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Nation & World briefly

Economist Mario Monti to form next Italian govt, says Italy can heal its troubled finances

ROME (AP) – Economist Mario Monti accepted the monumental task Sunday of trying to form a new government that can rescue Italy from financial ruin, expressing confidence that the nation can beat the crisis if its people pull together.

His selection came a day after Silvio Berlusconi reluctantly resigned as premier, bowing out after world markets pummeled Italy’s borrowing ability, reflecting a loss of faith in the 75-year-old media mogul’s leadership. Berlusconi quit after the Italian parliament approved new reform measures demanded by the European Union and central bank officials – but even those are not considered enough to right Italy’s ailing economy.

“There is an emergency, but we can overcome it with a common effort,” Monti told the nation, shortly after Italy’s president formally asked him to see if he can muster enough political support to lead the country out of one of its most trying hours since World War II.

“In a moment of particular difficulty, Italy must win the challenge to bounce back, we must be an element of strength and not weakness in the European Union, of which we are founders,” he added.

Monti must now draw up a Cabinet, lay out his priorities, and see if he has enough support in Parliament to govern. Rival political parties offered various degrees of support, including one demand from Berlusconi’s party – the largest in Parliament – that his government last only as long enough as it takes to heal Italy’s finances and revive the economy.

US says Canada, Mexico interested in trans-Pacific trade pact, boosting Obama’s summit agenda

KAPOLEI, Hawaii (AP) – A U.S.-backed plan to forge a Pacific free trade bloc got a big boost Sunday when leaders of Canada and Mexico joined Japan in expressing support for a deal that has received a cool reception from China, the region’s rising power.

The news was a coup for President Barack Obama, who made progress on the pact one of his top priorities for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit being held in his home state of Hawaii. It comes after Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, said Friday that it wants to join the nine nations already involved in talks on what has been dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The balmy weather for the annual APEC gathering at a resort on the west side of the Hawaiian island of Oahu contrasted with deepening pessimism over the economic outlook as the leaders sat down for a day of talks on how to spur growth and create jobs. With Europe again on the brink of recession, Asia’s vital role as a driver of global growth has gained even greater urgency.

IMF Director Christine Lagarde attended the summit, briefing the APEC leaders on the latest developments in Europe. The International Monetary Fund will play a key role in coming months in overseeing efforts by Italy, and other ailing economies that use the euro common currency, to rein in debt.

Europe’s quandary is among the wide range of issues that the Asia-Pacific leaders were tackling in their one-day meeting.

After the most harrowing week in its history, Penn State struggles to figure out: What’s next?

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – For Penn State University, there was the past week – a week of unimaginable turmoil and sorrow, anger and disbelief and shame. And then there is tomorrow.

As Penn State leaves a harrowing week behind and takes tentative steps toward a new normal, students and alumni alike wonder what exactly that means. What comes next for a proud institution brought low by allegations that powerful men knew they had a predator in their midst and failed to take action? What should members of its community do now?

“Our best,” said Julie Weiss, 19, a sophomore from Wayne, N.J., pausing outside her dorm to consider the question.

Last week, the worst in its 156-year history, the place called Happy Valley became noticeably less so. Students and alumni felt betrayed as child sex abuse allegations exploded onto the nation’s front pages, bringing notoriety to a place largely untouched by, and unaccustomed to, scandal.

As the school’s trustees pledge to get to the bottom of the saga, many Penn Staters are feeling sadness, anger, a sense of loss. Some can’t sleep. Others walk around with knots in their stomachs or can’t stop thinking about the victims. Wherever two or more people congregate, the subject inevitably comes up. Even Saturday’s pregame tailgate parties were muted with the subject that hung low over everything.

Syrian regime calls for emergency Arab summit amid growing pressure, isolation by neighbors

BEIRUT (AP) – Syria’s embattled regime called for an urgent Arab summit as it faced growing isolation Sunday, not only by the West but by its neighbors, over its bloody crackdown against an eight-month uprising.

The crisis raised regional tensions, with Turkey sending a plane to evacuate nonessential personnel after a night of attacks on several embassies by Syrian government supporters angry over the Arab League decision Saturday to suspend their country’s membership.

The 22-member bloc’s rare, near-unanimous vote – only Lebanon, Yemen and Syria were opposed – put Damascus in direct confrontation with other Arab powers, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who were pushing for the suspension. The vote constituted a major boost for the Syrian opposition.

Tens of thousands of government supporters poured into the streets of Damascus and other cities, the turnout helped by the government’s closing of businesses and schools so that people could take part.

“You Arab leaders are the tails of Obama,” read a banner held at a huge pro-regime rally in Damascus accusing the Arab League of bowing to pressure from the U.S.

Obama seeks US jobs, aims to boost regional ties at Pacific Rim summit in Hawaiian home state

KAPOLEI, Hawaii (AP) – President Barack Obama on Sunday tied the hopes of a faster American economic recovery to the booming Pacific Rim region, saying “we’re not going to be able to put our folks back to work” unless the Asia-Pacific region is successful as an engine for the world.

“We consider it a top priority,” Obama said of the region where his administration is pouring in time and political capital to expand exports and business ties.

The president spoke as he dove into a day of summit diplomacy, proudly using his home state of Hawaii as the American foothold to the Pacific. He gathered with leaders of 20 other nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, whose nations span from Chile to China and account for roughly half the world’s trade and economic output.

In the midst of a hard re-election bid, Obama kept his message on jobs, even as he privately lobbied for help on containing the Iranian nuclear threat.

He was to cap the summit with a solo news conference in which topics on and off his scripted agenda were likely to emerge.

WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: ‘Swag’ rule doesn’t apply in diplomatic circles

HONOLULU (AP) – Apparently the new White House “swag” rule doesn’t apply to diplomatic protocol.

First lady Michelle Obama presented sterling silver orchid brooches and sterling silver cufflinks with Hawaiian Koa Wood to the leaders and spouses who gathered for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

The gifts came only days after President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning souvenirs that federal agencies buy with taxpayer money to promote their work – items like coffee cups, T-shirts and pens.

The effort was part of a broader executive order to cut $4 billion in waste to redirect the money to more pressing needs and make government more efficient.

World leaders commonly exchange gifts as an act of goodwill and diplomacy. The White House said the gifts represented “a distinct part of the aloha spirit and helps forge new bridges of friendship and understanding.”

Occupy protesters defy eviction order in Oregon; dozens arrested elsewhere

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Several hundred protesters, some wearing goggles and gas masks, marched past authorities in a downtown street Sunday, hours after riot police drove Occupy Portland demonstrators out of a pair of weeks-old encampments in nearby parks.

Police moved in shortly before noon and drove protesters into the street after dozens remained in the camp in defiance city officials. Mayor Sam Adams had ordered that the camp shut down Saturday at midnight, citing unhealthy conditions and the encampment’s attraction of drug users and thieves.

More than 50 protesters were arrested in the afternoon police action, said Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson on KGW-TV.

The number of demonstrators began to swell following the raid and increased throughout the afternoon. By early evening, hundreds of officers brandishing nightsticks stood shoulder-to-shoulder to hold the protesters back. Authorities retreated as protesters broke the standoff by marching through the streets.

In the hours after the midnight eviction deadline, the anti-Wall Street protesters and their supporters had flooded the park area even as authorities in other cities across the nation stepped up pressure against demonstrators, arresting dozens of people.

US companies are feeling the impact of Europe’s financial crisis as recession fears grow

NEW YORK (AP) – The tremors from Europe’s financial upheaval have reached U.S. shores, rattling consumers and companies.

The consequences have been limited so far. Yet the United States and Europe are so closely linked that any slowdown across the Atlantic is felt here. U.S. makers of cars, solar panels, drugs, clothes and computer equipment have all reported effects from Europe’s turmoil.

Worries that Europe’s crisis could worsen and spread are spooking investors and consumers just as the holiday shopping season nears. Some fear U.S. consumers could rein in spending. Europe’s sputtering growth is already dragging on some U.S. companies’ profits and could further slow the U.S. economy.

The crisis “seems to be coming to a head right at the time the U.S. economy is at its most vulnerable,” said Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo.

It’s affecting companies like Marlin Steel Wire Products, a 34-employee business based in Baltimore that’s been seeking a $4 million contract from a German manufacturer for an industrial steel wire project.

Effort to recall Wisconsin governor kicks off Tuesday, but Dems lack replacement candidate

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The effort to recall Wisconsin’s controversial Republican governor is expected to begin Tuesday, although his opponents have yet to come up with a candidate to replace him.

The recall effort comes in response to a Wisconsin law passed earlier this year that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers. Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal sparked weeks of protests that drew tens of thousands of people to the state Capitol, and two Republican state senators who supported it were ousted in recalls last summer. Seven other lawmakers targeted for their support or opposition of the law survived recall elections.

Walker, who was elected last fall, isn’t eligible for recall until he has been in office for one year. Democrats have been working closely with union leaders on the effort, and they plan to kick off their petition drive Tuesday. They must gather more than 540,000 signatures by Jan. 17 to force a recall election.

The governor has already started raising money to fight the recall thanks to a donor who filed paperwork on Nov. 4 for a fake recall effort. The maneuver allowed Walker to begin accepting unlimited donations.

Nicole Larson, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, responded to the recall effort by saying Walker “remains completely focused on the task at hand – saving taxpayer dollars and creating a business friendly climate so Wisconsinites can get back to work.”

ANALYSIS: GOP struggles for inroads on foreign policy, a subject the party used to dominate

WASHINGTON (AP) – After years of Republicans dominating the politics of national security, this year’s GOP presidential candidates are struggling to find a coherent national security argument against President Barack Obama.

In the first debate dedicated to security and foreign policy, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took issue with Obama’s plan for drawing down troops in Afghanistan but the dispute amounted to whether some forces should stay an extra few months. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for sanctions against the Iranian central bank. Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman debated whether the World Trade Organization should investigate Chinese currency practices.

All of the candidates offered only incremental criticism of the Democrat who has racked up a string of security successes, a stark contrast to the with-us-or-against-us politics Republicans have used since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. If the debate made anything clear, it’s that Republicans have lost-their go-to national security talking points, with Osama bin Laden’s body somewhere in the Indian Ocean, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq drawing to a close and Obama expanding the use of unmanned spy planes to hunt terrorists.

“I don’t think there’s a very strong narrative,” said Tony Fratto, who served as a White House and Treasury Department spokesman during the Bush administration. “Is it a significant issue for a majority of Republican voters? No. It’s not.”

And it’s not hard to understand why.