Fed to slow pace of monthly bond purchases by another $10B despite turmoil in emerging markets
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Given the U.S. economy’s growing strength, the Federal Reserve pushed ahead Wednesday with a plan to shrink its bond-buying program, even though the prospect of reduced stimulus and higher interest rates has rattled global markets.
The central bank said it will cut its monthly bond purchases starting in February by $10 billion to $65 billion. It also reaffirmed a plan to keep short-term rates at record lows to try to reassure investors that it will keep supporting an economy that’s stronger than at any point since the recession yet remains less than fully healthy.
The Fed’s decision came in a statement after the final policy meeting of Ben Bernanke, who will step down Friday after eight years as chairman. He will be succeeded by Vice Chair Janet Yellen.
Most economists expect that under Yellen, the Fed will announce a string of $10 billion monthly reductions in bond purchases at each meeting this year, concluding with a final $15 billion cut in December. Still, if the American economy were to falter, the Fed has stressed that it might suspend its pullback in bond buying so it could keep aggressively holding down long-term loan rates.
Many global investors fear that reduced Fed bond buying will raise U.S. interest rates and cause investors to move money out of emerging markets and into the United States for higher returns. Currency values in emerging economies have fallen over that concern.
In his executive orders, Obama leaves some of his key allies left out and angry
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For some White House allies, the long list of executive actions President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address was marred by a few glaring omissions.
Gay rights advocates are seething over Obama’s refusal to grant employment discrimination protections to gays and lesbians working for federal contractors, safeguards they have been seeking for years. And some immigration overhaul supporters were disappointed that he did not act on his own to halt deportations, which have soared during his presidency and angered many Hispanics.
On both issues, White House officials say the place for action is in Congress, where successful legislation would be far more sweeping than the steps the president could take by himself. But work on an employment non-discrimination bill and an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws is stalled on Capitol Hill, leaving advocates perplexed as to why their calls for executive action did not fit into Obama’s vow to act "whenever and wherever" Congress will not.
"In the absence of congressional action, an executive order that prohibits discrimination by contractors is a tailor-made solution to the president’s expressed aims," said Fred Sainz, vice president of Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay advocacy organization. Sainz said his frustration with the White House’s inaction on the issue was "growing by the day."
Ben Monterroso, executive director of the immigration organization Mi Familia Vota, said: "The president said he is going to use executive orders to act where Congress fails, and we expect him to do the same with immigration reform."
Bitterness, rancor stirred by Syria’s civil war on full display at peace conference
GENEVA (AP) -- The bitterness and rancor stirred by Syria’s civil war were on full display this week at peace talks in Switzerland -- and not just in the closed room where rival delegations are seeking a way to end the three-year conflict.
For the first time since the country devolved into its bloody civil war, supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad -- many of them journalists -- are meeting face to face. The mix is producing more than just awkward moments between people with vastly different views.
In the hallways of the U.N.’s European headquarters and on the manicured lawns outside, tempers have flared. Scuffles have broken out as journalists interrupt rival reports, government officials have received extraordinary public grillings, and a distraught mother confronted the Syrian government delegation at their hotel.
More than 130,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, and millions of people have been uprooted from their homes. The conflict has pitted neighbor against neighbor. People who were once friends have stopped talking to each other. Journalists who once worked together have been separated. Sectarian tensions, once tamped down under Assad’s grip, have exploded into the open.
Many journalists have been forced to leave the country, either thrown out by the regime or going into self-imposed exiled in order to continue their work freely. Many have switched jobs to work with opposition or government outlets.
Snowfall creates chaos in Atlanta, stranding thousands of drivers and students
ATLANTA (AP) -- Rescuers rushed to bring blankets, food, gas and a ride home Wednesday to thousands of Atlanta schoolchildren and motorists stranded all night long in classrooms and freezing cars after a snowstorm of less than 3 inches paralyzed the South’s flagship city.
As National Guardsmen and state troopers fanned out, Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal found themselves on the defensive, acknowledging that the storm preparations and the response could have better. But state officials also blamed forecasts that said conditions wouldn’t be so bad.
The icy weather wreaked similar havoc across much of the South, closing schools and highways, grounding flights and contributing to at least a dozen deaths from traffic accidents and a mobile home fire.
Yet it was Atlanta, home to major corporations and the world’s busiest airport, that was Exhibit A for how a Southern city could be sent reeling by winter weather that, in the North, might be no more than an inconvenience.
The mayor said the city could have directed schools, businesses and government offices to stagger their closings on Tuesday afternoon, as the storm began, rather than dismissing everyone at the same time.
Previously unknown, Egypt’s army chief could be carried into presidency
CAIRO (AP) -- Unknown only two years ago, the head of Egypt’s military, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is riding on a wave of popular fervor that is almost certain to carry him to election as president. Many Egyptians now hail him as the nation’s savior after he ousted the Islamists from power and as the only figure strong enough to lead.
Still, if he becomes president, el-Sissi runs enormous risks.
His presidency would enmesh the military even deeper into politics, putting the credibility of the powerful institution on the line if he fails to resolve the country’s woes. Turmoil may only increase with a backlash from Islamists, who now despise el-Sissi for his ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and for the brutal crackdown on their ranks that has arrested thousands and killed hundreds since.
And there is little indication of how he would rule.
Secular critics fear a return of an autocracy similar to that led by Hosni Mubarak for nearly 30 years until his ouster in 2011’s popular uprising. El-Sissi has said it is impossible to now return to Mubarak’s style of rule and that the country must move to democracy. But elements of Mubarak’s police state -- including top security officials and the business elite -- are among his fervent supporters, and the crackdown on Islamists has already expanded into a wider suppression of dissent.
Syrian official rejects opposition’s call for transitional govt., hints election may not happen
GENEVA (AP) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad’s adviser on Wednesday rejected the opposition’s call for a transitional governing body and suggested for the first time that a presidential election scheduled to be held later this year may not take place amid the raging violence.
The comments by Bouthaina Shaaban in an interview with The Associated Press came as U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced that the first phase of the Syria peace talks in Geneva will end on Friday, as scheduled, and that the gap between the government and the opposition remains "quite large."
"To be blunt, I do not expect that we’re going achieve anything substantial" by Friday, he told reporters Wednesday. "I’m very happy that we are still talking and that the ice is breaking slowly."
Brahimi said both sides will decide when the second phase of the talks will take place -- most likely after a one-week break.
Earlier Wednesday, both sides managed to discuss the thorniest issue: the opposition’s demand for a transitional government in Syria. Ukraine’s parliament passes measure offering protesters amnesty if they free buildings
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine’s parliament on Wednesday passed a measure offering amnesty to those arrested in two months of protests, but only if demonstrators vacate most of the buildings they occupy. The move was quickly greeted with contempt by the opposition.
The measure was put forth by a lawmaker from the party of President Viktor Yanukovych, who is casting about for a way to end the protests, which are calling for his resignation. The measure was a softer version of an earlier proposal to only offer amnesty if all protests dispersed.
But the opposition regards the arrests during the protests -- 328 by one lawmaker’s count -- as fundamentally illegitimate.
"In reality, parliament has just passed a law on hostages. The authorities have themselves recognized that they are taking hostages, as terrorists so they can trade the hostages," said Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the Svoboda party and one of the protests’ top figures, according to the Interfax news agency.
That disdain was echoed in Kiev’s central Independence Square, where protesters have set up a large tent camp and conducted round-the-clock demonstrations since early December.
N.Y. congressman faces questions about temperament, campaign finances
NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm has never been shy about promoting himself as a tough guy.
When he ran for Congress in 2009, he highlighted his service in the Marines and as an undercover FBI agent. After his election, he brushed off allegations that he’d once brandished a gun during an early-morning altercation at a New York City nightclub by saying he was armed but hadn’t verbally threatened to kill anyone.
"That’s not my personality. I don’t need to speak that way," he told a writer for the New Yorker. "A guy with a gun who knows how to use it doesn’t need to say anything."
The Staten Island Republican’s temperament is at the forefront again after he was caught on camera threatening a television news reporter.
The confrontation occurred on a balcony in the Capitol following the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. Grimm walked out of an interview with the New York City cable news station NY1 when reporter Michael Scotto tried to throw in a last question about a long-running FBI investigation into his campaign finances.
French, African peacekeepers struggle to stop religious violence in Central African Republic
BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) -- The French patrol in two armored personnel carriers showed up just as the bystanders started pulling out their mobile phones to photograph what moments ago had been a human being.
Now his body lay on the side of the road after the mob killed and mutilated him.
"He was a Muslim carrying grenades," shouted one man, defending the crowd’s actions.
"He is Seleka," shouted another, referring to the Muslim rebels who became deeply despised by Bangui’s Christian majority after they overthrew the president in March 2013 and began killing and torturing civilians.
Now, after the Seleka leader-turned-president has stepped down from power, Bangui residents are taking revenge on anyone perceived as having supported the Seleka rebels -- using stones, machetes and bare hands to kill their victims in broad daylight.