Nation & World Briefs 02-28-13 Lew to start at Treasury a day before big budget cuts are set to take off


WASHINGTON -- Jacob Lew is scheduled to be sworn in today as Treasury secretary and will have to hit the ground running.

He is taking over the job just a day before huge automatic government spending cuts are set to take effect. He's likely to be involved with any negotiations to reverse the cuts, and also in budget talks next month to continue funding the government.

The Senate confirmed Lew late Wednesday, affirming President Barack Obama's choice of a budget expert at a time when Congress and the White House are at odds over spending and taxes.

"At this critical time for our economy and our country, there is no one more qualified for this position than Jack," Obama said in a statement issued after the Senate vote. "His reputation as a master of fiscal issues who can work with leaders on both sides of the aisle has already helped him succeed in some of the toughest jobs in Washington."

The vote was 71 to 26 to support the nomination. Voting against Lew's confirmation were 25 Republicans and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont

Schwarzkopf to be buried at West Point: Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the no-nonsense Desert Storm commander famously nicknamed "Stormin' Norman," will be buried at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. A memorial service for Schwarzkopf will be held at the academy's chapel this afternoon and his remains will be buried afterward at the cemetery on the grounds of the storied military institution. Schwarzkopf commanded the U.S.-led international coalition that drove Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait in 1991. He was 78 when he died in Tampa on Dec. 27 of complications from pneumonia.

Congress set to OK bill: Calling a truce in partisan battles, Congress appears ready to approve a bill that expands the nation's primary law on protecting women from domestic violence. The Republican-led House today is expected to first reject its own attempt to renew the Violence Against Women Act before voting for a more ambitious bill that passed the Senate two weeks ago. With that, President Barack Obama will sign into law the reauthorization of the 1994 law that laid the foundation for federal efforts to better protect women, and some men, from domestic abuse.

Black holes incredibly fast: There's a new spin on supermassive black holes: They're incredibly fast, astronomers say. It's long been suspected that gigantic black holes lurking in the heart of galaxies rotate faster and grow larger as they feast on gas, dust, stars and matter. But there hasn't been a reliable measurement of the spin rate of a black hole until now. While black holes are difficult to detect, the region around them gives off telltale X-rays. Using NASA's newly launched NuStar telescope and the European Space Agency's workhorse XMM-Newton, an international team observed high-energy X-rays released by a supermassive black hole in the middle of a nearby galaxy. They calculated its spin at close to the speed of light -- 670 million mph.

Bloomberg donating $100M: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged $100 million to help the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others to fight polio around the world. The Seattle-based Gates Foundation said Bloomberg was set to announce the donation to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative on Thursday. That organization has a six-year plan to eliminate polio. Polio is a vaccine-preventable disease that has been eradicated in most countries, but it still causes paralysis or death in some parts of the world, including Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. India was declared polio free in early 2012. Fewer than 225 people had polio in 2012, the Gates Foundation said.

Wonder bread may be back soon: Wonder bread could start appearing in school lunchboxes again soon. A person familiar with the situation says a bid by Flowers Foods to buy Wonder and several other bread brands from bankrupt Hostess was met with no qualifying competing offers. The individual requested anonymity because the auction process is private. Hostess hasn't been making any of its cakes and breads since late November, when the company announced it was going out of business and closed its plants following years of financial struggles. The shuttering included the loss of about 18,000 jobs.

Recommendation expected next week: Experts at the Federal Aviation Administration are expected to say next week whether they recommend accepting Boeing's plan to fix its troubled 787 Dreamliners so the planes can resume flying, administrator Michael Huerta said Wednesday. Officials in the FAA office near Seattle that certifies new planes as safe for flight are reviewing a Boeing proposal to revamp the 787's lithium ion batteries to prevent them from catching fire, or to protect the plane in case of fire, Huerta said. Once he receives their evaluation, it's still up to Huerta to decide whether to accept the plan. He declined to say when he might make that decision, or how long it might be before the planes are back in the air.

Explains battery fix proposal: Boeing CEO Ray Conner met with Japan's transport minister and other officials in Tokyo today to explain his company's proposal for resolving problems with the 787 Dreamliner's lithium-ion batteries that have kept the aircraft grounded for over a month. Conner met with Akihiro Ota, who heads the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and with the director general of the Civil Aviation Bureau, to explain the proposed solution to the problem of the batteries overheating.

Poland finds horse meat DNA: Poland's Deputy National Veterinarian Janusz Zwiazek said that traces of horse meat DNA have been found in beef samples taken from three meat processors -- the first acknowledgement that the country could be a source of the horse meat that fraudulently ended up in processed meat products sold as beef across Europe. Zwiazek said Thursday that the DNA was found in three samples out of 121 tested. They came from plants in central Poland. Some 80 more samples are to be tested. Zwiazek told Associated Press that all three cases have been reported to the prosecutors.

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