North Korea ready to test a missile? US focuses on limits to the Koreans' nuclear firepower
WASHINGTON (AP) — On the brink of an expected North Korean missile test, U.S. officials focused on the limits of Pyongyang's nuclear firepower Friday, trying to shift attention from the disclosure that the North Koreans might be able to launch a nuclear strike. They insisted that while the unpredictable government might have rudimentary nuclear capabilities, it has not proved it has a weapon that could reach the United States.
A senior defense official said the U.S. sees a "strong likelihood" that North Korea will launch a test missile in coming days in defiance of international calls for restraint. The effort is expected to test the North's ballistic missile technologies, not a nuclear weapon, said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Unless the missile unexpectedly heads for a U.S. or allied target, the Pentagon does not plan to try to shoot it down, several officials said. As a precaution, the U.S. has arrayed in the Pacific a number of missile defense Navy ships, tracking radars and other elements of its worldwide network for shooting down hostile missiles.
The tensions playing out on the Korean peninsula are the latest in a long-running drama that dates to the 1950-53 Korean War, fed by the North's conviction that Washington is intent on destroying the government in Pyongyang and Washington's worry that the North could, out of desperation, reignite the war by invading the South.
The mood in the North Korean capital, meanwhile, was hardly so tense. Many people were in the streets preparing for the birthday April 15 of national founder Kim Il Sung — the biggest holiday of the year. Even so, this year's big flower show in Kim's honor features an exhibition of orchids built around mock-ups of red-tipped missiles, slogans hailing the military and reminders of perceived threats to the nation.
A look at the North Korea crisis
As the world waits and watches for an expected North Korean ballistic missile test, the U.S. and its allies are prepared to respond if necessary. U.S. officials are conceding North Korea may be increasing its nuclear capabilities but don't expect a nuclear strike. They suggest that other military moves by Pyongyang involving artillery attacks or shelling of nearby South Korean islands could actually present a more serious threat in triggering a conflict.
WHY ALL THE HUBBUB
Since the 1950-53 Korean War, North Korea has feared that Washington is intent on destroying the regime. The U.S. worries that Pyongyang will re-ignite the conflict with South Korea, and is uneasy because little is known about Kim Jong Un, the North's new, young leader, and considers him unpredictable. Both sides have ratcheted up the rhetoric and military muscle moves in recent weeks. North Korea threatened a pre-emptive strike against the U.S., and conducted an underground nuclear test in February and a rocket launch in December. The threats are seen as an effort to pressure Washington and Seoul to change their North Korean policies and convince the North's people that their new leader is strong enough to stand up to its foes. U.S. and South Korean troops have been conducting annual joint military drills in the region since early March, including bringing out nuclear-capable stealth bombers and fighter jets in what the Air Force acknowledged was a deliberate show of force.
NORTH KOREAN MISSILES
North Korea has been steadily working to display an increasing capability to launch missiles. Last year it failed in an attempt to send a satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket. A subsequent launch in December was successful, and that was followed by the country's third underground nuclear test on Feb. 12. U.S. officials believe the North is preparing to test fire a medium-range "Musudan" missile. And a section in a new Defense Intelligence Agency assessment concludes with "moderate confidence" that the North could deliver nuclear weapon by ballistic missiles. The report notes that the delivery system is still not considered reliable.
Moderate Senate Democrats facing re-election in 2014 under intense scrutiny in gun debate
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's push for tougher gun measures and expanded background checks has placed several moderate Senate Democrats facing re-election next year in a bind, forcing them to take sides on a deeply personal issue for rural voters.
The choice: Either they stick with Obama and gun control advocates — and give an opening to campaign challengers and the National Rifle Association to assail them — or they stand with conservative and moderate gun owners back home worried about a possible infringement on their rights.
Five Senate Democrats — Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Max Baucus of Montana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina — are seeking another term in states carried by Republican Mitt Romney last fall. For the next few weeks, at least, the spotlight will be on how they maneuver as the Senate debates gun-control legislation pushed by Democrats in response to the deadly Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting.
Two other GOP-leaning states with large numbers of gun owners — West Virginia and South Dakota — will have open seats following Democratic retirements. Republicans have placed many of these states at the top of their priority lists as they try to gain six seats to win back the Senate majority.
Debate begins next week on Senate legislation that would require nearly all gun buyers to submit to background checks, toughen federal laws banning illicit firearms sales and provide more money for school safety measures. The background checks are viewed by gun control advocates as the best step to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from accessing weapons. The NRA has opposed the expansion of background checks, saying it could lead to federal registries of gun owners. It has sought better enforcement of existing laws, which it contends is too easy for criminals to circumvent.
APNewsBreak: How much more upper-income seniors would pay for premiums under Obama's budget
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's plan to raise Medicare premiums for upper-income seniors would create five new income brackets to squeeze more revenue for the government from the top tiers of retirees, the administration revealed Friday.
First details of the plan emerged after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified to Congress on the president's budget. As released two days earlier, the budget included only a vague description of a controversial proposal that has grown more ambitious since Obama last floated it.
"Means testing" has been part of Medicare since the George W. Bush administration, but ramping it up is bound to stir controversy. Republicans are intrigued, but most Democrats don't like the idea.
The plan itself is complicated. The bottom line is not: more money for the government.
Obama's new budget calls for raising $50 billion over 10 years by increasing monthly "income-related" premiums for outpatient and prescription drug coverage. The comparable number last year was $28 billion over the decade.
Family's lawyer: Calif. girl who committed suicide saw explicit photo of herself online
SARATOGA, Calif. (AP) — Fifteen-year-old Audrie Pott passed out drunk at a friend's house, woke up and concluded she had been sexually abused.
In the days that followed, she was shocked to see an explicit photo of herself circulating among her classmates along with emails and text messages about the episode. And she was horrified to discover that her attackers were three of her friends, her family's lawyer says.
Eight days after the party, she hanged herself.
"She pieced together with emails and texts who had done this to her. They were her friends. Her friends!" said family attorney Robert Allard. "That was the worst"
On Thursday, sheriff's officials arrested three 16-year-old boys on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie, who committed suicide in September.
Baseball culture at root of brawl that left Greinke with broken collarbone
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Zack Greinke's pitch sailed up and into Carlos Quentin's upper left arm, and it was on.
A little personal history was at play, as were rules that aren't in any rule book.
Now the Dodgers will be without their $147 million pitcher for at least eight weeks and Quentin was suspended for eight games by Major League Baseball, pending an appeal, because of baseball culture and its fuzzy, unspoken guidelines on just when and how it's OK to bean someone.
After Quentin got hit, the San Diego Padres' slugger took a few steps onto the grass. When Greinke, Los Angeles' prize offseason signing, appeared to say something, Quentin tossed his bat aside and rushed the mound.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Greinke dropped his glove and the two players lowered their shoulders. The 6-2, 240-pound Quentin — who starred as an outside linebacker in high school — slammed into the pitcher.
Package sent to Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio could have injured or killed
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona authorities say a package addressed to Sheriff Joe Arpaio discovered in a northern Arizona mailbox would have exploded if opened, leading to serious injuries or death.
Maricopa County Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan made the comment Friday at a news conference in Phoenix. He said investigators are trying to locate one person who may have been involved in mailing the package addressed to his boss.
The package intercepted late Thursday was addressed to Arpaio at his downtown Phoenix office. It had been left in a parcel locker that was part of a multiple address mailbox in a rural part of Coconino County, outside Flagstaff city limits.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokesman Keith Moore said a courier called his supervisor after noting it was suspicious, and the package was eventually brought into the main Post Office in Flagstaff. An X-Ray showed what appeared to be bomb-like components, including wires and a container, and authorities used a water cannon to neutralize the package, Sheridan said.
Arpaio, the self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in America," said this isn't the first time he's been threatened. Arpaio is known nationally for his strict treatment of jail inmates and cracking down on illegal immigration.
Jonathan Winters, groundbreaking comic who influenced generations, dead at 87
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jonathan Winters, the cherub-faced comedian whose breakneck improvisations and misfit characters inspired the likes of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, has died. He was 87.
The Ohio native died Thursday evening at his Montecito, Calif., home of natural causes, said Joe Petro III, a longtime friend. He was surrounded by family and friends.
Winters was a pioneer of improvisational standup comedy, with an exceptional gift for mimicry, a grab bag of eccentric personalities and a bottomless reservoir of creative energy. Facial contortions, sound effects, tall tales — all could be used in a matter of seconds to get a laugh.
"Jonathan Winters was the worthy custodian of a sparkling and childish comedic genius. He did God's work. I was lucky 2 know him," Carrey tweeted on Friday.
On Jack Paar's television show in 1964, Winters was handed a foot-long stick and he swiftly became a fisherman, violinist, lion tamer, canoeist, U.N. diplomat, bullfighter, flutist, delusional psychiatric patient, British headmaster and Bing Crosby's golf club.
What a Day! 14-year-old makes cut at Masters as Jason Day takes lead into the weekend
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The 14-year-old from China isn't going anywhere in a hurry. And this Masters is still a long way from taking shape.
Despite being the first player at Augusta National to get hit with a one-shot penalty for slow play, teen sensation Guan Tianlang still made history Friday as the youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event.
And it came down to the last shot of a wild and windy day.
Jason Day could have sent the kid home early with a birdie from just off the front of the green on the 18th hole. But the Australian was wide left and tapped in for par, giving him a 4-under 68 and a one-shot lead over fellow Aussie Marc Leishman and the ageless Fred Couples.
The par meant that Guan, who had one shot added to his score on the 17th hole for his second bad time of the round — made the cut under the 10-shot rule.
5 things to look forward to Saturday in the third round of the Masters
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The third round of the Masters begins Saturday and here are five things you should keep an eye on:
WILL KID KEEP FOCUS?
Guan Tianlang had to sweat it out, but the 14-year-old from China became the youngest to ever make a cut in a PGA Tour event. Will he feel rushed after getting a 1-shot penalty for slow play in the second round?