- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

Tax hikes for the rich, help for the middle class: Obama unveils record $4 trillion budget

WASHINGTON (AP) - Promising to help America’s middle class, President Barack Obama on Monday sent Congress a record $4 trillion budget that would hammer corporate profits overseas and raise taxes on the wealthy while boosting tax credits for families and the working poor.

Obama’s budget also would steer hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure of roads and bridges, help provide two years of free community college and reverse the across-the-board, automatic budget cuts that have slammed the Pentagon and nearly every government department.

In the face of certain opposition from Republicans, an optimistic Obama hailed a “breakthrough year for America” of new jobs, lower unemployment and shrinking deficits after the great recession of 2008, and he called for moving past years of “mindless austerity.” The blueprint for the 2016 budget year that begins Oct. 1 represents a 6.4 percent increase over estimated spending this year, projecting that the deficit will decline to $474 billion.

However, Obama’s plan ignores the new balance of power in Washington, with Republicans running both the House and Senate. The GOP found plenty to criticize in his proposed tax hikes that would total about $1.5 trillion.

Republicans cited the nation’s $18 trillion debt and assailed what they call Obama’s tax-and-spend policies for failing to address the spiraling growth of benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare.


Slain Japanese hostage’s 4-year-old tweet on tolerance, forgiveness embraced on social media

TOKYO (AP) - Kenji Goto’s words, now more than four years old, have taken on a new poignancy.

“Closing my eyes and holding still. It’s the end if I get mad or scream. It’s close to a prayer. Hate is not for humans. Judgment lies with God. That’s what I learned from my Arabic brothers and sisters.”

That tweet from Sept. 7, 2010, has been embraced by social media users as a fitting memorial to the 47-year-old freelance journalist. It had 20,000 retweets by Monday, and was being repeated by others by the minute.

Early Sunday, news emerged that Goto had been killed by extremists of the Islamic State group after efforts to secure his release from months of captivity failed. His reported death followed that of another Japanese hostage, adventurer Haruna Yukawa, who was also being held by the militants.

The Twitter account was verified as Goto’s by his friend Toshi Maeda, who heads Tokyo-based venture Pacific Bridge, which created the mobile-video application Goto used for some of his reports from Syria.


Super Bowl game sets standards for viewership, social media

NEW YORK (AP) - An estimated 114.4 million people watched New England’s thrilling win over Seattle, making it the fifth time in six years that a Super Bowl game has set a record for the most-watched event in U.S. television history.

The viewership eclipses the 112.2 million who watched Seattle beat Denver in the 2014 game, the Nielsen company said. The game also set standards for social media and online.

“Right now the NFL and the Super Bowl are defying media gravity,” Mark Lazarus, NBC Sports Group chairman, said on Monday. With the buildup involving the league’s two top teams and a controversy over the inflation of footballs in the Patriots’ conference championship, the game may have set another record even without the compelling finish, he said.

But that finish - a circus catch to put the Seahawks on the doorstep of a last-minute win and a game-saving interception by the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler - kept viewers glued to the tube. An estimated 120.3 million people were watching during the last 10 minutes that the game was being shown, Nielsen said. Lazarus said there were likely even more viewers, because Nielsen doesn’t count people watching in sports bars, for example.

The ratings attest to the continued strength of the NFL as a television property despite a year of controversy over the league’s response to domestic violence, and also to the ongoing power of live events to bring viewers together before their televisions.


East forecasts warn of ‘flash freeze’ danger; snow forces Boston to delay Patriots parade

BOSTON (AP) - Boston scrambled to dig out Monday from the second major winter storm in a week and delayed a celebratory Super Bowl parade, and forecasters from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine, warned that “flash freezing” could make roads dangerously slippery.

Officials said a Massachusetts woman was run over and killed by a snowplow, and New York state police said two people were killed in a multivehicle crash on an interstate in Rye. Here’s the latest on the storm:



Fifty-seven-year-old Cynthia Levine was struck and killed by a snowplow just before 10 a.m. Monday in the parking lot of a condominium complex in Weymouth, south of Boston, the Norfolk district attorney’s office said.


Ukrainian troops repel rebels trying to surround key rail hub; rebels aim to boost their ranks

DEBALTSEVE, Ukraine (AP) - As Ukrainian troops fought Monday to defend a strategic railway hub, Russian-backed separatists pledged to boost the size of their force and Washington pondered whether to expand its assistance to Ukraine to include lethal aid.

President Barack Obama has so far opposed sending lethal assistance, but an upsurge in fighting in eastern Ukraine has spurred the White House to take a fresh look at supplying Ukraine with such aid, a senior administration official said.

Since the unrest in eastern Ukraine surged anew in early January, the separatists have made notable strides in clawing territory away from the government in Kiev. Their main offensive is now directed at Debaltseve - a government-held railway junction once populated by 25,000 people that lies between the rebel-held cities of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Almost 2,000 residents have fled in the last few days alone.

Rebel forces have mounted multiple assaults on government positions in Debaltseve but all were repelled, a spokesman for Ukrainian military operations in the east, Andriy Lysenko, said Monday.


Former rap mogul Marion ‘Suge’ Knight charged with murder, attempted murder

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Former hip-hop music mogul Marion “Suge” Knight was charged Monday with murder and attempted murder after he struck two men with his pickup truck last week.

Prosecutors allege that Knight intended to run down a friend and another man after an argument on a movie set. One of the men was killed.

Attorney James Blatt says Knight accidentally ran over the men on Thursday as he tried to escape a vicious attack. He turned himself in to police on Friday.

Knight’s initial bail of $2 million was revoked Monday after a court commissioner agreed with authorities that he was a potential flight risk and could intimidate witnesses.

The ruling came after detectives told the bail commissioner that the 49-year-old founder of Death Row Records could face a lengthy prison sentence because of a violent criminal past and had the potential to intimidate witnesses, Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.


Al-Jazeera reporter: Relieved at freedom but difficult to leave 2 colleagues behind in jail

CAIRO (AP) - Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste expressed “relief and excitement” Monday at being freed after more than a year in an Egyptian prison, but also said he felt real stress over leaving his two jailed colleagues behind.

His first public comments came as a court in Egypt sentenced 183 people to death in the violence following the 2013 ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi in the latest in a series of harsh punishments that have drawn condemnation at home and abroad.

Greste, an Australian, told Al-Jazeera English he experienced a “real mix of emotions” when he was freed Sunday because fellow journalists Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian Canadian, and Baher Mohammed, an Egyptian, remained imprisoned on terrorism charges and for spreading false information. The three were arrested in December 2013 and received sentences of seven to 10 years before their convictions were overturned on appeal. A retrial began Jan. 1.

Authorities presented no concrete evidence to back the charges against them. They insisted they were doing their jobs and are widely seen as having been caught up in a quarrel between Egypt and Qatar, which funds Al-Jazeera and was a strong backer of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.

“It was a very difficult moment walking out of that prison, saying goodbye to the guys, not knowing how much longer they all have to put up with this,” said the 49-year-old Greste.


Amid US measles outbreak, Chris Christie says parents deserve some choice on vaccinations

CAMBRIDGE, England (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday parents should have some choice on whether to vaccinate their children, a position he’s taken before but one that drew a new level of attention amid a U.S. measles outbreak and his recent moves toward running for president.

The political significance of Christie’s remarks was amplified by his office a short time later, when it released a statement saying the governor believes “with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.”

Christie’s stumble into the vaccine issue came as a measles outbreak centered in California has sickened more than 100 people in several states and Mexico, putting a new spotlight on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. Some do so for religious or philosophical reasons, while others cite a concern that vaccines can lead to autism and developmental disorders - a link debunked by rigorous medical research.

Christie found an ally in fellow Republican White House prospect, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who said in a Monday radio interview that most vaccines should be voluntary.

“I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul, an eye doctor, said in a subsequent interview while suggesting vaccines were “a good thing.” ”But I think the parents should have some input. The state doesn’t own your children.”


Killing of hostages by Islamic State group highlight growing threats for more assertive Japan

TOKYO (AP) - The killing of two Japanese taken hostage by the Islamic State group has savagely driven home the high stakes Japan faces and limited options it can muster in such circumstances.

Journalist Kenji Goto’s beheading, seen in an online video over the weekend, also offers a glimpse into how Japan is struggling to handle the rising menace of terrorism.

Until this crisis, Japan had not become directly embroiled in the fight against the militants, who now control about a third of both Syria and neighboring Iraq in a self-declared caliphate. Tokyo’s backing for U.S.-led air strikes against the Islamic State group is confined to financial and humanitarian aid for refugees and other non-military support for countries affected by the conflict.

That proved no hindrance for the jihadis.

“What we should realize is that the Japanese are no exception to terrorist targets. We really should open our eyes to see this reality,” Kunihiko Miyake, a former diplomat and researcher at a private think tank in Tokyo, told a news show on TV Asahi.


Death toll from GM ignition switches rises to at least 51; many other claims will have to wait

DETROIT (AP) - The families of 51 people who died in crashes caused by faulty ignition switches in small General Motors cars will get payments from a company fund, but others will have to wait months for decisions on thousands of new claims.

Compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg has also deemed 77 people injured in crashes as eligible for payments from the fund, which received at least 4,180 claims by a Saturday deadline, including more than 1,100 in the past week.

But attorneys, lawmakers and at least one family member say some were forced to settle with Feinberg rather than run the risk that they would not be able to sue GM because of its 2009 bankruptcy agreement.

Camille Biros, deputy administrator of the fund who has worked with Feinberg to compensate victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the BP oil spill, said the last-minute flurry of activity is common in compensation cases. She says the number of claims could rise, because those filed by mail had to be postmarked by Jan. 31.

More death and injury claims are likely to be granted, Biros said, but it could take until late spring to sort through all of the paperwork.

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