Kerry announces new security aid to SE Asia as U.S. rivalry with China intensifies

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered harsh words for China and new maritime security assistance for Southeast Asia on Monday to bolster countries facing growing Chinese assertiveness in a region where the two world powers are jockeying for influence.

Tensions are running high after a near-collision of U.S. and Chinese naval vessels this month and an air defense zone China has declared over an area that includes territory controlled by Japan, a U.S. ally. Those actions have raised fresh alarm as Beijing modernizes its military and claims a wide swath of ocean and disputed islands across the East and South China Seas.

Kerry used his first visit to Vietnam as America’s top diplomat to reiterate support for diplomacy between Southeast Asia’s regional bloc and Beijing over the territorial disputes, and to provide aid for Southeast Asian nations to defend waters they claim as their own.

Kerry pledged $32.5 million, including up to $18 million for Vietnam that will include five fast patrol boats for its Coast Guard. With the new contribution, U.S. maritime security assistance to the region will exceed $156 million over the next two years, he said.

"Peace and stability in the South China Sea is a top priority for us and for countries in the region," Kerry told reporters at a news conference with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. "We are very concerned by and strongly opposed to coercive and aggressive tactics to advance territorial claims."

Why the Fed’s low-rate policies may or may
not have helped inflate
5 asset bubbles

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Reserve’s super-low interest-rate policies have inflated a slew of dangerous asset bubbles. Or so critics say.

They say stocks are at unsustainable prices. California homes are fetching frothy sums. Same with farmland, Bitcoins and rare Scotch.

Under Chairman Ben Bernanke, the Fed has aggressively bought bonds to try to cut borrowing rates and accelerate spending, investing and hiring. Its supporters say low rates have helped nourish the still-modest economic rebound.

Yet some say the Fed-engineered rates have produced an economic sugar high that risks triggering a crash akin to the tech-stock swoon in 2000 and the housing bust in 2006.

On the eve of the Fed’s latest policy meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, here’s why -- or why not -- these five assets might be in a bubble:

UN issues record funding appeal for Syrian refugees and victims of civil war

BEIRUT (AP) -- The exodus of millions of people from Syria in one of the largest refugee flights in decades is pushing neighboring countries to a breaking point, and thousands of lives are threatened with the onset of a bitter winter.

The crisis prompted a record appeal by the United Nations on Monday for $6.5 billion to help displaced Syrians and their host countries, with hundreds of thousands more refugees expected as the civil war rages.

With less than a month to go before internationally brokered peace talks by Syria’s warring sides are to begin, the U.N. chief demanded a cease-fire for the discussions to have any chance in succeeding.

"We must have cessation of hostilities before we begin political dialogue on Syria in Geneva," Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York.

But if anything, the violence in Syria, which activists say has already claimed more than 120,000 lives, appears to be spiraling. Opposition groups said at least 76 people were killed in a series of airstrikes targeting the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday. They said government aircraft took to the skies again Monday, hitting opposition-held areas in the country’s north and south.

Wave of attacks across
Iraq kill 65 people, including Shiite pilgrims

BAGHDAD (AP) -- A double car bombing and a shooting killed 34 Shiite Muslims on pilgrimage in Iraq on Monday, the deadliest in a wave of attacks across the country that left at least 65 dead. It was the bloodiest day of violence in nearly two months.

Police officials said the worst attack took place Monday night in the southern Baghdad suburb of al-Rasheed, when two car bombs struck a group of Shiite pilgrims walking to the holy Shiite city of Karbala, killing 23 and wounding 55.

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims are making their way to the city to commemorate Arbaeen, the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure.

Earlier in the day, gunmen opened fire on a bus in Mosul that was carrying Shiite pilgrims traveling also to Karbala, killing 11 and wounding eight. Mosul is located about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

Sunni Muslim insurgents in Iraq frequently attack Shiites, who they consider infidels. Usually, Shiite marches to holy cities are poorly protected by Iraqi security forces.

Ohio judge hands down
28-year sentence in $100M, cross-country
Navy veterans charity fraud

CLEVELAND (AP) -- A man convicted of masterminding a $100 million, cross-country Navy veterans charity fraud was sentenced to 28 years in prison Monday.

Judge Steven Gall also ordered the defendant, who identifies himself as 67-year-old Bobby Thompson, to pay a $6 million fine. Authorities say the defendant is Harvard-trained attorney John Donald Cody.

The Ohio attorney general’s office, which handled his trial, asked the judge in a filing last week to sentence him to 41 years in prison.

The judge rejected a request for a new trial. The defense had said comments by jurors after the verdict that they were disappointed he hadn’t testified showed they were biased against him.

The defendant, whose appearance in court Monday was neat in contrast to the final days of his trial, slumped in his chair as the sentence was read. He complained to the judge about alleged abusive treatment by jailers while locked up during the trial.

Coroner: 9-year-old
Ohio girl found in trash
bin had been strangled; neighbor arrested

WOOSTER, Ohio (AP) -- A coroner says a 9-year-old girl found dead over the weekend in an Ohio trash bin likely died of strangulation.

Findings from an initial autopsy released Monday indicate second-grader Reann Murphy was strangled with an unknown object.

A 24-year-old man who lived near the girl’s family has been arrested. Neighbors say he had been seen building a snowman with the girl and helped search for her after she was reported missing Saturday.

A sheriff’s investigator says Jerrod Metsker was the last person seen with the girl at the trailer park where they lived near Akron.

Metsker is being held on $1 million bond following a court appearance by video Monday. His relatives and attorney aren’t commenting.

After years of study,
FDA says it has no evidence anti-bacterial soaps curb spread of bacteria

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After more than 40 years of study, the U.S.government says it has found no evidence that common anti-bacterial soaps prevent the spread of germs, and regulators want the makers of Dawn, Dial and other household staples to prove that their products do not pose health risks to consumers.

Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration announced Monday they are revisiting the safety of triclosan, the sanitizing agent found in soap in countless kitchens and bathrooms. Recent studies suggest triclosan and similar substances can interfere with hormone levels in lab animals and spur the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.

The government’s preliminary ruling lends new support to outside researchers who have long argued that the chemicals are, at best, ineffective and at worst, a threat to public health.

"The FDA is finally making a judgment call here and asking industry to show us that these products are better than soap and water, and the data don’t substantiate that," said Stuart Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine.

While the rule only applies to personal hygiene products, it has implications for a broader $1 billion industry that includes thousands of anti-bacterial products, including kitchen knives, toys, pacifiers and toothpaste. Over the last 20 years, companies have added triclosan and other cleaners to thousands of household products, touting their germ-killing benefits.

Google underscores robotics ambitions with acquisition of industry pioneer Boston Dynamics

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Google may be gearing up to build robots that resemble props in science-fiction movies as the ambitious Internet company expands into yet another technological frontier.

To gather the expertise and research it needs, Google has purchased eight companies that specialize in robotics this year. The acquisitions are being assembled into a new robotics division headed by Andy Rubin, who oversaw Google’s development of Android, now the world’s leading mobile operating system.

Google Inc. added more pieces to its growing toolbox of robotics late last week with the purchase of Boston Dynamics, a military contractor that has raised intrigue by releasing videos of its inventions in recent years. Those inventions include a four-legged robot capable of galloping past Olympian sprinters and a jumping contraption that can leap onto tall buildings. Another video of a creepy-looking four-footed machine has been watched more than 15 million times since it was posted on Google’s YouTube site five years ago.

Besides designing animal-like robots, Boston Dynamics also has been working on humanoids as part of a $10.8 million contract with the U.S.government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Boston Dynamics’ links to the U.S. military has inspired comparisons of its work with the ruthless cyborgs that overthrew humans in the "Terminator" movies. Founded in 1992 by former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Marc Raibert, Boston Dynamics says it is dedicating to "changing your idea of what robots can

Cousin, friends: Fake
signer at Mandela memorial was among a mob that burned 2 men to death

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Just when it seemed the scandal over the bogus sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial had run its course, a cousin and three friends say he was part of a mob that accosted two men found with a stolen television and burned them to death by setting fire to tires placed around their necks.

Thamsanqa Jantjie never went to trial for the 2003 killings when other suspects did because authorities determined he was not mentally fit to stand trial, the four told The Associated Press Monday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the fake signing fiasco, which has deeply embarrassed South Africa’s government and prompted a high-level investigation into how it happened.

Their account of the killings matched a description of the crime and the outcome for Jantjie that he himself described in an interview published by the Sunday Times newspaper of Johannesburg.

"It was a community thing, what you call mob justice, and I was also there," Jantjie told the newspaper.

Jantjie was not at his house Monday, and the cousin told AP Jantjie had been picked up by someone in a car Sunday and had not returned. His cellphone rang through to a message saying Jantjie was not reachable.