Obama calls for spending surge to burst past 'sequester' limits, buoyed by rising economy
WASHINGTON (AP) — Declaring an end to "mindless austerity," President Barack Obama called for a surge in government spending Thursday, and asked Congress to throw out the sweeping spending cuts both parties agreed to four years ago when deficits were spiraling out of control.
Obama's proposed $74 billion in added spending — about 7 percent — would be split about evenly between defense programs and the domestic side of the budget. Although he's sought before to reverse the "sequester" ''spending cuts, Obama's pitch in this year's budget comes with the added oomph of an improving economy and big recent declines in federal deficits.
"If Congress rejects my plan and refuses to undo these arbitrary cuts, it will threaten our economy and our military," Obama warned in an op-ed article Thursday in The Huffington Post. He said the nation's debt still would decline as a share of the overall economy.
The figures represent Obama's opening offer as he gears up for an inevitable budget battle with the new Republican-run Congress. He was to brief House Democrats on the plan Thursday evening in Philadelphia at their annual retreat.
Republicans immediately balked — Texas Sen. John Cornyn dismissed the plan as "happy talk" — although it was unclear just how much of Obama's proposal they would oppose.
Republican-led Senate passes bill approving Keystone XL oil pipeline, defying White House
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday approved a bipartisan bill to construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline, defying a presidential veto threat and setting up the first of many battles with the White House over energy and the environment.
The 62-36 vote advanced a top priority of the newly empowered GOP, and marked the first time the Senate passed a bill authorizing the pipeline, despite numerous attempts to force President Barack Obama's hand on the issue. Nine Democrats joined with 53 Republicans to back the measure.
This bill "is an important accomplishment for the country," said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "We are hoping the president upon reflection will agree to sign on to a bill that the State Department said could create up to 42,000 jobs and the State Department said creates little to no impact on the environment."
Still the vote was short of the threshold needed to override a veto, and the legislation still must be reconciled with the version the House passed.
"We hope President Obama will now drop his threat to veto this common-sense bill that would strengthen our energy security and create thousands and thousands of new, good-paying American jobs," said House Speaker John Boehner.
Jordanian, Japanese families of Islamic State hostages plead for their lives as swap hopes dim
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The father of a Jordanian fighter pilot and the wife of a Japanese journalist held by the Islamic State group pleaded for their loved ones' lives after a possible prisoner swap wasn't carried out by a deadline of sunset Thursday.
The extremists had demanded that Jordan release a female al-Qaida prisoner from death row, and they purportedly threatened in an audio message to kill the airman if she was not freed by the deadline.
After sundown in the Middle East, there was no word on the fate of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh and journalist Kenji Goto, and the families' agonizing wait dragged on.
"We received no assurances from anyone that he is alive," Jawdat al-Kaseasbeh, a brother of the pilot, told The Associated Press. "We have no clue about where the negotiations stand now. We are waiting, just waiting."
The possibility of a swap was raised Wednesday when Jordan said it was willing to trade Sajida al-Rishawi, the al-Qaida prisoner, for the pilot.
Gas truck explosion wrecks Mexico City children's hospital, at least 2 dead and dozens injured
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Injured and bleeding, mothers carrying infants fled from a maternity hospital shattered by a powerful gas explosion Thursday, and rescuers swung sledgehammers to break through fallen concrete hunting for others who might be trapped.
At least two people were killed and more than 60 injured, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said at a news conference. The known dead were a woman and a child. Officials earlier said at least four people had been killed.
About 75 percent of the hospital collapsed, officials said, and the priority was to continue digging in search of any trapped survivors. Authorities said they had confirmed that none of the children registered in the hospital were missing, but said it was possible that others who had come for appointments could be trapped.
The city's health secretary, Armando Ahued, said the adult victim was a 25-year-old woman and the child was a newborn, between 2 and 3 weeks old. He said 21 babies were injured, and seven of those and seven adults were in serious condition after being rushed to other hospitals.
Thirty-five-year-old Felicitas Hernandez wept as she frantically questioned people outside the wrecked building, hoping for word of her month-old baby, who had been hospitalized since birth with respiratory problems.
Militants launch simultaneous attacks on Egypt's security forces, kill 26 in 3 towns in Sinai
EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) — Militants struck more than a dozen army and police targets in the restive Sinai Peninsula with simultaneous attacks involving a car bomb and mortar rounds on Thursday, killing at least 26 security officers.
An Army spokesman immediately blamed former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating the attack, which killed 25 Army soldiers and one policeman.
The wide-ranging attacks late Thursday required a previously unseen level of coordination. At least one car bomb was set off outside a military base, while mortars were simultaneously fired at the base, toppling some buildings and leaving soldiers buried under the debris, official said.
Other attacks included mortar rounds fired at a hotel, a police club and more than a dozen checkpoints, officials said.
The militants struck the Northern Sinai provincial capital el-Arish, the nearby town of Sheik Zuwayid and the town of Rafah bordering Gaza.
Using hotel suite, tradecraft and only cash, authorities say treasure hunter eluded capture
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A deep-sea treasure hunter who vanished during a court fight over his $50 million haul of gold bars and coins eluded capture by hiding in a two-room hotel suite under a fake name, paying for everything in cash and keeping a low-profile, authorities said Thursday.
When Tommy Thompson and his longtime companion did leave the hotel room, usually alone and her more than him, they would use a combination of buses, taxis and walking around to shake anyone who might be tailing them.
"That's all part of the whole tradecraft — trying to fly under the radar of law enforcement," said Barry Golden of the U.S. Marshals Service in Miami.
Thompson, 62, was wanted after he failed to appear in an Ohio courtroom in 2012 in a lawsuit about the gold he brought up in 1988 from a 19th century shipwreck. Two investors who had funded Thompson's dream to find the shipwreck sued, as did some of his crew members, who said they also had been cheated out of their share.
For more than two years, U.S. marshals in Ohio and Florida worked to track down Thompson. They did meticulous research, splashed his face on electronic billboards and ran down hundreds of tips from the public. They believed Thompson was highly intelligent and had been planning to disappear for some time.
It's as if we're on different planets: Poll shows big gap in what scientists, public think
WASHINGTON (AP) — The American public and U.S. scientists are light-years apart on science issues. And 98 percent of surveyed scientists say it's a problem that we don't know what they're talking about.
Scientists are far less worried about genetically modified food, pesticide use and nuclear power than is the general public, according to matching polls of both the general public and the country's largest general science organization. Scientists were more certain that global warming is caused by man, evolution is real, overpopulation is a danger and mandatory vaccination against childhood diseases is needed.
In eight of 13 science-oriented issues, there was a 20-percentage-point or higher gap separating the opinions of the public and members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to survey work by the Pew Research Center. The gaps didn't correlate to any liberal-conservative split; the scientists at times take more traditionally conservative views and at times more liberal.
"These are big and notable gaps," said Lee Rainie, director of Pew's internet, science and technology research. He said they are "pretty powerful indicators of the public and the scientific community seeing the world differently."
In the most dramatic split, 88 percent of the scientists surveyed said it is safe to eat genetically modified foods, while only 37 percent of the public say it is safe and 57 percent say it is unsafe. And 68 percent of scientists said it is safe to eat foods grown with pesticides, compared with only 28 percent of the general public.
The doctor won't see you now: Some physicians opting to drop patients with anti-vaccine views
LOS ANGELES (AP) — With California gripped by a measles outbreak, Dr. Charles Goodman posted a clear notice in his waiting room and on Facebook: His practice will no longer see children whose parents won't get them vaccinated.
"Parents who choose not to give measles shots, they're not just putting their kids at risk, but they're also putting other kids at risk — especially kids in my waiting room," the Los Angeles pediatrician said.
It's a sentiment echoed by a small number of doctors who in recent years have "fired" patients who continue to believe debunked research linking vaccines to autism. They hope the strategy will lead parents to change their minds; if that fails, they hope it will at least reduce the risk to other children in the office.
The tough-love approach — which comes amid the nation's second-biggest measles outbreak in at least 15 years, with at least 98 cases reported since last month — raises questions about doctors' ethical responsibilities. Most of the measles cases have been traced directly or indirectly to Disneyland in Southern California.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says doctors should bring up the importance of vaccinations during visits but should respect a parent's wishes unless there's a significant risk to the child.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch talks to Super Bowl media about why he doesn't talk
PHOENIX (AP) — Marshawn Lynch changed the script and fired back at his critics.
After two days of giving only scripted answers, the Seattle Seahawks' star running back gave his most extensive comments of Super Bowl week, mostly telling reporters why he won't talk to them.
"I don't know what story y'all trying to get out of me. I don't know what image y'all trying to portray of me," Lynch said Thursday. "But it don't matter what y'all think, what y'all say about me because when I go home at night, the same people that I look in the face — my family that I love, that's all that really matter to me. So y'all can go make up whatever y'all want to make up because I don't say enough for y'all to go and put anything out on me."
When Lynch arrived at the podium, a man with a reporter's credential who said he was a teacher asked him to give his students a "shoutout."
But Lynch wouldn't bite and began his unscripted statement.
Recalling lost astronauts: NASA memorial stirs memories for former shuttle pilot 'Hoot' Gibson
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Each year around this time, NASA honors fallen astronauts, including the 17 men and women killed in three separate wintertime accidents in the sky and on the earth.
For Robert "Hoot" Gibson, it's a time to remember lost friends and some of their stunts, like playing a saxophone in orbit.
Gibson, who flew on five space shuttle missions, knew each of the 14 astronauts who died in the Challenger explosion on Jan. 28, 1986, and in the Columbia disaster on Feb. 1, 2003.
On Thursday, he lit a candle of remembrance during a ceremony at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Behind him hung a photo of astronauts including Ron McNair.
Gibson and McNair were crewmates aboard Challenger during a mission in February 1984. McNair, a black belt in karate who also played jazz saxophone, serenaded the crew with music.