Obama meets with leaders of France, Britain to navigate shifting terrain in Ukraine crisis
BRUSSELS (AP) — President Barack Obama is meeting with two of his most important European allies — Britain and France — as they navigate shifting conditions in the Ukraine crisis now that a new government is coming to power.
Obama plans to consult Thursday with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Brussels after a gathering of world leaders at the Group of 7 summit, then hop a short flight to Paris for dinner with French President Francois Hollande. Topping the agenda was what to do about Russia and its involvement in Ukraine.
The U.S. and Europe started out showing solidarity against Vladimir Putin by levying sanctions against the Russian president. But diverging approaches are emerging now that European leaders are planning separate, private meetings with Putin in Paris while Obama is steering clear of him.
Hollande said Thursday that it's up to Obama whether he wants to meet with Putin and noted that both men would be at events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy Friday, along with other world leaders.
"The important thing is we have the same language, the same arguments on Ukraine all together," Holland said in a brief exchange with reporters traveling with Obama. "We are seven."
No hero's welcome for Bergdahl: National uproar prompts cancellation of return home party
HAILEY, Idaho (AP) — There will be no hero's welcome for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in his hometown, no fanfare of parades, music or picnics in the park.
A planned celebration for the end of June marking his return after five years of Taliban captivity in Afghanistan has been scrapped, largely due to security concerns as his release has touched off a nationwide debate. Was he an American prisoner of war who should be welcomed home after years in the enemy's hands or a deserter who abandoned his unit who should be punished accordingly?
For those who knew Bergdahl and his family in this small central Idaho town surrounded by forests and mountains, the politics of war have no place. They just want Bergdahl back home.
"It's like a modern day lynching. He hasn't even been able to give his side of the story yet. This community will welcome him back no matter what," said Lee Ann Ferris, who lives next door to the Bergdahl family and watched Bowe grow up. "He's a hometown kid and he's already suffered enough."
The town of 8,000 has been swamped with hate mail and angry calls, labeling the 28-year-old Bergdahl un-American and a traitor. Given the prospect of large crowds on both sides of the debate, organizers abruptly canceled their welcome home celebration.
State action to promote job growth may have side effect: a widening gap between rich and poor
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lawmakers in many states have been trying to boost their post-recession economies by cutting income taxes, curbing aid to the long-term jobless or holding down the minimum wage. Some have pursued all of these steps.
Whether such policies will spur businesses to expand as hoped isn't yet clear. But collectively, the actions could ease the financial burden for the states' most affluent residents while reducing the safety net for those at the bottom.
The shift may also contribute to a trend that is prompting growing national concern: the widening gap between the richest Americans and everyone else. The divergence has developed over four decades and accelerated in recent years.
Economic statistics show that incomes for the top 1 percent of U.S. households soared 31 percent from 2009 through 2012, after adjusting for inflation, yet inched up an average of 0.4 percent for those making less. Many economists are sounding alarms that the income gap, greater now than at any time since the Depression, is hurting the economy by limiting growth in consumer spending.
Yet those concerns aren't resonating in some states. Last year, at least 10 states passed income tax cuts targeted at businesses or those in the top individual brackets. Several more already have cut taxes this year, including Democratic-led New York and Republican-led Oklahoma. Yet over the past three years, nearly one-fifth of the states have pared back unemployment benefits, and more cutbacks are under consideration.
3 key questions for GM's attorney as probe of mishandled ignition switch recall is released
DETROIT (AP) — Along rows of cubicles at the General Motors Technical Center in suburban Warren, engineers knew for years about faulty ignition switches in small cars. Safety officials in the same complex knew, too. So did the lawyers downtown.
That knowledge loitered inside GM for at least a decade until this February, when the company recalled 2.6 million cars to repair the switches. During that time, at least 13 people lost their lives in crashes tied to the problem. Why that delay happened — and who is responsible — should be revealed Thursday, when a report by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas is made public.
The report, paid for by GM with the promise of an "unvarnished" inquiry, also will address just how high in the company knowledge of the problem reached. Valukas isn't expected to place blame with CEO Mary Barra. She has denied knowing the details until Jan. 31.
Although Valukas is expected to name names, it's likely that he'll find GM's bureaucratic structure at least partly responsible.
The switches can slip out of the run position, shut off the cars' engines and knock out power-assisted steering. This can make steering difficult and cause drivers to lose control. Congress and the Justice Department are investigating the delayed recall, too. Criminal charges are possible.
Japan hopes North Korea deal to investigate abductions brings answers, not more disappointment
TOKYO (AP) — Japan and North Korea appear to be on the verge of a breakthrough on a bizarre legacy of the Cold War, a secret, government-ordered program that led to the abduction of more than a dozen and possibly several hundred Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s by North Korean infiltrators and spies.
After three days of talks in Stockholm last week, North Korea agreed to open a new investigation into the abductions, the biggest step forward Tokyo and Pyongyang have made in years. Questions over the fate of the abductees — some believed to still be alive — have kept relations in a deep freeze.
A resolution would be a big win for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would in return get the lifting of some sanctions and possibly increased humanitarian aid. The U.S. and South Korea, however, fear Abe could weaken diplomatic efforts for North Korea to abandon its nuclear program by focusing too much on the bilateral abduction issue.
Tokyo is as concerned as Washington and Seoul are about North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, but the abductions have been the biggest thorn in its relations with Pyongyang. For many Japanese, the tales of a child vanishing on her way home from school, couples grabbed off beaches and tourists nabbed while abroad have put a human face on what they see as the brutality and hostility of the North Korean regime.
Abe, known for his hawkish nationalism and his hard-line stance toward Pyongyang, has made the abductions his cause celebre. He vowed in announcing the new deal that he will not relent until "the day the families of the abduction victims can hold their loved ones in their arms."
Senators push for bill on veterans' health care as new VA chief heads to Phoenix
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is moving forward on a compromise bill to help veterans avoid long waits to see a doctor and make it easier to fire administrators who falsify records to cover up long wait times.
Hopes for a vote as soon as Thursday have dimmed, but senators said they would press ahead on a measure to address an uproar over veterans' health care following allegations that veterans have died while waiting to see a Veterans Affairs doctor.
Senators had wanted to pass the bill before Friday's 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Europe in World War II. Up to a dozen senators were expected to attend the D-Day ceremonies in France.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, had said Wednesday he was "cautiously optimistic" that a vote could be held Thursday.
Sanders and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona were leading negotiations on the bill, holding two closed-door meetings Wednesday to iron out details.
Israel advances 1,500 settlement housing units in response to Palestinian unity government
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's housing ministry said Thursday it was advancing plans for nearly 1,500 new settlement housing units in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in response to the formation of a Palestinian unity government backed by the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel said in a statement that the move was a "fitting Zionist response to the formation of a Palestinian terror government," adding that the housing plans were "just the beginning."
Tenders were issued late Wednesday for about 900 housing units in the West Bank and about 560 units in east Jerusalem, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians claim for their future state. The tenders represent the final governmental approval before construction can begin.
Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said the settlement announcement is "a clear sign that Israel is moving toward a major escalation" and that the Palestinians were weighing their response to the announcement. The Palestinians have long viewed settlement construction on land they want for their future state as a major obstacle to resolving the decades-old conflict.
The announcement of new settlement building was the first such move since the official end of nine months of U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in April. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told Army Radio Thursday that the U.S. opposes the planned settlement construction.
'Frozen' frenzy: Hours-long lines to meet Disney princesses, merchandise shortages
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — For the Calder family, the "Frozen" frenzy began when the Disney movie came out in late 2013 and they took their 7-year-old daughter Caroline to see it in the theater.
Caroline then saw it again, with a grandparent. Then with the other set of grandparents. Then came the Disney cruise to the Caribbean with the "Frozen" sing-along, the purchase of "Frozen"-themed pajamas — instead of "Frozen" dolls, which were sold out — and waiting in line at a Disney store to obtain a raffle ticket for a chance to purchase a "Frozen" dress.
"We've become the 'Frozen' family," said Caroline's mom Kristin, 41, who says the "Frozen" CD or DVD plays daily in her vehicle or home in Boynton Beach, Florida. "It is part of our everyday life."
Her daughter Caroline describes her love of the movie like this: "I really like Elsa because of her frozen power. And I really like Anna because she's really nice a lot."
Caroline added that the ice blue dress worn by Elsa when she sings the song "Let it Go" is her favorite part of the movie.
What's a Triple Crown worth? Lineage and a new racing era complicate calculation
NEW YORK (AP) — California Chrome's bid for the Triple Crown on Saturday is likely to boost TV ratings and, if he wins, create a star for a sport that could badly use one.
It will be a bonanza for the horse's owners, although their payoff will be limited by Chrome's humble parents and the racing industry's delicate health.
Racing insiders say that if California Chrome becomes the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years, his breeding value is likely to be between $15 million and $20 million. That's a stunning return for owners who paid $8,000 for the horse's mare and another $2,500 to breed her to a stallion with a mediocre racing record.
The horse could bring in millions more in sponsorships and book and movie deals. Shoe company Skechers just announced it will put its brand on California Chrome caps, clothes and horse blankets — financial terms weren't disclosed — and more deals are sure to follow if Chrome wins Saturday.
The payoff, however, might fall short of expectations set by Chrome's team. Before the colt won the Kentucky Derby, his owners said they rejected a $6 million offer for a 51 percent share in the horse. After he won the Preakness, his trainer declared that he was worth $30 million.
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