AP News in Brief
Rocket barrage from Lebanon strikes northern Israel, threatening to open a second front in war
JERUSALEM (AP) — Lebanese militants fired rockets into northern Israel early Thursday, threatening to open a new front for the Jewish state as it pushed forward with its offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Two people were lightly injured, and the rockets on Israel’s north raised the specter of renewed hostilities with Hezbollah, just 2.5 years after Israel battled the guerrilla group to a 34-day stalemate. Hezbollah started the 2006 war as Israel was battling Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Lebanon’s government, wary of conflict, quickly condemned the rocket fire and said it was trying to determine who was behind the attack. Israel fired mortar shells into southern Lebanon in response.
In new Gaza fighting, Israel killed at five people, including four militants, raising the death toll from its 13-day offensive to nearly 700, according to Palestinian medical officials. With roughly half the dead believed to be civilians, international efforts to broker a cease-fire have been gaining steam.
Later Thursday, Israel said it would halt military action for three hours to allow Gaza residents to stock up on supplies. The lull would enable humanitarian groups to do their work, and Israel would send aid and fuel into the territory, said Israeli military official Peter Lerner.
Obama warns of lingering recession, double-digit unemployment without approval of stimulus
WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday that the nation’s recession could “linger for years” unless Congress acts to pump unprecedented sums from Washington into the U.S. economy, making his highest-profile case yet on an issue certain to define his early presidency.
“I don’t believe it’s too late to change course, but it will be if we don’t take dramatic action as soon as possible,” Obama said in a speech set to be delivered at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., outside Washington. Excerpts from his prepared text were released in advance by his transition team.
“A bad situation could become dramatically worse,” he added, painting a dire picture — including double-digit unemployment and $1 trillion in lost economic activity — that recalled the days of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
It was the fourth day in a row that Obama has made a pitch for a huge infusion of taxpayer dollars to revive the sinking economy.
Illinois lawmakers plan to grill Burris about accepting Senate appointment from Blagojevich
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Republicans are promising tough questions Thursday for Senate-appointee Roland Burris on why he accepted a position offered by disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich and whether he promised the governor anything in return.
Burris on Wednesday returned from an encouraging two-day visit to Washington, D.C., yet without being able to take the oath of office with the newest members of the 111th Congress. He next faces an impatient impeachment committee.
“I would like to specifically ask, under oath, if there was any quid pro quo for the appointment,” said Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican member of the Illinois House committee considering Blagojevich’s impeachment.
Lawmakers also plan to ask Burris about contributions to the governor’s campaign, how Blagojevich’s wife got a job with a group affiliated with Burris’ business partner and why the governor’s criminal lawyer approached Burris about the Senate instead of a staff member.
The panel is awaiting a federal court ruling Thursday on whether it will get to hear some of the secretly recorded conversations federal prosecutors made of Blagojevich allegedly scheming to trade government action for campaign contributions.
Pink slip pile higher as companies slash costs to cope with recession
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pink slips are piling higher as companies scramble to cut costs even deeper to survive the country’s economic and financial storms.
Just days into the new year, managed care provider Cigna Corp., aluminum producer Alcoa Inc., data-storage company EMC Corp. and computer products maker Logitech International were among those announcing layoffs to cope with a recession that has just entered its second year. The flurry of job cuts suggest the employment picture will remain grim this year.
A barometer on layoffs is expected to show Thursday that the number of newly laid off people signing up for state unemployment insurance last week rose to 540,000, up from 492,000 in the previous week, according to economists’ projections.
The number of people continuing to draw jobless benefits is projected to stay near 4.5 million, demonstrating the troubles the unemployed are having in finding new jobs.
Electronic unemployment filing systems have crashed in at least three states in recent days due to the crush of newly jobless Americans seeking benefits.
Melting snow threatens record flooding in parts of Wash. state; snow closes Northeast schools
SNOQUALMIE, Wash. (AP) — Rain and high winds lashed Washington state Wednesday, causing widespread avalanches, mudslides, flooding and road closures as the heavy snowfall that has buried parts of the state began to rapidly melt.
More than 30,000 people were told to leave their homes in flood-endangered areas across western Washington as authorities warned of heavy flooding. Rising waters prompted state highway crews to close a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 around Chehalis on Wednesday evening.
“This is going to be a memorable flood event,” said Andy Haner, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Seattle.
Fire trucks rolled through Orting, about 10 miles southeast of Tacoma, with loudspeakers advising everyone to leave the town and surrounding valley, home to about 26,000 people. Sandbags were placed around many downtown homes and businesses as the Puyallup River neared record levels. It was forecast to crest Thursday.
“They expect the town of Orting to go under water,” Pierce County sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer said, adding that the flooding could be the worst in more than a decade.
Report: Obama should refocus Afghanistan war, rebuilding effort after Bush’s miscalculations
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and its partners have shortchanged Afghanistan by focusing on short-term goals pursued without a cohesive strategy or a clear understanding of the way the poor, decentralized country works, an independent study concludes.
The incoming Obama administration should refocus the U.S. war and rebuilding effort in Afghanistan and think of the project as the work of at least a decade, according to the report compiled by the United States Institute of Peace.
The assessment was set for release Thursday at a conference to be attended by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Army Gen. David Petraeus, who is in charge of the Afghan and Iraq wars.
Petraeus’ own review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is expected to be presented to Obama the week after he takes office Jan. 20. The plan would shift the focus from the waning fight in Iraq to the escalating Afghan battle.
President George W. Bush’s in-house Iraq and Afghanistan adviser has already done a separate assessment; it has not been made public.
Emphasis on health moves Tom Daschle to the front of the line for Senate hearing
WASHINGTON (AP) — Showing the emphasis that some lawmakers are putting on health care issues this year, former Sen. Tom Daschle will be the first of President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet choices to undergo a hearing.
Daschle, Obama’s pick as the next health and human services secretary, was to appear Thursday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The committee’s chairman is Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
The committee will not vote on whether Daschle’s nomination should be sent to the full Senate for a vote; That responsibility lies with the Senate Finance Committee. But in the coming months, the Health Committee is expected to help craft legislation designed to expand health insurance coverage. Lawmakers are eager to get Daschle’s perspective.
Daschle has made it clear in the past year that he believes Congress needs to move fast on health legislation, and Kennedy has that same viewpoint, as his staff has spent recent months meeting with various trade and interest groups that have much at stake in the coming debates.
Drawing on lessons learned in the past, Obama handed Daschle two prime jobs. Besides picking him as health and human services secretary, Daschle also will serve as director of a new White House office on health reform.
‘The Dark Knight’ flies away with 5 trophies at People’s Choice Awards
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Holy People’s Choice Awards, Batman!
“The Dark Knight” soared away with every trophy it was nominated for Wednesday at the 35th annual fan-favorite CBS ceremony. The caped crusader flick won five awards, including favorite cast, superhero, action movie and on-screen matchup for Christian Bale’s Batman and the late Heath Ledger’s Joker.
“On behalf of all of the cast from the movie, thank you very much to the fans,” Bale said. “Here’s to Heath.”
The CBS ceremony was hosted by Queen Latifah and returned to the Shrine Auditorium for its typical star-studded live show format, following last year’s writer’s strike-friendly, pre-taped program. Stars such as Adam Sandler, Kate Hudson, Robin Williams, Hugh Laurie and Reese Witherspoon showed up to accept their awards at the slightly subdued ceremony.
“It’s such a great way to start the new year,” Witherspoon, the “Four Christmases” star who won an Oscar in 2005 for portaying June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line,” said as she accepted her award for favorite female movie star. “A couple years ago, I won a great award for singing in a movie. This year, I won an award for having a baby throw up on me.”
Hold that pose: No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Oklahoma set to play in BCS championship game
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Standing next to the crystal football, Bob Stoops was the picture of Mr. Agreeable. Any pose the photographers wanted, the Oklahoma coach gave them. Looking to the right, gazing to the left, smiling straight ahead. That is, until a shutterbug told Stoops to hold up one finger — a “we’re No. 1” shot. No chance, pal.
“Too soon,” Stoops said.
On Thursday night, his hurry-up Sooners and speedy Florida meet for the BCS championship and the right to hoist that glistening prize. It’s a matchup that includes a pair of Heisman Trophy winners, an SEC vs. Big 12 debate and more than its share of trash talk.
Besides, there was no need for Stoops to stake his claim Wednesday inside a hotel ballroom. Enough teams already have done that.
Southern California, Utah and Texas were vocal in the past week, hoping their bowl wins impressed enough voters in The Associated Press poll, which will be released in the wee hours Friday.