Friday, February 17, 2012


Both parties' leaders hoping to end battle over payroll tax cut as Congress gets ready to vote

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress is getting ready to vote on extending a payroll tax cut for 160 million workers and jobless benefits for people out of work the longest, a showdown that many legislators hope will finally end a standoff that has dominated Washington since the fall.

Lawmakers were expecting the House and Senate to vote Friday on the $143 billion package, which also would forestall deep cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors. The tax cuts, jobless coverage and higher doctors' payments would all run through 2012.

Passage seemed virtually assured in the House and likely in the Senate, though questions about its fate there were growing amid defections by senators of both parties.

Approval would hand election-year bragging rights to President Barack Obama, who made the tax cut and jobless benefit extensions a cornerstone of his September jobs package, over objections from many Republicans.

Late Thursday, Obama praised both parties for the accord and urged lawmakers to approve the measure.


Romney takes aim at global friends and foes as he pursues Republican nomination

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The world according Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney: Europeans are socialists. The Chinese are currency manipulators. Russia can't be trusted to abide by nuclear agreements. The Palestinians are out to destroy Israel. And the U.S. is too generous with humanitarian aid.

It often appears that Romney is targeting the rest of the world as fiercely as he does his rivals for the party nomination and President Barack Obama. It's not just expected foils like Iran that are in his line of attack. He takes aim at European allies, who are seen as slipping the capitalist leash.

The tough talk drives home Romney's criticism that Obama is an apologist for America, soft on its enemies and too forgiving of its friends. It's a message that might resonate with Republican voters, who sometimes tend to be wary of the rest of the world.

It also raises questions about whether the rhetoric could damage U.S. relations abroad in the event that the former venture capitalist and Massachusetts governor wins the White House.

A key Romney foreign policy adviser discounts any potential problems.


Santorum out of step with Americans, even most of GOP, on birth control, some other issues

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Most Americans don't share Rick Santorum's absolutist take on abortion. He's out of step on women in combat. He questions the values of the two-thirds of mothers who work. He's even troubled by something as commonplace as birth control -- for married couples.

Even among a Republican presidential field anxious to please religious conservatives, Santorum's ideas stand out.

A Catholic father of seven whose kids are home-schooled, Santorum may seem to wear his conservatism as comfortably as his sweater vests. But he's walked a careful path, keeping the more provocative opinions that helped sink his re-election to the Senate in 2006 mostly out of his presidential campaign.

That is until he leaped to the top of the polls, alongside Mitt Romney.

Now Santorum's record on social issues is getting a closer look. On several matters, he's outside the Republican mainstream. And if he becomes the GOP nominee, some of his ideas would likely be surprising, even puzzling, to general election voters.


Rage grows over deadly Honduran prison fire as family of the dead question how it started

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- As workers cleaned up the rubble of the century's deadliest prison fire, a collective rage built among relatives who gathered at the morgue and said the official explanation of a mattress fire killing 355 people was absurd.

Details of the investigation remained thin early Friday, and mystery swirled around the possible cause, from a crazed inmate who set fire to his bedding to rumors that gas cans were found inside and that guards deliberately set the blaze.

Family members said guards fired on prisoners to keep them from fleeing the flames, though guards and firefighters said they were shots in the air to summon help and to respond to what they thought was a prison break.

The attorney general's office said it was investigating all angles.

"It's impossible to believe that prisoners set the fire themselves when they too were going to die," said Felix Armando Cardona, 56, whose son, Luis Armando Cardona, 28, died in the blaze that broke out in Comayagua prison late Tuesday night.


NY Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, 43, dies of apparent asthma attack while covering Syria

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner whose dispatches captured untold stories from Baghdad under "shock and awe" bombing to Libya wracked by civil war, died Thursday of an asthma attack in Syria while reporting on the uprising against its president.

Shadid, 43, who survived a gunshot wound in the West Bank in 2002 and was captured for six days in Libya last year, was returning with smugglers from Syria to Turkey when he collapsed, the Times said.

Times photographer Tyler Hicks told the newspaper that Shadid had suffered one bout of asthma the first night, followed by a more severe attack a week later on the way out of the country.

"I stood next to him and asked if he was OK, and then he collapsed," Hicks told the Times.

Hicks said that Shadid was unconscious and that his breathing was "very faint" and "very shallow." He said that after a few minutes he could see that Shadid "was no longer breathing."


A year after uprising, militias hold true power in Libya as government struggles for authority

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- One revolutionary militia controls the airport. Others carve up neighborhoods of the Libyan capital into fiefdoms. They clash in the streets, terrifying residents. They hold detainees in makeshift prisons where torture is said to be rampant.

As Libya on Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi, hundreds of armed militias are the real power on the ground in the country, and the government that took the longtime strongman's place is largely impotent, unable to rein in fighters, rebuild decimated institutions or stop widespread corruption.

The revolutionary militias contend they are Libya's heroes -- the ones who drove Gadhafi from power and who now keep security in the streets at a time when the police and military are all but nonexistent. They insist they won't give up their weapons to a government that is too weak, too corrupt and, they fear, too willing to let elements of the old dictatorship back into positions of power.

"I am fed up," said the commander of a militia of fighters from the western mountain town of Zintan who control Tripoli's airport. Al-Mukhtar al-Akhdar says Libya's politicians unfairly blame the militias for the country's chaos while doing nothing to bring real change.

They believe "revolutionaries have no place in Libya now," said al-Akhdar, who was once a tour company owner in Zintan until he took up arms against Gadhafi and now sports a military uniform. "We paid a very heavy price in the revolution, not for the sake of a seat or authority, but for the sake of freedoms and rights."


What happened to bird flu? Deaths continue, new strain outsmarts poultry vaccine in Vietnam

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) -- Thought bird flu was gone? Recent human deaths in Asia and Egypt are a reminder that the H5N1 virus is still alive and dangerous, and Vietnam is grappling with a new strain that has outsmarted vaccines used to protect poultry flocks.

Ten people have died in Cambodia, Indonesia, Egypt, China and Vietnam since December during the prime-time flu season when the virus typically flares in poultry.

"We are worried, and we will be very cautious," said To Long Thanh, director of Vietnam's Center for Animal Health Diagnostics in Vietnam.

The H5N1 virus has killed 345 people worldwide since 2003, when it rampaged across large swaths of Asia decimating poultry stocks before later surfacing in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The number of poultry outbreaks has greatly diminished since then, but the virus remains entrenched in several countries and continues to surface sporadically, resulting in 20 to 30 human deaths globally in recent years.

Bird flu remains hard for people to catch, with most people sickened after being in close contact with infected poultry, but experts have long feared it could spark a pandemic if it mutates into a form that spreads easily among people.


Thai police: Iranians accused in botched bomb plot against Israel cavorted with sex workers

BANGKOK (AP) -- The three Iranian men detained for allegedly plotting bomb attacks in Bangkok on Israeli diplomats had more than terror on their minds in Thailand. Police said Friday that they had also cavorted with prostitutes at a beach resort.

The news comes as Thai authorities announced they were searching for two more suspects in the botched bomb plot, including a possible explosives specialist who may have been training the Iranians.

The foiled plan was discovered Tuesday when explosives in the men's rented house blew up by mistake, forcing them to flee. Two were detained in the Thai capital, and a third was captured Wednesday in neighboring Malaysia as he reportedly tried to return to Iran.

After flying into the southern city of Phuket on Feb. 8, the men moved to Pattaya and stayed there for at least two nights before heading to Bangkok. Located 45 miles (70 kilometers) southeast of the Thai capital, Pattaya is particularly notorious for its sleazy sex industry and large contingent of prostitutes.

The Iranians hung out with several female sex workers during their stay there, and one of the women was brought to Bangkok to identify the suspects on Thursday, said Lt. Col. Noppon Kuldiloke, a senior immigration police investigator in southern Thailand.


Mardi Gras means fun and fat business all over the Gulf Coast, not just New Orleans

FAIRHOPE, Ala. (AP) -- Mardi Gras. It brings to mind beads, parties and fancy floats in New Orleans as people cram in all the fun they can before Lent begins.

In reality, Mardi Gras has long been celebrated in coastal towns from Texas to Florida. And it means big business.

"It is more of a regional thing, Mardi Gras is, from Texas down to Gasparilla (pirate festival) down in the Tampa area," said Stephen Toomey, whose family started a chain of Mobile, Ala.-based Mardi Gras party supply stores.

"It means a way of life for people who live in these communities, but the bottom line is that it creates a lot of jobs."

Tourism leaders estimate more than 1 million visitors pour into the Mobile area each Mardi Gras season to watch the festivities. The city claims to be the place where the Fat Tuesday celebration originated in the U.S. back in the early 1700s.


Asian-Americans rejoice as unlikely basketball star Jeremy Lin smashes stereotypes

They know what it feels like to be overlooked. People assume they are weak, servile, out of place. So when these Asian-Americans watch Jeremy Lin slash and shoot his way through the NBA's finest, it's almost as if they are on the basketball court with the California-born point guard who has set the zeitgeist on fire.

Asian-Americans have rallied around other athletes -- Michael Chang, Hideo Nomo, Yao Ming, Michelle Wie, Ichiro Suzuki. Tiger Woods was embraced for his Thai side. But Lin has a new and different appeal.

As the child of Taiwanese immigrants, Lin is quintessentially Asian-American. He was ignored instead of hyped. He emerged from the end of the bench to hoist the sinking New York Knicks to win after improbable win. A few hints of racism have scratched the edges of his growing fame, but Lin continues to put up unprecedented numbers and capture the imagination of mainstream America.

In a mere half-dozen games, Lin became that rarest of Asian-Americans: a widely regarded hero.

"There's a certain validation to this," said Phil Yu, founder of the influential blog Angry Asian Man, which tracks and discusses Asian issues.