Saturday, March 13, 2010

360 News Briefs

Senate, Obama Spar Over Health Plan's Pet Projects

President Obama says he wants projects helping specific states yanked from the health care bill Congress is writing. Democratic senators, being senators, beg to differ. 

The Senate-approved health measure lawmakers hope to send to Obama soon would steer $600 million over the next decade to Vermont in added federal payments for Medicaid and nearly as much to Massachusetts. 

Connecticut would get $100 million to build a hospital. About 800,000 Florida seniors could keep certain Medicare benefits. Asbestos-disease victims in tiny Libby, Mont., and some coal miners with black lung disease or their widows would get help, and there are prizes for Louisiana, the Dakotas and more states. 

Obama's proposal to eliminate state-specific items comes with polls finding heightened public opposition to backroom political deals. Republicans have been happy to fan that discontent. Many Democrats, particularly House moderates facing tight re-election battles this fall, are eager to dissociate themselves from such spending. 

The president wants votes from House Democrats "who were deeply offended by those provisions in the Senate bill," said Sheryl Skolnick, who analyzes federal health legislation for CRT Capital Group of Stamford, Conn. "Clearly the math was, 'I gain more in the House by taking out those provisions than I lose in the Senate.'" 

Obama has railed against the "ugly process" of cutting special deals, but the president and his top advisers were prime players in negotiations on the agreements to win votes and push the legislation forward. 

Republicans say Obama's push to remove deals for states won't help. Because every Democratic senator voted for that chamber's bill and all its special provisions, even voting later to remove them leaves those Democrats in a pickle, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Friday.

China To US: Do More On Climate Change

China told the United States on Wednesday to make stronger commitments on climate change and provide environmental expertise and financing to developing nations. 

At the same time, China said its own efforts to reduce energy intensity have been hampered by its economic recovery in the latter part of last year, which brought growth in heavy energy-consuming industries. 

China's top climate change negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, acknowledged the current U.S. administration's greater stress on greenhouse gas reductions, but said its pledges thus far fall short of expectations. 

President Obama has struggled to gain passage of a bill that would commit the United States to reducing greenhouse gases by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and to paying a "fair share" into a fund to help developing countries deal with climate change. 

China, the world's largest emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, has said it will cut its "carbon intensity" - a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of production - by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. 

2 Months Later, Housing Still Elusive In Haiti

Trash and sewage are piling up at the squalid tent camps that hundreds of thousands have called home since Haiti's devastating earthquake - and with torrential rains expected any day, authorities are not even close to providing the shelters they promised. 

Two months since the Jan. 12 quake, the government has yet to relocate a single person, despite a pledge that people would be moving into resettlement areas by early February. 

Aid groups say they're ready to build but don't have the land. Government officials insist they are making progress on finding sites in closed-door negotiations with private landowners. 

But time is running out for 600,000 people living under tarps, tents or simply bed sheets as the rainy season has the makings of a second major crisis. Heavy rains typically start around April 1 and there already have been deadly floods to the west of the earthquake zone. 

Haiti doesn't have the money and will have to turn to an international community wary of providing funding directly to a government long associated with corruption. On Friday, Venezuela pledged $100 million in aid for Haiti to be used for housing and agriculture, as well as repairing hospitals and schools. 

Study: Hearts May Swoon When Stocks Do

A study at a major medical center suggests more heart attacks may have occurred as stock prices crashed at the start of the recession. 

Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina tallied heart attacks treated at their hospital and compared the numbers with the Nasdaq stock index from January 2008 through July 2009, when the economy started to recover. As stocks dipped, heart attacks rose. The trend weakened once they took into account seasons of the year, however, because heart attacks are more common in winter. 

However, other experts say the issue is worth studying nationwide because stress can lead to heart attacks. 

The study was released Saturday at an American College of Cardiology conference in Atlanta.

Stolen Sarcophagus Returns To Egypt From US

A 3,000-year-old wooden sarcophagus confiscated at the Miami airport was returned to Egypt Saturday, as the antiquities chief pressed forward with his campaign to recover Egypt's stolen heritage. 

The brightly painted sarcophagus dates back to the 21st Dynasty (1070-945 B.C.) and belonged to a noble called Imesy, a Culture Ministry statement said. 

Customs officials at Miami International Airport seized the coffin in October 2008 from a shipment coming from Spain after the importer could not present proper documentation to prove ownership. 

An investigation found the coffin had been stolen from Egypt 126 years ago and taken to Spain before it was shipped to the U.S. 

Egypt's antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, led a legal campaign to have the coffin returned in November 2009 and the importer dropped its claim. 

Hawass traveled to Washington on Wednesday to receive the sarcophagus and bring it back to Cairo. 

Hawass announced in Saturday's statement that Egypt will also take back a number of other antiquities illegally shipped to the U.S. The items, which are now being held in New York, include wooden coffins, pottery and ancient art pieces. 

Thousands of antiquities were spirited out of the country during Egypt's colonial period and afterward by archaeologists, adventurers and thieves. 

Hawass has made recovering the stolen artifacts the centerpiece of his tenure as antiquities chief. 

In one of his most high-profile efforts, Hawass has formally demanded the return of the bust of Queen Nefertiti from a Berlin museum after he received documents he says back his claim the statue is there illegally. 

The museum has refused to return the 3,300-year-old limestone bust. 

Hawass said last year that the director of Berlin's Egyptian Museum presented documents revealing that the German excavator of the statue drew up fraudulent papers to take it out of Egypt in 1913.

AP;  BBC World; Duke University/American College of Cardiology; Egypt Culture Ministry

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