Around the World: December 12, 2014

Here's what's happening across the United States and around the world today.

Senate to take up big $1.1T spending bill, which passed House after White House rescue effort

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's now up to the Senate to pass a huge $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep the government running, but not before a battle between old school veterans and new breed freshmen such as tea partier Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren, a liberal with a national following.

The smart money's on old school types such as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The measure passed the House on Thursday after a day of drama but by a relatively comfortable 219-206 vote. The vote came after GOP leaders sent the House into a seven-hour recess to give the White House time to lobby Democrats angry that the measure weakens rules on trading risky financial products known as derivatives and allows wealthy donors to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into political parties.

In the end, 57 House Democrats voted for the bill, including two of the party's top three leaders.

Democrats argued that there was too much good in the bill to scuttle it and get a worse deal next year when Republicans seize control of the Senate.

"Hold your nose and make this a better world," Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., said.

In battle over torture report, senator and CIA chief renew their history of bitter spats

WASHINGTON (AP) — Their disputes over who spied on whom and censoring the Senate's scathing torture report are history. But the personal feud between Sen. Dianne Feinstein and CIA Director John Brennan may only be getting worse.

Relations between the outgoing Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman and America's top spy appeared to hit a new low Thursday as Feinstein live-tweeted comments contradicting Brennan as he publicly addressed her panel's sweeping allegations of CIA wrongdoing. While Feinstein later praised Brennan for accepting many of her inquiry's conclusions, the damage was done.

"(hash)ReadTheReport" was the refrain from Feinstein as Brennan held a rare news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. She berated the CIA chief for suggesting, contrary to her report, that the agency's "enhanced interrogation techniques" were legal and may have helped lead to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Brennan acknowledged CIA officers did "abhorrent" things and were unprepared to run a detention program after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Yet he was hardly praiseworthy of Feinstein and fellow Democrats, calling it "lamentable" they interviewed no CIA personnel to ask, "What were you thinking?" He called the investigation "flawed."

For the two main protagonists in this week's drama, bickering is nothing new.

Black sororities, fraternities take differing approaches to members for Brown, Garner protests

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Recent protests against the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown have created a conundrum for the nation's black fraternities and sororities: to remain relevant in the black community they need to be involved, but protect their reputations if demonstrations go awry.

The competing pressures were exemplified last weekend when black Greek members and alumni participated in lay down protests across the country and two sororities asked their members not to wear their letters during the demonstrations so as not to embarrass them.

Many of the nine historically Black Greek organizations — known collectively as "The Divine Nine" — were born out of the nation's racial conflict. Founded on college campuses in the early 1900s when black students faced racial prejudice and exclusion that barred them from already existing fraternities and sororities, a century later they are wrestling with their role in the most recent protests.

There was a time when the black Greek organizations were in the forefront of the civil rights struggles, but those days have faded into memory, said Gregory Parks, an assistant professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

"These organizations, whether you're talking about the fraternities or sororities, do indeed have a direct or indirect impact on African-Americans' quest for social equality throughout the 20th century," Parks said. But recently "these organizations' voices have been absent in assertive fashion around racial justice and social equality."

'Pineapple Express' sweeps into Southern California after powerful wind, rain pound the north

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A dangerous storm that flooded Northern California freeways, kept thousands from work and school, and forced scores of evacuations moved into the southern part of the state, spreading light showers in the Los Angeles area that will intensify as Friday progresses.

Rain began falling on parts of the San Fernando Valley late Thursday night, and powerful winds that were pushing the storm southward caused power outages for thousands around Santa Barbara and other parts of the coast.

Precautionary evacuations brought on by fear of mudslides began at 10 p.m. in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora, where the foothills were stripped bare by a major wildfire earlier this year.

Forecasters predicted winds would pick up speed as the storm moved further south.

Denise George, who sells boats in Marina Del Rey, said that was her main worry.

After nearly 9 years in office, Netanyahu faces a slew of challengers who want him gone

JERUSALEM (AP) — With elections on the horizon, the greatest obstacle standing between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a return to high office could be Netanyahu himself.

A slew of challengers, including some of his traditional supporters, are taking aim at the longtime Israeli leader, saying that after nearly nine years in office, it is time for a new face at the top.

Although opinion polls still make Netanyahu the frontrunner, "Bibi fatigue" is shaping up to be a key issue during the upcoming three-month campaign.

His approval numbers are dropping fast and, for the first time, a newly formed opposition alliance is inching past his Likud party in the polls as the largest parliamentary faction. While that does not guarantee an opposition victory, it is cause for concern for the longtime Israeli leader.

"There is definitely a sense that people want to see a change," Danny Danon, a Likud lawmaker who is running against Netanyahu internally, told The Associated Press. "I hear these voices and I am troubled by the next elections and the coalition that could follow."

When Netanyahu dissolved his unwieldy coalition and called new elections last week, he appeared to be a lock for re-election, thanks to his unrivaled experience and a dearth of challengers. He seemed such a sure bet that his move was seen as a tactical decision to guarantee himself a fourth term.

End of a railway romance: Sleeper trains linking Berlin, Paris fall victim to budget flights

BERLIN (AP) — Commuters jostle on and off their gleaming high-speed trains at Berlin's main railway station on a cold December morning, but one platform stays stubbornly empty. Finally, a grimy engine draws in, pulling carriages that look like they saw their best days in the 1980s.

It's the sleeper train from Paris, 20 minutes late. But none of the dozen passengers who tumble out with heavy bags and rucksacks seems to mind. It's the last stop on a long journey, much as it will soon be for the train itself.

German railway company Deutsche Bahn is ending the sleeper service between Paris and Berlin this week, citing unsustainable losses. The service has been running since before World War II, and used to go all the way to Moscow.

Fierce competition from budget airlines has lured passengers away from night trains that were once a mainstay of cross-border travel in Europe, explains Deutsche Bahn spokeswoman Susanne Schulz.

"Demand has dropped by 30 percent over the past decade because of the sinking cost of airline tickets," Schulz told The Associated Press.

Traffic in Hong Kong business district resumes after police demolish pro-democracy protest

HONG KONG (AP) — Traffic was back to normal Friday in Hong Kong's financial district after authorities demolished a protest camp at the heart of the city's 2 ½-month pro-democracy movement.

Hundreds of police officers, some armed with chain saws and bolt cutters, on Thursday methodically dismantled barricades, tore down canopies and removed banners in a daylong operation to shut the protest site sprawled across a normally busy highway.

Police said 249 people were arrested for unlawful assembly and obstructing police officers, bringing the total number of those detained since the movement began 75 days earlier to about 900.

There were no violent clashes seen in previous confrontations. The student-led protesters had occupied streets in the Admiralty neighborhood and two other areas since Sept. 28 to protest Beijing's restrictions on the first election of the city's top leader.

"It's now convenient for everybody, but I also feel very unfortunate that we can't argue with the government," said Ngai Tsui-kuen, a courier.

Christmas tree shopping experience ranges from affordable adventure to costly convenience

WATERVILLE VALLEY, N.H. (AP) — Some U.S. consumers are going over the Internet or through the woods to find fresh Christmas trees this year, taking advantage of shopping options at opposite ends of the cost spectrum.

In one camp are thrifty folks paying as little as $5 for trees they harvest themselves from national forests. In the other are consumers willing to spend significantly more on trees they order online and have shipped to their doors.

New Hampshire offers both options: the U.S. Forest Service provides permits for cut-your-own Christmas trees in the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, while several of the state's farms ship trees all over the country.

Chris Proulx, 39, of Conway snagged a tree from the forest the weekend after Thanksgiving and set it up on his porch. On the advice of a forest ranger, he and his family trekked about half a mile into the woods to a clearing where they hoped to find young balsam firs, keeping an eye out for "back up" trees along the way.

Finding a good tree was a challenge, Proulx said. But in the end, it wasn't about the tree. He compares it to taking his kids fishing in Swift River that runs through the forest in the summer.

Washington Post photojournalist du Cille, 3-time Pulitzer winner, dies in Liberia at age 58

WASHINGTON (AP) — Photojournalist Michel du Cille, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner who recently captured compelling images of Ebola patients and their caretakers, died in Liberia while on assignment for The Washington Post. He was 58.

Executive Editor Martin Baron sent a statement to the newspaper staff informing them of du Cille's death. Baron called du Cille "a beloved colleague and one of the world's most accomplished photographers."

The Post ( ) reported du Cille collapsed Thursday while returning on foot from a Liberian village where he'd been working on an assignment. He was taken over dirt roads to a hospital two hours away and was declared dead of an apparent heart attack.

Du Cille won two Pulitzer Prizes as a photographer with the Miami Herald in the 1980s shared a third in 2008 as a reporter with the Post — an investigative public service series on the treatment of veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who were returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. He also spent several years as The Post's director of photography and an assistant managing editor.

Among his assignments was coverage of civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. He returned to West Africa this year to cover the Ebola outbreak, sometimes wearing heavy rubber gloves as he took the pictures of the patients.

Arizona QB Drew Stanton hurt, Cardinals beat Rams 12-6 to move closer to playoff spot

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Bruce Arians was sick and tired of talk about the St. Louis Rams' consecutive shutouts.

The Arizona Cardinals, their coach boasted, were much better on that side of the ball.

With the exception of rookie Aaron Donald's sack that injured quarterback Drew Stanton's right knee, "They were not near our quarterback," Arians said after a 12-6 victory Thursday night moved the Cardinals closer to clinching a playoff spot. "Everybody talking all that stuff about how great their defense is, they saw a good defense tonight. It was in red and white."

For the second straight meeting against St. Louis, the Cardinals (11-3) lost a quarterback.
"I'm glad we don't have to play the Rams anymore," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

That's what's happening. Read more stories to jump start your day in our special Breakfast Buzz section.

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