Obama plugs new programs for construction
MIAMI, March 29 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama focused on economic issues Friday, urging Congress to pass tax incentives and spending proposals to lure investment in U.S. infrastructure.
Standing under sunny skies at the Port of Miami Terminal, Obama said there is work to be done on the nation's infrastructure and workers ready to do it.
"Let's prove to the world there's no better place to do business than right here in the United States of America and let's get started rebuilding America," he told the crowd after he toured a joint public-private construction project building a tunnel beneath the channel to link the port to major highways.
Obama recalled his State of the Union call to rebuild the nation's infrastructure so America is more attractive for businesses.
Obama's "Rebuild America Partnership" will bring together new and existing policies aimed at "enhancing the role of private capital in U.S. infrastructure investment as a vital additive to the traditional roles of federal, state and local governments, making American workers and businesses more competitive and putting more Americans back on the job," the White House said in a fact sheet.
Obama called on Congress to enact a National Infrastructure Bank, based on a model that had bipartisan support in the Senate in the past, funded with $10 billion that would leverage private and public capital and invest in infrastructure projects that would be awarded "not pork-barrel politics" but on based on "how much good they'll actually do for the economy [and] how much the projects make sense."
He said his new America Fast Forward Bonds program expands the Build America Bonds program to include projects that can be financed with qualified private activity bonds while also making the combined program more flexible. He said the nation must build on the success of two grant programs that were part of the Recovery Act, and proposed $4 million in new funding for both programs.
The cost for the three programs would be about $21 billion, the White House said.
The White House said the Miami port tunnel project has created work for 500 employees and more than 6,000 contractors and subcontractors.
"We can do this not just here," Obama said, "we can do this all across the country."
Before Obama's visit to Miami, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican said the president should reimburse Florida for its port projects.
"We're certainly glad President Obama is coming to the Port of Miami ... but he's late to the party," Scott, who is running for re-election, told reporters in a conference call Thursday.
The White House said it funded a $340 million loan to help finance the port tunnel project and a $23 million grant to restore freight rail service between the port and the Florida East Coast Railway, which provides intermodal shipping-container transportation.
Young apologizes for 'wetback' comment
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, March 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, following withering criticism from Republican leaders, apologized Friday for using the term "wetback."
"I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska," Young, 79, said in a statement posted on his official website. "There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words. That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it, should be left in the 20th century, and I'm sorry that this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform."
Young, in an interview that aired Thursday, referred to Latino workers on his family farm as "wetbacks." In an initial statement issued within hours of the interview being aired, he said he "meant no disrespect" but stopped short of apologizing.
"During a sit-down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio this week, I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California," Young said then. "I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect."
During the radio interview on immigration reform, Young said he feared the United States had shipped off too many agricultural industry jobs and noted automation and technological advances have reduced the number of labor positions available.
"My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes," he said. "It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement on his website: "Congressman Young's remarks were offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds. I don't care why he said it -- there's no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology."
"Migrant workers come to America looking for opportunity and a way to provide a better life for their families," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the Senate minority whip, said in a statement.
"They do not come to this country to hear ethnic slurs and derogatory language from elected officials," he said.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tweeted: "Don Young's comments were offensive and have no place in our Party or in our nation's discourse. He should apologize immediately."
"The words used by Representative Young emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. "Offensive language and ethnic slurs have no place in our public discourse."
The incident came less than two weeks after Priebus announced a $10 million outreach initiative to improve the party's standing among voters, particular minorities.
Young has been Alaska's House representative since 1973. He faces an ethics investigation on charges he improperly accepted gifts.
North Korea puts rocket forces on standby
PYONGYANG, North Korea, March 29 (UPI) -- North Korea's leader Friday ordered military officials on standby to "strike any time" against U.S. and South Korean targets, official media reported.
The Yonhap News Agency quoted the North's Korean Central News Agency as saying the Communist country's leader, Kim Jong Un, "convened an urgent operation meeting on the Korean People's Army's Strategic Rocket Force's performance of duty for firepower strike at the Supreme Command."
"He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea," KCNA said.
The announcement came a day after two U.S. B-2 Spirit stealth bombers flew non-stop practice missions from their base in Missouri to the Korean Peninsula, a distance of 6,500 miles, and back in a show of U.S. commitment to its Asia-Pacific allies.
North Korean media quoted Kim as saying the stealth bomber practice mission was a U.S. ultimatum to ignite a nuclear war at any cost and said Kim "declared the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name] would react to the U.S. nuclear blackmail with merciless nuclear attack, and war of aggression with an all-out war of justice."
During a bombing drill over the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. B-2 stealth bombers, with their radar-evading capability, dropped "inert munitions on the Jik [islet] Do Range" and returned "to the continental U.S. in a single, continuous mission," said a statement carried on the website of the U.S. Forces in Korea.
A South Korean official told Yonhap that while the B-2 stealth bombing exercise was a routine part of the current U.S.-South Korean military drills, "we take First Chairman Kim's order as a step to respond to this [exercise]."
The isolated, impoverished Communist country's anger has reached a feverish pitch since the U.N. Security Council tightened its sanctions following its December long-range missile test and its February nuclear test, its third since 2006, observers said.
Refugees pushing aid services past limits
BEIRUT, Lebanon, March 29 (UPI) -- The United Nations says it is supplying aid to nearly 400,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, exceeding forecasts, and local communities are strained.
Aid groups now expect the number of new arrivals to exceed the 500,000 that had been projected to flee Syria for Lebanon by this summer, The (Beirut) Daily Star reported Friday.
Funding to help the refugees is far below what is necessary, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says in a report.
Lebanese cities continue to receive refugees, the report said, but their hospitality "is becoming increasingly strained by their limited resources and the increasing rate of new arrivals."
Refugees looking for work have pushed unemployment up while driving wages down, the report said.