The Ottumwa Courier

January 15, 2014

World in Brief Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Ottumwa Courier

---- — WASHINGTON (AP) — Shunning the turmoil of recent budget clashes, Congress is ready to approve a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill for this year, a compromise financing everything from airports to war costs and brimming with victories and setbacks for both parties.

The huge bill furnishes the fine print — 1,582 pages of it — for the bipartisan pact approved in December that set overall federal spending levels for the next couple of years. With that decision behind them and lawmakers eager to use the election year to show they can run a government, there was little suspense about the spending bill's fate.

Reinforcing that was their desire to avoid the potential alternative — a replay of last fall's 16-day federal shutdown, which disgusted voters.

"There's a desire to show people we can do our job," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.

The Republican-led House was expected to approve the sweeping measure Wednesday, with the Democratic-run Senate following suit by the end of the week.

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AP sources: Obama expected to back changes to NSA surveillance with Congress handling details

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is expected to endorse changes to the way the government collects millions of Americans' phone records for possible future surveillance, but he'll leave many of the specific adjustments for Congress to sort out, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the White House intelligence review.

That move would thrust much of the decision-making on Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act toward a branch of government that is deeply divided over the future of the surveillance apparatus. And members of Congress are in no hurry to settle their differences and quickly enact broad changes.

Obama will speak about the bulk collections and other surveillance programs in a highly anticipated speech Friday at the Justice Department. The speech marks the culmination of a monthslong review sparked by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, who leaked a trove of classified documents about the secret surveillance programs last year.

In another revelation about NSA activities, The New York Times reported Tuesday that the agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world — but not in the United States — that allows the U.S. to conduct surveillance on those machines.

The NSA calls the effort an "active defense" and has used the technology to monitor units of China's Army, the Russian military, drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and sometime U.S. partners against terrorism like Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, the Times reported.

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Bombings across Iraq striking busy markets, funeral north of Baghdad, kill at least 41 people

BAGHDAD (AP) — A wave of bombings across Iraq striking busy markets and a funeral north of Baghdad killed at least 41 people Wednesday, authorities said, as the country remains gripped by violence after al-Qaida-linked militants took control of two cities in western Anbar province.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. Insurgent groups, mainly al-Qaida's local branch and other Sunni militants, frequently target civilians in cafes and public areas, as well as Shiites and members of Iraqi security forces in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government and stir sectarian tensions.

The deadliest attack struck a funeral in the town of Buhriz, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Baghdad. That bombing killed 16 people and wounded 26 inside of a mourning tent, a police officer said.

The funeral was for an anti-al-Qaida Sunni militiaman who died of natural causes two days ago. The Sunni militia, known as the Awakening Council, was formed by U.S. forces during the height of the insurgency. They are seen as traitors by al-Qaida's local branch and other militant groups.

In Baghdad, a series of bombings killed at least 25 people.

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Google counts on latest acquisition to open doors as homes get smarter in digital world

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — When our Internet-connected gadgets and home appliances all learn to talk to each other, Google wants to be at the center of the conversation.

This imagined future is still a few years away, but Google is already preparing with its $3.2 billion acquisition of high-tech thermostat and smoke-detector maker Nest Labs.

The surprise deal announced earlier this week will provide Google Inc. with more tools to build a valuable hub for homes. It's a world of network-tethered toasters and tea kettles, or a so-called "Internet of Things," that is destined to reshape society, experts say, in the same way that smartphones have done in the seven years since Apple Inc. unveiled the iPhone.

The research firm Gartner Inc. expects more than 26 billion objects to be connected to the Internet by 2020, a figure that doesn't include personal computers, smartphones or tablets. That would be a nearly 30-fold increase from roughly 900 million Internet-connected things in 2009.

Google established itself as an instrumental player in smartphones with the 2008 release of Android, a free operating system that runs on more mobile devices than any other piece of software. Now, the company is gearing up for the advent of the smart home with the help of Nest Labs, a 300-employee company started in Palo Alto, Calif. less than four years ago. Tony Fadell, Nest's founder, is an Apple veteran who helped design the iPod and the iPhone.

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Indian police say Danish tourist was gang-raped near New Delhi shopping area

NEW DELHI (AP) — A Danish tourist was gang-raped near a popular shopping area in New Delhi after she stopped to ask for directions, police said Wednesday, the latest case to focus attention on the scourge of violence against women in India.

The 51-year-old woman also was robbed and beaten in the attack, which happened Tuesday afternoon or early evening near Connaught Place, police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said. The woman had lost her way and was trying to get back to her hotel, he said.

She approached a group of men for directions, but they lured her to a secluded area where they raped her at knife-point, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

The woman managed to reach her hotel Tuesday evening and the owner called police. Police are questioning several suspects but no arrests have been made.

"When she came, it was miserable," said Amit Bahl, owner of the Amax Hotel in the Paharganj area, which is popular with backpackers. The woman was crying and "not in good shape," he said.

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In bucolic Vermont, rising problem of painkiller and heroin abuse stirs a battle cry

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Behind the facade of pristine ski slopes, craft beer, quaint village greens and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, Vermont is grappling with painkiller and heroin abuse, a challenge leaders say is fueling crime and wrecking lives and families disproportionately in this tiny state.

Nearly every day, police across Vermont are responding to burglaries or armed robberies investigators believe are prompted by the unslakable hunger for money to feed heroin or pill habits. In many cases, law enforcement officials say, what began as the abuse of prescription drugs has turned into heroin use because it's less expensive and, more recently, easier to get.

Federal statistics rank Vermont among the top 10 states for the abuse of painkillers and illicit drug use other than marijuana — including heroin — for people ages 18 to 25.

Last week, Gov. Peter Shumlin took the unusual step of highlighting the challenge by devoting almost his entire State of the State address to it. He described the drug abuse as "a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface" and called on the Legislature to pass laws encouraging treatment and seek ideas on the best way to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place. He also called for stiffer penalties for traffickers and people who use weapons in drug crimes.

"Anyone who doesn't believe that they have an opiate challenge in their state is in denial," Shumlin said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, the day after his speech. "The point is that if we can shift from our belief, our fantasy, that we can solve all of these problems with law enforcement, we'll go a long way toward solving the problem. This is primarily a public health crisis."

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Medieval treasure trove at center of dispute between Berlin museums, Jewish heirs

BERLIN (AP) — It's a medieval treasure trove worth an estimated quarter of a billion dollars, filled with gold crosses studded with gems and intricate silverwork. For years, it's been at the center of a dispute between a Berlin museum foundation and the heirs of Holocaust-era Jewish art dealers.

Now a resolution may be in sight: On Wednesday, a German government-created commission convenes to make a recommendation on who rightfully owns the Welfenschatz — or Guelph Treasure.

The heirs claim that their ancestors had no choice but to sell the Christian artifacts in 1935 to the Nazi government for less than their value. The foundation that oversees Berlin's museums says that the collectors were not forced to sell the pieces — arguing among other things that the collection was not even in Germany at the time of its sale.

The collection — which has been on display in Berlin museums since the early '60s — is considered the largest German church treasure in public hands. Some experts have estimated the value of the collection of silver and gold crucifixes, altars and other relics at between 180 -200 million euros ($246-$273 million).

The question of the collection's ownership comes at a particularly sensitive time in Germany, following the discovery of more than 1,400 art pieces in the Munich apartment of the son of an art dealer who worked with the Nazis. Descendants of the original Jewish owners of some of those pieces, who now live mostly in Israel and the United States, have criticized the German government for not coming up with a speedy solution on how to either return the art or compensate them for it.

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Contrite Christie apologizes, pushes 2nd term plans on skeptical Dems

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — His critics call him a bully, but New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie is offering hugs and more apologies to help protect his second-term priorities as a traffic scandal threatens to derail his political future.

He has little choice.

The often-outspoken governor offered new proposals on taxes, education and crime in a State of the State address on Tuesday that asked a state and national audience to look beyond his administration's mistakes. But the success of his plans depends upon cooperation from the Democratic-led state legislature — some of the same people investigating the Christie administration's role in an apparent political retribution plot that caused a massive traffic jam to punish a Democratic mayor.

The investigation, along with Christie's second-term priorities, could have far-reaching implications on the next presidential contest. As he weighs a White House bid, Christie has carefully crafted a national reputation as a straight-talking leader who values policy accomplishments more than playing politics. On Tuesday, he outlined 2014 goals that would strengthen his resume ahead of a prospective presidential campaign.

Christie offered a conciliatory tone in a 46-minute afternoon address that emphasized bipartisanship. He used the word "we" more than 100 times. And he left the podium briefly in the middle of his remarks to hug a reformed drug addict featured in his speech.

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Transportation secretary optimistic the US may be ready to tackle its infrastructure deficit

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans spend a total of 600,000 years stuck in traffic every year. The nation has about 100,000 bridges old enough for Medicare. And a recent global ranking put the United States' infrastructure in 25th place, just behind Barbados. But Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says he sees signs the nation may finally be ready to tackle its "infrastructure deficit."

One reason for optimism is that some members of Congress are beginning to talk about specific proposals to shore up the federal Highway Trust Fund, which has been teetering on the edge of insolvency for years, Foxx told The Associated Press in an interview.

The fund pays for federal highway and transit aid, as well as many transportation safety programs. It's funded primarily through federal gas and diesel taxes, but revenues haven't kept pace with transportation needs. Without congressional action, the fund could start "bouncing checks" as soon as August, according to a draft of a speech Foxx plans to give to an international gathering of transportation researchers and officials in Washington on Wednesday.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Mich., recently introduced legislation to increase the federal 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax by 15 cents over the next three years, and then index it for inflation. It would raise about $170 million over the next decade. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has proposed eliminating the per-gallon gas tax and replacing it with a federal sales tax based on a percentage of the price of the gas sold.

"The more folks step up and put their ideas on the table, the more it creates the context for a solution to emerge," Foxx said. "I consider it progress that these proposals are being put out there." He declined, however, to endorse the proposals.

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Judge denies preliminary approval of NFL concussion settlement, fears $765M may not be enough

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal judge is slowing down the proposed $765 million settlement of NFL concussion claims, questioning if there's enough money to cover 20,000 retired players.

U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody denied preliminary approval of the plan on Tuesday because she's worried the money could run out sooner than expected. She also raised concerns that anyone who gets concussion damages from the NFL would be barred from suing the NCAA or other amateur football leagues.

"I am primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their (families) ... will be paid," the judge wrote.

The proposed settlement, negotiated over several months, is designed to last at least 65 years.

The awards would vary based on an ex-player's age and diagnosis. A younger retiree with Lou Gehrig's disease would get $5 million, those with serious dementia cases would get $3 million and an 80-year-old with early dementia would get $25,000. Retirees without symptoms would get baseline screening and follow-up care if needed.