Obama opens 2-day trip to Mexico; Border security, economy and immigration are all on agenda
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Seeking to put a new spin on a long-standing partnership, President Barack Obama is promoting jobs and trade — not drug wars or border security — as the driving force behind the U.S.-Mexico relationship. But security concerns are shadowing his two-day visit, given Mexico's recent moves to limit American law enforcement access within its borders.
Arriving in Mexico City on Thursday on his first trip to Latin America since winning re-election, Obama was met at the steps of his plane by an honor guard and a trumpeting bugler. He greeted top Mexican officials before heading to the National Palace for meetings with President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December. The two leaders were to speak at a joint news conference Thursday evening.
Obama is looking for more details from Pena Nieto about changes he is making to the robust security relationship between the neighboring countries. In a shift from his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, Pena Nieto has moved to end the widespread access U.S. security agencies have had in Mexico to help fight drug trafficking and organized crime.
The White House has stepped carefully in its public response to the changes, with the president and his advisers saying they need to hear directly from the Mexican leader before making a judgment.
"With the new Mexican administration coming into office, it certainly stands to reason that President Pena Nieto would want to take a look at the nature of our cooperation," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "So we're currently working with the Mexicans to evaluate the means by which we cooperate, the means by which we provide assistance."
US economic reports hold out hope for stronger job growth in coming months
WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer Americans are losing their jobs. Employers are struggling to squeeze more work from their staffs. The U.S. is producing so much oil that imports are plunging, narrowing the trade deficit.
A string of data Thursday raised hopes for stronger hiring and U.S. growth in coming months. More jobs would spur spending and help energize the economy, which has yet to regain full health nearly four years after the Great Recession officially ended.
And an interest rate cut Thursday by the European Central Bank, if it helps bolster the European economy, could also contribute to U.S. growth.
The U.S. economic reports came one day before the government will report how many jobs employers added in April. Economists think the gain will exceed the 88,000 jobs added in March, the fewest in nine months.
The government said Thursday that the number of Americans applying for unemployment aid fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 324,000 — the fewest since January 2008. Unemployment applications reflect the pace of layoffs: A steady drop means companies are shedding fewer workers. Eventually, they'll need to hire to meet customer demand or to replace workers who quit.
Daughter of woman who surfaced decade after disappearing: I wish I had never cried about her
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The teenage daughter of a woman who just revealed she abandoned her family 11 years ago said Thursday the disclosure has angered her and she is not eager to restart their relationship.
Morgan Heist, who learned last week Brenda Heist had surfaced in the Florida Keys, said the news has made her recall with bitterness the years of mourning she endured when she assumed her mother was dead and feared she'd been murdered.
"I ached every birthday, every Christmas," said 19-year-old Morgan Heist, a freshman at a community college outside Philadelphia. "My heart just ached. I wasn't mad at her. I wanted her to be there because I thought something had happened to her. I wish I had never cried."
Brenda Heist's mother, Jean Copenhaver, said Thursday that her daughter "had a real traumatic time" but was doing OK.
Brenda Heist was released from police custody on Wednesday and is staying with a brother in northern Florida for now, Copenhaver said.
US urges NKorea to grant amnesty, immediate release for American sentenced to 15 years
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. called Thursday for North Korea to grant amnesty and immediately release a Korean-American sentenced to 15 years' hard labor for "hostile acts" against the state.
Kenneth Bae, 44, a Washington state man described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator, is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released without serving out their terms, some after trips to Pyongyang by prominent Americans, including former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
Analysts say Bae's sentencing could be an effort by Pyongyang to win diplomatic concessions in the ongoing standoff over its nuclear program. But there was no immediate sign a high-profile envoy was about to make a clemency mission to the isolated nation which has taken an increasingly confrontational stance under its young leader Kim Jong Un.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the U.S. was still seeking to learn the facts of Bae's case. He said the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which handles consular matters there for the U.S., did not attend Tuesday's Supreme Court trial and that there hasn't been transparency in the legal proceedings.
"There's no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad, and we urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae amnesty and immediate release," Ventrell told a news conference, referencing the socialist country's formal title, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Syria's air defenses, among Mideast's strongest, pose challenge to outside intervention
BEIRUT (AP) — International military action against Syria's government over its alleged use of chemical weapons would run up against one of the Middle East's most formidable air defenses, a system bolstered in recent years by top-of-the-line Russian hardware.
The U.S. said last week that intelligence indicates the Syrian regime has likely used the deadly nerve agent sarin on at least two occasions in the civil war. That assessment has increased pressure for a forceful response from President Barack Obama, who has said the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" and carry "enormous consequences."
Obama has tried to temper expectations of quick action against Syria, saying he needs "hard, effective evidence" before making a decision. But he has also said that if it is determined that the regime of President Bashar Assad has used such weapons, then "we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a news conference Thursday the administration is rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels, saying it is one of the options being considered along with its allies in the more than 2-year-old conflict.
In 2011, the U.S. and its NATO allies imposed a no-fly zone in Libya after Moammar Gadhafi's brutal crackdown on its uprising. The allied air campaign, which received U.N. backing, played a major role in the rebels' victory in Libya's eight-month civil war.
Hagel: Obama administration is rethinking its reluctance to provide weapons to Syrian rebels
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels who have been locked in a civil war with the Syrian regime for more than two years, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday, becoming the first top U.S. official to publicly acknowledge the reassessment.
During a Pentagon news conference with British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, Hagel said arming the rebels was one option that the administration was considering in consultation with its allies. But he said he personally had not decided whether it would be a wise or appropriate move.
"Arming the rebels — that's an option," he said. "You look at and rethink all options. It doesn't mean you do or you will. ... It doesn't mean that the president has decided on anything."
Hammond said his country was still bound by a European Union arms embargo on Syria, but he said Britain would look at the issue again in a few weeks when the ban expires and make a decision based on the evolving situation on the ground.
Hagel's comments affirmed what had been a quiet but emerging dialogue within the Obama administration: That arming the rebels might be preferable amid growing indications that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, an action President Barack Obama characterized as a "game-changer" that would have "enormous consequences."
Prosecutor calls Jodi Arias a manipulative liar as closing arguments begin
PHOENIX (AP) — The prosecutor pounded his hand on the table to make his point and alternated between a loud demeanor and a soft-spoken, cordial tone as he told the jury time and time again: Jodi Arias is a manipulative liar and a killer.
The dramatic closing argument by prosecutor Juan Martinez came as family members of the victim sobbed in the front row and an unemotional Arias meticulously scribbled notes with a pencil. People lined up at 2 a.m. to get a seat in the courtroom for the spectacle with only two rows in the gallery available for the public.
"It's like a field of lies that has sprouted up around her as she sat on the witness stand," Martinez said of Arias, who previously spent 18 days testifying. "Every time she spat something out, another lie."
Arias, 32, is charged with first-degree murder in the 2008 stabbing and shooting death of her on-and-off-again boyfriend Travis Alexander in a case that has become a tabloid and cable TV sensation.
Authorities say Arias planned the attack on Alexander in a jealous rage after he wanted to end their relationship and prepared for a trip to Mexico with another woman. Arias initially denied any involvement in the killing then later blamed it on masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said she killed him in self-defense. Her lawyers will present their closing arguments Friday.
UN report wants to terminate killer robots, opposes life-or-death powers over humans
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Killer robots that can attack targets without any human input "should not have the power of life and death over human beings," a new draft U.N. report says.
The report for the U.N. Human Rights Commission posted online this week deals with legal and philosophical issues involved in giving robots lethal powers over humans, echoing countless science-fiction novels and films. The debate dates to author Isaac Asimov's first rule for robots in the 1942 story "Runaround:" ''A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."
Report author Christof Heyns, a South African professor of human rights law, calls for a worldwide moratorium on the "testing, production, assembly, transfer, acquisition, deployment and use" of killer robots until an international conference can develop rules for their use.
His findings are due to be debated at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on May 29.
According to the report, the United States, Britain, Israel, South Korea and Japan have developed various types of fully or semi-autonomous weapons.
Suicide rate for middle-aged Americans is up 28 percent over decade, 40 percent among whites
NEW YORK (AP) — The suicide rate among middle-aged Americans climbed a startling 28 percent in a decade, a period that included the recession and the mortgage crisis, the government reported Thursday.
The trend was most pronounced among white men and women in that age group. Their suicide rate jumped 40 percent between 1999 and 2010.
But the rates in younger and older people held steady. And there was little change among middle-aged blacks, Hispanics and most other racial and ethnic groups, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
Why did so many middle-aged whites — that is, those who are 35 to 64 years old — take their own lives?
One theory suggests the recession caused more emotional trauma in whites, who tend not to have the same kind of church support and extended families that blacks and Hispanics do.
Oil and gas drillers make technological leaps, while renewable energy industry struggles
NEW YORK (AP) — Technology created an energy revolution over the past decade — just not the one we expected.
By now, cars were supposed to be running on fuel made from plant waste or algae — or powered by hydrogen or cheap batteries that burned nothing at all. Electricity would be generated with solar panels and wind turbines. When the sun didn't shine or the wind didn't blow, power would flow out of batteries the size of tractor-trailers.
Fossil fuels? They were going to be expensive and scarce, relics of an earlier, dirtier age.
But in the race to conquer energy technology, Old Energy is winning.
Oil companies big and small have used technology to find a bounty of oil and natural gas so large that worries about running out have melted away. New imaging technologies let drillers find oil and gas trapped miles underground and undersea. Oil rigs "walk" from one drill site to the next. And engineers in Houston use remote-controlled equipment to drill for gas in Pennsylvania.