- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

Obama, Putin holding rare meeting to confront deep differences on Syria and Ukraine

NEW YORK (AP) - Face-to-face for the first time in nearly a year, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday will confront rising tensions over Moscow’s military engagement in Syria, as well as the stubborn crisis in Ukraine.

Underscoring their deep differences, the U.S. and Russia couldn’t even agree on the purpose of the meeting, which will occur on the sidelines of an annual United Nations summit. The White House said it would focus on Ukraine and getting Moscow to live up to a fragile peace plan. The Kremlin said Ukraine would be discussed only if time allowed, with Syria and the fight against the Islamic State dominating the discussions.

Despite little sign of a breakthrough on either front, U.S. officials insisted it was still worthwhile for the leaders to meet - something that has happened rarely since Obama vowed to isolate Putin in retaliation for Russia’s provocations in Ukraine.

“The president believed it would be irresponsible to let this occasion in which the two leaders would be in the same city pass without trying to test to see whether progress could be made on these newly intractable crises,” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Ahead of their early evening meeting, Obama and Putin will each have a chance to make their case to a broader audience of world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Obama will address the body Monday morning, with Putin following shortly after.

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CIA and military are working together to track and kill ‘high value targets’ in Syria, Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) - With no regular American presence in the war theater, the U.S. has struggled to answer basic intelligence questions about the situation in Syria and Iraq, including the Islamic State group’s fighting strength. And the overall U.S.-led bombing campaign has failed to dislodge the group from its self-declared caliphate across both countries.

But one element is seen as a growing intelligence and military success: The combined effort by the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command to find and kill “high value” targets from both al-Qaida and IS.

The drone strikes - separate from the large air campaign run by U.S. Central Command - have significantly diminished the threat from the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaida cell in Syria that had planned attacks on American aviation, officials say. The group’s leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, and its top bomb-maker, David Drugeon, were killed this summer. Other targeted strikes have taken out senior Islamic State group figures, including its second in command, known as Hajji Mutazz.

In an effort that ramped up over the last year, intelligence analysts and special operators have harnessed an array of satellites, sensors, drones and other technology to find and kill elusive militants across a vast, rugged area of Syria and Iraq, despite the lack of a ground presence and steps taken by U.S. targets to disguise their use of electronic devices.

The strikes won’t defeat the Islamic State, but they are keeping its leadership off balance, a senior defense official involved in planning them said. “They are constantly having to adjust, which means they don’t have a lot of time to sit there and plan large and effective attacks,” the official said.

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Tangled web of United, Port Authority and Christie pals extends to Atlantic City routes

NEW YORK (AP) - Desperate to draw visitors to Atlantic City, New Jersey officials gave United Airlines more than $100,000 in incentives to fly to the seaside resort for at least a year. Then, when United abruptly canceled the money-losing routes eight months later, the officials appointed by Gov. Chris Christie decided not to enforce a contract provision that required the airline to repay the money, The Associated Press has learned.

The Atlantic City flights and the debt forgiveness are just two elements of the tangled relationships between the Christie administration, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and United Airlines - New Jersey’s eighth-largest employer. For instance, it was a public agency headed by Christie’s Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox - a former United lobbyist - that forgave the airline’s debt.

United agreed to fly to the struggling Atlantic City airport at a time when the airline was trying to please the New Jersey politicians who also control the much larger Newark Liberty International Airport, where 68 percent of the passengers fly United. The airline was seeking major concessions at Newark - lower rent, lower fees and a $1.5 billion extension in train service between the airport and New York City on the Port Authority’s PATH rail line.

When negotiations broke down in November, United canceled the flights and filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration, contending the Port Authority was illegally overcharging the airline at Newark and improperly diverting airport revenue to Christie’s pet projects elsewhere in New Jersey.

Those interwoven connections are part of an ongoing federal investigation into possible abuse of power at the Port Authority, which controls major airports, bridges, ports and tunnels in the New York-New Jersey region. The wide-ranging investigation began after Christie appointees at the Port Authority purposely created a traffic jam on approaches to the George Washington Bridge to punish a small-town Democratic mayor who had declined to endorse the Republican governor for re-election.

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Shell ceases Alaska Arctic drilling, cites disappointing results from exploratory well

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Royal Dutch Shell will cease exploration in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast following disappointing results from an exploratory well backed by billions in investment and years of work.

The announcement was a huge blow to Shell, which was counting on offshore drilling in Alaska to help it drive future revenue. Environmentalists, however, had tried repeatedly to block the project and welcomed the news.

Shell has spent upward of $7 billion on Arctic offshore exploration, including $2.1 billion in 2008 for leases in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast, where an exploratory well about 80 miles off shore drilled to 6,800 feet but yielded disappointing results. Backed by a 28-vessel flotilla, drillers found indications of oil and gas but not in sufficient quantities to warrant more exploration at the site.

“Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the U.S.,” Marvin Odum, president of Shell USA, said in The Hague, Netherlands. “However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”

Shell will end exploration off Alaska “for the foreseeable future,” the company said, because of the well results and because of the “challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.

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In the US, Pope Francis uses popularity to try to reconcile divided Americans, reorient church

In Congress and at a parish school, at the United Nations and a city jail, Pope Francis spent a whirlwind U.S. visit bridging the realms of the disadvantaged and elite, trying to turn the attention of the mightiest nation on earth away from ideological battles and toward a world he said desperately needs help.

From his very first appearance, he wove together issues that are rarely linked in American public life.

At the White House with President Barack Obama, he upheld religious freedom while seeking urgent action to ease climate change. Addressing Congress, he sought mercy for refugees, while proclaiming a duty “to defend human life at every stage of its development,” a challenge to abortion rights. Standing on altars before the nation’s bishops, he acknowledged the difficulties of ministering amid “unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society,” a recognition of gay marriage.

But he urged American Catholic leaders to create a church with the warmth of a “family fire,” avoiding “harsh and divisive” language and a “narrow” vision of Catholicism that he called a “perversion of faith.”

The statements amounted to a dramatic reframing of issues within the church and a hope for less polarization overall in the United States.

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After quiet summer, Bill Clinton set to take a more active, public role in Hillary’s 2016 bid

NEW YORK (AP) - After largely staying in the background this summer as Hillary Rodham Clinton kicked off her second campaign for president, former President Bill Clinton is ready to take on a more active and public role in his wife’s second bid for the White House.

Bill Clinton’s move to deepen the political involvement in his wife’s 2016 effort comes as she continues to confront the insurgent campaign of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and the chance that Vice President Joe Biden could make a late entry into the race. Friends and former aides say the former president is eager to become a more vocal advocate for her candidacy.

“He’s going to be very active,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton confidant. “He always intended to come out and support his wife. He’s now at the point that he’s ready to get out there.”

Shortly after Tuesday’s close of the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the crown jewel of the sprawling charitable network he established after leaving the White House, Bill Clinton is scheduled to embark upon a series of fundraisers and party events across the country.

The events will follow a weekend in which he aired a forceful defense of his wife, arguing that she faces the same kind of partisan attacks over her use of a private email account and server while serving as secretary of state that plagued his 1992 campaign and his administration.

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Pro-secession parties in Spain’s Catalonia region win parliamentary majority in landmark vote

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Pro-secession parties pushing for Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region to break away and form a new Mediterranean nation won a landmark vote Sunday by capturing a regional parliamentary majority, setting up a possible showdown over independence with the central government in Madrid.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, the “Together for Yes” group of secessionists from across a broad political spectrum had 62 seats in the 135-member regional parliament.

Catalans are fiercely proud of their own distinct language and culture. Many who favor breaking away from Spain say their region, which represents nearly a fifth of Spain’s economic output, pays too much in taxes and receives less than its fair share of government investment. Independence sentiment grew during Spain’s near economic meltdown during the financial crisis.

If the secessionist alliance join forces with the radical pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy party known as CUP, which won 10 seats, they will have more than the 68 seats needed to try to push forward their plan to make Catalonia independent from Spain by 2017.

CUP had insisted that it would only join an independence bid if secessionist parties won more than 50 percent of the popular vote, but analysts predicted it would drop the demand. The pro-independence parties got a majority in Parliament with only 48 percent of the vote because of a quirk in Spanish election law that gives extra weight to rural voters.

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Doctors treat new wave of asylum seekers after they cross into Croatia

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) - Doctors are treating small children for exposure as dropping temperatures worsen the plight of asylum-seekers walking for days in hopes of reaching sanctuary in Europe.

A new group of migrants crossed into Croatia late Sunday, crossing the border near the small village of Bapska. They walked through cornfields and forests to pass through a small gate that marks the border between Croatia and Serbia.

Vladimir Bozic, a physician from Doctors without Borders, says he treats many very young children.

“We saw a 1-month old baby, even 15 days,” Bozic said.

Volunteers from the U.H. High Commissioner from Refugees handed out blankets, warm drinks and food to the people, who are fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

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Supermoon plus total lunar eclipse offers rare sky event in US, Europe, Africa, western Asia

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Stargazers were being treated to a rare astronomical phenomenon when a total lunar eclipse combined with a so-called supermoon.

Those in the United States, Europe, Africa and western Asia can view the coupling, weather permitting, Sunday night or early Monday.

It was the first time the events have made a twin appearance since 1982, and they won’t again until 2033.

When a full moon makes its closest approach to Earth, it appears slightly bigger and brighter than usual and has a reddish hue.

That coincides with a full lunar eclipse where the moon, Earth and sun will be lined up, with Earth’s shadow totally obscuring the moon.

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Study finds Asians will surpass Hispanics as largest immigrant group heading to US

WASHINGTON (AP) - In a major shift in immigration patterns over the next 50 years, Asians will have surged past Hispanics to become the largest group of immigrants heading to the United States, according to estimates in a new immigration study.

The study looks in detail at what will happen by 2065, but the actual tipping point comes in 2055.

An increase in Asian and Hispanic immigration also will drive U.S. population growth, with foreign-born residents expected to make up 18 percent of the country’s projected 441 million people in 50 years, the Pew Research Center said in a report being released Monday. This will be a record, higher than the nearly 15 percent during the late 19th century and early 20th century wave of immigration from Europe.

Today, immigrants make up 14 percent of the population, an increase from 5 percent in 1965.

The actual change is expected to come in 2055, when Asians will become the largest immigrant group at 36 percent, compared with Hispanics at 34 percent. White immigrants to America, 80 percent back in 1965, will hover somewhere between 18 and 20 percent, with black immigrants in the 8 percent to 9 percent range, the study said.


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