Obama, fellow Democrats at odds over major trade deals with Europe and Asia
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama wants to put major emerging trade deals with Europe and Asia on a "fast track" to congressional passage. But with midterm elections looming, many fellow Democrats are working to sidetrack them instead.
At the same time, Obama has found an ally in a traditional foe, Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
If ratified, the proposals -- the Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific Trade and Investment Partnerships -- would create the largest free-trade zone in the world, covering roughly half of all global trade.
In his State of the Union address, Obama asked Congress to give him "trade promotion authority," usually known as fast track, to negotiate the twin trade deals. But the separate negotiations with the European Union and 11 Pacific Rim nations are generating strong emotions at home and abroad.
Many Democrats up for re-election in November are fearful of drawing primary-election opposition over the trade talks. Concerned about lost jobs that are important to labor unions, they’re abandoning Obama on this issue.
U.S. struggles for new options for Syria
WASHINGTON (AP) -- With peace talks failing, Syria’s government on the offensive and moderate rebels pushed aside by al-Qaida-linked militants, the Obama administration is struggling for new ideas to halt a savage civil war.
Extending beyond Syria, the crisis is also an accelerating national security threat to the United States, officials say. And that, in part, has led to a fresh look at previously shelved ideas, including more robust assistance to Western-backed rebels.
Officials also have looked at newer, more far-reaching options, including drone strikes on rebel factions who might aspire to attack the United States -- though such strikes are seen as unlikely for now.
American officials remain hampered by the same constraints that have stymied the U.S. response throughout the three-year civil war, including concern that lethal assistance could end up in the hands of extremists. And then there also is President Barack Obama’s own distaste for military action.
Speaking cautiously, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday, "We have to examine what the alternatives some might be proposing are and whether they’re in our national security interest." He added that the administration also was concerned about whether stepped-up intervention could lead to "unintended consequences."
Iran rejects key demand of world powers, saying it won’t scrap nuclear facility
VIENNA (AP) -- Iran drew a red line on Tuesday on how far it would go at landmark nuclear talks, saying as the meeting opened that it would not buckle to pressure from the U.S. and five other world powers to scrap any of its nuclear facilities.
The statement by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi suggested tough talks ahead, constituting a rejection of a central demand by the six countries.
At the same time, neither side can afford to have the talks fail.
Lack of agreement would leave Iran struggling under the weight of harsh economic sanctions and a threat of military strikes by Israel, which sees Iran’s nuclear program as an unacceptable security threat primarily designed to develop weapons.
The United States has promised to protect Israel, but said more time is needed for diplomacy and sanctions to try to reduce the threat Israel faces from Iran.
Riot police move against protest camp in Kiev after clashes leave at least 18 dead
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Defiant protesters shouted "Glory to Ukraine" as burning tents lit up the night sky after thousands of riot police moved against the sprawling protest camp in the center of Kiev on Tuesday.
The police, armed with stun grenades and water cannons, attacked the camp after at least 18 people died and hundreds were injured in street clashes. The violence was the deadliest in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the nation’s identity.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged the 20,000 protesters to defend the camp on Independence Square.
Early Wednesday morning, government agencies said seven police officers and 11 protesters have died in the violence.
To wealth managers’ chagrin, Powerball jackpot reflects lure of big-money purchases
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Jackpots like Wednesday’s anticipated $400 million-plus Powerball can grant a lot of wishes. But what if you were the only winner, and you had but one chance to blow all that money on a single purchase?
If you ignore the cautious advice of accountants and money managers and are ready to spend big, real estate listings, auction houses and even simple web searches are full of ideas to separate you and your newfound wealth.
A single winner taking the lump sum payout would end up with about $230 million. Opting for the quick cash grab, accounting for taxes, would still leave more than $100 million to invest wisely.
Or spend frivolously, if that’s how you roll.
"When you look at $100 million, you think that well will never run dry," said Mark DiGiovanni, a certified financial planner in Atlanta. "If you have $100 million and lose it, that’s probably worse than having never won at all."
Suspect in Florida music shooting compared himself to a rape victim by being blamed
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- The Florida software designer accused of killing a black teenager during an argument over loud music compared himself to a rape victim, telling his fiancee in a recorded jailhouse phone call that the police were trying to blame him for the shooting when he was only defending himself.
In a series of taped phone calls and jailhouse visits released Tuesday by prosecutors, Michael Dunn also expressed surprise at the media attention his November 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Jordan Davis outside a Jacksonville convenience store had drawn and expressed confidence that he would be exonerated once a jury heard all the facts.
Dunn, 47, was convicted Saturday of three counts of attempted second-degree murder for shooting at three of Davis’ friends who were all inside an SUV, but the jury hung on a first-degree murder charge for Davis’ death. Dunn, who is white, has argued that he fired at Davis after the teen threatened him and raised a shotgun or something that looked like one after he asked the teens to turn down their rap music. No shotgun was found in the SUV.
Dunn is facing 60 years in prison when sentenced and State Attorney Angela Corey says she will retry him on the murder charge, which carries a potential life sentence. A phone message left for Dunn’s attorney, Cory Strolla, was not immediately returned.
In a December 2012 phone call with his fiancee, Rhonda Rouer, Dunn compares himself to a rape victim, saying the detectives wanted to blame him for the shooting, not Davis and his friends. Inmates at the Duval County Jail are warned that all phone conversations and visits will be recorded and can be shared with prosecutors except for those with their attorneys.
National Guard suspends honor guard member over photo of soldiers mugging around empty casket
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The Wisconsin National Guard announced Tuesday that it had suspended a member from honor guard duties after she apparently posted to social media a photograph of soldiers mugging around an empty, flag-draped casket.
The group photograph taken at a National Guard training facility in Arkansas sparked a furor on Facebook, in military chat rooms and other social media, where people saw it as disrespectful of veterans and those killed in action. The National Guard said it was taking steps to protect the soldier who posted the photograph after she received death threats.
The photograph originally posted on Instagram shows about a dozen soldiers clowning around a casket draped in a flag. Several hug playfully. One flashes a peace sign. Another has his back turned and is pointing off in the distance.
The caption reads, "We put the FUN in funeral -- your fearless honor guard from various states."
The photograph was posted from an account belonging to Spc. Terry Harrison, of the Madison, Wis.-based 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, according to the National Guard. That account has since been closed, but others have reposted the picture and Harrison’s comments on multiple social media sites.
Jimmy Fallon’s debut as ‘Tonight’ host draws 11.3 million viewers, tops Conan O’Brien’s start
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jimmy Fallon’s start as host of "The Tonight Show" is a ratings winner for NBC.
Nielsen company figures released Tuesday show 11.3 million people tuned in to watch Fallon’s New York debut on Monday night.
It was the second-biggest audience for "Tonight" since May 2009, when Jay Leno stepped down for Conan O’Brien’s brief run as host.
Fallon’s "Tonight" debut fell short of the 14.6 million who tuned in Feb. 6 to see Leno sign off, again, after 22 years as host in Burbank.
Enjoying a post-Winter Olympics time slot, Fallon drew 2 million-plus viewers more than O’Brien’s June 2009 "Tonight" opening audience of nearly 9.2 million..