Posted: Jan 18, 2013 4:00 PM
Updated: Jan 19, 2013 4:00 AM
Analysis: House Republicans look for political advantage despite poor poll ratings
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) Celebration doesn't seem to be high on the agenda as House Republicans, their majority renewed by the voters last fall, lay the groundwork for another challenge to President Barack Obama over federal spending.
And no wonder.
Their annual retreat had scarcely begun this past week when they were told that disapproval ratings for Republicans in Congress had risen to 64 percent in a poll completed a few days earlier. Only 24 percent of the public viewed them favorably in the survey, taken by David Winston, a respected Republican pollster.
A previous sounding by the same pollster at the very end of 2012 wasn't much better.
At the height of the controversy over the so-called fiscal cliff the most recent clash with Obama 49 percent of those surveyed said negotiations on the issue were difficult because the tea party-heavy GOP opposed the president out of political motives. While the public strongly favors reductions in spending, only 42 percent said Republicans were acting out of a desire to implement cuts and deal with a debt crisis the reason party officials and lawmakers themselves repeated tirelessly.
Obama kicks off second-term inaugural festivities with National Day of Service
WASHINGTON (AP) President Barack Obama is heading up a National Day of Service at the start of a whirlwind weekend of inaugural events that mark the end of his historic first term and the start of his second.
Obama, joined by first lady Michelle Obama, will seek to set the tone for the weekend with a service event on Saturday. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will also volunteer in the Washington area.
Obama added a day of service projects to the inaugural schedule in 2009, and he's hoping the event becomes a tradition for future presidents.
On Monday, there will be formal balls, an inaugural parade and, of course, the president's address from the steps of the Capitol.
Even as Washington delves into the once-every-four-year celebration of the presidency, there is decidedly less energy surrounding Obama's second inauguration than there was in 2009. That history-making event drew 1.8 million people to the National Mall to watch Obama be sworn in as the nation's first black president.
Algeria: Day 4 of hostage standoff with international band of militants
AIN AMENAS, Algeria (AP) Algerian security forces are facing day four of a standoff with an international band of Islamist extremists still holding foreign hostages at a remote gas plant.
At least 12 people, perhaps many more, died in a government attack on a convoy of militants Thursday whose outcome remained unclear by Saturday morning.
Hundreds of Algerian and foreign workers have been freed. But Algerian authorities have not said how many hostages remain in the main refinery of the Ain Amenas plant in southeast Algeria.
Freed hostages have described being used as human shields and strapped with explosive belts.
A Mauritanian website close to the militants says they are led by a militant from Niger and numbered about 40. Algeria's APS news agency says they are from several countries and number about 30.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o tells ESPN he was never involved in creating girlfriend hoax
NEW YORK (AP) Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o insisted he had no role in the bizarre hoax involving his "dead" girlfriend and told ESPN on Friday night that he was duped by a person who has since apologized to him.
In an off-camera interview Friday with ESPN, Te'o said Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance who lives in California, contacted him two days ago and confessed to the prank. Deadspin.com first exposed the scheme on Wednesday and indicated Tuiasosopo was involved in it.
"I wasn't faking it," ESPN quoted Te'o as saying during the 2 1-2 hour interview. "I wasn't part of this. When they hear the facts they'll know. They'll know there is no way I could be a part of this."
Te'o said he first met Tuiasosopo in person after the Southern California game in November. According to the linebacker, Tuiasosopo told him he was the cousin of Lennay Kekua, the woman who Te'o believed he had fallen for through Internet chats and long phone conversations. But Kekua never existed.
"Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing," Te'o told ESPN. "According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah's one."
Armstrong turns emotional in 2nd part of interview, recalling talk with son on defending him
CHICAGO (AP) Lance Armstrong finally cracked.
Not while expressing deep remorse or regrets, though there was plenty of that in Friday night's second part of Armstrong's interview with Oprah Winfrey.
It wasn't over the $75 million in sponsorship deals that evaporated over the course of two days, or having to walk away from the Livestrong cancer charity he founded and called his "sixth child." It wasn't even about his lifetime ban from competition, though he said that was more than he deserved.
It was another bit of collateral damage that Armstrong said he wasn't prepared to deal with.
"I saw my son defending me and saying, 'That's not true. What you're saying about my dad is not true,'" Armstrong recalled.
Analysis: US budget woes could hobble outreach to Asia in Obama's 2nd term
WASHINGTON (AP) President Barack Obama wants Asia to be a growing focus of his foreign policy, but as his second terms starts, success could hinge on his ability to manage hot spots elsewhere in the world and avert a fiscal crisis at home.
Within two weeks of winning re-election, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar, signaling his intent to sustain his administration's commitment to the region following the decade-long entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That's a reflection of Asia's growing economic and strategic importance. In the past three years, Washington has embroiled itself in diplomacy over the disputed South China Sea, deployed more military assets to the Asia-Pacific and pushed forward a regional trade pact. It has also put a lot of effort into managing ties with emerging rival China.
Those moves have been broadly welcomed in Asia, but governments question the U.S. ability to sustain its policy.
While Sen. John Kerry, the nominee to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, is expected to continue the policy, the Middle East looks destined to demand the lion's share of his attention. There's no end in sight to the civil war in Syria and pressure could mount to take military action over Iran's nuclear program.
Macedonian village's rebellious spirit comes alive in carnival
VEVCANI, Macedonia (AP) The tiny Macedonian town of Vevcani boasts its own constitution, its own currency and a passport emblazoned with a golden coat of arms.
They are a tongue-in-cheek expression of the village's historical defiance of authority -- and were born of a symbolic declaration of independence. But beneath the mockery lies a real rebellious streak that has coursed through Vevcani for decades and spawned violent protests, diplomatic incidents and run-ins with the law.
That spirit of rebellion reaches a climax every year during the village's annual carnival in January, where villagers don costumes that poke fun at the world around them. The sharp satire leaves nothing untouched, targeting the national leadership, politics, religion and social issues. Most recently it has taken aim at Macedonia's crisis-stricken southern neighbor, Greece.
With its colorful floats and masked revelers, the festival -- said to be 14 centuries old and date from pagan times -- has grown in popularity over the last decade. It attracts thousands of visitors to St. Vasilij Day celebrations on Jan. 13, welcoming in the New Year according to the Julian calendar.
"We have had (masks of) Muslims, priests, world leaders, terrorists," said Mayor Pero Ilieski, adding that people shouldn't be offended by the outr themes: "It is only a carnival, so it is something that is not real."
TSA to drop X-ray airport scanners by June because of privacy concerns; other scanners staying
Those airport scanners with their all-too revealing body images will soon be going away.
The Transportation Security Administration says the scanners that used a low-dose X-ray will be gone by June because the company that makes them can't fix the privacy issues. The other airport body scanners, which produce a generic outline instead of a naked image, are staying.
The government rapidly stepped up its use of body scanners after a man snuck explosives onto a flight bound for Detroit on Christmas day in 2009.
At first, both types of scanners showed travelers naked. The idea was that security workers could spot both metallic objects like guns as well as non-metallic items such as plastic explosives. The scanners also showed every other detail of the passenger's body, too.
The TSA defended the scanners, saying the images couldn't be stored and were seen only by a security worker who didn't interact with the passenger. But the scans still raised privacy concerns. Congress ordered that the scanners either produce a more generic image or be removed by June.
CDC chief: Flu hospitalizations spike in the elderly, season is shaping up to be a bad one
The number of older people hospitalized with the flu has risen sharply, prompting federal officials to take unusual steps to make more flu medicines available and to urge wider use of them as soon as symptoms appear.
The U.S. is about halfway through this flu season, and "it's shaping up to be a worse-than-average season" and a bad one for the elderly, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It's not too late to get a flu shot, and "if you have symptoms, please stay home from work, keep your children home from school" and don't spread the virus, he said.
New figures from the CDC show widespread flu activity in all states but Tennessee and Hawaii. Some parts of the country are seeing an increase in flu activity "while overall activity is beginning to go down," Frieden said. Flu activity is high in 30 states and New York City, up from 24 the previous week.
Nine more children or teens have died of the flu, bringing the nation's total this flu season to 29. That's close to the 34 pediatric deaths reported during all of the last flu season, although that one was unusually light. In a typical season, about 100 children die of the flu and officials said there is no way to know whether deaths this season will be higher or lower than usual.
Baltimore actor Robert Chew dies at 52; played Proposition Joe on 'The Wire' TV series
BALTIMORE (AP) Robert Chew, who played Proposition Joe on the HBO series "The Wire," has died. He was 52.
His sister, Clarice Chew, said he suffered a heart attack and died at his Baltimore home Thursday.
Robert Chew grew up in Baltimore and studied music at Morgan State University for two years. His sister said he worked as music director for the Arena Players community theater.
The character Prop Joe was a highly intelligent and ruthless yet polite and diplomatic Baltimore drug lord. Another sister, Maureen Brown, said strangers would approach Chew on the street in Baltimore and tell him what a great job he did in that role.
He also appeared in TV shows "The Corner" and "Homicide: Life on the Street" and the 2004 TV movie "Something the Lord Made."