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World briefly for Dec. 19

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POSTED: December 19, 2012 10:45 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The leaders of an independent panel that blamed systematic State Department management and leadership failures for gross security lapses in the deadly Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya will explain their findings to Congress on Wednesday.

The two most senior members of the Accountability Review Board are set to testify behind closed doors before the House and Senate foreign affairs committees on the classified findings of their harshly critical report.

An unclassified version released late Tuesday said serious bureaucratic mismanagement was responsible for the inadequate security at the mission in Benghazi where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

"Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the panel said.

Despite those deficiencies, the board determined that no individual officials ignored or violated their duties and recommended no disciplinary action. But it also said poor performance by senior managers should be grounds for disciplinary recommendations in the future.

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Switzerland's UBS becomes second bank to settle LIBOR rate-rigging probe

GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland's UBS AG agreed Wednesday to pay some $1.5 billion in fines to international regulators following a probe into the rigging of a key global interest rate.

In admitting to fraud, Switzerland's largest bank became the second bank, after Britain's Barclays PLC, to settle over the rate-rigging scandal. The fine, which will be paid to authorities in the U.S., Britain and Switzerland, also comes just over a week after HSBC PLC agreed to pay nearly $2 billion for alleged money laundering.

The settlement caps a tough year for UBS and the reputation of the global banking industry. As well as being ensnared in the industry-wide investigation into alleged manipulations of the benchmark LIBOR interest rate, short for London interbank offered rate, UBS has seen its reputation suffer in a London trial into a multibillion dollar trading scandal and ongoing tax evasion probes.

As a result of the fines, litigation, unwinding of real estate investments, restructuring and other costs, UBS said it expects to make a fourth quarter net loss of between 2 billion to 2.5 billion Swiss francs ($2.2-2.7 billion). Nevertheless, the Zurich-based bank maintained that it "remains one of the best capitalized banks in the world."

Other banks are expected to be fined for their involvement in the LIBOR scandal. LIBOR, which is a self-policing system and relies on information that global banks submit to a British banking authority, is important because it is used to set the interest rates on trillions of dollars in contracts around the world, including mortgages and credit cards.

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Mass shootings: Americans balance preparedness with restraint in anticipating next time

When gunfire erupted at an Oregon shopping mall last week, Shaun Wik knew instantly what to do: Run for the door. And so, when Wik heard a man he believed to be the gunman shout "Get down on the ground!", the 20-year-old fled instead. And he lived.

In Arizona, on a January day two years ago, Mary Reed reacted the way her reflexes told her to when Jared Loughner opened fire on a meet-your-congresswoman gathering at her local Safeway. Reed shielded her then-17-year-old daughter, taking a bullet in the back.

They were two responses that came from very different places. For Reed, 54, it was purely instinctive. "I didn't think about anything," she said. "Mine was just that mammalian part of your mind that protects your child."

Wik's actions, though, weren't merely a fight-or-flight response. As a sophomore in high school, he had learned about the Columbine massacre and was taught to always have an escape route. When it mattered, he did.

Even as we struggle to figure out what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School — who did what and why — the sad frequency of attacks by men with guns is creating a growing school of thought based on a simple premise: Be ready for the bullets. These mass shootings, but also bombings and terror attacks, have fueled a need, rational or not, to be prepared for the worst in whatever form it may come and know how to act when it does.

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Mourning and impatience form potent mix as Newtown buries dead in earnest; gun debate ramps up

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — Mourners overlapped at back-to-back services as funerals began in earnest in a Connecticut town that lost 20 of its children and seven adults to a gunman, with emotions and tempers in tatters amid a global crush of media attention to a community once known mostly for its bucolic atmosphere and sterling school system.

At St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, a service for first-grader James Mattioli had not concluded when mourners began arriving for the funeral of little Jessica Rekos, the first of eight to be held in the coming days at the church. Several more sets of funerals and visitation hours were set throughout town Wednesday.

Students went back to classes the day before, except for those at Sandy Hook Elementary, where a lone gunman armed with a military-style assault rifle slaughtered the children, six adults and himself by the time Friday's massacre ended. He also killed his mother at her home.

Pupils at Sandy Hook, which serves kindergarten through fourth grade, will resume classes in a formerly shuttered school in a neighboring community after the winter break, the Connecticut Post reported.

"It's definitely better than just sitting at home watching the news," sophomore Tate Schwab said outside Newtown High School. "It really hasn't sunk in yet. It feels to me like it hasn't happened."

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AP Interview: New Syrian rebel commander 'very afraid' regime will use chemical weapons

ANTAKYA, Turkey (AP) — Syrian rebels are closely monitoring the regime's chemical weapons sites but don't have the means to seize and secure them, their newly elected military commander told The Associated Press.

Gen. Salim Idris, who defected from the Syrian army in July, said he is "very afraid" a cornered Syrian President Bashar Assad will unleash such weapons on his own people.

Syria is said to have one of the world's largest chemical arsenals. Earlier this week, Syria's U.N. ambassador said the regime would not use such weapons under any circumstances. However, recent U.S. intelligence reports indicated the regime may be readying chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them.

Idris, a 55-year-old German-trained electronics professor, was chosen earlier this month as chief of staff by several hundred commanders of rebel units meeting in Turkey.

With the election of Idris and a 30-member military command center, Syria's opposition hopes to transform largely autonomous groups of fighters into a unified force. The reorganization came after Syria's political opposition won international recognition this month as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

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2 inmates who escaped Chicago high-rise jail using rope made from bed sheets still at large

CHICAGO (AP) — Employees at a high-rise jail in downtown Chicago knew something wasn't right when they arrived to work and saw a makeshift rope fashioned from bed sheets hanging from the bars of a cell window about 20 stories above the ground.

Inside the jail cell Tuesday morning, investigators found a broken window and bars inside a mattress, according to an FBI affidavit. Stuffed under blankets on two beds were clothing and sheets, shaped to resemble a body, the affidavit said.

Authorities believe it was the handiwork of two daring convicted bank robbers — the first inmates to escape from the federal facility in nearly two decades. They remained at large early Wednesday.

What's less clear is when Joseph "Jose" Banks and Kenneth Conley managed to flee, apparently by scaling down the roughly 20 stories from the cell they once shared.

The affidavit states both men were in their assigned area of the jail for a headcount around 10 p.m. Monday.

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As it dominates dam industry, China criticized for taking on destructive projects others shun

TATAY RIVER, Cambodia (AP) — Up a sweeping jungle valley in a remote corner of Cambodia, Chinese engineers and workers are raising a 100-meter- (330-foot-) high dam over the protests of villagers and activists. Only Chinese companies are willing to tame the Tatay and other rivers of Koh Kong province, one of Southeast Asia's last great wilderness areas.

It's a scenario that is hardly unique. China's giant state enterprises and banks have completed, are working on or are proposing some 300 dams from Algeria to Myanmar.

Poor countries contend the dams are crucial to bringing electricity to tens of millions who live without it and boosting living standards. Environmental activists and other opponents counter that China, the world's No. 1 dam builder, is willing and able to go where most Western companies, the World Bank and others won't tread anymore because of environmental, social, political or financing concerns.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — This story is part of "China's Reach," a project tracking China's influence on its trading partners over three decades and exploring how that is changing business, politics and daily life. Keep up with AP's reporting on China's Reach, and join the conversation about it, using (hashtag)APChinaReach on Twitter.

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Obama offer to slow growth of Social Security benefits at odds with top Democrats in Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's offer to slow the growth of Social Security benefits would force fellow Democrats in Congress to abandon promises to shield the massive retirement and disability program from cuts as part of negotiations to avoid the year-end fiscal cliff.

Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pledged not to touch Social Security as part of deficit reduction talks. Now that Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have agreed to a new measure of inflation that would reduce annual cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, for Social Security and other government programs, Democrats are reluctant to call it a deal-breaker.

As Obama and Boehner continued to haggle over how much to raise taxes and cut spending, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the new inflation measure a technical adjustment designed to make inflation estimates more accurate, and he emphasized it's Republicans who want it.

"Let's be clear. This is something that the Republicans have asked for, and as part of an effort to find common ground with the Republicans, the president has agreed to put this in his proposal," Carney told reporters Tuesday. "The president has always said, as part of this process when we're talking about the spending cut side of this, that it would require tough choices by both sides."

Boehner proposed the change earlier this month in talks with Obama, and the president included it in a counteroffer this week.

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Instagram says user photos won't appear in ads, plans to remove policy clause suggesting that

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Instagram, the popular mobile photo-sharing service now owned by Facebook, said Tuesday that it will remove language from its new terms of service suggesting that users' photos could appear in advertisements.

The language in question had appeared in updated policies announced Monday and scheduled to take effect Jan. 16. After an outcry on social media and privacy rights blogs, the company clarified that it has no plans to put users' photos in ads.

That said, Instagram maintains that it was created to become a business and would like to experiment with various forms of advertisements to make money. Instagram doesn't currently run any ads. As of now, the free service has no way to make money and brings in no revenue to Facebook.

"Our main goal is to avoid things likes advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience," Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

What had riled users and privacy advocates was Instagram's new assertion that it may now receive payments from businesses to use its members' photos, user name and other data "in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation" to them.

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Blake Shelton's protege Cassadee Pope wins third season of NBC singing competition 'The Voice'

NEW YORK (AP) — Cassadee Pope, who was country singer Blake Shelton's protege on the third season of NBC's "The Voice," has won the show's competition.

The 23-year-old singer is stepping out into a solo career after performing with a band called Hey Monday. Her victory over Scottish native Terry McDermott and long-bearded Nicholas David was announced at the end of a two-hour show Tuesday.

"The Voice" has grown into a hit for NBC and was the key factor in the network's surprising success this fall.

The show's status was affirmed by the stream of hitmakers who performed on the finale. They included Rihanna, Bruno Mars, the Killers, Smokey Robinson and Peter Frampton.

 

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