Fed to slow pace of monthly bond purchases by another $10B despite turmoil in emerging markets
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Given the U.S. economy's growing strength, the Federal Reserve pushed ahead Wednesday with a plan to shrink its bond-buying program, even though the prospect of reduced stimulus and higher interest rates has rattled global markets.
The central bank said it will cut its monthly bond purchases starting in February by $10 billion to $65 billion. It also reaffirmed a plan to keep short-term rates at record lows to try to reassure investors that it will keep supporting an economy that's stronger than at any point since the recession yet remains less than fully healthy.
The Fed's decision came in a statement after the final policy meeting of Ben Bernanke, who will step down Friday after eight years as chairman. He will be succeeded by Vice Chair Janet Yellen.
Most economists expect that under Yellen, the Fed will announce a string of $10 billion monthly reductions in bond purchases at each meeting this year, concluding with a final $15 billion cut in December. Still, if the American economy were to falter, the Fed has stressed that it might suspend its pullback in bond buying so it could keep aggressively holding down long-term loan rates.
Many global investors fear that reduced Fed bond buying will raise U.S. interest rates and cause investors to move money out of emerging markets and into the United States for higher returns. Currency values in emerging economies have fallen over that concern.
Modest snowfall creates chaos in Atlanta, stranding thousands of drivers and students
ATLANTA (AP) -- Thousands of Atlanta students stranded all night long in their schools were reunited with their parents Wednesday, while rescuers rushed to deliver blankets, food, gas and a ride home to countless shivering motorists stopped cold by a storm that paralyzed the business capital of the South with less than 3 inches of snow.
As National Guardsmen and state troopers fanned out, Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal found themselves on the defensive, acknowledging the storm preparations could have been better. But Deal also blamed forecasters, saying he was led to believe it wouldn't be so bad.
The icy weather wreaked similar havoc across much of the South, closing schools and highways, grounding flights and contributing to at least a dozen deaths from traffic accidents and a mobile home fire.
Yet it was Atlanta, home to major corporations and the world's busiest airport, that was Exhibit A for how a Southern city could be sent reeling by winter weather that, in the North, might be no more than an inconvenience.
The mayor admitted the city could have directed schools, businesses and government offices to stagger their closings on Tuesday afternoon, as the storm began, rather than dismissing everyone at the same time.
10 Things to Know for Thursday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:
1. FED PLANS TO CURTAIL STIMULUS
The central bank is pushing ahead despite fears that the move will further rattle global markets.
Justin Bieber turns self in on assault charge in Toronto, second arrest in a week
TORONTO (AP) -- Justin Bieber was charged Wednesday with assault for allegedly hitting a Toronto limousine driver several times in the back of the head last month, just hours after his attorney entered a separate not guilty plea in Florida to drunken-driving and other charges.
Bieber turned himself in to a Toronto police station, arriving amid a crush of media and screaming fans. He was charged with one count of assault and is scheduled to appear in court in Toronto on March 10.
Police allege Bieber was one of six people who were picked up by a limousine from a nightclub in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, and there was an altercation while en route to a hotel.
Police said during the altercation one of the passengers hit the limo driver in the back of the head several times.
"The driver stopped the limousine, exited the vehicle and called police," a statement said. "The man who struck him left the scene before police arrived."
Syrian official rejects opposition's call for transitional govt, hints election may not happen
GENEVA (AP) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad's adviser on Wednesday rejected the opposition's call for a transitional governing body and suggested for the first time that a presidential election scheduled to be held later this year may not take place amid the raging violence.
The comments by Bouthaina Shaaban in an interview with The Associated Press came as U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced that the first phase of the Syria peace talks in Geneva will end on Friday, as scheduled, and that the gap between the government and the opposition remains "quite large."
"To be blunt, I do not expect that we're going achieve anything substantial" by Friday, he told reporters Wednesday. "I'm very happy that we are still talking and that the ice is breaking slowly."
Brahimi said both sides will decide when the second phase of the talks will take place -- most likely after a one-week break.
Earlier Wednesday, both sides managed to discuss the thorniest issue: the opposition's demand for a transitional government in Syria.
'Weight fate' starts early; nearly half of obese 8th graders were overweight in kindergarten
Those efforts to fight obesity in schools? Think younger. A new study finds that much of a child's "weight fate" is set by age 5, and that nearly half of kids who became obese by the eighth grade were already overweight when they started kindergarten.
The prevalence of weight problems has long been known -- about a third of U.S. kids are overweight or obese. But surprisingly little is known about which kids will develop obesity, and at what age.
Researchers think there may be a window of opportunity to prevent it, and "we keep pushing our critical window earlier and earlier on," said Solveig Cunningham, a scientist at Emory University. "A lot of the risk of obesity seems to be set, to some extent, really early in life."
She led the new study, which was published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine and paid for by the federal government.
It tracked a nationwide sample of more than 7,700 children through grade school. When they started kindergarten, 12 percent were obese and 15 percent were overweight. By eighth grade, 21 percent were obese and 17 percent were overweight.
Not enough: In his executive orders, Obama leaves some of his key allies left out and angry
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For some White House allies, the long list of executive actions President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address was marred by a few glaring omissions.
Gay rights advocates are seething over Obama's refusal to grant employment discrimination protections to gays and lesbians working for federal contractors, safeguards they have been seeking for years. And some immigration overhaul supporters were disappointed that he did not act on his own to halt deportations, which have soared during his presidency and angered many Hispanics.
On both issues, White House officials say the place for action is in Congress, where successful legislation would be far more sweeping than the steps the president could take by himself. But work on an employment non-discrimination bill and an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws is stalled on Capitol Hill, leaving advocates perplexed as to why their calls for executive action did not fit into Obama's vow to act "whenever and wherever" Congress will not.
"In the absence of congressional action, an executive order that prohibits discrimination by contractors is a tailor-made solution to the president's expressed aims," said Fred Sainz, vice president of Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay advocacy organization. Sainz said his frustration with the White House's inaction on the issue was "growing by the day."
Ben Monterroso, executive director of the immigration organization Mi Familia Vota, said: "The president said he is going to use executive orders to act where Congress fails, and we expect him to do the same with immigration reform."
Study finds Obama's health care law will boost incomes of poorest one-fifth of Americans
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Maybe the health care law was about wealth transfer, after all.
New research shows that the Affordable Care Act will significantly boost the economic fortunes of those in the bottom one-fifth of the income ladder while slightly reducing average incomes on the rungs above.
Economists at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, a Washington public policy center, found an average increase of about 6 percent in the incomes of the poorest 20 percent of the United States, meaning those making below approximately $20,600 a year.
The study used a broad definition of income that counts the value of health insurance, which is not normally measured by Census Bureau income statistics.
Changing the distribution of incomes was not a stated objective of the health care law, co-authors Henry Aaron and Gary Burtless wrote. "Nonetheless, the ACA may do more to change the income distribution than any other recently enacted law."
After threat, NY congressman faces questions about temperament, campaign finances
NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm has never been shy about promoting himself as a tough guy.
When he ran for Congress in 2009, he highlighted his service in the Marines and as an undercover FBI agent. After his election, he brushed off allegations that he'd once brandished a gun during an early-morning altercation at a New York City nightclub by saying he was armed but hadn't verbally threatened to kill anyone.
"That's not my personality. I don't need to speak that way," he told a writer for the New Yorker. "A guy with a gun who knows how to use it doesn't need to say anything."
The Staten Island Republican's temperament is at the forefront again after he was caught on camera threatening a television news reporter.
The confrontation occurred on a balcony in the Capitol following the president's State of the Union address Tuesday night. Grimm walked out of an interview with the New York City cable news station NY1 when reporter Michael Scotto tried to throw in a last question about a long-running FBI investigation into his campaign finances.
Even if forecasts now say no snow for Super Bowl, players figuring out how to brace for cold
JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) -- So much for all the hand-wringing about a snowed-in Super Bowl.
How would freezing spectators deal with the cold at MetLife Stadium?
What sort of havoc would a big storm wreak on transportation and other game-day logistics?
What if the NFL decided to postpone its championship game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks for 24 hours?
If the National Weather Service's forecast is correct, the buzz about a blizzard at the first cold-weather, outdoor Super Bowl -- the official host committee logo features a snowflake -- will turn out to be just talk. As of Wednesday, no snow, or even rain, was being predicted for Sunday.