Friday, January 31, 2014

Published:

Keystone XL pipeline clears big hurdle; report raises no major doubts, says alternatives worse

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline cleared a major hurdle toward approval Friday, a serious blow to environmentalists' hopes that President Barack Obama will block the controversial project running more than 1,000 miles from Canada through the heart of the U.S.

The State Department reported no major environmental objections to the proposed $7 billion pipeline, which has become a symbol of the political debate over climate change. Republicans and some oil- and gas-producing states in the U.S. -- as well as Canada's minister of natural resources -- cheered the report, but it further rankled environmentalists already at odds with Obama and his energy policy.

The report stops short of recommending approval of the pipeline, but the review gives Obama new support if he chooses to endorse it in spite of opposition from many Democrats and environmental groups. Foes say the pipeline would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming, and they also express concern about possible spills.

Pushing back on the notion that the pipeline is now headed for speedy approval, the White House said the report isn't the final step and noted that the report includes "a range of estimates of the project's climate impacts." Only after various U.S. agencies and the public have a chance to weigh the report and other data will a decision be made, said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich.

"The president has clearly stated that the project will be in the national interest only if it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution," Lehrich said.

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Ex-official's lawyer: Evidence contradicts what NJ Gov. Christie said about lane closures

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Gov. Chris Christie made inaccurate statements during a news conference about the lane closures near the George Washington Bridge, according to a letter released Friday by a lawyer for a former Christie loyalist who ordered the closures and resigned amid the ensuing scandal that has engulfed the New Jersey governor's administration.

The letter from David Wildstein's lawyer said evidence exists suggesting the governor knew about the closures as they happened in September -- which, if accurate, contradicts some statements Christie made on the matter. The letter, though, does not detail any evidence.

Attorney Alan Zegas' letter focuses on a nearly two-hour televised news conference Christie gave on Jan. 9 where his responses to questions about what he knew about the closures and when could be open to interpretation. But at a Dec. 13 news conference, the Republican governor said definitively he didn't know about the traffic problems until they were over.

Asked about the traffic backups, Christie noted a top leader at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the entity that runs the bridge, was slow to learn of the closures so it's no surprise Christie wouldn't hear about them until later.

"It was certainly well after the whole thing was over before I heard about it," Christie said.

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Obama now open to legalization -- not necessarily citizenship path -- in immigration legislation

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's new declaration that he's open to legalizing many immigrants short of citizenship sounds a lot like House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders, an election-year compromise that numerous Republicans as well as Democrats crave.

But the drive for the first overhaul in three decades still faces major resistance from many Republicans who are wary that the divisive issue could derail what they see as a smooth glide path to winning November's congressional elections. And they deeply distrust the Democratic president to enforce the law.

Just hours after Boehner pitched immigration to the GOP at a Maryland retreat, Obama suddenly indicated he would be open to legal status for many of the 11 million living here illegally, dropping his once-ironclad insistence on a special path to citizenship.

Democrats, including Obama, and other immigration proponents have warned repeatedly about the creation of a two-tier class system.

"If the speaker proposes something that says right away, folks aren't being deported, families aren't being separated, we're able to attract top young students to provide the skills or start businesses here, and then there's a regular process of citizenship, I'm not sure how wide the divide ends up being," Obama said in a CNN interview that was recorded Thursday and aired Friday.

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Amid drought, California says state water won't be available to agencies serving millions

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Amid severe drought conditions, California officials announced Friday they won't send any water from the state's vast reservoir system to local agencies beginning this spring, an unprecedented move that affects drinking water supplies for 25 million people and irrigation for 1 million acres of farmland.

The announcement marks the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project that such an action has been taken, but it does not mean that every farm field will turn to dust and every city tap will run dry.

The 29 agencies that draw from the state's water-delivery system have other sources, although those also have been hard-hit by the drought.

Many farmers in California's Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country, also draw water from a separate system of federally run reservoirs and canals, but that system also will deliver just a fraction of its normal water allotment this year.

The announcement affects water deliveries planned to begin this spring, and the allotment could increase if weather patterns change and send more storms into the state.

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Small investors fight back urge to sell as stock markets drop worldwide; 'Is this all of it?'

NEW YORK (AP) -- January's global sell-off in stocks has left many small investors more puzzled than panicked -- and unsure how to act.

They're holding on for now as prices continue to tumble, but their anxiety is mounting. The number of small investors who say they feel "bearish" soared this past week, according to a U.S. survey. Some stock funds have been hit with their biggest withdrawals since 2012.

If more people start selling, it would reverse a new and surprising trend in some of the world's biggest economies: individuals moving back into stocks after years of shunning them.

"I don't know what to do," says Ken Duska, a retiree in Mingo Junction, Ohio, who is sticking with his investment plan for the moment, though he's not sure that's wise. "After (the) upswing last year, it probably isn't going to continue."

Small investors around the world were on edge even before growing signs of a slowdown in China and plunging emerging-market currencies dragged many stock indexes down to their worst start of a new year since 2010. They worried stocks were overdue for a drop, after soaring by double-digit percentages in countries like the United States, Japan and France in 2013. In the U.S., many noted, the market had not fallen by 10 percent or more, known on Wall Street as a correction, for more than two years.

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At look at the US stock market's downturns since the bull market started in 2009

NEW YORK (AP) -- The bull market that began in March 2009 has endured a few stumbles.

The latest sell-off through Friday brought the Standard & Poor's 500 index down 3.6 percent from an all-time high of 1,848.38 on Jan. 15.

The decline wasn't even close to a correction, a short-term drop of 10 percent or more. The last one took place more than two years ago -- during the summer of 2011. Since then, the market has absorbed three significant setbacks.

Here's a rundown of setbacks and slides during the current bull run:

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Amanda Knox: A new name for the long list of the famous and infamous caught up in extradition

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Roman Polanski. Edward Snowden. Manuel Noriega. Over the years, the famous and the infamous have been caught up in the legal process called extradition, which governs whether one country will turn over fugitives from justice to another country.

It may ultimately be the turn of Amanda Knox, whose murder conviction in the stabbing of her roommate has been reinstated by an Italian court, raising the specter of a long extradition fight. She says she'll never willingly go back to Italy.

The Knox case is special because it raises the question of whether the U.S. government would send one of its own citizens to a foreign country to face a long prison term.

The answer: It's been done before, though in less high-profile cases involving the governments of Canada, Mexico and other nations.

The U.S. has extradition treaties with more than 100 countries, including Italy, providing what would appear to be a strong legal foundation in favor of a request for Knox's return to Italy.

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Who was in the coat? Family spokesman says it wasn't Amanda Knox but won't say more

SEATTLE (AP) -- It was the photo that ran worldwide after an Italian court once again convicted Amanda Knox in the sensational murder case involving her and her former boyfriend: A person, covered by a coat, leaving her mother's Seattle home and speeding away in a car.

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WAS IT KNOX? OR NOT?

Knox's family spokesman, David Marriott, said Thursday that Knox was at the house when the verdict was read that day, but said he didn't know whether the person who emerged was Knox. The Associated Press and other media outlets identified the person who left the home, surrounded by Knox's family, as someone believed to be Knox.

On Friday, Marriott sent the AP an email that stated he had made inquiries and that the person wasn't Knox, but he didn't elaborate and didn't immediately respond to a phone call seeking additional comment.

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Ukraine opposition activist's story of torture fuels fears about extrajudicial torture squads

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- The bloody images of Ukrainian opposition supporter Dmytro Bulatov, who says he was abducted and tortured for more than a week, have fueled fears among anti-government activists that extrajudicial squads are being deployed to intimidate the protest movement.

Bulatov, who was in charge of a vocal protest group before he disappeared Jan. 22, recounted a gruesome ordeal, saying his unidentified kidnappers beat him, sliced off part of his ear and nailed him to a door during his time in captivity.

"There isn't a spot on my body that hasn't been beaten. My face has been cut. They promised to poke my eye out. They cut off my ear," Bulatov, 35, said Friday in a short video from his hospital ward. "They crucified me by nailing me to a door with something and beat me strongly all the while."

The government has faced two months of major protests that started after President Victor Yanukovych backed out of an agreement to deepen ties with the European Union in favor of Russia. The demonstrations quickly grew into discontent over heavy-handed police, corruption and human rights violations.

Some opposition leaders believe the government will do anything to save itself, including sending brutal squads of torturers to quash the demonstrations.

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Cruise returns to Houston-area port early; fog blamed, not more than 180 sick passengers, crew

HOUSTON (AP) -- A cruise ship that had more than 180 passengers and crew fall sick with an apparent stomach virus returned to a Houston-area port early due to a dense fog advisory and not because people were vomiting and had diarrhea, a Princess Cruises spokeswoman said Friday.

But passengers whose seven-day vacation was cut short, missing their last stop in Belize, questioned that version of events. They said the crew announced on the second day of the cruise that people were sick, apparently with highly contagious norovirus, and that extra precautions were being taken to ensure it didn't spread.

"I was worried I might come down with the illness, but as days went by I didn't, so I felt more comfortable," said Doris Hajewski, 66, of Waukesha, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee.

"Really, if you didn't get sick, you didn't notice much, just the extra hand sanitizers and the extra precautions at the buffet," she added, explaining that crew served at the buffet instead of passengers being allowed to handle the food themselves.

It was on Tuesday, when the crew announced the ship would return a day early due to a sea fog advisory that could close the Pasadena port, that passengers began questioning the validity of the information, Hajewski said.