EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 12, 2014

House votes to extend Treasury's borrowing authority


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — WASHINGTON (AP) — Unwilling to spook the markets and divided among themselves, House Republicans backed away from a battle over the government’s debt limit Tuesday and permitted President Barack Obama’s Democratic allies to drive quick passage of a measure extending Treasury’s borrowing authority without any concessions from the White House.

The 221-201 vote came hours after Speaker John Boehner announced that his fractured party would relent.

Just 28 Republicans voted for the measure, including Boehner and his top lieutenants. But 193 Democrats more than compensated for the low support among Republicans.

Senate Democrats hoped to vote on the legislation as early as Wednesday and send it to Obama for his signature.

The move was denounced by many conservative groups but came after most Republicans in the House made clear they had no taste for another high-stakes fight with Obama over the nation’s debt ceiling, which must be raised so the government can borrow money to pay all of its bills.

Air Force’s push for fixes features ideas tried 5 years ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — Five years ago the Air Force considered a series of proposals to boost morale and fix performance and security lapses in its nuclear missile corps, according to internal emails and documents obtained by The Associated Press. But many fell short or died on the vine, and now, with the force again in crisis, it’s retracing those earlier steps.

The new effort is more far-reaching, on a tighter timetable and backed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. So it appears to hold more promise for an Air Force under scrutiny after a variety of embarrassing setbacks and missteps raised questions about whether some of the world’s most fearsome weapons are being properly managed.

The earlier approach, shown in internal Air Force documents and emails from 2008-09, included some of the ideas being floated again today by a new set of Air Force leaders, including bonus pay and other incentives to make more attractive the work of the men and women who operate, maintain and secure an Air Force fleet of 450 Minuteman 3 nuclear-tipped missiles. Then, as now, the Air Force also looked for ways to eliminate the most damaging “disincentives” — parts of the job that can make missile duty onerous.

“Keep the faith,” one commander wrote to his ICBM troops in an email in early 2009.

Faith, however, seemed to falter.

AG urges states to restore voting rights to former prisoners

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder called on a group of states Tuesday to restore voting rights to ex-felons, part of a push to fix what he sees as flaws in the criminal justice system that have a disparate impact on racial minorities.

“It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision,” Holder said, targeting 11 states that he said continue to restrict voting rights for former inmates, even after they’ve finished their prison terms.

“Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans — 5.8 million of our fellow citizens — are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions,” Holder told a symposium on criminal justice at Georgetown University.

Now into his fifth year as attorney general and hinting that this year might be his last, Holder survived political controversies that, early on, placed him on the defensive. Now, he is doubling down on the kinds of issues that have long held his interest during a career in law enforcement — prison overcrowding, overly harsh mandatory drug sentences and school disciplinary policies that he says push kids into street crime.

Congress used to be the place that highlighted Holder’s problems, including a plan to try terrorists in New York City and the failed Justice Department investigation of gun smuggling in Arizona that ended in the death of a border patrol agent.

Investors await Fed Chair Yellen’s first testimony

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen can expect global financial markets to scrutinize her first public remarks since taking over the Fed’s leadership this month.

Investors this week will try to determine whether Yellen will embrace all the policies of her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. They will also look for any clues that she is worried about the economy or the stock market’s turbulence.

Yellen will deliver the Fed’s twice-annual report to Congress, starting Tuesday before the House Financial Services Committee and then Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee.

Her testimony will likely boil down to a single overarching point: The Fed will keep all its options open depending on how the economy evolves.

White House delays health law coverage mandate for some

WASHINGTON (AP) — It may take weeks to render a verdict on the Obama administration’s latest health care concession to employers.

But that could make a difference for Democrats battling to keep control of the Senate in the fall congressional elections.

All-important details are buried in more than 200 pages of dense Treasury regulations released Monday. The biggest change is that medium-sized firms got another delay in a heavily criticized requirement that they cover their workers or face fines.

The administration said companies with 50 to 99 employees will have an additional year to comply, until January 1, 2016.

For businesses with 100 or more employees, the so-called employer mandate will still take effect in 2015. But other newly announced provisions, dealing with technical issues such as the calculation of working hours, may help some of those firms.

Belgium set to extend right-to-die lawto children

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium, one of the very few countries where euthanasia is legal, is expected to take the unprecedented step this week of abolishing age restrictions on who can ask to be put to death — extending the right to children for the first time.

The legislation appears to have wide support in the largely liberal country. But it has also aroused intense opposition from foes — including a list of pediatricians — and everyday people who have staged noisy street protests, fearing that vulnerable children will be talked into making a final, irreversible choice.

Backers like Dr. Gerland van Berlaer, a prominent Brussels pediatrician, believe it is the merciful thing to do. The law will be specific enough that it will only apply to the handful of teenage boys and girls who are in advanced stages of cancer or other terminal illnesses and suffering unbearable pain, he said.

Under current law, they must let nature take its course or wait until they turn 18 and can ask to be euthanized.

“We are talking about children that are really at the end of their life. It’s not that they have months or years to go. Their life will end anyway,” said Van Berlaer, chief of clinic in the pediatric critical care unit of University Hospital Brussels. “The question they ask us is: ‘Don’t make me go in a terrible, horrifying way, let me go now while I am still a human being and while I still have my dignity.’”

Defense ministry: Algerian military plane crash kills 77

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — An Algerian military transport plane slammed into a mountain Tuesday in the country’s rugged eastern region, killing 77 people and leaving just one survivor, the defense ministry said.

Air traffic controllers lost radio and radar contact with the U.S.-built C-130 Hercules turboprop just before noon and dispatched helicopters to try to find it. The plane was discovered in pieces on Mount Fortas near the town of Ain Kercha, 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Constantine, the main city in eastern Algeria.

The plane was heading to Constantine from the southern Saharan city of Tamanrasset, which has a massive military presence due to its proximity to the country’s unstable southern borders. It was at least 24 years old, according to sales information supplied by its maker, Lockheed Martin Corp.

The plane carried 74 passengers and four crew members, the military said in its statement, blaming poor weather for the crash.

Prosecutor: Girl’s slaying prompted by 2 trying to sell souls

HOUSTON (AP) — Two teenage boys were hoping to make a deal with the devil when they sexually assaulted and killed a 15-year-old suburban Houston girl in a satanic ritual, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Seventeen-year-old Jose E. Reyes and a 16-year-old boy are accused of disfiguring the girl’s body, including carving an upside down crucifix on her stomach.

Reyes and the 16-year-old boy, whose name is not being released because he is a juvenile, each face a capital murder charge for the death of Corriann Cervantes.

Authorities say that after the boys lured Cervantes to a vacant apartment in southeast Houston on Feb. 5, they hit her with an ashtray, a toilet tank lid and a window blind rod, strangled her and also stabbed her in the face with a screwdriver.

NBC newsman Brokaw diagnosed with cancer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Veteran TV newsman Tom Brokaw has been diagnosed with cancer, NBC News said Tuesday.

The Mayo Clinic discovered last summer that Brokaw has multiple myeloma, a cancer affecting blood cells in the bone marrow, NBC News said. His doctors are optimistic about his treatment and encouraged by his progress since the August diagnosis, the network division said.

In a statement released by NBC, Brokaw said he remains, in his words, “the luckiest guy I know.”

“With the exceptional support of my family, medical team and friends, I am very optimistic about the future and look forward to continuing my life, my work and adventures still to come,” he said.

The former national anchor, now an NBC News special correspondent, has continued to work on projects during his treatment and is contributing to NBC Sports coverage of the Winter Olympics, NBC said.

White finishes fourth on the halfpipe

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Maybe it was all too much. Or maybe just one of those bad nights. That debate will last a long time.

Shaun White stood at the top of the Olympic halfpipe Tuesday night, hunched over, hands resting above his knees. He high-fived his coach, clapped his hands, then jumped in for a ride that would decide if all the calculated choices he had made over a winter full of injuries, distractions and angst would pay off.

One jump, 15 feet above the pipe, was perfect. The second one looked good, too.

Then, the trick they call the “Yolo” — the one a rival invented but White had turned into his own.

His snowboard skittered across the halfpipe on the landing. White finished the run with a flourish and raised his index finger, trying to woo the judges who know, as well as anyone, what he’s done for his sport.