AP News in Brief at 6:09 am EST
February 13 at 6:11 AM
Conservatives lash out at GOP spending binge
NEW YORK â" The GOP is the party of fiscal responsibility no more.
Thatâs according to some conservatives who are grappling with a Republican-backed spending binge that threatens to generate trillion-dollar deficits for years to come while staining a cherished pillar of the modern-day Republican Party.
While President Donald Trump and his allies hope economic growth may ease future deficits, few fiscal conservatives cheered Mondayâs release of the presidentâs $4 trillion-plus budget, which would create $7.2 trillion in red ink over the next decade if adopted by Congress. That follows congressional passage of last weekâs $400 billion spending pact, along with massive tax cuts, which some analysts predict will push deficits to levels not in generations.
Deficit hawks in Congress and conservative activists who railed agai nst President Barack Obamaâs spending plans called the GOP debt explosion âdangerous,â ââimmoralâ and âa betrayal.â
American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp warned the Republican-controlled Congress not to underestimate the impact of responsible spending for voters.
Winners and losers under Medicare drug plan in Trump budget
WASHINGTON â" Some Medicare beneficiaries would face higher prescription drug costs under President Donald Trumpâs budget even as the sickest patients save thousands of dollars, a complex trade-off that may make it harder to sell Congress on the plan in an election year.
In budget documents, the administration said its proposals strike a balance between improving the popular âPart Dâ prescription benefit for the 42 million seniors enrolled, while correcting design flaws that increase program costs for taxpayers. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is expected to testify on the propo sal later this week in Congress.
Trump has made bringing down drug costs a top priority, but his administrationâs plan would create winners and losers. The high cost of medicines is the leading health care concern among consumers.
Independent experts said the administrationâs plan will help beneficiaries with the highest prescription drug costs, an estimated 1 million of the sickest patients, those whose individual bills reach a total of more than $8,418 apiece.
But about 4.5 million seniors in the group just behind them could end up spending more of their own money. Thatâs because the budget proposes a change in how Medicare accounts for manufacturer discounts received by patients whose total bills range between $3,750 and $8,418. They could wind up paying about $1,000 more.
Israeli army court closes doors on Palestinian teenâs trial
OFER MILITARY BASE, West Bank â" The closely watched trial of a Palestinian girl for slapping a nd punching two Israeli soldiers opened before an Israeli military court in the West Bank on Tuesday, but the judge ordered all proceedings to be held behind closed doors in a case that has drawn wide criticism of Israel for prosecuting the teenager.
Ahed Tamimi, 17, appeared fresh and confident as she entered the packed courtroom. She briefly whispered to relatives in the back of the room before the judge ordered everyone except her family out.
âStay strong! Stay strong!â shouted her father, Bassem Tamimi.
Ahed Tamimi has been incarcerated since she was arrested on Dec. 19, four days after she was filmed confronting the soldiers outside her West Bank home.
Israel has treated her actions as a criminal offense, indicting her on charges of assault and incitement that could potentially lead to years in prison.
South African ruling party leaders push for Zuma resignation
JOHANNESBURG â" South African President Jacob Zuma on Tues day faced increasing pressure from the ruling ANC party to resign, as the government struggled to resolve a leadership crisis that has dragged on since last week.
Leaders of the African National Congress concluded that Zuma should quit during a marathon committee meeting that ended overnight, South African media reported. However, the continuing lack of a resolution to the countryâs political limbo indicated that the president was spurning the demands of many former supporters and possibly holding out for concessions in exchange for his resignation.
The impasse highlighted the disarray within the party that previously was the main movement against white minority rule and has led South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. The ANC once commanded moral stature as the party of Nelson Mandela, but corruption scandals linked to Zuma have cut into its popularity ahead of national elections in 2019.
The ANC on Tuesday planned to announce the results of the 13-ho ur meeting of its national executive committee, which has about 100 members. However, if Zuma rejects any instruction from his own party to resign, the matter could go to parliament for a vote on a motion of no confidence that would bolster the oppositionâs standing.
An opposition-backed motion of no confidence had been scheduled for Feb. 22, but its sponsors want the vote to be moved up to this week. Zuma has survived similar motions against him in the past, but many ruling party members now see him as a political liability and would likely vote against him.
Bill, Melinda Gates turn attention toward poverty in America
KIRKLAND, Wash. â" Bill and Melinda Gates, as the worldâs top philanthropists, are rethinking their work in America as they confront what they consider their unsatisfactory track record on schools, the countryâs growing inequity and a president they disagree with more than any other.
In an interview with The Associated Pre ss, the couple said theyâre concerned about President Donald Trumpâs âAmerica firstâ worldview. Theyâve made known their differences with the president and his party on issues including foreign aid, taxes and protections for immigrant youth in the country illegally.
And they said theyâre now digging into the layers of U.S. poverty that they havenât been deeply involved with at the national level, including employment, race, housing, mental health, incarceration and substance abuse.
âWe are not seeing the mobility out of poverty in the same way in the United States as it used to exist,â Melinda Gates said.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is studying these topics with no plans yet for any particular initiatives, though it has done related work at home in Washington state on a much smaller scale. Last year, it funded a grant for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to look into state and federal policies that can reduce poverty.< p>___
The AP Asks: What would South Koreans ask a North Korean?
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea â" The Koreas share a border, a culture and a language. But 70 years after they were separated, North and South are about as divided as divided gets.
With almost any kind of contact blocked or barred or banned by law, the gap between them has grown to the point where they almost seem like strangers in many ways. And while the Pyeongchang Olympics have brought North Korean athletes, musicians, martial artists, singers and cheering squads flooding into the South, tight security means itâs still almost impossible for either side to interact.
So, embedded in a crowd of excited South Korean Olympic fans waiting to get into a united Korea womenâs ice hockey match, The Associated Press posed a question:
If you had the chance, what would you ask a North Korean?
(Quick note: Our reporter Kim Tong-hyung had a question, too. Itâs at the bottom.)
US tells anti-IS coalition to âkeep eyes on prizeâ
KUWAIT CITY â" The Trump administration, increasingly concerned that the 74-strong coalition it cobbled together to destroy the Islamic State group is losing sight of the prime objective, pressed its partners on Tuesday to refocus their efforts, overcome rivalries and concentrate on the task at hand: the eradication from Iraq and Syria of the extremist group.
The alarm U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sounded at a coalition gathering in Kuwait came with the fight at a critical moment and the mission shifting from offensive military operations to stabilization.
Distractions are adding up, such as Turkeyâs fighting with U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in Syria and intensifying anti-American rhetoric from Turkish leaders. Meanwhile, renewed spillover from Syriaâs civil war, including hostilities between non-coalition actors â" Iran, its proxies in Syria, and Israel â" risk creating a new conflict i n an already crowded battle space.
âThe end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS,â Tillerson told the meeting in Kuwait City, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group.
âISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe,â he said. âWithout continued attention and support from coalition members, we risk the return of extremist groups like ISIS in liberated areas of Iraq and Syria and their spread to new locations.â
Afghan officials and Taliban talk despite wave of violence
KABUL, Afghanistan â" Afghan officials are carrying out at least two tracks of talks with the Taliban, The Associated Press has learned, even after a month of brutal bombings and attacks by the militants that killed nearly 200 and despite President Donald Trumpâs angry rejection of any negotiations for now.
The persistence of the back-c hannel contacts reflects the desire to keep a door open for reconciliation even as the Afghan government and its top ally, the United States, fumble for a strategy to end the protracted war, now entering its 17th year. Rifts within the Afghan government have grown vast, even as the Taliban gain territory and wage increasingly ruthless tactics.
The United States has unleashed heavier air power against the Taliban and other militants. After the string of Taliban attacks in recent weeks, Trump angrily condemned the group. âWe donât want to talk with the Taliban,â he said. âThere may be a time but itâs going to be a long time.â
Still, Afghanistanâs intelligence chief Masoom Stanikzai and its National Security Chief Mohammed Hanif Atmar continue to each talk separately to the Taliban, say those familiar with the backdoor negotiations. The problem, however, is that neither is talking to the other or to the High Peace Council, which was created by the government to talk peace with the Taliban, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the contacts.
Hakim Mujahid, a member of the High Peace Council, confirmed that Stanikzai still has regular contacts with the Talibanâs point man for peace talks, Mullah Abbas Stanikzai. The two are not related.
Can gene therapy be harnessed to fight the AIDS virus?
For more than a decade, the strongest AIDS drugs could not fully control Matt Chappellâs HIV infection. Now his body controls it by itself, and researchers are trying to perfect the gene editing that made this possible.
Scientists removed some of his blood cells, disabled a gene to help them resist HIV, and returned these âeditedâ cells to him in 2014. So far, it has given the San Francisco man the next best thing to a cure.
âIâve been off medications for three and a half years,â he said. He even was able to keep the virus in check despite cancer treatments last year that taxed his immune system.
Chappell was lucky, though. Only a few of the 100 others in those experiments were able to stay off HIV drugs for a couple years; the rest still need medicines to keep HIV suppressed.
Now researchers think they can improve the treatment and are trying again to tackle HIV by doctoring DNA. New studies to test these tweaked approaches in people are getting underway.
For Korean-American, Olympics are a chance to go home again
GANGNEUNG, South Korea â" When Song Hong used to tell his grandchildren about his childhood, he would joke that they were âcountry folksâ from a rugged and rural corner of the world that none of their fellow Americans had ever heard of, or likely ever would.
Then one day, from his home in California, he saw the news: That rugged and rural corner of the world he left four decades ago for a new life in the United States had been named the unlikely host of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
â I was so proud,â he says. âThat they would hold the Olympics in my hometown, and I would have the chance to have my own family see it. I want to show it to them.â
They planned the trip for years. And last week, Song and his wife, Chong, arrived with their son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren to explore a very different city than the one they left behind in 1975.
The most elite athletes in the world now live, for a few weeks, in the high-rise apartment buildings of the Olympic Village with an address heâd never dreamed heâd see attached to such prestige: Gangneung. On the other side of the city stands Olympic Park, with its brand-new arena for marquee events like skating and ice hockey.
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