Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Published:

Yes, GOP, Democrats can compromise on huge $1.1 trillion spending bill -- with election looming

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A chastened Congress is putting aside the crisis-driven budget battles of the past three years, embracing a $1.1 trillion spending bill that restores or smooths the sharpest edges of the automatic cuts imposed as a result of its own dysfunction.

The huge election-year legislation preserves the downward trajectory on government spending demanded by Republicans. Yet the bipartisan measure steaming through Congress also preserves President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and stricter regulation of financial markets -- and deflects the most significant attempts by Republicans to rewrite environmental rules and force other changes.

Lawmakers hope the compromise will show disgruntled voters before next fall's midterm election that Washington -- especially its unpopular Congress -- can perform its most basic function of responsibly funding the government. The bravado that prompted tea party Republicans to force a government shutdown in hopes of derailing "Obamacare" is long gone, replaced by an election-year desire to focus attention on the administration's troubled rollout of the health care law instead of lurching from crisis to crisis.

"The average American looking at this, it looks pretty dysfunctional for the last couple of years," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "We need to rack up some achievements here -- not just for Republicans but for incumbents in general and for the institution."

There could still be bumps in the road. Congress needs to raise the government's borrowing cap by the end of February or early March, and it's unclear how big of a battle that will be.

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Report: NSA maps pathway into foreign computers using radio waves and covert chips

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The New York Times is reporting that the National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the U.S. to conduct surveillance on those machines.

The Times cites NSA documents, computer experts and U.S. officials in its report about the use of secret technology using radio waves to gain access to computers that other countries have tried to protect from spying or cyberattacks.

The NSA calls the effort an "active defense" and has used the technology to monitor units of the Chinese Army, the Russian military, drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and sometime U.S. partners against terrorism like Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan.

The NSA says the technology has not been used in computers in the U.S.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:

1. WHAT LAWMAKERS HOPE FOR IN NEW SPENDING BILL

They believe the compromise will show disgruntled voters that Congress can perform its most basic function of responsibly funding the government.

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Former FISA chief judge Bates slams key proposed NSA reforms as unnecessary, counterproductive

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. judiciary told Congress on Tuesday it opposes the idea of having an independent privacy advocate on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, while members of Congress lauded the idea at a Capitol Hill hearing.

Speaking for the entire U.S. judiciary, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates sent a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee saying that appointing an independent advocate to the secret surveillance court is unnecessary and possibly counterproductive, and he slammed other key reforms as adding too heavy a caseload to the secret court's work. In FISA court hearings, judges only hear from the government seeking a spy warrant.

Bates said opening the proceeding to an advocate for privacy in general -- who would never meet the suspect or be able to defend the charges against him -- wouldn't create the kind of back and forth seen in open criminal or civil court proceedings.

"Given the nature of FISA proceedings, the participation of an advocate would neither create a truly adversarial process nor constructively assist the courts in assessing the facts," he wrote.

Members of the presidential task force that recommended such an advocate defended the proposal before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as did Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., during a hearing on the NSA's surveillance programs Tuesday.

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Egypt's vote lays bare new, post-Morsi divisions, points to strong sentiment behind el-Sissi

CAIRO (AP) -- A referendum on a new constitution laid bare the sharp divisions in Egypt six months after the military removed the elected Islamist president, with pro-army voters lining up Tuesday outside polling stations, singing patriotic songs, kissing images of Egypt's top officer and sharing upbeat hopes for their troubled nation.

Sporadic violence flared across much of the country, leaving 11 dead, with protesters burning tires and pelting police with rocks and firebombs creating just enough tension to keep many voters at home.

Still, the first of two days of voting yielded telling signs that the national sentiment was overwhelmingly behind military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, whose possible presidential run later this year has grown more likely by the day. That a career army officer might be Egypt's next president has raised questions about the future of democracy in Egypt, but it also speaks to the fatigue felt by most Egyptians after three years of deadly turmoil and economic woes.

Standing in line to cast his ballot, Ismail Mustafa said he was voting "yes" in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country's longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.

"This is it, we have had it. I will vote 'yes' even if it is the last thing I do," Mustafa declared outside a Cairo polling station.

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NJ Gov. Christie apologizes again for political payback plot, saying 'we let down the people'

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Republican Gov. Chris Christie, faced with a widening political scandal that threatens to undermine his second term and a possible 2016 presidential run, apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration "let down the people we are entrusted to serve" but the issue doesn't define his team or the state.

On the eve of his second term, he opened his annual State of the State address by touching only briefly on the apparent political payback plot, involving road lane closures that caused major backups at the George Washington Bridge, one of the busiest bridges in the country.

"The last week has certainly tested this administration," he said. "Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better."

He received tempered applause after he went on, saying, "This administration and this Legislature will not allow the work that needs to be done to improve the people's lives in Jersey to be delayed."

Christie's measured tone was a noticeable contrast from a year ago when a blustery Christie promised to lead New Jersey back from Superstorm Sandy, the costliest natural disaster in state history.

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Federal judge strikes Oklahoma same-sex marriage ban; ruling on hold pending appeal

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- A federal judge struck down Oklahoma's gay marriage ban Tuesday, but headed off any rush to the altar by setting aside his order while state and local officials complete an appeal.

It was the second time in a month that a federal judge has set aside a deeply conservative state's limits on same-sex marriage, after Utah's ban was reversed in December.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern described Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage as "an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit."

The decision drew criticism from the governor, attorney general and other elected officials in this state known as the buckle of the Bible Belt. A state lawmaker who once said gay people posed a greater threat to the nation than terrorism blasted rulings from "activist judges."

Kern said the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause because it precludes same-sex couples from receiving an Oklahoma marriage license. In his 68-page ruling, Kern frequently referenced U.S. Supreme Court decisions issued last summer on gay marriage. He also took a shot at Oklahoma's high divorce rate, noting that "excluding same-sex couples from marriage has done little to keep Oklahoma families together thus far."

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New Mexico community gathers for vigil after middle school shooting that wounded 2 students

ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) -- A 12-year-old New Mexico boy drew a shotgun from a band-instrument case and shot and wounded two classmates at his middle school Tuesday morning before a teacher talked him into dropping the weapon and he was taken into custody, officials and witnesses said.

A boy was critically injured and a girl was in satisfactory condition following the shooting at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell.

Gov. Susana Martinez said the students were in the gym, where they typically hang out before classes start during cold and inclement weather. The 12-year-old opened fire with the shotgun there at about 8 a.m.

However, he was "quickly stopped by one staff member who walked right up to him and asked him to set down the firearm, which he did," Martinez said at a news conference.

Superintendent Tom Burris said the school's faculty had participated in "active shooter" training, and they responded appropriately Tuesday.

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Authorities: Argument over texting leads to man being fatally shot at Florida movie theater

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. (AP) -- Chad Oulson was described by friends as a man who loved dirt bikes and his baby daughter. Curtis Reeves was a retired Tampa police officer with numerous commendations who liked riding his motorcycle with his wife.

The men's lives collided in a movie theater altercation that left Oulson dead and Reeves in jail. Oulson was texting his daughter's daycare, friends said, and Reeves got mad. Authorities said Reeves shot and killed Oulson with a handgun after the men exchanged words.

"He must have just snapped," neighbor Joe D'Andrea said of Reeves, describing him as friendly, "stand-up" guy. "I'm trying to put all of this together."

Reeves' personnel files from the police department show he led other agencies in gun safety training and received numerous letters of commendation for his leadership.

Still, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said Tuesday: "It didn't matter what he had done previously in his life. You don't shoot someone over a texting incident."

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How smugglers build and use tunnels along the US-Mexico border

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) -- As border security has tightened, drug cartels have turned to tunneling beneath the ground to avoid detection.

Nearly 170 tunnels have been found nationwide since 1990, most along the Arizona and California border with Mexico. The job of searching these networks can be dangerous, so the U.S. Border Patrol is unveiling its latest technology in the underground war -- a wireless, camera-equipped robot that can do the job in a fraction of the time.

HOW ARE THEY BUILT?

Tunnel construction ranges from extremely rudimentary, a small burrow dug by hand sometimes only large enough for a person to crawl through, to very sophisticated, including lights, supports to hold up the ceiling and ventilation. They can range from just a few feet stretching from one side of the border to the other, to up to a quarter mile long.

Some tunnels merely go from one side of the border to the other with the contraband being offloaded in a field or on public land, while others exit into warehouses or homes along the border.