Briefs: Money talks

Associated Press

News in brief

The Democratic debate

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The long-festering feud between Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg erupted Thursday night in a high-stakes debate that tested the strength of the Democratic Party's shrinking pool of presidential contenders just six weeks before primary voting begins.

Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has emerged as an unlikely presidential power player, gaining ground with a centrist message. Warren, the Massachusetts senator who has become his progressive foil, attacked Buttigieg's fundraising practices. And Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is competing with Buttigieg for moderate voters, challenged his limited governing experience.

The debate came a day after a highly contentious vote to impeach President Donald Trump, which showed in dramatic relief how polarized the nation is over his presidency. With the Republican-controlled Senate likely to acquit him, the stakes are high for Democrats to select a challenger who can defeat Trump in November.

The forum highlighted the choice Democrats will have to make between progressive and moderate, older and younger, men and women and the issues that will sway the small but critical segment of voters who will determine the election. The candidates sharply disagreed about the role of money in politics, the value and meaning of experience and the direction of the American health care system.

In the most pointed exchange, Warren zeroed in on Buttigieg's recent private meeting with wealthy donors inside a California "wine cave," the details of which were recounted in a recent Associated Press story.

Amid citizenship law outcry, Indian authorities ban protest

NEW DELHI (AP) — Police banned public gatherings in parts of the Indian capital and other cities for a third day Friday and cut internet services to try to stop growing protests against a new citizenship law that have so far left eight people dead and more than 1,200 others detained. 

Thousands of protesters stood inside and on the steps of New Delhi's Jama Masijd, one of India's largest mosques, after Friday afternoon prayers, waving Indian flags and shouting slogans against the government and the citizenship law, which critics say threatens the secular nature of Indian democracy in favor of a Hindu state. 

Police had banned a proposed march from the mosque to an area near India's Parliament, and a large number of officers were waiting outside the mosque. 

About 2,000 people protested outside New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University, which was the site of weekend clashes in which students accused to police of using excessive force that sent dozens to hospitals.

The protests have targeted the new citizenship law, which applies to Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally but can demonstrate religious persecution in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims. 

Vatican tribunal now overwhelmed by clergy abuse cases

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican office responsible for processing clergy sex abuse complaints has seen a record 1,000 cases reported from around the world this year, including from countries it had not heard from before — suggesting that the worst may be yet to come in a crisis that has plagued the Catholic Church.

Nearly two decades after the Vatican assumed responsibility for reviewing all cases of abuse, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is today overwhelmed, struggling with a skeleton staff that hasn't grown at pace to meet the four-fold increase in the number of cases arriving in 2019 compared to a decade ago.

"I know cloning is against Catholic teaching, but if I could actually clone my officials and have them work three shifts a day or work seven days a week," they might make the necessary headway, said Monsignor John Kennedy, the head of the congregation's discipline section, which processes the cases.

"We're effectively seeing a tsunami of cases at the moment, particularly from countries where we never heard from (before)," Kennedy said, referring to allegations of abuse that occurred for the most part years or decades ago. Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Italy and Poland have joined the U.S. among the countries with the most cases arriving at the congregation, known as the CDF.

Kennedy spoke to The Associated Press and allowed an AP photographer and video journalists into the CDF's inner chambers -- the first time in the tribunal's history that visual news media have been given access. Even the Vatican's most secretive institution now feels the need to show some transparency as the church hierarchy seeks to rebuild trust with rank-and-file Catholics who have grown disillusioned with decades of clergy abuse and cover-up. 

US watching North Korea for 'Christmas gift' missile launch

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is closely watching North Korea for signs of a possible missile launch or nuclear test in the coming days that officials are referring to as a "Christmas surprise."

A significant launch or test would mean the end of North Korea's self-imposed moratorium and raise tensions in the region. It would also be a major blow to one of the Trump administration's major foreign policy initiatives: the drive to get North Korea back to negotiations to eliminate its nuclear weapons and missiles.

Earlier this month, the North conducted what U.S. officials say was an engine test. North Korea described it as "crucial" and experts believe that it may have involved an engine for a space launch vehicle or long-range missile. Officials worry that it could be a prelude to the possible launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile in the coming days or weeks.

Any test involving an ICBM would have the most serious impact on the diplomatic effort because it would be considered a move by North Korea to acquire the ability to strike the United States, or, even worse, to show they already have it. 

"North Korea has been advancing. It has been building new capabilities," said Anthony Wier, a former State Department official who tracks nuclear disarmament for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. "As long as that continues, they gain new capabilities to try new missiles to threaten us and our allies in new ways,"

2 firefighters die, 3 hurt as wildfires ravage Australia

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Two volunteer firefighters died Thursday while battling wildfires ravaging Australia's most populous state, forcing Prime Minister Scott Morrison to cut short his family holiday as authorities braced for temperatures to soar in New South Wales at the weekend. 

Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, were in a truck convoy fighting blazes southwest of Sydney when a tree fell and caused the vehicle to roll off the road. The two men, both fathers to 19-month-old children, died at the scene while three other firefighters were injured and taken to a hospital.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the injured firefighters were in stable condition.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons spent the night consoling families of the victims. 

"To not be coming home after their shift is a tremendous grief and I applaud the families and the loved ones for their remarkable comprehension of what's been unfolding," he told reporters.

Early PG&E blackouts forewarned later problems

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The state senators grilling the CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. were upset — like millions of other Californians, some spent days in the dark when the nation's largest utility shut off power during windstorms this fall.

The lawmakers demanded that the executive explain why blackouts intended to prevent downed power lines from sparking deadly wildfires caused so much trouble of their own.

The explanation CEO Bill Johnson offered the Capitol hearing room: Several smaller outages that PG&E triggered in the year before its debacle began in mid-October went well, giving his company misplaced confidence.

"I think we got a little complacent that we had figured it out," Johnson testified last month.

PG&E had not figured it out. 

Iraq protests take toll on economy, vulnerable suffer most

BAGHDAD (AP) — With wisps of smoke still rising from the remnants of another night of violence, the workers came in the morning to salvage what merchandise they could from the torched warehouses in Baghdad's central commercial district. 

Boxes upon boxes of clothes, cosmetics and household goods stored by traders in the country's most thriving market were hurled onto pick-up trucks to be taken away from Rasheed Street, a historic avenue that for weeks has been scene of ongoing violence between anti-government protesters and security forces. 

Stores were shuttered across the once bustling thoroughfare, where the chatter of bargain-hunters has been replaced by an occasional volley of bullets. 

"We are loading and leaving," said one merchant, Salah Redha. "My merchandise is worth over $1.5 million. Half of it is gone and the other half destroyed ... who will compensate me?" 

With Iraq's leaderless uprising now in its third month, the protracted street hostilities, internet outages, blocked roads and a general atmosphere of unease are posing risks to Iraq's economy. In particular, the unrest has set back the most fragile segment of the country's economy, the private sector, where business owners have faced losses from damage to merchandise and disruptions of markets and from consumers reeling in their spending out of fear for the future.

Notre Dame Cathedral to miss first Christmas in centuries

PARIS (AP) — Notre Dame kept Christmas going even during two world wars — a beacon of hope amid the bloodshed. 

Yet, an accidental fire in peacetime finally stopped the cathedral from celebrating Midnight Mass this year, for the first time in over two centuries. 

As the lights stay dim in the once-invincible 855-year-old Paris landmark, officials are trying hard to focus on the immediate task of keeping burnt-out Notre Dame's spirit alive in exile through service, song and prayer.

It has decamped its rector, famed statue, liturgy and Christmas celebrations to a new temporary home pending the restoration works, just under a mile away, at another Gothic church in Paris called Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois.

And there it will remain, as works slowly progress to rebuild the cathedral after the April 15 fire destroyed its lead roof and spire and was moments away from engulfing its two stone towers.

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