Saturday, February 1, 2014

Published:

Across the miles, Americans' experience shapes opinions on income inequality

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -- The wealthiest county in America is settled deep in 4 a.m. slumber when Neal Breen threads the mini-mansion subdivisions and snow-blanketed fairways on his way to open shop.

There's two hours yet before the business day begins, but Breen, who is 21, has plenty to do after flipping on the lights. Donning a green apron without taking off his tweed cap, he boils the first of more than 500 bagels, then shovels them into a waiting oven. When the early risers step from their cars at a few minutes past 6, a chalkboard meets them at the door: "Breakfast of Champions."

Breen, who quit college a year ago with hopes of saving money to start his own business, is keenly aware that the wealth in the neighborhoods where he delivers breakfast sandwiches is, for now, beyond reach. He's long known what it means to have less; he recalls growing up as the son of a pastor whose earnings sometimes made it tough to feed five children. But he does not decry the gap between the Vienna sausage dinners of childhood and the $168,000 median income of the households surrounding this shopping center, about 35 miles from Capitol Hill.

It just confirms that the free-market economy is working, Breen says, by rewarding those who do for themselves.

"Capitalism is about seizing opportunity. A lot of people get more opportunities than others, but a lot of people aren't comfortable seizing it," he says.

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Keystone XL foes look to Nebraska lawsuit, protests, elections in wake of State Dept. report

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- With yet another obstacle removed for the Keystone XL pipeline, opponents were pressing forward with a lawsuit to challenge the project, public protests and an effort to inject the issue into the November elections.

Supporters and opponents both were quick to claim victories with the U.S. State Department report released Friday, which raised no major objections to the pipeline. The oil industry, some union groups and congressional Republicans called on the Obama administration to move forward with the project, while a coalition of landowners and environmentalists say there is still cause for denying a federal permit. The project would ship 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

Meanwhile, farmers and ranchers in Nebraska who oppose the pipeline are planning to run for seats on a state board that regulates power stations that are needed along the project route. And national activists say they have recruited more than 75,000 volunteers willing to participate in civil disobedience, should President Barack Obama approve the Keystone project.

The project now goes to a 30-day comment period and a review by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other agencies. Obama has 90 days to make the decision on the pipeline, but the White House on Friday disputed the notion that the report is headed to a fast approval. Oil began flowing last week through an Oklahoma-to-Texas section already approved by Obama.

"There's no question, if the president approves this permit, that there will be civil disobedience," said Jane Kleeb, executive director of the group Bold Nebraska, which has helped organize opposition in the state. "We've said from the beginning that we will support the landowners and what they want to do and what they think is best for their property. I think you'll see some landowners driving really slow on their county roads to block the (pipeline) trucks."

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UN says at least 733 killed in violence during January in Iraq, excluding Anbar province

BAGHDAD (AP) -- The United Nations said Saturday that at least 733 Iraqis were killed during violence in January, even when leaving out casualties from an embattled western province.

The figures issued Saturday by the U.N.'s mission to Iraq show 618 civilians and 115 members of the security forces were killed in January. But the UNAMI statement excluded deaths from ongoing fighting in Anbar, due to problems in verifying the "status of those killed." The figures also leave out insurgent deaths.

Also, the U.N. said at least 1,229 Iraqis were wounded in attacks across the country last month.

Baghdad was the worst affected province, with 297 killed and 585 wounded.

Al-Qaida-linked fighters and their allies seized control of the city of Fallujah and parts of the Anbar provincial capital Ramadi last month after authorities dismantled a protest camp by Sunnis angry at what they consider second-class treatment by the Shiite-led government.

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NJ Gov. Chris Christie going on offensive over accusation that he knew about lane closures

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is going on the offensive after a former loyalist said he has evidence the Republican governor knew more than he has admitted about an apparently politically motivated traffic jam ordered by one of his staffers last year.

The governor's political team sent an email Saturday to donors, along with columnists and pundits who might be in a position to defend Christie, bashing the man Christie put in a top post at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the accusations the man's lawyer made in a letter Friday.

The email says the former Port Authority official, David Wildstein, "will do and say anything to save David Wildstein."

The action from Christie's supporters comes as Republicans are debating the implications of the scandal that this year has surrounded the administration of the possible 2016 presidential contender. It was sent at a moment when Christie is in the spotlight with his state hosting Sunday's Super Bowl.

Christie's team noted that Wildstein did not present any proof to back up the claims his lawyer, Alan Zegas, made in the letter. The email also denies that Christie knew about the traffic jam or its political motive until after it was over and bashes Wildstein on a variety of fronts, characterizing him as a litigious teenager, a controversial mayor of Livingston, where Christie and Wildstein attended high school together, and for his past career as an anonymous political blogger.

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Polls open in tense Thai national election, a day after violence erupts in Bangkok

BANGKOK (AP) -- Thailand's tense national election got underway Sunday with protesters forcing the closure of several polling stations in the capital amid fears of more bloodshed a day after gun battles in Bangkok left seven people wounded.

The extent of disruptions was not immediately clear when polls opened nationwide. But there were early indications that several hundred polling stations in Bangkok and southern Thailand, an opposition stronghold, could not open because protesters had blocked the delivery of ballots or stopped voters from entering.

Whatever happens, the outcome will almost certainly be inconclusive. Because protesters blocked candidate registration in some districts, parliament will not have enough members to convene. That means beleaguered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be unable to form a government or even pass a budget, and Thailand will be stuck in political limbo for months as by-elections are run in constituencies that were unable to vote.

The risk of Election Day violence remained high a day after seven people were wounded during an hour-long gun fight that broke out in broad daylight at a busy Bangkok intersection Saturday between government supporters and protesters intent on derailing the polls. Among the injured was reporter for the local Daily News newspaper and American photojournalist, James Nachtwey, who was grazed by a bullet in the leg.

The exchange of fire was the latest flare-up in a monthslong campaign by protesters to overthrow Yingluck's government, which they accuse of corruption. The violence crystallized the power struggle that has devolved into a battle of wills between the government and protesters -- and those caught between who insist on their right to vote.

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United Airlines drops Cleveland as flight hub, will cut 470 jobs by summer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- United Airlines said Saturday it will drop its money-losing hub in Cleveland, slashing its daily flights and eliminating 470 jobs.

The company's CEO Jeff Smisek announced in a letter to employees that the airline will no longer use Cleveland to connect fliers coming from other airports around the country. As a result, United's daily departures from the city will fall from 199 currently to 72 by June.

"Our hub in Cleveland hasn't been profitable for over a decade, and has generated tens of millions of dollars of annual losses in recent years," Smisek states. "We simply cannot continue to bear these losses."

United said in November that it aims to cut $2 billion in annual costs in the coming year by shifting flights, making workers more productive, and improving its maintenance procedures.

Similar cutbacks have affected many other small hubs in cities such as Memphis, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City amid a wave of airline mergers over the last five years.

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In open-letter, Dylan Farrow renews allegation of child molestation against Woody Allen

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dylan Farrow renewed molestation allegations against Woody Allen, claiming the movie director sexually assaulted her when she was 7 after he and actress Mia Farrow adopted her.

In an open-letter to The New York Times posted online Saturday, Dylan Farrow made her first public comments about the 1992 incident. In a letter to op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof, she said she was moved to speak out because of Hollywood's continued embrace of Allen.

"That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up," wrote Farrow. "I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls."

The New York Times reported that Allen declined comment. Also, representatives for Allen and for former partner Mia Farrow also did not immediately return requests for comment Saturday from The Associated Press. Allen, who attended Saturday night's New York Knicks game, has long maintained his innocence.

In the letter, Dylan Farrow claims that in 1992 at the family's Connecticut home, Allen led her to a "dim, closet-like attic" and "then he sexually assaulted me." Farrow didn't specify Allen's actions, but described other abusive behavior.

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Kerry: Ukraine should be free to align with Europe if it wants, not feel coerced by Russia

MUNICH (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Ukraine, confronting a political crisis and massive anti-government protests, should be free to align with Europe if it wants and not feel coerced by more powerful neighbors such as Russia.

"Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine," Kerry said at a security conference in Munich. "While there are unsavory elements in the streets in any chaotic situation, the vast majority of Ukrainians want to live freely in a safe, prosperous country."

In a meeting later with opposition leaders, Kerry affirmed U.S. support for "the democratic, European aspirations" of Ukrainians and the leaders' efforts "to speak out to defend democracy and choice," according to the State Department. He urged the opposition to keep up talks with the government.

The department said Kerry also told Ukraine's foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara, to release political prisoners, address the deteriorating human rights situation, safeguard democratic principles and form a "technical government" that can address the country's economic problems and European aspirations of its citizens.

The crisis in Ukraine began after President Victor Yanukovych backed out of an agreement to deepen ties with the European Union in favor of getting closer to Russia. Protests quickly came to encompass a wide array of discontent over corruption, heavy-handed police and other grievances.

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As public access to records lessens, SC Supreme Court to decide if autopsy reports are public

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Are autopsies medical records or public records?

South Carolina's Supreme Court will begin grappling with that question Wednesday, when it hears a lawsuit by a Sumter County newspaper against the county's coroner.

The Item newspaper wants the high court to toss out a lower court's ruling that said autopsies do not have to be made public because they do not fall under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The coroner says autopsies should be considered medical records that are exempt from public view. The newspaper says autopsy reports are investigative tools, not medical records.

Open records advocates say the Sumter County case is an example of government officials making it harder to get public documents.

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Guy, Brooks, Jones, Strahan, Reed, Williams, Humphrey elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame

NEW YORK (AP) -- The hang time is over for Ray Guy. The longtime punter for the Oakland Raiders is all by himself once again.

After waiting 23 years, Guy is the first punter elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"Good things are worth waiting for," Guy said Saturday night after being elected along with six other players. "It's just a matter of time when it will show up. And I knew it would, sooner or later. It had to, whether it was me or somebody down the road. But sooner or later, it had to show up, because that is a part of a football game."

Defensive end Michael Strahan, receiver Andre Reed, defensive back Aeneas Williams and defensive end Claude Humphrey also were part of the class of 2014. Two first-time eligible players, linebacker Derrick Brooks and offensive tackle Walter Jones, were selected.

The announcement was made at the NFL Honors award show, less than 24 hours before the Denver Broncos take on the Seattle Seahawks in the first Super Bowl.