lawmakers’ proposals.

Senate confirms Kerry as secretary of state to succeed Clinton

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed President Barack Obama’s choice of five-term Sen. John Kerry to be secretary of state, with Republicans and Democrats praising him as the ideal successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The vote Tuesday was 94-3. One senator -- Kerry -- voted present and accepted congratulations from colleagues on the Senate floor. The roll call came just hours after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved the man who has led the panel for the past four years.

No date has been set for Kerry’s swearing-in, but in a letter to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Kerry says his resignation is effective at 4 p.m. Friday. The State Departments plans a welcoming ceremony for Kerry on Monday.

Obama tapped Kerry, 69, the son of a diplomat, decorated Vietnam veteran and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, to succeed Clinton, who is stepping down after four years. The Massachusetts Democrat, who had pined for the job but was passed over in 2009, has served as Obama’s unofficial envoy, smoothing fractious ties with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Sen. Kerry will need no introduction to the world’s political and military leaders and will begin Day One fully conversant not only with the intricacies of U.S. foreign policy, but able to act on a multitude of international stages," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who will succeed Kerry as committee chairman.

As a city vents fury at Morsi, Egypt’s army chief warns state could collapse from crisis

PORT SAID, Egypt (AP) -- Residents of this Mediterranean coastal city burying their dead from Egypt’s wave of political violence vented their fury at Egypt’s Islamist president and the Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday, demanding his ouster and virtually declaring a revolt against his rule, as the head of the military warned Egypt may collapse under the weight of its turmoil.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’ strongly worded comments, his first since the crisis began, appeared aimed at pushing both sides in Egypt’s political divide to reconcile and find a solution to the rapidly spreading protests and riots across much of the country the past six days.

But his breaking of his silence falls heaviest on President Mohammed Morsi, who has been unable to contain the unrest by trying a tough hand, as protesters defied his declaration of a month-long state of emergency and curfew in Port Said and two neighboring cities.

At least 60 people have been killed and hundreds injured since Thursday in clashes between police and protesters angry over what they call Islamists’ moves to monopolize power and failure to address the country’s multiple woes. In his comments, el-Sissi signaled the military would not move to put down protesters, saying troops are in a "grave predicament," forced to balance between "avoiding confrontation" with citizens and protecting state institutions.

In Cairo on Tuesday, rock-throwing protesters clashed with police firing tear gas for another day in battles that escalated after nightfall near Tahrir Square. The mayhem forced the nearby U.S. Embassy to suspend public services Tuesday, and the night before masked men tried to rob the neighboring five-star Semiramis Hotel, a Cairo landmark, trashing the lobby before being forced out.

Gore takes aim at corporate influence over media in new book, defends sale of Current TV

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Al Gore, who takes aim in his new book at the corporate media for "suffocating the free flow of ideas," on Tuesday defended the sale of his television channel to Al-Jazeera.

The Qatar government-owned news network earlier this month struck a deal to buy Current TV, the cable news network co-founded by the former vice president. The price tag was $500 million.

Gore told The Associated Press that he had no reservations about selling the channel to Al-Jazeera, which has won U.S. journalism prizes but has been criticized by some for an anti-American bias. The new owner plans to gradually transform Current into a network called Al-Jazeera America.

"They’re commercial-free, they’re hard-hitting," he said in a phone interview. "They’re very respected and capable, and their climate coverage has been outstanding, in-depth, extensive, far more so than any network currently on the air in the U.S."

Dissident Chen urges U.S.:
Stand firm on China

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Blind dissident Chen Guangcheng is urging China’s people to end to the communist-governed nation’s "leadership of thieves" and for Washington not to "give an inch" on human rights in its relations with Beijing.

Chen made the comments as he received an award from a human rights group in a ceremony attended by several U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

The 41-year old lawyer caused a diplomatic crisis last April when he fled house arrest in rural China and sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. China subsequently allowed him to come to the U.S. to study law.

Chen urged an end to communist rule that "maintains a monopoly on power and enslaves the people."

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said Chen had "bravely stood up in the face of oppression."

Peace envoy tells UN that Syria is ‘being destroyed bit by bit’

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The international envoy to Syria told the Security Council on Tuesday that "Syria is being destroyed bit by bit" and his mediation effort cannot go forward unless the council unites to push the Syrian government and opposition forces toward some compromise.

The Security Council has been divided over Syria for months, with the United States, Britain, France and other Western powers backing the armed opposition and pushing for resolutions that raised the threat of sanctions. Three times, Russia and China have cast vetoes to block those resolutions.

"I’m embarrassed to be repeating the same thing: Syria is being destroyed," Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, said after closed-door consultations with the Security Council.

Brahimi blamed both Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and the Western-backed opposition forces.

"Objectively, they are cooperating to destroy Syria. Syria is being destroyed bit by bit. And in destroying Syria, the region is being pushed into a situation that is extremely bad, and extremely important for the entire world," Brahimi said.

Judge OKs BP’s guilty plea to manslaughter, other charges, $4 billion in oil spill penalties

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- BP PLC closed the book on the Justice Department’s criminal probe of its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Gulf oil spill Tuesday, when a federal judge agreed to let the London-based oil giant plead guilty to manslaughter charges for the deaths of 11 rig workers and pay a record $4 billion in penalties.

What the plea deal approved by U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance doesn’t resolve, though, is the federal government’s civil claims against BP. The company could pay billions more for environmental damage from its 2010 spill.

Vance noted that the company already has racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses and has estimated it will pay a total of $42 billion to fully resolve its liability for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The criminal settlement calls for BP to pay nearly $1.3 billion in fines. The largest previous corporate criminal penalty assessed by the Justice Department was a $1.2 billion fine against drug maker Pfizer in 2009.