EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 31, 2013

In Brief


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Source: Immigration bill deal struck

WASHINGTON — Big business and labor have resolved a dispute over a low-skilled worker program that threatened to hold up agreement on a sweeping immigration bill, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

The deal was struck in a phone call late Friday night with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, U.S. Chamber of Commerce head Tom Donohue, and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who’s been mediating the dispute.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement, said the deal resolves disagreements over wages for the new workers and which industries would be included. That had led talks to break down a week ago.

The deal must still be signed off on by the seven other senators working with Schumer to negotiate a bipartisan immigration bill — but that’s expected to happen. The agreement between business and labor removes the biggest hurdle to completion of the immigration bill to secure the border, crack down on employers, improve legal immigration and create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

The bipartisan senate group is expected to introduce the bill the week of April 8 after Congress returns from a two-week recess.

North Korea warns of ‘state of war’

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea warned Seoul on Saturday that the Korean Peninsula had entered “a state of war” and threatened to shut down a border factory complex that’s the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

Analysts say a full-scale conflict is extremely unlikely, noting that the Korean Peninsula has remained in a technical state of war for 60 years. But the North’s continued threats toward Seoul and Washington, including a vow to launch a nuclear strike, have raised worries that a misjudgment between the sides could lead to a clash.

In Washington, the White House said Saturday that the United States is taking seriously the new threats by North Korea but also noted Pyongyang’s history of “bellicose rhetoric.”

North Korea’s threats are seen as efforts to provoke the new government in Seoul, led by President Park Geun-hye, to change its policies toward Pyongyang, and to win diplomatic talks with Washington that could get it more aid. North Korea’s moves are also seen as ways to build domestic unity as young leader Kim Jong Un strengthens his military credentials.

On Thursday, U.S. military officials revealed that two B-2 stealth bombers dropped dummy munitions on an uninhabited South Korean island as part of annual defense drills that Pyongyang sees as rehearsals for invasion. Hours later, Kim ordered his generals to put rockets on standby and threatened to strike American targets if provoked.

Pope celebrates solemn Easter Vigil

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is celebrating a trimmed back Easter Vigil service after having reached out to Muslims and women during a Holy Week in which he has begun to put his mark on the Catholic Church.

Francis processed into a darkened and silent St. Peter’s Basilica at the start of the Saturday service, which recalls the period between Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday. One of the most dramatic moments of the Easter Vigil service — when the pope would share the light of his candle with others until the entire basilica twinkled — was shortened this year as were some of the Old Testament readings.

The Vatican has said these provisions are in keeping with Francis’ aim to not have his Masses go on too long.

Chavez called ‘Christ of the Americas’

CARACAS, Venezuela — Holding a Bible in her arms at the start of Holy Week, seamstress Maria Munoz waited patiently to visit the tomb of the man she considers another savior of humanity.

The 64-year-old said she had already turned her humble one-bedroom house into a shrine devoted to the late President Hugo Chavez, complete with busts, photos and coffee mugs bearing his image. Now, she said, her son-in-law was looking for a larger house to display six boxes’ worth of Chavez relics that her family has collected throughout his political career.

“He saved us from so many politicians who came before him,” Munoz said as tears welled in her eyes. “He saved us from everything.”

Chavez’s die-hard followers considered him a living legend on a par with independence-era hero Simon Bolivar well before his March 5 death from cancer. In the mere three weeks since, however, Chavez has ascended to divine status in this deeply Catholic country as the government and Chavistas build a religious mythology around him ahead of April 14 elections to pick a new leader.

Chavez’s hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, has led the way, repeatedly calling the late president “the redeemer Christ of the Americas” and describing Chavistas, including himself, as “apostles.”

Court validates Kenyatta’s victory

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s Supreme Court on Saturday upheld the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as the country’s next president and the loser accepted that verdict, ending an election season that riveted the nation with fears of a repeat of the 2007-08 postelection violence.

Jubilant Kenyatta supporters flooded the streets of downtown Nairobi, honking horns, blowing plastic noisemakers and chanting.

But supporters of defeated Prime Minister Raila Odinga angrily protested after the verdict and police fired tear gas at them outside the Supreme Court as well as in the lakeside city of Kisumu, Odinga’s hometown.

Two young men participating in riots were fatally shot in Kisumu, police spokesman Masoud Mwinyi told The Associated Press, although it was not clear by whom, and residents there said they could hear gunshots late in the night.

Outbreaks of violence by Odinga supporters were also reported in some Nairobi slums and truckloads of police were called in to quell the demonstrations, according to reports on a police radio heard by an Associated Press reporter.

Vet groups: Disability, pensions should be kept out of negotiations

WASHINGTON — Veterans groups are rallying to fight any proposal to change disability payments as the federal government attempts to address its long-term debt problem. They say they’ve sacrificed already.

Government benefits are adjusted according to inflation, and President Barack Obama has endorsed using a slightly different measure of inflation to calculate Social Security benefits. Benefits would still grow but at a slower rate.

Advocates for the nation’s 22 million veterans fear that the alternative inflation measure would also apply to disability payments to nearly 4 million veterans as well as pension payments for an additional 500,000 low-income veterans and surviving families.

“I think veterans have already paid their fair share to support this nation,” said the American Legion’s Louis Celli. “They’ve paid it in lower wages while serving, they’ve paid it through their wounds and sacrifices on the battlefield and they’re paying it now as they try to recover from those wounds.”

Economists generally agree that projected long-term debt increases stemming largely from the growth in federal health care programs pose a threat to the country’s economic competitiveness. Addressing the threat means difficult decisions for lawmakers and pain for many constituents in the decades ahead.

Syrian rebels storm strategic neighborhood

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels pushed into a strategic neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo after days of heavy clashes, seizing control of at least part of the hilltop district and killing a pro-government cleric captured in the fighting, activists and state media said Saturday.

There were conflicting reports about the scale of the advance into the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood by rebel forces battling to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. But the gains marked the biggest shift in the front lines in the embattled city in months.

—Associated Press

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a former commercial hub, has been a key battleground in the country’s civil war since rebels launched an offensive there in July, seizing several districts before the fighting largely settled into a bloody stalemate.

The Aleppo Media Center opposition group and Aleppo-based activist Mohammed Saeed said rebels seized full control of Sheikh Maqsoud late Friday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, said rebels took only the eastern part of the neighborhood, and reported heavy fighting there Saturday.

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AP is 1st international news agency to open bureau as Myanmar eases ban

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The Associated Press on Saturday became the first international news agency to open a bureau in Myanmar since a reformist government took power two years ago and began relaxing restrictions on the media for the first time in decades.

The opening paves the way for AP to expand its coverage of the unfolding transition in Myanmar, which is still emerging from nearly half a century of military rule, for its members and customers around the world.

Six multi-format journalists will staff the new AP bureau full time. Among them is award-winning correspondent Aye Aye Win, who has reported from her native country for the AP since 1989 and was honored for courage in 2008 by the International Women’s Media Foundation. She succeeded another AP veteran in Yangon — her father, Sein Win, who covered the nation also known as Burma for AP for 20 years and was imprisoned several times, including during the failed pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

“AP has a proud history of reportage from Myanmar, and the new multimedia bureau marks the beginning of an even more robust commitment,” said AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt. “We hope to build on our efforts and cover the important changes there for many years to come.”

Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said: “We take great pride in our independent and impartial reporting, and coverage of Myanmar has been a priority for many years. A full-time, multimedia bureau staffed by talented local and international journalists will enable AP to provide even more coverage of the historic changes under way in Myanmar.”

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Phil Ramone, Grammy-winning producer and musical innovator, dead at 72

NEW YORK (AP) — Phil Ramone, the masterful Grammy Award-winning engineer, arranger and producer whose platinum touch included recordings with Ray Charles, Billy Joel and Paul Simon, has died at 72, his family said Saturday.

Ramone’s son, Matt Ramone, confirmed the death. The family did not immediately release details of the death, but Matt Ramone said his father was “very loving and will be missed.”

Few in the recording industry enjoyed a more spectacular and diverse career. Ramone won 14 competitive Grammy Awards and one for lifetime achievement. Worldwide sales for his projects topped 100 million. He was at ease with rock, jazz, swing and pop, working with Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, Elton John and Tony Bennett, Madonna and Lou Reed.

One of the biggest names not to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Ramone was on hand for such classic albums as The Band’s “The Band” and Bob Dylan’s “Blood On the Tracks.” He produced three records that went on to win Grammys for album of the year — Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years,” Joel’s “52nd Street” and Charles’ “Genius Loves Company.”

“I always thought of Phil Ramone as the most talented guy in my band,” Joel said in a statement. “So much of my music was shaped by him and brought to fruition by him. I have lost a dear friend — and my greatest mentor.”

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FGCU, the No. 15 seed everybody now knows, ends NCAA run with 62-50 loss to Florida Gators

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — That high-flying act from “Dunk City” busted most everybody’s NCAA tournament brackets and left an indelible mark on March.

Bet you know what FGCU is now.

Florida Gulf Coast, the No. 15 seed few people knew much about only a week ago, had their improbable run to the NCAA round of 16 ended by a 62-50 loss late Friday night — actually only a few minutes before midnight. SEC regular-season champion Florida is headed to its third consecutive regional final.

“We definitely defied a lot of odds,” said Sherwood Brown, the dreadlocked guard who Gulf Coast’s only senior starter. “Pretty much no one in the nation expected us to make it this far.”

Early against Florida, the Eagles (26-11) seemed even looser than they had in their victories over No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State. And they had a big run came early this time.