Saturday February 16, 2013

In Chicago, Pres. Obama to talk about ways to build ‘ladders of opportunity’ into the middle class

CHICAGO (AP) -- President Barack Obama is wrapping up his post-State of the Union tour by talking about how government can build "ladders of opportunity" into the middle class.

During remarks Friday at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago, his hometown, Obama will talk up proposals to raise the federal minimum wage and pair businesses with recession-battered communities to help them rebuild and provide job training. He also was to talk about creating jobs for young people from poor families, and encouraging fatherhood and low-income couples to marry.

It remains to be seen whether the proposals have enough support to get through Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, seemed unmoved by Obama’s appeals to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 to help workers paid at that rate escape poverty. Doing so, Boehner said, would cost jobs.

Arriving in Chicago on Friday afternoon, Obama was greeted on the tarmac by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his former chief of staff, before participating in a round-table discussion with 16 students who participate in a youth anti-violence program targeting at-risk young men.

Jesse Jackson Jr. charged with scheming to use $750K in campaign funds for personal expenses

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was charged Friday with scheming to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses. His wife was charged with filing false income tax forms.

Federal prosecutors filed a charge of conspiracy against the former congressman and charged his wife, Sandra, with one count of filing false joint federal income tax returns for the years 2006 through 2011. Both agreed to plead guilty in plea deals with federal prosecutors.

The charges represent a dramatic fall from political prominence for the couple. The son of a famed civil rights leader, Jackson entered Congress in 1995 and resigned last November. Sandi, as she’s known, was a Chicago alderman, but resigned last month.

In a statement, the ex-congressman said, "I offer no excuses for my conduct, and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made."

Jesse Jackson Jr.’s spending included $43,350 on a gold-plated, men’s Rolex watch and $9,587.64 on children’s furniture, according to court papers filed in the case.

Olympian Oscar Pistorius, weeping in court, faces possible life sentence in girlfriend’s shooting death

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius wept in court Friday as prosecutors said they’ll pursue a charge of premeditated murder against him in the killing of his model girlfriend, meaning the man who once inspired the world could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Pistorius’ family and London-based management issued a statement disputing the murder charge he now faces for the slaying of Reeva Steenkamp. The athlete himself initially appeared solemn and collected in his first court appearance, but later sobbed loud enough for his cries to be heard over the more than 100 spectators gathered for the hearing.

His tears even drew the attention of Chief Magistrate Desmond Nasir, who at one point simply said: "Take it easy."

The double-amputee athlete’s arrest stunned South Africa, which awoke the morning of Valentine’s Day to hear that Steenkamp had been shot to death at Pistorius’ home in a gated community in an eastern suburb of South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. Police said investigators recovered a 9 mm pistol from the home.

In Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Friday, throngs of photographers, videographers and journalists besieged the brick-walled Courtroom C, where Pistorius appeared. Nasir’s first ruling in the matter focused on the press: He dismissed requests from a private television station and the state broadcaster to air the hearing live.

Clashes near main airport in northern Syria kill 150, reflecting battle for
key infrastructure

BEIRUT (AP) -- Intense clashes between the Syrian army and rebel fighters near the country’s second-largest airport killed around 150 people in recent days, anti-regime activists said Friday, pointing to the significance both sides in the country’s civil war place on controlling key infrastructure.

The battle for the international airport near Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, resembles other battles over strategic assets that could provide an edge in the larger fight for the country.

This week, rebels seized a hydroelectric dam and a major oil field, cutting off President Bashar Assad’s regime from key resources necessary for its long term survival. On Friday, activists also reported that rebels seized an air defense base and fought near two other army installations in Syria’s north.

Rebels have been trying for months to capture Aleppo’s international airport, which lies east of the city in a complex with a smaller military airfield and an army base charged with protecting the area.

The base, home to the Syrian army’s 80th Brigade, fell to rebel forces on Wednesday, and fighting has continued over the airports since, with both sides shelling each other’s positions.

Trapped in squalor, cruise ship passengers became comrades on long,
difficult voyage home

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- When their cruise ship lost power, passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph could have been selfish and looked out only for themselves and their loved ones. Instead, they became comrades in a long, exhausting struggle to get home.

As ship conditions deteriorated, travelers formed Bible study groups, shared or traded precious supplies and even welcomed strangers into their private cabins. Long after they’ve returned to the everyday luxuries of hot showers and cold drinks, passengers said, they will remember the crew and the personal bonds formed during a cruel week at sea.

The tired passengers finally reached land Friday and gave a glimpse into the intensely uncomfortable journey they had endured.

Sandy Jackson, of Houston, was fortunate to have an upper-level room with a balcony and a breeze that kept the air in her cabin fresh. Rooms on the lower decks were too foul or stifling, so Jackson took in five people, including four strangers.

"We knew one, the others we’re very good friends with now," Jackson said. "Everyone was very cordial in sharing supplies. What you had and they didn’t have, everyone shared as much as possible."

Frustrated by a protracted war, Pakistani tribesmen pressing divided Taliban into peace talks

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) -- Five years after setting up an umbrella organization to unite violent militant groups in the nation’s tribal regions, the Pakistani Taliban is fractured, strapped for cash and losing support of local tribesmen frustrated by a protracted war that has forced thousands from their homes, analysts and residents say.

The temperamental chief of the group known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud, recently offered to start peace talks with the government, raising the prospect of a negotiated end to Pakistan’s war against insurgents in a lawless region that runs the length of the border with Afghanistan.

The group’s offer of sanctuary to Afghanistan’s Taliban has been one of the most divisive issues in U.S.-Pakistan relations and has confounded efforts to get the upper hand against Afghan insurgents after more than 11 years of war.

Pakistan denies providing outright military and financial help to militants fighting in Afghanistan. With 120,000 Pakistani soldiers deployed in the tribal regions, Pakistan has waged its own bloody battle against insurgents that has left more than 4,000 soldiers dead.

In interviews with analysts, residents and militant experts, Mehsud’s network has emerged as a narrow collection of insurgents -- often with links to criminal gangs -- that has only limited influence in a vast tribal region overrun by scores of insurgent groups led by commanders with disparate agendas and varying loyalties.

Meteor explodes over Russia’s Ural Mountains;
1,100 injured as shock wave blasts out windows

MOSCOW (AP) -- With a blinding flash and a booming shock wave, a meteor blazed across the western Siberian sky Friday and exploded with the force of 20 atomic bombs, injuring more than 1,000 people as it blasted out windows and spread panic in a city of 1 million.

While NASA estimated the meteor was only about the size of a bus and weighed an estimated 7,000 tons, the fireball it produced was dramatic. Video shot by startled residents of the city of Chelyabinsk showed its streaming contrails as it arced toward the horizon just after sunrise, looking like something from a world-ending science-fiction movie.

The largest recorded meteor strike in more than a century occurred hours before a 150-foot asteroid passed within about 17,000 miles of Earth. The European Space Agency said its experts had determined there was no connection between the asteroid and the Russian meteor -- just cosmic coincidence.

The meteor above western Siberia entered the Earth’s atmosphere about 9:20 a.m. local time (10:20 p.m. EST Thursday) at a hypersonic speed of at least 33,000 mph and shattered into pieces about 18 to 32 miles high, the Russian Academy of Sciences said. NASA estimated its speed at about 40,000 mph, said it exploded about 12 to 15 miles high, released 300 to 500 kilotons of energy and left a trail 300 miles long.

"There was panic. People had no idea what was happening," said Sergey Hametov of Chelyabinsk, about 930 miles east of Moscow in the Ural Mountains.