Obama signs bipartisan budget deal, military sexual assault bill
HONOLULU — Rounding out a tough and frustrating year, President Barack Obama signed a bipartisan budget deal Thursday easing spending cuts and a defense bill cracking down on sexual assault in the military, as the president and Congress began pivoting to the midterm election year ahead.
Obama put his signature on both hard-fought bills while vacationing in Hawaii, where he has been regrouping with his family since Saturday. The bill signing marks one of Obama’s last official acts in a year beset by a partial government shutdown, a near-default by the Treasury, a calamitous health care rollout and near-perpetual congressional gridlock.
Although the budget deal falls short of the grand bargain that Obama and congressional Republicans once aspired to, it ends the cycle of fiscal brinkmanship — for now — by preventing another shutdown for nearly two more years.
But the rare moment of comity may be short-lived. Hanging over the start of the year is a renewed fight over raising the nation’s borrowing limit, which the Treasury says must be resolved by late February or early March to avert an unprecedented U.S. default. Both sides are positioning behind customary hard-line positions, with Republicans insisting they want concessions before raising the debt limit and Obama insisting he won’t negotiate.
Egyptian security forces escalate crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood
CAIRO — Egypt’s security authorities launched a sweep of arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members on Thursday and warned that holding a leadership post in the group could now be grounds for the death penalty after it was officially declared a terrorist organization, stepping up the government’s confrontation with its top political nemesis.
The announcement came as a bomb exploded in a busy intersection in Cairo Thursday morning, hitting a bus and wounding five people. Though small, the blast raised fears that a campaign of violence by Islamic militants that for months has targeted police and the military could turn to civilians in retaliation for the stepped up crackdown.
Russian probe determines Arafat’s death was natural; not radiation poisoning
MOSCOW — A Russian probe into the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has found that his death wasn’t caused by radiation — a finding that comes after a French probe found traces of the radioactive isotope polonium and a Swiss investigation said the time frame of his illness and death was consistent with that of polonium poisoning.
Vladimir Uiba, the head of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency, said Thursday that Arafat died of natural causes and the agency had no plans to conduct further tests.
Teams of scientists from France, Switzerland and Russia were asked to determine whether polonium, a rare and extremely lethal substance, played a role in Arafat’s death in a French military hospital in 2004.
French experts found traces of polonium but said it was “of natural environmental origin,” according to Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat.
Crews still working but parts of US, Canada remain without power
GARDINER, Maine — By Thursday, Bob and Katrina Johnson had grown weary of lugging around a portable generator to prevent a freezer-load of moose meat from spoiling and to keep Katrina’s mother’s home warm.
The Maine couple spent Christmas Eve at a family member’s home without electricity. Christmas morning found them at their own home without power. And to complete their holiday, they traveled to a third darkened home to exchange gifts that afternoon.
“You have to go with the flow and adapt, and do the best you can,” Katrina Johnson said Thursday, before their power was finally restored. “You learn how to deal with it. Do you like it? No, but you deal with it.”
Utility officials said it could be days longer before power is restored to everyone after a weekend ice storm that turned out the lights from Michigan to Maine and into Canada.
By wire sources