- Associated Press - Thursday, January 29, 2015

Obama calls for spending surge to burst past ‘sequester’ limits, buoyed by rising economy

WASHINGTON (AP) - Declaring an end to “mindless austerity,” President Barack Obama called for a surge in government spending Thursday, and asked Congress to throw out the sweeping budget cuts both parties agreed to four years ago when deficits were spiraling out of control.

Obama’s proposed $74 billion in added spending - about 7 percent - would be split about evenly between defense programs and the domestic side of the budget. Although he’s sought before to reverse the “sequester” spending cuts, Obama’s pitch in this year’s budget comes with the added oomph of an improving economy and big recent declines in federal deficits.

Taking a defiant tone, Obama vowed not to stand on the sidelines as he laid out his opening offer to Congress during remarks in Philadelphia, where House Democrats were gathered for their annual retreat.

“We need to stand up and go on offensive and not be defensive about what we believe in,” Obama said. Mocking Republicans for their leaders’ newfound interest in poverty and the middle class, he questioned whether they would back it up with substance when it mattered.

Republicans promise to produce a balanced budget blueprint this spring even as they worry about Pentagon spending. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, dismissed the Obama proposals as “happy talk.” And Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania chided the president for “abandoning spending discipline.”

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Republican-led Senate passes bill approving Keystone XL oil pipeline, defying White House

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday approved a bipartisan bill to construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline, defying a presidential veto threat and setting up the first of many battles with the White House over energy and the environment.

The 62-36 vote advanced a top priority of the newly empowered GOP, and marked the first time the Senate passed a bill authorizing the pipeline, despite numerous attempts to force President Barack Obama’s hand on the issue. Nine Democrats joined with 53 Republicans to back the measure.

This bill “is an important accomplishment for the country,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “We are hoping the president upon reflection will agree to sign on to a bill that the State Department said could create up to 42,000 jobs and the State Department said creates little to no impact on the environment.”

Still the vote was short of the threshold needed to override a veto, and the legislation still must be reconciled with the version the House passed.

“We hope President Obama will now drop his threat to veto this common-sense bill that would strengthen our energy security and create thousands and thousands of new, good-paying American jobs,” said House Speaker John Boehner.

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10 Things to Know for Friday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:

1. OBAMA CALLS FOR SPENDING SURGE

His pitch in this year’s budget comes with the added oomph of an improving economy and big recent declines in federal deficits.

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Gas truck explosion wrecks Mexico City children’s hospital, killing 2 and injuring 73

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Injured and bleeding, mothers carrying infants fled from a maternity hospital shattered by a powerful gas explosion Thursday, and rescuers swung sledgehammers to break through fallen concrete hunting for others who might be trapped.

A woman and child were killed and 73 people were injured in the blast that collapsed about three-fourths of the hospital, Mexico City officials said. By late in the day, rescuers determined no one was left trapped in the rubble.

Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said some of the injured were about to be released from area hospitals, including some mothers who suffered injuries while using their bodies to shield their children.

A 25-year-old woman and a newborn between 2 and 3 weeks old died, said Armando Ahued, the city’s health secretary. He said 21 babies were injured, and nine of those and seven adults were in serious condition after being rushed to other hospitals.

Thirty-five-year-old Felicitas Hernandez wept as she frantically questioned people outside the wrecked building, hoping for word of her month-old baby, who had been hospitalized since birth with respiratory problems.

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Militants launch simultaneous attacks on Egypt’s security forces, kill 26 in 3 towns in Sinai

EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) - Militants struck more than a dozen army and police targets in the restive Sinai Peninsula with simultaneous attacks involving a car bomb and mortar rounds on Thursday, killing at least 26 security officers.

An Army spokesman immediately blamed former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating the attack, which killed 25 Army soldiers and one policeman.

The wide-ranging attacks late Thursday required a previously unseen level of coordination. At least one car bomb was set off outside a military base, while mortars were simultaneously fired at the base, toppling some buildings and leaving soldiers buried under the debris, official said.

Other attacks included mortar rounds fired at a hotel, a police club and more than a dozen checkpoints, officials said.

The militants struck the Northern Sinai provincial capital el-Arish, the nearby town of Sheik Zuwayid and the town of Rafah bordering Gaza.

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Japanese, Jordanian families of Islamic State hostages plead for their lives as swap hopes dim

TOKYO (AP) - A deadline of sunset Thursday for a possible prisoner swap purportedly set by the Islamic State group holding a Japanese journalist and a Jordanian military pilot passed with no sign of whether the two men were still alive.

Japanese officials had no new progress to report Friday after a late night that ended with the Jordanian government saying it would only release an al-Qaida prisoner from death row if it got proof the airman was alive.

“There is nothing I can tell you,” government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters. He reiterated Japan’s “strong trust” in the Jordanians to help save the Japanese hostage, freelance journalist Kenji Goto.

Suga said the government had been in close contact with Goto’s wife, Rinko Jogo, who released a statement overnight pleading for her husband’s life.

“I fear that this is the last chance for my husband, and we now have only a few hours left,” Jogo said in a statement released through the Rory Peck Trust, a London-based organization for freelance journalists.

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Using hotel suite, tradecraft and only cash, authorities say treasure hunter eluded capture

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - A deep-sea treasure hunter who vanished during a court fight over his $50 million haul of gold bars and coins eluded capture by hiding in a two-room hotel suite under a fake name, paying for everything in cash and keeping a low-profile, authorities said Thursday.

When Tommy Thompson and his longtime companion did leave the hotel room, usually alone and her more than him, they would use a combination of buses, taxis and walking around to shake anyone who might be tailing them.

“That’s all part of the whole tradecraft - trying to fly under the radar of law enforcement,” said Barry Golden of the U.S. Marshals Service in Miami.

Thompson, 62, was wanted after he failed to appear in an Ohio courtroom in 2012 in a lawsuit about the gold he brought up in 1988 from a 19th century shipwreck. Two investors who had funded Thompson’s dream to find the shipwreck sued, as did some of his crew members, who said they also had been cheated out of their share.

For more than two years, U.S. marshals in Ohio and Florida worked to track down Thompson. They did meticulous research, splashed his face on electronic billboards and ran down hundreds of tips from the public. They believed Thompson was highly intelligent and had been planning to disappear for some time.

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It’s as if we’re on different planets: Poll shows big gap in what scientists, public think

WASHINGTON (AP) - The American public and U.S. scientists are light-years apart on science issues. And 98 percent of surveyed scientists say it’s a problem that we don’t know what they’re talking about.

Scientists are far less worried about genetically modified food, pesticide use and nuclear power than is the general public, according to matching polls of both the general public and the country’s largest general science organization. Scientists were more certain that global warming is caused by man, evolution is real, overpopulation is a danger and mandatory vaccination against childhood diseases is needed.

In eight of 13 science-oriented issues, there was a 20-percentage-point or higher gap separating the opinions of the public and members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to survey work by the Pew Research Center. The gaps didn’t correlate to any liberal-conservative split; the scientists at times take more traditionally conservative views and at times more liberal.

“These are big and notable gaps,” said Lee Rainie, director of Pew’s internet, science and technology research. He said they are “pretty powerful indicators of the public and the scientific community seeing the world differently.”

In the most dramatic split, 88 percent of the scientists surveyed said it is safe to eat genetically modified foods, while only 37 percent of the public say it is safe and 57 percent say it is unsafe. And 68 percent of scientists said it is safe to eat foods grown with pesticides, compared with only 28 percent of the general public.

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The doctor won’t see you now: Some physicians opting to drop patients with anti-vaccine views

LOS ANGELES (AP) - With California gripped by a measles outbreak, Dr. Charles Goodman posted a clear notice in his waiting room and on Facebook: His practice will no longer see children whose parents won’t get them vaccinated.

“Parents who choose not to give measles shots, they’re not just putting their kids at risk, but they’re also putting other kids at risk - especially kids in my waiting room,” the Los Angeles pediatrician said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by a small number of doctors who in recent years have “fired” patients who continue to believe debunked research linking vaccines to autism. They hope the strategy will lead parents to change their minds; if that fails, they hope it will at least reduce the risk to other children in the office.

The tough-love approach - which comes amid the nation’s second-biggest measles outbreak in at least 15 years, with at least 98 cases reported since last month - raises questions about doctors’ ethical responsibilities. Most of the measles cases have been traced directly or indirectly to Disneyland in Southern California.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says doctors should bring up the importance of vaccinations during visits but should respect a parent’s wishes unless there’s a significant risk to the child.

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Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch talks to Super Bowl media about why he doesn’t talk

PHOENIX (AP) - Marshawn Lynch changed the script and fired back at his critics.

After two days of giving only scripted answers, the Seattle Seahawks’ star running back gave his most extensive comments of Super Bowl week, mostly telling reporters why he won’t talk to them.

“I don’t know what story y’all trying to get out of me. I don’t know what image y’all trying to portray of me,” Lynch said Thursday. “But it don’t matter what y’all think, what y’all say about me because when I go home at night, the same people that I look in the face - my family that I love, that’s all that really matter to me. So y’all can go make up whatever y’all want to make up because I don’t say enough for y’all to go and put anything out on me.”

When Lynch arrived at the podium, a man with a reporter’s credential who said he was a teacher asked him to give his students a “shoutout.”

But Lynch wouldn’t bite and began his unscripted statement.


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