Russia finds first flight recorder from Black Sea crash jet

Author: 
Reuters
Tue, 2016-12-27
ID: 
1482824804952631000

MOSCOW: Russian authorities have found a flight recorder in the wreckage of a military plane that crashed into the Black Sea on Sunday, killing all 92 on board, Russian agencies cited the Defense Ministry as saying on Tuesday.
The recorder, one of several reported to be on board, contains information which could help investigators identify the cause of the crash.
It will be sent to a Defense Ministry facility in Moscow for analysis, the ministry was cited as saying.
Investigators have so far said that pilot error or a technical fault were likely to have caused the Defense Ministry TU-154 to crash into the sea.
The plane was carrying dozens of Red Army Choir singers and dancers to Syria to entertain Russian troops in the run-up to the New Year, as well as other passengers. 
The Defense Ministry said search and rescue teams have so far recovered 12 bodies and 156 body fragments, news agencies reported.
The Interfax news agency, citing a law enforcement source, said a second flight recorder had also been found in the wreckage, but not yet raised to the surface.

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Russia finds first flight recorder from Black Sea crash jet

Author: 
Reuters
Tue, 2016-12-27
ID: 
1482824804952631000

MOSCOW: Russian authorities have found a flight recorder in the wreckage of a military plane that crashed into the Black Sea on Sunday, killing all 92 on board, Russian agencies cited the Defense Ministry as saying on Tuesday.
The recorder, one of several reported to be on board, contains information which could help investigators identify the cause of the crash.
It will be sent to a Defense Ministry facility in Moscow for analysis, the ministry was cited as saying.
Investigators have so far said that pilot error or a technical fault were likely to have caused the Defense Ministry TU-154 to crash into the sea.
The plane was carrying dozens of Red Army Choir singers and dancers to Syria to entertain Russian troops in the run-up to the New Year, as well as other passengers. 
The Defense Ministry said search and rescue teams have so far recovered 12 bodies and 156 body fragments, news agencies reported.
The Interfax news agency, citing a law enforcement source, said a second flight recorder had also been found in the wreckage, but not yet raised to the surface.

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Alaska volcano erupts, sends up ash cloud

Author: 
Associated Press
Tue, 2016-12-27
ID: 
1482805290932243500

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: A volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands has erupted again.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory says an eruption that produced ash started just after 2 p.m. Monday at Bogoslof (BOH-goh-slawf) volcano about 850 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The observatory raised the aviation alert level from a watch to a warning. Temperatures recorded on cloud tops suggested an ash cloud that reached 30,000 feet.
Lightning and seismic data signaled the eruption.
The volcano erupted three times last week, with one ash cloud reaching 35,000 feet.
Unalaska Island is about 35 miles southeast of the volcano. The city of Unalaska and the port of Dutch Harbor on the island’s east side are about 61 miles away.
Observatory scientist in charge Michelle Coombs says southwest winds should push the ash cloud north of Unalaska.

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South Korean ruling party splits over impeached president

Author: 
KIM TONG-HYUNG | AP
Tue, 2016-12-27
ID: 
1482805227932240700

SEOUL, South Korea: Dozens of lawmakers split from South Korea’s ruling party Tuesday over the corruption scandal involving impeached President Park Geun-hye in a move that could shape presidential elections that might take place in just months.
The 29 anti-Park lawmakers who left the Saenuri Party planned to create a new conservative party that will likely try to lure outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as its presidential candidate. There’s a possibility of more lawmakers leaving Saenuri in coming weeks over rifts with Park loyalists who continue to occupy the party’s leadership.
Choung Byoung-gug, one of the lawmakers who left Saenuri, accused the loyalists of “neglecting the values of real conservatism” and “shamelessly defending the infringement of constitutional values” as they continued to support the scandal-hit president.
The split came as investigators widened their inquiry into the scandal surrounding Park, who has been accused of colluding with a longtime confidante to extort money and favors from the country’s biggest companies, and to allow the friend to manipulate government affairs.
The team led by special prosecutor Park Young-soo was planning to summon the president’s jailed friend, Choi Soon-sil, on Tuesday afternoon, following their first interrogation of her on Saturday.
Ban is seen as the best hope for conservatives to win back the Blue House after Park’s collapse complicated politics for her party. Recent opinion polls put Ban slightly ahead of liberal politician Moon Jae-in, who conceded the presidential race to Park four years ago, as the favorite to win a presidential vote.
In a recent meeting with South Korean reporters in New York, Ban said he was ready to “burn” his body in devotion for South Korea, his strongest hint yet that he would run for president.
South Korea’s opposition-controlled parliament voted on Dec. 9 to impeach Park over the scandal that saw millions of people protest in recent weeks.

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More US states consider working around the Electoral College

Author: 
AP
Tue, 2016-12-27
ID: 
1482793199209729500

HARTFORD, Connecticut: Frustrated after seeing another candidate secure the presidency without winning the national popular vote, mostly Democratic lawmakers in several capitols want their states to join a 10-year-old movement to work around the Electoral College.
In states including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Mexico, legislators have said they plan to introduce legislation that would require their state’s Electoral College voters cast ballots for the presidential candidate who earns the most votes nationwide, regardless of the statewide results.
“Every vote in this country should have equal weight. The Electoral College is a relic of a bygone era, and we need to change this system,” said Connecticut state Sen. Mae Flexer, who filed a bill with several fellow Democrats requiring Connecticut to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
Since 2006, 11 states have signed onto the compact, which require their Electoral College voters to cast ballots for the national popular vote winner. In theory it would take effect once it involves states representing at least 270 electoral votes, the threshold to win the presidency.
When people vote for president, they are really choosing the electors from the political parties. The college is made up of 538 electors, which corresponds to the number of a state’s seats in the US Senate and House, plus the three votes allotted to Washington, D.C.
The states that have already passed legislation to join the group represent 165 electoral votes. Typically reliably Democratic states, the list includes California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and D.C. — all where Democrat Hillary Clinton defeated Republican Donald Trump.
Advocates note the measures have cleared several Republican-controlled legislative chambers, including the Arizona House this year. That bill did not come up for a vote in the GOP-controlled state Senate.
The compact would not benefit any one party, said Patrick Rosenstiel, a consultant to National Popular Vote, the group that has been pushing for the compact since 2006. Rather, the Republican said, it will encourage candidates to campaign in every state, regardless of its politics, and make every voter relevant.
“Right now we’ve got a system where the battleground states have all the political influence,” he said.
Clinton is the fifth presidential candidate to win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College. She received nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump, according to an Associated Press analysis Tuesday after vote totals were certified, giving her the largest popular vote margin of any losing presidential candidate and bringing renewed calls to abolish the Electoral College. She benefited from solid wins in populous California and New York, while Trump narrowly won some battleground states.
US Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said she will introduce legislation in January to do away with the Electoral College through a constitutional amendment, but it’s a long shot. An amendment would have to pass Congress and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states within seven years.
Supporters of the compact are aiming to get enough states on board before the 2020 presidential election.
Some critics question, among other issues, whether Republicans will have the political desire between now and 2020 to push for national popular vote compacts in their states. The GOP now holds majorities in 33 legislatures.
Recent polling shows support for the Electoral College among Republicans is high following Trump’s victory, said Robert Alexander, a political science professor at Ohio Northern University and author of a book on the Electoral College.
“Certainly among Democrats, yes,” Alexander said of the will to join the compact. “But a lot of the state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, and there is way too much uncertainty for them to take that issue on for their own political futures.”
If there had been a recent instance of a Republican candidate losing the Electoral College but winning the national popular vote, there likely would be more support from GOP lawmakers for the legislation, Alexander said. According to National Popular vote, in 2016 there were 154 Republicans who sponsored the measures and 162 Democrats.
Battleground states like Ohio have little motivation to give up the attention they receive from presidential candidates, Alexander said. And he wondered what would happen if a state with a law binding its electors to vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote — as is the case in more than half the states — joins the compact.
“Which would take precedence?” he said. “The state’s binding law or the interstate compact?”

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Cuban President Raul Castro faces deep problems in 2017

Author: 
AP
Tue, 2016-12-27
ID: 
1482793199189729200

HAVANA: Alex Romero was delighted when President Barack Obama came to Havana in March bearing the promise of a bright new future.
Like so many other Cubans, the 42-year-old state photography shop employee thrilled at the president’s vision of restored ties between the US and Cuba. Families would reunite. A flood of American business would lift the stagnant centrally planned economy, fueling its slow path toward reform. Even as Obama spoke, an 80 percent surge in US visitors was drenching state-run and private businesses with hundreds of millions of desperately needed dollars.
Nine months later, the world seen from Havana looks very different.
President Raul Castro faces what could be his toughest year since he took power in 2006. 2017 brings a possible economic recession and a US president-elect who has promised to undo Obama’s normalization unless the Cuban government makes new concessions on civil rights. Resistance to pressure from Washington is a founding principle for the Cuban communist system, making domestic concessions in exchange for continued detente a virtual impossibility.
“People expected that after Obama came there would be changes in the relationship between the US and Cuba but that we could keep the best of what we have, the benefits for the people,” Romero said. “Trump’s not going to be able to get what he wants, another type of Cuba. If the world’s number one power takes us on, 2017 is going to be really bad for us.”
Castro must manage these twin economic and diplomatic challenges during a year of transition. The 85-year-old general has promised to hand over the office in early 2018 to a successor, widely expected to be Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 56-year-old official with neither the Castro name nor revolutionary credentials. The change will occur without Castro’s older brother Fidel, the revolutionary leader whose largely unseen presence endowed the system he created with historical weight and credibility in the eyes of many Cubans before he died last month at 90.
“Even if those two events hadn’t taken place — Trump’s victory and Fidel’s death — 2017 was going to be a very difficult year for Cuba,” said Cuban economist Omar Everleny Perez, a visiting professor at Keio University in Tokyo.
Cuba publishes few credible economic statistics, but experts expect the country to end this year with gross domestic product growth of 1 percent or less. It maintained a rate close to 3 percent from 2011-2015.
One bright spot is tourism, booming since Obama and Castro’s Dec. 17, 2014, detente announcement set off a surge in overall visitor numbers, up more than 15 percent in 2015 and again this year.
“I’ve never seen as many tourists as I have this year,” said Magalys Pupo, a street-corner pastry vendor in Old Havana. “They’re everywhere and they’re the income that we need in this country.”
The slowness of macroeconomic growth despite a surge of interest in foreign investment and the greatest tourism boom in decades attests to both long-term mismanagement of the Cuban economy and the depth of the crisis in other sectors, particularly aid from Venezuelan in the form of deeply subsidized oil.
Analysts believe that as Venezuela’s Cuba-inspired socialist economy has disintegrated, exports to Cuba has dropped from 115,000 barrels daily in 2008 to 90,000 in recent years to 40,000 a day over the last few months.
Venezuela was the prime destination alongside Brazil for Cuban doctors and other professionals whose salaries go directly to the Cuban government, providing another vital source of hard currency believed to be slackening in recent years. Nickel, another of Cuba’s main exports, has seen a sharp price drop this year.
The revenue drop may be creating a vicious cycle for Cuba’s state-run industries. Experts say cutbacks in imported industrial inputs this year will lead to lower productivity in Cuba’s few domestic industries in 2017 and make zero growth or recession highly likely.
“Raul Castro’s government has a year left and it should be planning what needs to be done,” said Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist at the Universidad Javeriana in Cali, Colombia. “Above all, it will be managing a crisis.”
The government cut back summer working hours and gas rations for state-owned vehicles and has so far avoided any sustained power outages. But a crackdown on black-market gasoline sales to taxi drivers led them to increase prices, causing drivers to raise their prices, squeezing many Cubans already struggling to get by on state salaries of about $30 a month. Many Cubans say, however, that worsening conditions could drive them to rally around the government rather than against it. “It’s going to be a tough year,” said Antenor Stevens, a 66-year-old retired public water specialist. “We’re a people who’ve suffered a lot. We’ve felt a lot of need, but there’s still a revolutionary consciousness.”

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Japan’s Abe in Hawaii to visit Pearl Harbor with Obama

Author: 
AP
Tue, 2016-12-27
ID: 
1482793199169728900

HONOLULU: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Hawaii on Monday ahead of a symbolic meeting with President Barack Obama at the site of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Japanese leaders have visited Pearl Harbor before, but Abe will be the first to go to the US Arizona Memorial, the wreck where 1,177 US personnel died.
The visit comes 75 years after Japan’s December 1941 attack on the base of the US Pacific fleet, drawing America into World War II.
And it comes seven months after Obama and Abe made a joint visit to the Japanese city of Hiroshima, which was devastated by a US atomic bomb in 1945.
Before leaving Japan, Abe said he was to visit the Pearl Harbor memorial because: “We must not repeat the horror of war ever again.”
“Together with President Obama, I would like to express to the world this pledge for the future and the value of reconciliation,” he told reporters.
On December 7, 1941 a Japanese air armada descended on the Hawaiian naval base without warning, sinking much of the fleet and killing 2,400 people.
Washington had been hesitating about joining a war that had already plunged Europe into chaos, but the Japanese attack forced its hand.
The moving memorial, appearing to float above the rusting remains of the USS Arizona, attracts two million tourists, pilgrims and veterans every year.
The curved-roofed white building was put in place in the 1960s to memorialize what president Franklin Roosevelt dubbed the “day that will live in infamy.”
Inside are engraved the names of crewmen who died in the attack.
Abe is not expected to formally apologize in the name of Japan but, as Obama did at Hiroshima, will celebrate today’s friendship between the former foes.
On Monday, Abe was expected to tour other sites near the Hawaiian state capital, Honolulu, including the National Memorial Cemetery of the pacific.
Known colloquially as the Punchbowl, it is the final resting place for more than 13,000 American veterans of the war in the Pacific.
Abe will also pay tribute to the nine Japanese crew and students who drowned in February 2001 when the fishing vessel Ehime Maru collided with a US sub.

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Trump says UN just a club for people to ‘have a good time’

Author: 
VIVIAN SALAMA | AP
Tue, 2016-12-27
ID: 
1482790547379589600

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida: Days after the United Nations voted to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Donald Trump questioned its effectiveness Monday, saying it’s just a club for people to “have a good time.”
The president-elect wrote on Twitter that the UN has “such great potential,” but it has become “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!“
On Friday, Trump warned, “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th,” referring to the day he takes office.
The decision by the Obama administration to abstain from Friday’s UN vote brushed aside Trump’s demands that the US exercise its veto and provided a climax to years of icy relations with Israel’s leadership.
Trump told The Associated Press last December that he wanted to be “very neutral” on Israel-Palestinian issues. But his tone became decidedly more pro-Israel as the presidential campaign progressed. He has spoken disparagingly of Palestinians, saying they have been “taken over” by or are condoning militant groups.
Trump’s tweet Monday about the UN ignores much of the work that goes on in the 193-member global organization.
This year the UN Security Council has approved over 70 legally binding resolutions, including new sanctions on North Korea and measures tackling conflicts and authorizing the UN’s far-flung peacekeeping operations around the world. The General Assembly has also approved dozens of resolutions on issues, like the role of diamonds in fueling conflicts; condemned human rights abuses in Iran and North Korea; and authorized an investigation of alleged war crimes in Syria.
Trump’s criticism of the UN is by no means unique. While the organization does engage in large-scale humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts, its massive bureaucracy has long been a source of controversy. The organization has been accused by some Western governments of being inefficient and frivolous, while developing nations have said it is overly influenced by wealthier nations.
Trump tweeted later Monday, “The world was gloomy before I won — there was no hope. Now the market is up nearly 10 percent and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars!“
Markets are up since Trump won the general election, although not quite by that much. The Standard & Poor’s 500 is up about 6 percent since Election Day, while the Dow has risen more than 8 percent.
As for holiday spending, auditing and accounting firm Deloitte projected in September that total 2016 holiday sales were expected to exceed $1 trillion, representing a 3.6 percent to 4.0 percent increase in holiday sales from November through January.
The president-elect is spending the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. He had no public schedule Monday.

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Blizzards, ice storms wreak havoc across US’ northern Plains

Author: 
Associated Press
Tue, 2016-12-27
ID: 
1482788742609502300

CHICAGO: Travel conditions remained hazardous as a winter storm swept across much of the northern Plains on Monday, with blowing and drifting snow forcing the closure of an airport and creating near-zero visibility on some roads.
The combination of freezing rain, snow and high winds that forced vast stretches of highways in the Dakotas to be shut down Sunday continued into Monday, and authorities issued no-travel warnings for much of North Dakota.
Meanwhile, in parts of the South, unseasonably warm temperatures was raising the risk of tornadoes and damaging thunderstorms. About 3 million people in parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee could see damaging winds gusts and isolated tornadoes Monday, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said, but no major outbreak is expected.
Most of North Dakota was to remain under a blizzard warning through Monday afternoon or early evening, according to the National Weather Service in Bismarck. Severe whiteout conditions led to the closure of Minot International Airport, and the facility wasn’t expected to reopen until 3 a.m. Tuesday. The airports serving Fargo and Bismarck also list flight cancelations on their websites.
Winds gusting 40 mph to 50 mph associated also led to delays and cancelations at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The storm also has caused power outages in the Dakotas and Nebraska.
The South Dakota Rural Electric Association said roughly 19,000 of its customers were without power Monday afternoon. In Nebraska, winds gusting up to 70 mph were cited for hundreds of power outages in central and eastern portions of the state Sunday, although by Monday morning, utilities reported that power had been restored to most customers.
The North Dakota Transportation Department closed most of a 240-mile stretch of Interstate 94 Sunday night, from the Montana border to Jamestown. That stretch remained closed Monday. Portions of US Highways 2, 52 and 281 were also closed because of snow, ice and “near zero visibility.” Motorists who drive past the roadblocks can be fined up to $250.
No-travel adviseries were issued for much of North Dakota, including the Williston, Dickinson, Minot, Bismarck, Jamestown, Valley City and Grand Forks areas.
Authorities in South Dakota shut down Interstate 90 from the Wyoming border to Chamberlain — about 260 miles.

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12 years after tsunami, 400 bodies unidentified in Thailand

Author: 
Reuters
Tue, 2016-12-27
ID: 
1482787458949441000

BANGKOK: At least 400 victims of Asia’s 2004 tsunami that killed 226,000 people remain unidentified in Thailand 12 years on, police said on Monday.
The 9.15 magnitude Dec. 26 earthquake triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean in one of the biggest natural disasters in history.
Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka were among the worst hit countries. Some 5,395 people were killed in Thailand, among them about 2,000 foreign tourists.
“Since the 2004 tsunami, authorities have contacted between 4,000 to 5,000 relatives to come and receive bodies. There are about 400 bodies that we cannot identify,” Anand Boonkerkaew, deputy superintendent of Takua Pa district police in Phang Nga province, told Reuters.
Thailand’s tourist high season is in full swing and in much of the area affected by the tsunami, it is business as usual. New hotels have replaced those flattened by the wall of water.
Thailand expects a record 32.4 million foreign tourists this year.
Critics have said Thailand’s tsunami warning system remains inadequate, partly because it isn’t maintained properly. The government has said it is in good order.

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