Majority Leader Reid attacks Republicans for blocking Obama’s nominee for defense secretary
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Struggling to break an impasse, Senate Democrats set a test vote Thursday on whether to advance Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary after Republicans blocked speedy confirmation of their former colleague and Vietnam combat veteran.
Hours of behind-the-scenes talks yielded the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but no clear sign of whether President Barack Obama’s nominee would receive the 60 votes required to move the Senate to a final vote on whether to confirm him. Democratic officials said the vote was scheduled with only a handful of votes needed to clear the threshold.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona led the opposition to Hagel’s confirmation, but he said he would not object to the test vote, called cloture.
The remaining "yes" votes remain elusive, even after the White House responded to McCain’s demand for information unrelated to Hagel. McCain and Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said they would delay the vote until they got a more detailed accounting of Obama’s actions on the night of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Republicans have sought to portray Obama as being out of touch during the raid and demanded to know whether Obama spoke to any Libyan official during the Sept. 11 assault.
The Republicans’ demand has had the effect of a filibuster.
Obama pushes plan to expand preschool access, but won’t discuss cost
DECATUR, Ga. (AP) -- Raising hopes among parents who want preschool for all, President Barack Obama on Thursday rolled out a plan to vastly expand government-funded early childhood while keeping the price tag a secret.
Republicans, wary of high costs and questionable outcomes, made clear they have no intention of signing a blank check.
Setting up yet another clash with Republicans over spending and the proper scope of government, Obama in his State of the Union address proposed working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every American child. Two days later, he played blocks and gave fist-bumps to kids in a preschool classroom at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, casting the plan as part of a moral imperative to give every child a shot at success.
"The size of your paycheck shouldn’t determine your child’s future," Obama told about 600 teachers and parents at the Decatur Community Recreation Center, singling out Georgia as a model for making universal preschool a priority. "Let’s fix this. Let’s make sure none of our kids start out the race of life already a step behind."
The White House offered the first details about Obama’s plan Thursday, describing it as a "continuum of high-quality early learning for a child, beginning at birth and continuing to age 5." The government would fund public preschool for any 4-year-old whose family income is 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level -- a more generous threshold than the current Head Start program, which generally serves kids from families below 130 percent of the poverty line. All 50 states and the federal government would chip in.
Heinz to be acquired by group including Warren Buffett in deal worth $23B
NEW YORK (AP) -- Billionaire Warren Buffett is dipping into the ketchup business as part of a $23.3 billion deal to buy H.J. Heinz Co., uniting a legend of American investing with a mainstay of grocery store shelves.
It’s the largest deal ever in the food industry and is intended to help Heinz accelerate its transformation into a global business. The company, based in Pittsburgh, also makes Classico pasta sauces, Ore-Ida potatoes and Smart Ones frozen meals.
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and its partner on the deal -- 3G Capital, the investment firm that bought Burger King in 2010 -- say Heinz will remain headquartered in Pittsburgh.
Heinz CEO William Johnson said at a news conference that taking the company private would give Heinz the flexibility to make decisions more quickly, without the burden of having to report quarterly earnings.
Heinz was founded by Henry John Heinz and his neighbor L. Clarence Noble in 1869. Their first product was grated horseradish, bottled in a clear glass to showcase its purity. The first ketchup was introduced in 1876; the company says it was the country’s first commercial grade ketchup.
Left behind in a house in Timbuktu, al-Qaida’s manifesto, outlining strategic vision for Mali
TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) -- In their hurry to flee last month, al-Qaida fighters left behind a crucial document: Tucked under a pile of papers and trash is a confidential letter, spelling out the terror network’s strategy for conquering northern Mali and reflecting internal discord over how to rule the region.
The document is an unprecedented window into the terrorist operation, indicating that al-Qaida predicted the military intervention that would dislodge it in January and recognized its own vulnerability.
The letter also shows a sharp division within al-Qaida’s Africa chapter over how quickly and how strictly to apply Islamic law, with its senior commander expressing dismay over the whipping of women and the destruction of Timbuktu’s ancient monuments. It moreover leaves no doubt that despite a temporary withdrawal into the desert, al-Qaida plans to operate in the region over the long haul, and is willing to make short-term concessions on ideology to gain the allies it acknowledges it needs.
The more than nine-page document, found by The Associated Press in a building occupied by the Islamic extremists for almost a year, is signed by Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the nom de guerre of Abdelmalek Droukdel, the senior commander appointed by Osama bin Laden to run al-Qaida’s branch in Africa. The clear-headed, point-by-point assessment resembles a memo from a CEO to his top managers and lays out for his jihadists in Mali what they have done wrong in months past, and what they need to do to correct their behavior in the future.
Droukdel, the emir of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, perhaps surprisingly argues that his fighters moved too fast and too brutally in applying the Islamic law known as Shariah to northern Mali. Comparing the relationship of al-Qaida to Mali as that of an adult to an infant, he urges them to be more gentle, like a parent:
Cruise ship moves toward shore again after towline break; passengers describe filthy scene
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- This is not at all how it looked in the brochure: Pulled by a tugboat at a maddeningly slow pace, the ill-fated cruise ship Carnival Triumph finally drew within sight of land on Thursday as miserable passengers told stories of overflowing toilets, food shortages, foul odors and dangerously dark passageways.
Around midday, four days after the 893-foot ship was crippled by an engine-room fire in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, the more than 4,200 passengers and crew members suffered another misfortune when the towline snapped, bringing the vessel to a dead stop just when it was getting close to port.
The towline was quickly replaced, and the long, slow journey to Mobile resumed. The ship was expected to arrive around midnight Thursday, and passengers then faced an hours-long bus ride or other travel hassles to finally get back home.
Frustrations with the cruise line were simmering on and off the ship, as passengers and their relatives questioned why it had taken so long to get back to dry land. The ship left Galveston, Texas, a week ago.
Television images from CNN showed passengers with signs of "Help" and "I love you" hanging from their cabin rooms. Others walked around the deck, some waving to the helicopters flying above. People in boats, presumably officials from Carnival, the Coast Guard and Customs, boarded the cruise liner.
Olympian, Paralympic star charged with murder in shooting of girlfriend
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius was charged Thursday with the murder of his girlfriend who was shot inside his home in South Africa, a stunning development in the life of a national hero known as the Blade Runner for his high-tech artificial legs.
Reeva Steenkamp, a model who spoke out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women, was shot four times in the predawn hours in the house, in a gated community in the capital, Pretoria, police said.
Hours later after undergoing police questioning, Pistorius left a police station accompanied by officers. He looked down as photographers snapped pictures, the hood on his gray workout jacket pulled up, covering most of his face. His court hearing was originally scheduled for Thursday afternoon but has been postponed until Friday to give forensic investigators time to carry out their work, said Medupe Simasiku, a spokesman for the prosecution.
South Africans were shocked at the killing. But while Pistorius captured the nation’s attention with his Olympic quest, police said there was a recent history of problems involving him. Police spokeswoman Brigadier Denise Beukes said the incidents included "allegations of a domestic nature."
Couple says fugitive Christopher Dorner tied them up in mountain cabin
BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) -- Fugitive ex-policeman Christopher Dorner was hiding at least five days in a mountain condominium before surprising the owners, tying them up and stealing their car just hours before his presumed death in a fiery confrontation with police, the couple said.
Karen and Jim Reynolds said Dorner was upstairs in their rental condo in the San Bernardino Mountains around noon Tuesday when they arrived to clean it to rent to vacationers.
The building is across the street from a command post established by authorities as they scoured the mountain for Dorner.
The fired Los Angeles policeman, who was sought at the time for three killings, confronted the Reynolds with a drawn gun, "jumped out and hollered ‘stay calm,"’ Jim Reynolds, 66, said during a Wednesday night news conference.
His 56-year-old wife screamed and ran down the staircase but Dorner caught her, Reynolds said.
Mexican cartel kingpin is Chicago’s new Public Enemy No. 1, a label created for Al Capone
CHICAGO (AP) -- A drug kingpin in Mexico who has never set foot in Chicago has been named the city’s new Public Enemy No. 1 -- the same notorious label assigned to Al Capone at the height of the Prohibition-era gang wars.
The Chicago Crime Commission considers Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman even more menacing than Capone because he’s the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, which supplies most of the narcotics sold in the city.
"What Al Capone was to beer and whiskey during Prohibition, Guzman is to narcotics," said Art Bilek, the commission’s executive vice president. "Of the two, Guzman is by far the greater threat. ... And he has more power and financial capability than Capone ever dreamed of."
The commission -- a non-government body that tracks city crime trends -- designated Capone Public Enemy No. 1 in 1930. It has declared other outlaws public enemies, but Capone was the only one deemed No. 1.
Until now. Emmett Till’s family reacts to offending Lil Wayne lyric, asks rapper to make positive impact
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A cousin of the late Emmett Till wonders if Lil Wayne understands just how damaging it was when he rapped a vulgar reference to the black U.S. teen whose death in 1955 became a significant moment in the civil rights movement.
Airickca Gordon-Taylor says Till’s family would like an apology from Lil Wayne for the brief but disturbing lyric on Future’s "Karate Chop" remix. But more than that, she’d like the platinum-selling New Orleans rapper to understand how his comparison of a sex act to the 14-year-old Chicago native’s torture death in Mississippi is hurtful to the black community.
"It was a heinous murder," Gordon-Taylor said in a phone interview Thursday from Chicago. "He was brutally beaten and tortured, and he was shot, wrapped in barbed wire and tossed in the Tallahatchie River. The images that we’re fortunate to have (of his open casket) that ‘Jet’ published, they demonstrate the ugliness of racism. So to compare a woman’s anatomy -- the gateway of life -- to the ugly face of death, it just destroyed me. And then I had to call the elders in my family and explain to them before they heard it from some another source."
The Future remix with Weezy guesting was leaked on the internet over the weekend. Epic Records said Wednesday it regretted the unauthorized remix version and that it was employing "great efforts" to pull it down. The brief reference -- just seven words -- will be stricken from the song when it’s officially released later.
The rapper made a crude reference to rough sex and used an obscenity. He indicated he wanted to do as much damage as had been done to Till.