- - Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sen. John F. Kerry, nominated by President Obama to be the next secretary of state, has started meeting with diplomatic staff to prepare for his confirmation, the State Department said Thursday.

Mr. Kerry was at the department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters Wednesday, where he received “a huge pile of briefing materials,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. He will report to the State Department regularly starting Friday.

Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, is expected to easily win confirmation in the Senate, where he is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Ms. Nuland said the department is working with committee to pick a hearing date.

FEDERAL RESERVE

Fed has some concerns on bond purchases

The Federal Reserve will keep buying bonds indefinitely to try to keep long-term borrowing costs low. It’s just not clear how long indefinitely will be.

Minutes of the Fed’s last policy meeting show that officials were divided about when to halt the purchases.

Some of the 12 voting members thought the bond purchases would be needed through 2013. Others felt they should be slowed or stopped altogether before year’s end. This group worries that the bond buying is keeping rates so low for so long that it could ignite inflation or encourage speculative buying.

The Fed last month ended up approving open-ended purchases of $85 billion a month in Treasurys and mortgage bonds to replace an expiring bond-purchase plan and maintain its level of purchases.

The minutes cover the Fed’s Dec. 11-12 meeting. In a statement after the meeting, the Fed said it planned to keep a key interest rate at a record low even after unemployment falls close to a normal level — which it said might take three more years.

LABOR

Jobless aid applications rise to 372,000

More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, though the holidays likely distorted the data for the second straight week.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications rose by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000 in the week that ended Dec. 29. The previous week’s total was revised higher.

Many state unemployment offices were closed this week for the New Year’s holiday and did not submit complete data for last week. As a result, the department relied on estimates for nine states. Two weeks ago, the department used estimates for 19 states because of Christmas closings.

IOWA

Email: Senator’s wife pushed for honor for husband

IOWA CITY — An Iowa Board of Regents member worked behind the scenes to create a university institute honoring her husband, Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, and then pushed for its approval before two of the couple’s allies left the board, according to an email obtained by The Associated Press.

The 2011 email from then-Iowa State University Provost Elizabeth Hoffman describes the top-secret process that Ruth Harkin and a small group of officials pursued in planning the Harkin Institute of Public Policy, which remains mired in controversy nearly two years later. It noted that an ethics scandal involving a similar institute honoring New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel made the Harkins aware “that they needed to make sure the fundraising was very above board,” but they have faced questions about their relationship with donors nonetheless.

“I’m sorry I have not talked with anyone about it, but Ruth wanted it to be very private until it came before the Board,” Ms. Hoffman wrote to the dean of the university’s agriculture college on April 9, 2011, in an email marked “CONFIDENTIAL,” which was released to the AP in response to an open-records request.

HEALTH

Red states, too, get health care nod from Obama

Some bipartisan cooperation may finally be breaking out in the nation’s contentious battle over the health care overhaul.

The Obama administration announced Thursday that four red states are on the list of those getting the initial go-ahead to build their own health insurance marketplaces. Open enrollment for millions of uninsured Americans starts less than 10 months from now — Oct. 1.

The GOP-led states — Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah — joined five others getting conditional approval from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Counting previous approvals, 17 states and the District have been cleared to run their own insurance exchanges.

Washington will set up the new insurance markets in states that don’t want to participate.

At least nine other states are considering partnerships with the administration.

EDUCATION

Bill OK’ed to help foster youths with school records

MIAMI — Federal lawmakers passed a bill that will give social workers better access to school records in an effort to improve dismal education outcomes for foster children.

Social workers had been required to get a court order to access a foster child’s school records. But advocates say red tape has made it extremely difficult because foster children change schools frequently as they move to different homes. Some students end up taking the same classes over because credits are lost or don’t transfer.

Rep. Karen Bass, California Democrat, sponsored the bill. The measure passed the House on Tuesday.

Ms. Bass is part of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth.

The group has focused on education, noting that 50 percent of the nation’s more than 400,000 foster children won’t graduate from high school.

ILLINOIS

Gay marriage floor vote delayed by state Senate

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Senate Democrats are delaying a vote on a plan that would make the state the 10th in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

A spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton told The Associated Press that the proposal to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples was to have a committee hearing Thursday but as of dinner time no vote had been taken.

Spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said she doesn’t know how many votes there are for the plan or when it might be called. Some Democrats were not in attendance Thursday as the Legislature is in lame-duck session until Jan. 9, when the new session is sworn-in. Ms. Phelon said no Republicans supported it. Mr. Cullerton’s Democrats have 35 seats in the Senate — five more votes than needed for passage.

PENNSYLVANIA

Ex-lawmaker gets jail after assault, DUI

ALLENTOWN — A former state lawmaker was sentenced Thursday to at least three months in jail after his arrest for drunken driving and assaulting his wife.

Joseph Brennan, a Democrat, was arrested in August after police said he punched and choked his wife at their Fountain Hill home, then drove away drunk. It was his second DUI arrest in two years.

Brennan dropped his re-election bid and pleaded guilty to simple assault and drunken driving as a second offense. He was first elected in 2006.

At the request of his wife, Brennan avoided prison on the simple assault charge. He pleaded for home confinement on the DUI charge, saying a prison term would jeopardize his new job as a research analyst with the House Democratic Caucus. Lehigh County Chief of Prosecutions Stephen Van Natten told Judge Maria L. Dantos that prosecutors were not opposed to the request.

But the judge on Thursday ordered Brennan to report to Lehigh County Prison on Monday to begin a three- to 23-month sentence, rejecting Brennan’s argument that prison would pose a financial hardship on his family.

MICHIGAN

Former governor leaving Current TV

LANSING — Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says she soon will leave Current TV, where she has hosted a public affairs program for the past year.

Mrs. Granholm made the announcement in a Facebook post late Wednesday, the same day it was revealed that Pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera has acquired Current TV.

In the post, Mrs. Granholm says her “agreement with Current was for the duration of the election (and the sale).” She says “The War Room” will air “for the next few weeks through the transition, but after that” she plans to go “back to teaching, speaking and other things.”

NEW YORK

Comptroller sues Qualcomm over political spending

ALBANY — New York’s comptroller has sued Qualcomm Inc. in an attempt to compel the wireless technology company to disclose its political spending to him as a shareholder.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Delaware seeks a court order to inspect company records, saying prior requests for the information have been rebuffed by the San Diego-based corporation. The suit cites studies showing corporate political spending tends to hurt investor returns.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is sole trustee of New York’s pension fund for public workers, which has 6.1 million Qualcomm shares valued at almost $380 million.

The comptroller’s office says the company spent more than $4.5 million on lobbying last year.

Qualcomm didn’t respond Thursday to a request for comment.

MONTANA

Flooding blamed for pipeline spills that harm waterways

BILLINGS — A new report to Congress says pipeline spills caused by flooding dumped 2.4 million gallons of crude oil and other hazardous liquids into U.S. waterways over the past two decades.

The Department of Transportation report was crafted in response to a 2011 spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River. The spill highlighted shortcomings in federal pipeline rules that require lines to be buried just 4 feet below riverbeds. Such scant cover can quickly be scoured away by floodwaters.

The Associated Press obtained the report this week. It says a review of accidents found flood-related pipeline spills since 1993 in California, Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Kentucky.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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