Here's what's happening across the United States and around the world today.
Mother makes emotional appeal to Japanese prime minister to save son as death threat looms
TOKYO (AP) — The mother of a Japanese hostage held by Islamic State group extremists appealed publicly to Japan's leader to save her son Wednesday after his captors purportedly issued what they said was a final death threat.
U.S. & World
Stories that affect your life across the U.S. and around the world.
Junko Ishido, mother of journalist Kenji Goto, read to reporters her plea to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which she said she sent after both Abe and the main government spokesmen declined to meet with her because their schedules were full.
"Please save Kenji's life," Ishido said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian government until the very end to try to save Goto.
"Kenji has only a little time left," she said.
The effort to free Goto and a captured Jordanian pilot, Lt. Mu'ath al-Kaseasbeh, gained urgency with the release of an apparent ultimatum late Tuesday from the Islamic State group.
'I had to jump out the window:' New England digs out as the spared 2nd-guess the forecast
BOSTON (AP) — New Englanders savaged by a blizzard packing knee-high snowfall and hurricane-force winds began digging out as New Yorkers and others spared its full fury questioned whether forecasts were overblown.
The storm buried the Boston area in more than 2 feet of snow and lashed it with howling winds that exceeded 70 mph. It punched a gaping hole in a seawall and swamped a vacant home in Marshfield, Massachusetts, and flipped a 110-foot replica of a Revolutionary War ship in Newport, Rhode Island, snapping its mast and puncturing its hull.
"I had to jump out the window because the door only opens one way," Chuck Beliveau said in the hard-hit central Massachusetts town of Westborough. "I felt like a kid again. When I was a kid, we'd burrow through snow drifts like moles."
But signs of normalcy emerged: Flights were to resume at dawn Wednesday at Logan International Airport, among the nation's busiest air hubs, and Boston's public transit and Amtrak trains to New York and Washington were set to roll again.
Bitter cold threatened to complicate efforts to clear clogged streets and restore power to more than 15,000 customers shivering in the dark, including the entire island of Nantucket. A 78 mph wind gust was reported there, and a 72 mph one on neighboring Martha's Vineyard.
Strict NYC storm regulations enacted by Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio could be the new normal.
NEW YORK (AP) — They appeared to be scenes from a frozen apocalypse.
Streets across the nation's largest city were empty, the only movement the changing traffic lights signaling to cars that weren't there. The subway system was shuttered, the city's pulse rendered still. Hardy souls who braved the snow were threatened with fines or arrest.
And it could be the new normal.
Though the snowstorm largely missed New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio staunchly defended their unprecedented, stringent restrictions, both saying they believed in landing on the side of caution and suggesting they would take such measures again.
"Would you rather be ahead of the action or behind? Would you rather be prepared or unprepared? Would you rather be safe or unsafe?" de Blasio asked Tuesday at City Hall. "To me it was a no-brainer: we had to take precautions to keep people safe."
Human smugglers turn to cargo ships for Syrian refugees seeking better lives in Europe
ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER TYR (AP) — The crew was about to dig into dinner when word of the "ghost ship" came through: a freighter hurtling out of control toward Italy with no crew — and hundreds of Syrians as cargo.
The cattle freighter — its animal pens crammed with families — was on a collision course with the Italian coast, and the refugee who had phoned authorities from on board said the cabin's controls were jammed. The Tyr changed course and set off on a race against time.
The rescue operation by the Icelandic cutter Tyr was one of the most perilous in a string of high-seas dramas that point to a new modus operandi among smugglers who send migrants across the Mediterranean. Gangs buy scrapyard-bound cargo ships over the Internet and pack them with Syrians willing to pay top dollar to flee their ravaged homeland. The ships are then pointed toward Europe and abandoned, the migrants' fate hanging between shipwreck and rescue.
Until recently, most migrants paid several hundred dollars for a trip aboard an old fishing boat, dinghy or speedboat. Hundreds of men, women and children perish every year in those voyages when their unseaworthy vessels capsize in stormy seas.
The war in Syria, which has driven more than 3 million people into flight, has offered a new, lucrative opportunity for smugglers. Comparatively well-off refugees are able to pay higher prices for passage on bigger, safer ships from the far eastern Mediterranean directly to Italy, from where they then cross overland to central and northern European countries.
Apple's fortunes depend on iPhones now, but what will it do next?
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Apple CEO Tim Cook says consumer demand for new iPhones has been "staggering" and "hard to comprehend." That helped the company report record-smashing earnings for its latest quarter and primed its stock for a rally Wednesday.
But after selling a record 74.5 million iPhones in three months that ended in December, what can Apple do next?
Some analysts worry that Apple depends too much on the iPhone, which contributes two-thirds of its sizable revenue — leaving the company vulnerable if some other gadget comes along to replace the iPhone in popularity. Cook and Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri, however, say they're optimistic about other products in Apple's portfolio.
Senate hearings to begin on Loretta Lynch, who would be first black female attorney general
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch, is facing Senate questioners as she seeks to become the first black woman to hold the nation's top law enforcement job.
In the first Republican-led confirmation session of the Obama administration, Lynch was to appear Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee as it opens two days of hearings on her nomination.
Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, would replace Eric Holder, who announced his resignation last fall after leading the Justice Department for six years.
She already has earned praise from several GOP senators for her impressive credentials and accomplishments, and is widely expected to win confirmation. But first she will face tough questions from Republicans who now control the Senate. The hearing gives them an opportunity to press their opposition to Obama administration policies while showcasing their own governing roles as the 2016 presidential election cycle gets underway.
Holder was a lightning rod for conservative criticism and clashed continuously with Republicans, becoming the first sitting attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress. Republicans want to hear Lynch pledge that she'll do things differently.
Case of 14-year-old Palestinian girl in Israeli prison for hurling rocks at cars stirs anger
BETIN, West Bank (AP) — The fate of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl, tried before an Israeli military court for hurling rocks at passing cars in the West Bank and sentenced to two months in prison, has gripped Palestinians who say her treatment demonstrates Israel's excessive measures against stone-throwing youth.
Malak al-Khatib, arrested last month, is one of only a rare few female Palestinian minors who have ever faced arrest and sentencing by Israeli authorities.
"A 14-year-old girl won't pose any threat to soldiers' lives," said her father, Ali al-Khatib. "They are well equipped and well trained so what kind of threat could she have posed to them?"
The Israeli military said al-Khatib was charged with stone-throwing, attempted stone-throwing and possession of a knife and that under a plea bargain, she was sentenced to two months in prison and a $1,500 fine.
Having spent four weeks in detention, al-Khatib has another four left weeks left at a central Israeli prison for women.
Israel fires artillery rounds into Lebanon after anti-tank missile strikes military vehicle
JERUSALEM (AP) — An anti-tank missile hit an Israeli military vehicle near the Israeli-Lebanese border on Wednesday, the Israeli military said. Lebanese security officials said Israel later fired at least 35 artillery shells into Lebanon.
The exchange sent tensions soaring around the volatile boundary. The military did not immediately report any casualties, and said residents of the area have been ordered to remain in their homes.
Communities along the two countries' shared border have been on edge since last week, when an airstrike attributed to Israel on Syria's Golan Heights killed six Hezbollah soldiers and an Iranian general. It was not immediately clear whether Wednesday's incident was retaliation for that airstrike.
The Shiite militant Lebanese group — a top suspect to have been behind the missile — said it had no immediate comment.
Wednesday's attack took place near Mount Dov and Shebaa Farms, a disputed tract of land where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet.
Govt tells immigration agents to identify immigrants who shouldn't be arrested, deported
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has ordered immigration agents to ask immigrants they encounter living in the country illegally whether they might qualify under President Barack Obama's plans to avoid deporting them, according to internal training materials obtained by The Associated Press.
Agents also have been told to review government files to identify any jailed immigrants they might be able to release under the program.
The directives from the Homeland Security Department mark an unusual change for U.S. immigration enforcement, placing the obligation on the government for identifying immigrants who might qualify for lenient treatment. Previously, it was the responsibility of immigrants or their lawyers to assert that they might qualify under rules that could keep them out of jail and inside the United States.
It's akin to the Internal Revenue Service calling taxpayers to recommend they should have used certain exemptions or deductions.
The training materials apply to agents for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They instruct agents "to immediately begin identifying persons in their custody, as well as newly encountered persons" who may be eligible for protection from deportation.
If court kills health care subsidies, most in poll want Congress to restore financial aid
WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 6 in 10 Americans would want Congress to restore federal financial assistance for millions buying health care coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law if the Supreme Court invalidates some of those government subsidies, a poll said Wednesday.
The finding by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that a complicated political landscape might await Republicans, who want to repeal and replace the law, should the court annul a crucial part of it later this year.
The court will hear arguments in March in a case that will decide whether Obama's 2010 law allows federal subsidies only in states that have established their own health insurance marketplaces, and not in states whose markets are run by Washington's HealthCare.gov. The federal government runs the marketplace in 37 states.
The court's decision is expected in June.
Should the court strike down the subsidies, Obama and Congress would have to decide what to do. Administration officials have sidestepped questions about their next move. Congressional leaders have made no decisions, but groups of top lawmakers in both the House and Senate have started considering options.
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