U.S. considers how to prevent spying on its searches of Americans’ phone records

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S.government is looking into encryption techniques that could prevent eavesdroppers from spying on its own surveillance of Americans’ phone records.

As the Obama administration considers shifting the collection of those records from the National Security Agency to requiring that they be stored at phone companies or elsewhere, it’s quietly funding research to prevent phone company employees or eavesdroppers from seeing whom the U.S. is spying on, The Associated Press has learned.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has paid at least five research teams across the country to develop a system for high-volume, encrypted searches of electronic records kept outside the government’s possession. The project is among several ideas that would allow the government to discontinue storing Americans’ phone records, but still search them as needed.

Under the research, U.S. data mining would be shielded by secret coding that could conceal identifying details from outsiders and even the owners of the targeted databases, according to public documents obtained by The Associated Press and AP interviews with researchers, corporate executives and government officials.

The administration has provided only vague descriptions about changes it is considering to the NSA’s daily collection and storage of Americans’ phone records, which are presently kept in NSA databanks. To resolve legal, privacy and civil liberties concerns, President Barack Obama this month ordered the attorney general and senior intelligence officials to recommend changes by March 28 that would allow the U.S. to identify suspected terrorists’ phone calls without the government holding the phone records itself.

State of Union: After bold ambitions flounder, Obama to focus his efforts on what’s achievable

WASHINGTON (AP) -- No longer about bold ambitions, this year’s State of the Union address will focus more on what’s actually achievable.

For the White House, that dose of realism is aimed at avoiding a repeat of 2013, when a long list of unfulfilled policy goals -- including gun control and an immigration overhaul -- dragged President Barack Obama down like an anchor. Tuesday’s prime-time address will focus instead on redefining success for Obama -- not by what he can jam through Congress but rather by what he can accomplish through his own presidential powers.

He is expected to announce executive actions on job training, retirement security and help for the long-term unemployed in finding work. All are part of the White House focus this year on boosting economic mobility and narrowing the income gap between the wealthy and the poor.

Another action Obama is expected to announce is the creation of a new retirement savings plan geared toward workers whose employers don’t currently offer such plans. Because commercial retirement accounts often have fees or high minimum deposits that are onerous for low-wage workers, this program would allow first-time savers to start building up savings in Treasury bonds. Once the savings grew large enough, a worker could convert the account into a traditional IRA, according to two people who have discussed the proposal with the administration. Those people weren’t authorized to discuss it ahead of the announcement and insisted on anonymity.

"Tomorrow night, it’s time to restore opportunity for all," Obama said Monday on the video-sharing site Vine, part of the White House’s broad social media promotion of the speech.

Stocks fall across the globe on fears over shaky emerging-market economies and currencies

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shaky economies and plunging currencies in the developing world fueled a global sell-off in stocks Monday as fearful investors pushed prices lower across Asia and Europe, but many of the drops were not as steep as last week.

In the U.S. and other rich countries with healthier economies, investors also retreated, although the selling was more modest.

Major indexes in both Hong Kong and Tokyo fell more than 2 percent. The selling then spread to Europe and the U.S., as stocks slipped across the board, but the declines were much less than on Friday, when the U.S. market ended its worst week since 2012.

Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank, said he was encouraged that the U.S. losses were limited.

"We have an accelerating economy, low inflation and accommodative monetary policy," he said. "The world isn’t falling apart."

Contentious issue of Assad’s future blocks progress in Syria peace talks

GENEVA (AP) -- The key issue of a transitional government to replace President Bashar Assad blocked any progress Monday in Syrian peace talks, described by one delegate as "a dialogue of the deaf."

The chief U.N. mediator expressed frustration over inflammatory public remarks by the two sides as he sought to identify some less-contentious issues in hopes of achieving any progress at all at the bargaining table.

But even the most modest attempts at confidence-building measures faltered -- including humanitarian aid convoys to besieged parts of the central city of Homs and the release of detainees. Veteran mediator Lakhdar Brahimi somberly declared at the end of the day that he had little to report.

"There are no miracles here," Brahimi said, adding that both sides nevertheless appeared to have the will to continue the discussions. Asked how he planned to bridge the enormous gap between the two sides, the veteran diplomat quipped: "Ideas, I’ll take them with great pleasure."

The gulf between the two sides was on full display at a turbulent morning session in which the delegations from the opposition and the Syrian government faced off on the question of Assad’s future.

After debacles of 2012, GOP tries to train unpolished candidates to avoid self-destructing

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Having watched several promising campaigns collapse in 2012 after candidates made catastrophic mistakes, national Republican leaders are leaving nothing to chance as they prepare for this year’s midterm elections.

They’re summoning contenders-- especially those who seem inexperienced, unpredictable or inclined to provocative opinions -- to first-of-a-kind training at the GOP’s Senate campaign headquarters to learn, in part, what not to say and how not to say it.

It’s a delicate intervention, but one deemed essential by officials smarting from campaign debacles that cost the GOP winnable races, including Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana, last time.

"Hopefully, everyone has paid attention to the huge blunders that were made," said Ari Fleischer, former top aide to President George W. Bush who helped draft a post-election analysis for the Republican National Committee after the 2012 campaign. "You can’t buy enough ads to cover up a candidate who is flawed."

Deep freeze grips Midwest for 2nd time in weeks, putting routines and travel plans on ice

CHICAGO (AP) -- Parents brought kids to work or just stayed home because schools were closed, again. Office workers hailed cabs to ride a block -- or less. And companies offering delivery services were inundated with business as Artic air blasted the central U.S. on Monday for the second time in weeks, disrupting the lives of even the hardiest Midwesterners.

As temperatures and wind chills plummeted throughout the day Monday, even simple routines were upended by the need to bundle up, with anyone venturing outdoors being well advised to layer up with clothing, coats, hats, scarves and gloves.

And there’s no quick relief in sight as subzero highs were expected to dominate across the region into Tuesday.

"This is similar to what we had three weeks ago" in terms of life-threatening conditions, said Sarah Marquardt, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "With wind chills in the minus 30 to minus 40 range, you can get frostbite within 10 minutes on exposed skin."

In Chicago, temperatures had fallen below zero by Monday afternoon with wind chills in the negative double-digits.

Egypt’s army chief inches closer to presidency with military support

CAIRO (AP) -- Army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the coup ousting Egypt’s Islamist president, moved closer to declaring his candidacy to replace him, securing the military’s backing on Monday for a presidential run, due by the end of April.

Though he’s riding on a wave of nationalist fervor touting him as the nation’s savior to bring stability, his candidacy is certain to enflame a violent backlash from Islamists.

A run by the 59-year-old el-Sissi, a U.S.-trained infantry officer, would be a new twist in Egypt’s tumultuous transition, which began with 2011 revolt against autocratic President Hosni Mubarak -- a veteran of the military who ruled for nearly 30 years -- in the name of bringing civilian rule, reform and greater democracy.

The elections that followed were the country’s first democratic vote and brought the Islamists to power, installing Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohammed Morsi as president, only for a large portion of the population to turn against them, accusing the Brotherhood of trying to monopolize power. Massive protests prompted el-Sissi to depose Morsi on July 3.

Since Morsi’s ouster, Egypt has seen a wave of pro-military nationalist fervor and a return to prominence of security agencies that under Mubarak -- and even after -- were widely hated for abuses of power. Soon after the coup, millions of Egyptians answered el-Sissi’s call to take to the street in rallies to "delegate" him to fight terrorism. Police have since waged a fierce crackdown on the Brotherhood, killing hundreds of supporters and arresting thousands more. The government branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, accusing it of orchestrating the violence. The group denies the charge, saying it is aimed at justifying the crackdown.

Ukraine president says he will scrap anti-protest law; opposition leader rejects PM offer

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine’s beleaguered president on Monday agreed to scrap harsh anti-protest laws that set off a wave of clashes between protesters and police over the past week, a potentially substantial concession to the opposition that stopped short of meeting all of its demands.

In a possibly major sticking point, a proposed amnesty for arrested protesters would not be offered unless demonstrators stopped occupying buildings and ended their round-the-clock protests and tent camp on Kiev’s central Independence Square, according to a statement by Justice Minister Elena Lukash on the presidential website.

President Viktor Yanukovych has been under increasing pressure since he pushed the tough laws through parliament, setting of clashes and protests in other parts of the country in a sharp escalation of tensions after weeks of mostly peaceful protests over his rejection of a deal to deepen ties with the 28-nation European Union.

At a meeting between top opposition figures and Yanukovych late Monday "a political decision was made on scrapping the laws of Jan. 16, which aroused much discussion," Lukash said.

She made no mention of a key opposition demand -- that Yanukovych resign.

Police: 16-year-old boy set self on fire at Colorado high school in apparent suicide attempt

WESTMINSTER, Colo. (AP) -- A 16-year-old boy set himself on fire at a suburban Denver high school on Monday in an apparent suicide attempt that left him critically injured, authorities said.

The boy didn’t make any threats before starting the fire in the cafeteria at Standley Lake High School at about 7:15 a.m., Westminster Police Department spokeswoman Cheri Spottke said.

A custodian was able to use a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze before it could spread, Spottke said. Several other students were in the cafeteria at the time, but none were injured.

Investigators went through the school with bomb detection dogs as a precaution, and no devices were discovered, Spottke said. Investigators are also talking to students, faculty members and family members to find out what happened, she said.

"We don’t have any indication that there’s any threat against the high school. We do believe that this is a suicide attempt," she said.

Quentin Tarantino sues Gawker Media for over its posting of leaked film script on website

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Quentin Tarantino sued the news and gossip website Gawker on Monday over a post that directed readers to a leaked copy of the Oscar-winning screenwriter’s latest movie.

Tarantino’s lawsuit accuses Gawker Media LLC of copyright infringement for posting a link to the 146-page script for a planned film titled "The Hateful Eight" last week. A link to the script was posted on Gawker’s Defamer blog and remained active on Monday afternoon, despite demands from Tarantino’s lawyers to take it down, the lawsuit states.

"There was nothing newsworthy or journalistic about Gawker Media facilitating and encouraging the public’s violation of (Tarantino’s) copyright in the Screenplay, and it’s conduct will not shield Gawker Media from liability for their unlawful activity," the lawsuit states.

An email sent to Gawker seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Tarantino blasted the leak last week in an interview with Deadline.com and said he would abandon the project as a film. His lawsuit states he planned to publish the screenplay and that practice in the past has earned him hefty royalties and advances. His lawsuit states his damages as a result of the Gawker post will be more than $1 million.