Advertisement

AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

3/31/2014 3:15 AM
By Associated Press

Gerrymandering, geography give Republicans built-in advantage in this year's House elections

WASHINGTON (AP) — Even if Democrats recruit great candidates, raise gobs of money and run smart campaigns, they face an uphill fight to retake control of the House in this year's congressional elections, regardless of the political climate in November.

The reason? Republican strategists spent years developing a plan to take advantage of the 2010 census, first by winning state legislatures and then redrawing House districts to tilt the playing field in their favor. Their success was unprecedented.

In states like Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina, Republicans were able to shape congressional maps to pack as many Democratic voters as possible into the fewest House districts. The practice is called gerrymandering, and it left fertile ground elsewhere in each state to spread Republican voters among more districts, increasing the GOP's chances of winning more seats.

Geography helped in some states. Democratic voters are more likely to live in densely populated urban areas, making it easier to pack them into fewer districts.

The first payoff came in 2012, when Republicans kept control of the House despite a Democratic wave that swept President Barack Obama to a second term. The next payoff is likely to come this fall when candidates once again compete in House districts drawn by Republican legislators in key states.

___

US, Russia offer differing solutions on Ukraine; remain deeply at odds after talks

PARIS (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are advancing far different proposals on how to calm tensions and de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine as Russia continues to mass troops along its border with the former Soviet republic.

As Kerry called for Moscow to begin an immediate pullback of the troops, he also ruled out discussion of Russia's demand for Ukraine to become a loose federation unless Ukrainians are at the table.

While the United States and Russia agreed the crisis in Ukraine requires a diplomatic resolution, four hours of talks Sunday between Kerry and Lavrov failed to break a tense East-West deadlock over how to proceed.

"The Russian troop buildup is creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine," Kerry told reporters at the home of the U.S. ambassador to France after the meeting, which was held at the Russian ambassador's residence and included a working dinner. "It certainly does not create the climate that we need for dialogue."

The U.S. views the massing of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers, ostensibly for military exercises, along the border as an attempt to intimidate Ukraine's new leaders after Russia's annexation of the strategic Crimean peninsula, as well as a bargaining chip with the United States and the European Union, which have condemned Crimea's absorption into Russia and imposed sanctions on senior Russian officials.

___

Washington authorities: Mudslide death toll rises from 18 to 21; rains expected to ease

DARRINGTON, Wash. (AP) — The rains that have bedeviled rescuers working to find more victims in the debris field from the deadly Washington state mudslide are expected to ease this week, but searchers faced other challenges at the site like household chemicals and sewage.

The number of confirmed dead has increased from 18 to 21, Jason Biermann, program manager at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, said Sunday evening.

Fifteen of the victims have been identified by the Snohomish County medical examiner, and six have yet to be identified, Biermann said. Another four bodies were found Sunday, but they won't be added to the official count until the medical examiner receives the bodies. Biermann said 30 people remain missing.

The March 22 landslide, one of the deadliest in U.S. history, struck a rural community about 55 miles northeast of Seattle.

Crews have completed a makeshift road that will link one side of the debris field to the other, significantly aiding the recovery operation. They have also been working to clear mud and debris from the highway, leaving piles of gooey muck, splintered wood and housing insulation on the sides of the road.

___

Seabed of new jet search zone mostly flat with 1 trench, mostly good news for wreckage hunt

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Two miles beneath the sea surface where satellites and planes are looking for debris from the missing Malaysian jet, the ocean floor is cold, dark, covered in a squishy muck of dead plankton and — in a potential break for the search — mostly flat. The troubling exception is a steep, rocky drop ending in a deep trench.

The seafloor in this swath of the Indian Ocean is dominated by a substantial underwater plateau known as Broken Ridge, where the geography would probably not hinder efforts to find the main body of the jet that disappeared with 239 people on board three weeks ago, according to seabed experts who have studied the area.

Australian officials on Friday moved the search to an area 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of a previous zone as the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continued to confound. There is no guarantee that the jet crashed into the new search area. Planes that have searched it for two days have spotted objects of various colors and sizes, but none of the items scooped by ships has been confirmed to be related to the plane.

The zone is huge: about 319,000 square kilometers (123,000 square miles), roughly the size of Poland or New Mexico. But it is closer to land than the previous search zone, its weather is much more hospitable — and Broken Ridge sounds a lot craggier than it really is.

And the deepest part is believed to be 5,800 meters (19,000 feet), within the range of American black box ping locators on an Australian ship leaving Sunday for the area and expected to arrive in three or four days.

___

North and South Korea fire hundreds of artillery shells into sea; island residents in shelters

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North and South Korea fired hundreds of artillery shells into each other's waters Monday in a flare-up of animosity that forced residents of five front-line South Korean islands to evacuate to shelters for several hours, South Korean officials said.

The exchange of fire into the Yellow Sea followed Pyongyang's sudden announcement that it would conduct live-fire drills in seven areas north of the Koreas' disputed maritime boundary. North Korea routinely test-fires artillery and missiles into the ocean but rarely discloses those plans in advance. The announcement was seen as an expression of Pyongyang's frustration at making little progress in its recent push to win outside aid.

North Korea fired 500 rounds of artillery shells over more than three hours, about 100 of which fell south of the sea boundary, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. South Korea responded by firing 300 shells into North Korean waters, he said.

No shells from either side were fired at any land or military installations, but Kim called the North's artillery firing a provocation aimed at testing Seoul's security posture. There was no immediate comment from North Korea.

Monday's exchange was relatively mild in the history of animosity and violence between the Koreas, but there is worry in Seoul that an increasingly dissatisfied North Korea could repeat the near-daily barrage of war rhetoric it carried out last spring, when tensions soared as Pyongyang threatened nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul in response to condemnation of its third nuclear test.

___

UN report dials up humanity's global warming risks; scientist says 'We're all sitting ducks'

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — If the world doesn't cut pollution of heat-trapping gases, the already noticeable harms of global warming could spiral "out of control," the head of a United Nations scientific panel warned Monday.

And he's not alone. The Obama White House says it is taking this new report as a call for action, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying "the costs of inaction are catastrophic."

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that issued the 32-volume, 2,610-page report here early Monday, told The Associated Press: "It is a call for action." Without reductions in emissions, he said, impacts from warming "could get out of control."

One of the study's authors, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said, "If we don't reduce greenhouse gases soon, risks will get out of hand. And the risks have already risen."

Twenty-first century disasters such as killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in the United States, droughts in Australia and deadly flooding in Mozambique, Thailand and Pakistan highlight how vulnerable humanity is to extreme weather, according to the report from the Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists. The dangers are going to worsen as the climate changes even more, the report's authors said.

___

A hotter world means less food, higher costs, 'hotspots of hunger,' UN climate panel says

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — Global warming makes feeding the world harder and more expensive, a United Nations scientific panel said.

A warmer world will push food prices higher, trigger "hotspots of hunger" among the world's poorest people, and put the crunch on Western delights like fine wine and robust coffee, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in a 32-volume report issued Monday.

"We're facing the specter of reduced yields in some of the key crops that feed humanity," panel chairman Rajendra Pachauri said in press conference releasing the report.

Even though heat and carbon dioxide are often considered good for plants, the overall effect of various aspects of man-made warming is that it will reduce food production compared to a world without global warming, the report said.

The last time the panel reported on the effects of warming in 2007, it said it was too early to tell whether climate change would increase or decrease food production, and many skeptics talked of a greening world. But in the past several years the scientific literature has been overwhelming in showing that climate change hurts food production, said Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution of Science and lead author of the climate report.

___

World court: Japan's Antarctic whaling not for scientific purposes; orders temporary halt

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Court of Justice says that Japan's Antarctic whaling program is not for scientific purposes and has ordered a temporary stay on the program.

Australia had sued Japan at the U.N. dispute-resolution court for resolving in hopes of ending whaling in the icy Southern Ocean.

Reading a judgment by the court's 16-judge panel, Presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia said Japan has not justified the large number of minke whales it takes under its program, while failing to meet much smaller targets for fin and humpback whales.

The court ordered a halt to the issuing of whaling permits until the program has been revamped.

___

Congress: GM twice failed to fix defect that led to recall of 2.6 million small cars

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors discussed two separate fixes for an ignition switch defect in 2005 but canceled both of them without taking action, according to a memo released Sunday by the House subcommittee investigating GM's handling of the defect and a subsequent recall.

GM last month recalled 2.6 million small cars because their ignition switches can move from the "run" to the "accessory" or "off" position, which causes the car to stall and disables the air bags and power steering. GM says the recall is linked to 13 deaths. The recall includes the Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac G5, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Ion and Saturn Sky from the 2003-2011 model years.

Congress is investigating why GM didn't recall the cars sooner, because it first found problems with the ignition switches in 2001. It's also questioning federal regulators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who didn't investigate the cars despite evidence of a problem.

GM CEO Mary Barra and NHTSA Administrator David Friedman are scheduled to appear Tuesday before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. A separate Senate hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

The House memo provides new details about GM's consideration — but ultimate rejection — of potential solutions.

___

Experts advise caution as Dominican Republic grows into major cosmetic surgery destination

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — Beverly Brignoni was a young New Yorker seeking a less expensive way to enhance her appearance and she did what many other people are now doing: travel to the Dominican Republic for cosmetic surgery.

It went horribly wrong. The 28-year-old died Feb. 20 from what the doctor told her family was a massive pulmonary embolism while getting a tummy tuck and liposuction at a clinic in the Dominican capital recommended by friends. Family members have serious questions about her death and want local authorities to investigate.

"We want to know exactly what happened," said Bernadette Lamboy, Brignoni's godmother. "We want to know if there was negligence."

The district attorney's office for Santo Domingo says it has not yet begun an investigation because it has not received a formal complaint from Brignoni's relatives. Family members say they plan to make one.

Shortly after Brignoni's death, the Health Ministry inspected the Vista del Jardin Medical Center where she was treated and ordered the operating room temporarily closed, citing the presence of bacteria and violations of bio-sanitary regulations. The doctor who performed the procedure and the clinic have not responded to requests for comment.


Given the prolonged winter, have you been able to do any of your spring planting?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Almost

User Submitted Photos

View photos      Submit your photos

4/19/2014 | Last Updated: 3:31 PM