Friday, November 16, 2012

Published:

Hamas targets Jerusalem in major escalation as Israel girds for Gaza invasion

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Palestinian militants took aim at Jerusalem for the first time Friday, launching a rocket attack on the holy city in a major escalation of hostilities as Israel pressed forward with a relentless campaign of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.

Israel called up thousands of reservists and massed troops along the border with Gaza, signaling a ground invasion of the densely populated seaside strip could be imminent. The attack on Jerusalem, along with an earlier strike on the metropolis of Tel Aviv, raised the likelihood that Israel would soon move in.

Israel launched its military campaign Wednesday after days of heavy rocket fire from Gaza by assassinating the military chief of the territory's ruling Hamas militant group. Since then it has carried out hundreds of airstrikes on weapons-storage facilities and underground rocket-launching sites.

It has slowly expanded its operation beyond military targets and before dawn on Saturday, missiles smashed into a small Hamas security facility as well as the sprawling Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City, setting off a massive blaze there that threatened to engulf nearby houses and civilian cars parked outside. No one was inside the buildings at the time.

A separate airstrike leveled a mosque in central Gaza, damaging nearby houses, Gaza security officials and residents said. The military had no comment on that attack and it wasn't clear whether weapons or fighters were being harbored in the area.

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Petraeus to Congress: CIA believed early on that terrorists were behind Libya consulate attack

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Testifying out of sight, ex-CIA Director David Petraeus told Congress Friday that classified intelligence showed the deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was a terrorist attack but the administration withheld the suspected role of al-Qaida affiliates to avoid tipping them off.

The recently resigned spy chief explained that references to terrorist groups suspected of carrying out the violence were removed from the public explanation of what caused the attack so as not to alert them that U.S. intelligence was on their trail, according to lawmakers who attended Petraeus' private briefings.

He also said it initially was unclear whether the militants had infiltrated a demonstration to cover their attack.

The retired four-star general addressed the House and Senate intelligence committees in back-to-back, closed-door hearings as questions persist over what the Obama administration knew in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and why its public description did not match intelligence agencies' assessments.

After the hearings, lawmakers who questioned Petraeus said he testified that the CIA's draft talking points in response to the assault on the diplomatic post in Benghazi that killed four Americans referred to it as a terrorist attack. Petraeus said that reference was removed from the final version, although he wasn't sure which federal agency deleted it.

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Officials: Few of Gen. Allen emails potentially problematic out of 20,000-plus pages reviewed

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two U.S. officials say just a handful of the emails between the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and a Florida woman are potentially problematic, but the vast majority of the 20,000-plus pages of documents reviewed by investigators were routine.

The disclosure puts a clearer perspective on the breadth of questionable communications between Gen. John Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. Officials have described some emails as inappropriate and "suggestive." Allen has said he's done nothing wrong.

One of the officials put the number at five. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kelley is a key player in the scandal that uncovered ex-CIA Director David Petraeus' affair with his biographer and led him to resign.

Allen's nomination to lead the U.S. European Command is on hold while the investigation continues. He continues in his job as commander of the Afghanistan war.

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After meeting with Obama, congressional leaders voice confidence in deal to avoid fiscal cliff

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congressional leaders from both parties voiced fresh optimism Friday after meeting with newly re-elected President Barack Obama about avoiding year-end "fiscal cliff" tax increases and spending cuts that would hammer the middle class and risk plunging the economy into recession.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Republicans are willing to consider increased revenue "as long as it is accompanied by spending cuts" as leaders in a divided government get to work on a possible deal after a fierce election campaign.

He presented a framework that one official said called for a deficit down-payment of unspecified size by year's end, to be followed by comprehensive tax reform and an overhaul of Medicare and other benefit programs in 2013.

Democrats indicated some spending cuts would be fine with them. "I feel confident that a solution may be in sight," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

The goal of the high-pressure talks to come is to produce a multitrillion-dollar deficit-reduction plan that can take the place of the across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that are slated to take effect on Jan. 1.

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Judge denies preliminary injunction that sought to halt work on Calif. high-speed rail system

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A judge denied a request Friday from Central Valley farmers who sought to halt work on California's ambitious high-speed rail project, allowing work on the $68 billion project to continue at an aggressive pace.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley denied a request for a preliminary injunction, saying that the agency overseeing the project "acted reasonably and in good faith" in trying to comply with California environmental law.

Groups representing Central Valley farmers had hoped to stop the California High-Speed Rail Authority from all planning and engineering work because of their claims that the authority did not thoroughly weigh the potential environmental harms of the project.

Frawley did not rule on the merits of their case, which is expected to be heard this spring, but said he was persuaded that the state generally sought to comply with California's rigorous environmental laws, and that the potential harm to the state was much greater than the potential harm to farmers along the route.

The rail authority's chairman, Dan Richard, applauded the decision.

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Train slams into parade float, killing 4 veterans and injuring 16 in West Texas

MIDLAND, Texas (AP) -- Cheered on by a flag-waving crowd, a parade float filled with wounded veterans and their spouses was inching across a railroad track when the crossing gates began to lower and a freight train that seemed to come out of nowhere was suddenly bearing down on them, its horn blaring.

Some of those seated on the float jumped off in wide-eyed terror just moments before the train -- traveling at more than 60 mph -- crashed into the flatbed truck with a low whoosh and a thunderous crack.

Four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan -- including an Army sergeant who apparently sacrificed his life to save his wife -- were killed Thursday afternoon and 16 people were injured in a scene of both tragedy and heroism.

For some of the veterans who managed to jump clear of the wreck, training and battlefield instinct instantly kicked in, and they rushed to help the injured, applying tourniquets and putting pressure on wounds.

"They are trained for tragedy," said Pam Shoemaker of Monroe, La., who was with her husband, a special operations veteran, on a float ahead of the one that was hit.

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Political prisoners, war, unrest: Despite Myanmar reforms, much remains to be done

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- In the west, terrified villagers flee burning homes after an explosion of ethnic and religious violence. In the north, refugees from a civil war cower in chilly camps, desperately short on life's basic necessities. And in dank jails, hundreds of political prisoners languish behind bars, wondering when they'll ever be freed.

This is not the Myanmar that President Barack Obama will see when he becomes the first American head of state to visit this pagoda-studded country on Monday. He wants to encourage the stunning democratic transformation Myanmar has undergone since last year, but there are concerns his visit may be premature.

The nation's warp-speed revolution is fragile. Its nascent transition has already been bloody. And much unfinished business remains: from repealing harsh laws that helped silence a generation of pro-democracy dissidents, to overhauling a political power structure still tipped heavily in favor of army rule.

"If President Obama doesn't put his full weight behind further urgent reforms in Myanmar, this trip risks being an ill-timed presidential pat on the back for a regime that has looked the other way as violence rages, destroying villages and communities just in the last few weeks," said Suzanne Nossel, the U.S.-based director of Amnesty International.

White House officials cautioned Thursday that Obama's visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, should not be viewed as a "victory celebration." They reiterated that urgent action is still needed, particularly on freeing political prisoners and ending the unrest in western Rakhine state.

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Gulf oil platform fire leaves 4 workers critical, 2 missing; images similar to 2010 disaster

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The Coast Guard was searching Friday for two workers missing after a fire erupted on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, sending an ominous black plume of smoke into the air reminiscent of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that transformed the oil industry and life along the coast.

The fire, begun while workers were using a torch to cut an oil line, critically injured at least four workers who had burns over much of their bodies.

The images were eerily similar to the massive oil spill that killed 11 workers and took months to bring under control. It came a day after BP agreed to plead guilty to a raft of charges in the 2010 spill and pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties.

There were a few important differences with the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and began one of the nation's biggest environmental disasters: Friday's fire was put out within hours, rather than burning for more than a day and causing the rig to collapse and sink. It's a production platform in shallow water, rather than an exploratory drilling rig looking for new oil on the seafloor almost a mile deep.

Still, the accident was a vivid reminder of the dangerous business of offshore drilling and the risk it poses to the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem and shoreline.

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From banana-filled cakes to American icon to punch line, the (everlasting) life of the Twinkie

Let's not panic. We all know that Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Wonder bread and the rest of Hostess Brands' oddly everlasting foods aren't going away any time soon, even if the food culture that created them is gasping its last.

Yes, Hostess is shutting down. And odds seem to favor the roughly century-old company disappearing from our corporate landscape. But before you rush out to stockpile a strategic Twinkie reserve, consider a few things. Namely, that Twinkies never die. You know full well that the snack cakes down at your corner 7-Eleven are going to outlive us all. Probably even after they've been consumed.

And then there's the acquisition-happy nature of the business world, an environment that increasingly prizes intellectual property above all. It's hard to imagine the fading away of brands as storied and valuable as Ho Hos, Ring Dings and Yodels. Within hours of announcing the closure Friday, the company already had put out word that Zingers, Fruit Pies and all the other brands were up for grabs.

Even if production really did stop, how long do you think it would take for some enterprising investor intoxicated by a cocktail of nostalgia and irony for the treats Mom used to pack in his G.I. Joe lunch box to find a way to roll out commemorative Twinkies? Special edition holiday Ho Hos? It's just the nature of our product-centered world. Brands don't die, even when perhaps they should.

But let's pretend for a moment they did. What would we lose if Twinkies fell off the culinary cliff?

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Person familiar with negotiations says Melky Cabrera reaches 2-year, $16M deal with Blue Jays

NEW YORK (AP) -- The busy Toronto Blue Jays struck again Friday with their latest big deal: All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera is set to join them in his return from a drug suspension.

A person familiar with the negotiations said the free agent outfielder and the Blue Jays have reached agreement on a two-year contract worth $16 million. The deal is pending a physical, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because there was no official announcement.

ESPN Deportes first reported the agreement Friday.

Earlier this week, the Blue Jays got All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the Miami Marlins in a blockbuster trade that could involve a dozen players.

Toronto has not reached the playoffs since winning its second straight World Series in 1993, and has often been stuck behind big spenders in the AL East. After going 73-89 this year, the Blue Jays have made quite a splash in the offseason.