Thursday February 14, 2013

Boehner skeptical on budget, shows little support for State of the Union proposals

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Speaker John Boehner expressed doubts Wednesday that the Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate could reach agreement on a budget and avoid automatic spending cuts that could jeopardize economic growth.

In a post-State of the Union interview with The Associated Press, Boehner was also skeptical about President Barack Obama’s new proposal for federally supported universal pre-school. And he showed little support for Obama’s core proposals on immigration reform and gun control, including universal background checks.

But it’s the economy and deficit at the top of the congressional priority list as Obama and lawmakers face looming fiscal crises confronting the nation: the deep automatic spending cuts, called a "sequester," to take effect March 1, followed by the government running out of money to fund federal agencies March 27.

Boehner, seeking to keep the government from lurching from one crisis to another, has also pressed for Washington to get back to passing regular budgets. But he expressed pessimism about whether that was possible given the deep divisions on Capitol Hill.

"It’s hard to imagine that you could reconcile what the House and Senate pass, but at some point, in some manner, it almost has to happen if we’re going to deal with our long-term spending problem," Boehner said.


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Pope celebrates last Mass as pontiff, says he’s resigning for ‘good of the church’

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Beginning a long farewell to his flock, a weary Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his final public Mass as pontiff, presiding over Ash Wednesday services hours after a bittersweet audience that produced the extraordinary scene of the leader of the world’s billion Catholics explaining himself directly to the faithful.

The mood inside St. Peter’s Basilica was somber during the Mass, as if the weight of Benedict’s decision and the finality of his pontificate had finally registered with the thousands present. The basilica erupted in a rousing standing ovation as Benedict exited for the last time as pope, bringing tears to the eyes of some of those closest to him.

"We wouldn’t be sincere, Your Holiness, if we didn’t tell you that there’s a veil of sadness on our hearts this evening," Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict’s longtime deputy, told the pope at the end of the service, his voice breaking.

"Thank you for having given us the luminous example of the simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord," Bertone said, quoting Benedict’s words when he first appeared on the loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square after he was elected pope.

Smiling and clearly moved, Benedict responded, "Grazie. Now let us return to prayer" -- his words bringing to an end several minutes of thundering applause. Then, in a rare gesture and sign of respect, the bishops removed their mitres.

Rogue ex-LAPD officer believed dead after standoff

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) -- A sheriff’s spokeswoman says charred human remains have been found in the burned-out cabin where a fugitive former Los Angeles police officer was believed to be.

San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller says the remains were found late Tuesday after a shootout that killed one sheriff’s deputy and injured another. Authorities believe Christopher Dorner barricaded himself inside the cabin and a fire later ensued.

Investigators will attempt to determine if the remains are Dorner’s through forensic tests.

Thousands of officers had been on the hunt for the former Navy reservist since police said he launched a campaign to exact revenge against the Los Angeles Police Department for his firing.

Police had been searching the snow-covered woods near Big Bear Lake, a resort town about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, after Dorner’s truck was found late last week.

In the age of Twitter,
Israeli media are silenced on prisoner affair

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel’s military censor, which has long served as the country’s guardian of state secrets, is suddenly under the microscope following a pair of sensitive reports broken by the international media.

An Australian broadcaster’s story this week about the suspicious death of an Australian-Israeli prisoner held by Israel, following foreign reports of an Israeli airstrike in Syria last month, have revealed the limits of Israel’s decades-long censorship rules and court-imposed gag orders. In today’s Internet age, many are now asking whether these restrictions are even relevant.

The idea behind the objections is that in today’s communications environment, when everybody is essentially a publisher with a potentially worldwide audience, to censor "the media" is somehow akin to censoring conversation itself, which Israel, as a democracy, would never conceive of doing.

"(Gag orders) are a tool that can’t deal with the media reality we live in: a globalized, hyper-connected, hyper-fast world. There is no real way to control the spread of information," said Yuval Dror, an expert in digital communications.

The censorship office, which emerged from an agreement between editors and the government in the 1950s, has long wielded heavy control over reporting of Israel’s military and intelligence forays abroad and over domestic affairs it wants to keep under wraps.

Foul flesh? Horsemeat scandal exposes complex system set up to fulfill hunger for cheap meat

LONDON (AP) -- First, there was "pink slime." Then horsemeat. Most recently? "Desinewed meat."

Recent revelations that such products have reached dinner tables, including horsemeat falsely labeled as beef in Europe, have cast an unappetizing light on the global food industry.

Critics say the widening horsemeat scandal in particular is a result of a food supply chain that has become too complex to be safe. Others say we are stuck with the system: In today’s world, foodstuffs are highly mobile commodities, while consumers have come to expect -- and increasingly need -- plentiful, cheap meat.

Genevieve Cazes-Valette, a French anthropologist who studies food, said that throughout history, people around the world have had a special and intense relationship with meat.

"When we fast, we don’t give up bread. We give up meat," she said.

Deadly fighting rages near international airport in Aleppo as rebels close in

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian rebels knocked down army defenses and moved in on the country’s second largest airport Wednesday, reportedly killing more than 40 soldiers and bringing them closer to what could be their biggest conquest since the beginning of the civil war.

Control of Aleppo international airport and a military air base next to it would be a huge strategic shift for Syria’s northeastern region, giving the opposition a potential air hub enabling aid and other flights.

Still, activists said it could be days before the rebels would be able to push their way into the airport, 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the contested city center, and even then, it was unclear whether they would be able to retain control of the sprawling facility for long.

The country’s air space is firmly controlled by the government, which uses its warplanes indiscriminately to bomb rebel strongholds.

The advance on the airport, which stopped handling any flights weeks ago because of the fighting, comes on the heels of other strategic gains. Rebels this week captured the nation’s largest dam and a military base near Aleppo. They have also brought the fight closer to Damascus, seat of President Bashar Assad’s regime, moving to within a few miles from the heart of the city.

Carnival cancels 12 more cruises aboard ship plagued by mechanical issues

HOUSTON (AP) -- Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged that the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before it was left powerless in the Gulf of Mexico by an engine-room fire.

The company’s announcement on Wednesday came as the Triumph was being towed to a port in Mobile, Ala., with more than 4,000 people on board, some of whom have complained to relatives that conditions on the ship are dismal and that they have limited access to food and bathrooms.

The ship will be idle through April. Two other cruises were called off shortly after Sunday’s fire.

Debbi Smedley, a passenger on a recent Triumph cruise, said the ship had trouble on Jan. 28 as it was preparing to leave Galveston. Hours before the scheduled departure time, she received an email from Carnival stating the vessel would leave late because of a propulsion problem. Passengers were asked to arrive at the port at 2 p.m., two hours later than originally scheduled.

The ship did not sail until after 8 p.m., she said.

Send new brakes: Cuba’s Cold War-era cars get spruced up with help from Fla. auto parts shop

HIALEAH, Fla. (AP) -- Somewhere on the streets of Havana is a cherry-red Lada car rebuilt almost entirely with parts that arrived from Miami in a visitor’s suitcases.

A year ago, the 20-year-old Russian-made automobile -- a boxy but remarkably durable model -- was in dire need of repair. The door handles were rusting, the tires on their last mile, the inner workings shot.

"It was in very bad condition," said Frank Torres, a Cuban-American living in Miami whose cousin owns the car back in Cuba.

Torres decided to help overhaul it. But he and his cousin either couldn’t find the parts they needed in Cuba or encountered exorbitant prices.

So Torres turned to a Russian auto parts store that recently opened in Hialeah, in a pocket of Miami-Dade County filled with cheap clothing stores and gas stations that sell freshly brewed cafe con leche.

Quvenzhane Wallis gave a beast of a performance, but is 9 too young for an Academy Award?

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- "Beasts of the Southern Wild" star Quvenzhane Wallis is an actress of talent, poise and maturity well beyond her years.

She was only 5 years old when she auditioned and 6 when she played the part of Hushpuppy, a little girl of fierce strength and resourcefulness living with her daddy in a squalid slab of Louisiana swampland known as The Bathtub. She was just a regular kid from nearby Houma, La. -- she’d never even acted before, and actually pretended to be a year older than she was to be considered.

Now, at only 9, Quvenzhane is the youngest-ever actress nominee at the Academy Awards. Altogether, "Beasts" has four nominations at the Feb. 24 ceremony, including best picture.

While her presence is undeniable, Quvenzhane’s nomination raises the question: How young is too young to compete for an Oscar, the film industry’s highest honor, which has eluded performers with decades more experience and acclaim? Is a child really capable of acting, with craft, or do these performances reflect uncanny instinct?

Director Benh Zeitlin doesn’t think 9 is too young for such an honor. Zeitlin, who is up for a best-director Oscar himself with just his first feature, praised Quvenzhane for the incredible sense of self she displayed from the beginning. But he also recalled one day when she seemed to be struggling on set, and he took her aside to ask what was wrong.