---- — Stocks soar as politicians move closer to a deal to avoid a US default; Dow jumps 300 points
NEW YORK (AP) — You can almost hear Wall Street exhaling.
The Dow Jones industrial average soared more than 300 points Thursday after Republican leaders and President Barack Obama finally seemed willing to end a 10-day budget standoff that has threatened to leave the U.S. unable to pay its bills.
The news drove the Dow to its biggest point rise this year and ended a three-week funk in stocks. It also injected some calm into the frazzled market for short-term government debt.
Republican leaders said Thursday they would vote to extend the government’s borrowing authority for six weeks. A spokesman for Obama said the president would “likely” sign a bill to increase the nation’s ability to borrow money so it can continue paying its bills.
“Congressmen and women are coming to terms with how calamitous it would be if the debt ceiling was not raised,” said Joseph Tanious, Global Market Strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management. “Cooler heads are prevailing.”
Washington’s freeze of aid to Egypt whips up anti-American sentiment, may help army chief
CAIRO (AP) — Washington’s decision to withhold millions of dollars in mostly military aid to Egypt is fueling anti-U.S. sentiment and the perception that Washington supports Mohammed Morsi, the Islamist president the military ousted in a July coup.
That could boost the popularity of the military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, whom the U.S. is trying to pressure to ensure a transition to democracy and ease the fierce crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The aid freeze could also embolden Morsi’s supporters to intensify their campaign of street protests in the belief that the military-backed government is losing the goodwill of its top foreign backer. The protests, met by a fierce response by security forces that has left hundreds dead, have kept the new government from tackling Egypt’s pressing problems after 2 ½ years of turmoil.
Still, Egypt’s military-backed government is unlikely to abandon the road map it announced when Morsi was removed in a July 3 coup — to amend the nation’s Islamist-tilted constitution and put the changes to a nationwide vote before the end of the year, and hold parliamentary and presidential ballots in early 2014.
“Egypt is not so desperate that it needs to compromise on its political agenda,” George Friedman, founder of the U.S.-based global intelligence firm, Stratfor, wrote this week.
Poll: Health care exchange rollout draws a big audience and gets underwhelming reviews
WASHINGTON (AP) — The debut of the government’s health insurance marketplaces drew a huge audience — and underwhelming reviews.
Just 7 percent of Americans say the rollout of the health exchanges has gone extremely well or very well, according to an AP-GfK poll.
The reaction was somewhat better among supporters of the new health care law, but still middling: 19 percent said the rollout went extremely well or very well.
Among the uninsured — a key audience for the health exchanges — 42 percent said they didn’t know enough to judge how well the rollout had gone, suggesting an ongoing lack of awareness about the program in its early days.
Despite the bumpy rollout, plenty of Americans are giving the system a try.
Scott Carpenter, pioneering astronaut and 2nd American in orbit, dies at age 88
DENVER (AP) — Scott Carpenter, the second American to orbit the Earth, was guided by two instincts: overcoming fear and quenching his insatiable curiosity. He pioneered his way into the heights of space and the depths of the ocean floor.
“Conquering of fear is one of life’s greatest pleasures and it can be done a lot of different places,” he said.
His wife, Patty Barrett, said Carpenter died in a Denver hospice of complications from a September stroke. He lived in Vail.
Carpenter followed John Glenn into orbit, and it was Carpenter who gave him the historic send-off: “Godspeed John Glenn.” The two were the last survivors of the famed original Mercury 7 astronauts from the “Right Stuff” days of the early 1960s. Glenn is the only one left alive.
In his one flight, Carpenter missed his landing by 288 miles, leaving a nation on edge for an hour as it watched live and putting Carpenter on the outs with his NASA bosses. So Carpenter found a new place to explore: the ocean floor.
Obama admin says it will allow states to pay to reopen some national parks
WASHINGTON (AP) — Under pressure from governors, the Obama administration said Thursday it will allow some shuttered national parks to reopen — as long as states use their own money to pay for park operations.
Governors in at least four states have asked for authority to reopen national parks within their borders because of the economic impacts caused by the park closures. All 401 national park units — including such icons as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and Zion national parks — have been closed since Oct. 1 because of the partial government shutdown. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees have been furloughed, and lawmakers from both parties have complained that park closures have wreaked havoc on nearby communities that depend on tourism.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the government will consider offers to use state money to resume park operations, but will not surrender control of national parks or monuments to the states. Jewell called on Congress to act swiftly to end the government shutdown so all parks can reopen.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said his state would accept the federal offer to reopen Utah’s five national parks.
Utah would have to use its own money to staff the parks, and it will cost $50,000 a day to operate just one of them, Zion National Park, said Herbert’s deputy chief of staff, Ally Isom.
‘I’m ready to go:’ Ex-Detroit Mayor Kilpatrick sentenced to 28 years in prison for corruption
DETROIT (AP) — A former Detroit mayor was sent to prison for nearly three decades Thursday, offering little remorse for the widespread corruption under his watch but acknowledging he let down the financially troubled city during a critical period before it landed in bankruptcy.
Prosecutors argued that Kwame Kilpatrick’s “corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis” that Detroit now finds itself in. A judge agreed with the government’s recommendation that 28 years in prison was appropriate for rigging contracts, taking bribes and putting his own price on public business.
It is one of the toughest penalties doled out for public corruption in recent U.S. history and seals a dramatic fall for Kilpatrick, who was elected mayor in 2001 at age 31 and is the son of a former senior member of Congress.
While Detroit’s finances were eroding, he was getting bags of cash from city contractors, kickbacks hidden in the bra of his political fundraiser and private cross-country travel from businessmen, according to trial evidence.
Kilpatrick, 43, said he was sorry if he let down his hometown but denied ever stealing from the citizens of Detroit.
Libyan prime minister abducted for several hours by gunmen in apparent retaliation for US raid
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — The abduction was brief but still audacious: Gunmen from one of Libya’s many militias stormed a hotel where the prime minister has a residence and held him for several hours Thursday — apparently in retaliation for his government’s alleged collusion with the U.S. in a raid last weekend that captured an al-Qaida suspect.
The brazen seizure of Prime Minister Ali Zidan heightened the alarm over the power of unruly militias that virtually hold the weak central government hostage. Many of the militias include Islamic militants and have ideologies similar to al-Qaida’s. The armed bands regularly use violence to intimidate officials to sway policies, gunning down security officials and kidnapping their relatives.
At the same time, the state relies on militias to act as security forces, since the police and military remain in disarray after dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011. The militias are rooted in the brigades that fought in the uprising and are often referred to as “revolutionaries.”
Many militias are paid by the Defense or Interior ministries — which are in charge of the military and police respectively — although the ministries are still unable to control them.
Not only was Zidan abducted by militiamen who officially work in a state body, it took other militias to rescue him by storming the site where he was held in the capital.
Ohio report: Autoerotic asphyxiation possible in Ariel Castro death, guards falsified logs
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro’s death by hanging in his prison cell may not have been suicide after all but an ill-fated attempt to choke himself for a sexual thrill, authorities said in a report issued Thursday.
The report also said two guards falsified logs documenting the number of times they checked on Castro before he died.
Castro, 53, was found hanging from a bedsheet Sept. 3 just weeks into a life sentence after pleading guilty in August to kidnapping three women off the streets, imprisoning them in his home for a decade and repeatedly raping and beating them.
The report, from Ohio’s prison system, raised the possibility that Castro died as a result of autoerotic asphyxiation, in which people achieve sexual satisfaction while choking themselves into unconsciousness.
Castro’s pants and underwear were around his ankles when he was found, the report said.
Ex-cop waved off bystanders before shooting
WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — The ex-police officer who opened fire on a federal courthouse in West Virginia was a trained shooter who knew how to kill, yet federal officials said Thursday that he waved people away moments before he started spraying bullets into the glass facade and was later shot dead by law enforcement.
Neither the FBI nor federal prosecutors would discuss the motive for 55-year-old Thomas J. Piccard’s assault. But two possible theories emerged as investigators gathered evidence and neighbors revealed that Piccard had recently told them he was dying of cancer.
U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld said the building being the target and other evidence he wouldn’t specify indicates Piccard “had an anti-government bias.”
However, he said, Piccard did not appear to target either individuals or a particular office in the federal building just a few blocks from the Wheeling Police Department where he once worked. Nor was Piccard the target of any active federal investigation.
Owner of Texas fertilizer plant that exploded is accused of safety violations
AUSTIN, Texas — The owner of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that exploded last spring, killing 15 people, has been accused of two dozen safety violations — including unsafe storage of dangerous chemicals — and faces $118,300 in fines from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The April 17 fire and subsequent explosion at West Fertilizer Co. rocked the small community hugging Interstate 35 north of Waco, leaving 10 first responders among the dead. The cause of the explosion, which happened after business hours, has not been determined despite a state and federal investigation that cost more than $1 million.
Among the serious violations OSHA documented were inadequate ventilation in storage buildings, an ammonium nitrate storage structure built with combustible material, unprotected light bulb sockets hanging above dry fertilizer bins, flammable materials such as paper seed bags stored in the same building as ammonium nitrate and lack of suitable water supplies or fire hydrants nearby.
The company also was cited for failing to have an emergency response plan.
Federal officials have previously said that investigators found that ammonium nitrate — a highly explosive chemical commonly used in fertilizer — was stored in wooden bins that bumped against the facility’s seed room. Federal safety standards require fire-resistant walls between ammonium nitrate and any combustible materials.
The company, which received the citations Wednesday, has 15 working days to contest the OSHA findings.
Draghi: World doesn’t believe US will default
NEW YORK (AP) — European Central Bank head Mario Draghi says a U.S. government debt default would cause “severe damage” to the American and global economies — but that the rest of the world doesn’t believe it will happen.
President Barack Obama and Republicans in the U.S. Congress are at loggerheads over legislation to raise the U.S. debt ceiling so the government can keep paying its debts past this month.
“There are two types of situation that we have to keep in mind,” Draghi said. “Firstly, an agreement is found but late, and there may be an accident in between.
“Clearly the market’s response will depend on what type of accident. It depends very much on what sort of no-payment happens.”
He went on to add: “The second situation is one where this standoff last several months, or several weeks. In that case it’s probably safe to say that this would cause severe damage to the U.S. economy and the world.”
U.S. debt securities are traded and held as safe investments throughout the global financial system and many officials and market participants say a failure to pay when they come due would cause serious disruption.