Nation Briefs 02-07-14 Obama launching program to boost farm, rural exports

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is launching a new program to help American farmers and rural businesses boost their exports.

Obama plans to announce the "Made in Rural America" initiative Friday at Michigan State University. The president is visiting the school to sign into law a sweeping farm bill that sets policy for agricultural programs and food stamps.

He's coupling the signing of the nearly $1 billion-a-year legislation with the announcement of the new administration program to connect rural businesses with federal resources that can help sell their products and services abroad. The program's creation comes as U.S. farmers are sending more products overseas -- a record $140.9 billion in the last fiscal year -- but U.S. officials say additional opportunities exist overseas for farmers and other rural business owners.

According to a draft of his plan obtained by Associated Press, Obama plans to direct federal agencies to take several steps in the next nine months toward that goal. They include hosting five regional forums for rural businesses, training Agriculture Department staff in all 50 states to advise on export opportunities, and putting on a national conference to highlight successful projects.

No suspects or arrests: Federal investigators have joined the search for a 5-day-old infant who disappeared from a bassinette at a home in southern Wisconsin. The baby's 18-year-old mother called 911 after waking about 4:30 a.m. Thursday to find that her son, Kayden Powell, was missing from his bassinette in a room where she was sleeping at a home in the Town of Beloit, authorities said. Police said Thursday night that about 40 officers from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were working on the case, but no suspects have been identified and no have been arrests made.

Obama cites religious freedom: President Barack Obama told a non-denominational gathering of political leaders Thursday that freedom of religion across the world is important to national security and is a central tenet of U.S. diplomacy. Speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Obama cast his message as an international call for human rights, singling out countries that he said have fallen short, particularly when it comes to extending protections and freedoms to all faiths. He said some of that diplomacy is not comfortable, especially when dealing with nations that are strategically and economically important to the United States, such as China.

Looking at McMorris Rodgers: The House Ethics Committee is considering an investigation of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, the fourth-ranking member of House Republican leadership, committee officials said Thursday. Separately, the House Ethics Committee also announced it would consider an investigation of Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla. McMorris Rodgers delivered the Republican response to President Barack Obama's latest State of the Union address.

Launch pad nearly complete: Johns Hopkins institute's website, 38 North, said an upgrade of North Korea's main rocket launch pad could be complete by April, meaning it would be ready for new launches. The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies says new satellite imagery shows modifications underway at the west coast Sohae site mean it could eventually accommodate rockets 50 meters long. North Korea is not thought to have such a large rocket, but in December 2012 it launched into space the 30-meter-long Unha-3. The U.S. viewed that as a worrying sign of the North's development of ballistic missile technology.

New rules would ensure safety: The Food and Drug Administration is laying out new requirements to ensure the safety of infant formula. The rules announced Thursday are designed to make sure that formula manufacturers test their products for salmonella and other pathogens before they are distributed.

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