Obama tabs Chicagoan as top U.S. educator
CHICAGO, D.C., Dec. 16 (UPI) -- President-elect Barack Obama Tuesday called on Arne Duncan, a Chicago educator and fellow hoopster, to be his nominee for U.S. Education Secretary.
Duncan, a Harvard-educated administrator who has been superintendent of the Chicago public schools since 2001, is known for lobbying for more funding and smaller classes, while pushing for greater teacher and school accountability.
"But we know that in the long run the path to jobs and growth begins right here, in America's schools, in America's classrooms," Obama said during a news conference at Dodge Renaissance Academy, which Duncan closed because of poor performance and later reopened to success.
The nation needs a new vision that brings teachers, students, administrators and parents to the table, Obama said, and Duncan is the man for the job.
"When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners," Obama said. "For Arne's school reform isn't just a theory in a book, it's the cause of his life."
Under Duncan's leadership, Obama said, "we will bring our education system and our economy into the 21st century, and give all of our kids a chance to succeed."
While many issues will vie for Obama's attention, "I am convinced that no issue is more pressing than education," Duncan said. "Whether it's fighting poverty, strengthening our economy, or promoting opportunity, education is the common thread."
"It is the civil rights issue of our generation," said Duncan, who played professional basketball in Australia, "and it is the one sure path to more equal, fair and just society."
Sources: Obama cramming on intel reports
CHICAGO, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has been boning up on intelligence matters in recent days, holding long sessions with his foreign policy team, sources say.
Typical of his focus on international hot spots was a five-hour Monday meeting in Chicago with National Security Adviser-designate Gen. James Jones, Director of National Intelligence-designate Mike McConnell, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others to discuss problem areas, The New York Times reported.
"(Obama) has been voracious" in seeking out intelligence information on the world's hot spots, engaging in several long meetings both in person and over the telephone with Jones, an unnamed senior adviser told the newspaper.
In recent days, Obama reportedly has studied foreign policy conundrums from around the world, from obscure independence movements in the Western Sahara to whether a planned increase of 20,000 troops in Afghanistan will work.
An unnamed official familiar with a meeting between Obama and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Times: "It struck the chairman very much that the president-elect is working very hard to bring himself up to speed, that he's willing to listen, and to learn as he moves his way through the education process."
Brother: Reporter threw shoes to humiliate
BAGHDAD, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- The brother of the Iraqi journalist who threw two shoes at U.S. President George Bush in Baghdad says his brother wanted to humiliate Bush.
Dhirgham al-Zaidi said the reporter has a loathing for the "material American occupation" and the "moral Iranian occupation," CNN reported Tuesday.
Supporters of reporter Muntadhar al-Zaidi said his stories focus on widows, orphans and children, which may have influenced his feelings toward Bush and the U.S. effort in Iraq.
Muntadhar al-Zaidi's reporting for television station al-Baghdadia was "against the occupation," his brother told CNN. The reporter occasionally would end his stories "from occupied Baghdad," the brother told CNN.
Dhirgham al-Zaidi said he was "shocked" when he saw his brother throw two shoes -- a strong insult in Iraq -- at Bush during a Sunday news conference in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Dhirgham al-Zaidi said he was "proud" of his brother, saying his act was a statement for other Iraqis. Dhirgham al-Zaidi said the shoe-throwing was "Iraq's reaction" to the war and years of U.S. sanctions against Iraq before the war began.
Dynamite found in Paris department store
PARIS, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Five sticks of dynamite found hidden in a Paris department store caused a scare and forced the closure of a busy shopping street Tuesday, witnesses said.
Police said they found the explosives in the 3rd-floor menswear department bathroom of the Printemps store on Paris' busy Boulevard Haussman after receiving a warning from a previously unknown group called the Afghan Revolutionary Front, The Times of London reported.
The letter, calling for the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan by February, said the dynamite would explode if not defused, but police said there was no detonation system to trigger the explosives and called the device "amateurish."
"As far as we can tell, the system was not destined to explode. We are going to find the authors," the French Interior Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie told reporters after meeting with police at the scene.
The Printemps store was evacuated and Boulevard Haussman closed to traffic, causing huge jams in central Paris, The Times reported.
Anti-kidnapping expert kidnapped in Mexico
MEXICO CITY, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- A U.S. kidnapping consultant in Mexico to discuss ways to combat the crime has been kidnapped, officials said.
Felix Batista was abducted last week outside a restaurant in Saltillo in northeast Mexico but news of the kidnapping wasn't reported until Monday, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Batista was in Saltillo to present lectures to area business leaders about kidnapping risks and prevention.
"This kidnapping is as serious as any other kidnapping in Mexico, where, according to official statistics, two people are kidnapped every day," said Maria Elena Morera, president of Mexicans United Against Crime.
Batista is a consultant for ASI Global, a security firm in Houston. Company president Charlie LeBlanc said Batista was in Mexico on his own presenting lectures.
"We have notified the FBI and Mexican authorities, and they are working the case," LeBlanc said, declining to say whether a ransom request has been received.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City declined to comment.
Mexico's human rights ombudsman said Monday that the average daily number of kidnappings is seven, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Weather forecast: Cold, colder
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Frigid Arctic air cut a huge swath from Oregon to the Great Lakes Tuesday, plunging temperatures south of zero a week before winter officially begins.
The Canadian air brought with it bitterly cold temperatures, subzero wind chills and more than 2 feet of snow as it moved across the United States, CNN reported.
In New England, reeling from a massive weekend ice storm that knocked power out to hundreds of thousands of customers, temperatures were forecast to warm back up into the 40s and 50s, WCVB, Boston, reported.
On the West Coast, sub-freezing temperatures were expected to follow heavy rain and snow in Southern California after the first major storm of the season hit Monday, prompting evacuations, triggering a roof collapse and causing at least two traffic deaths, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Temperatures were expected to drop into the 30s throughout the region by late Wednesday, with some places seeing thermometer readings in the 20s, the newspaper said. The Farm Bureau of Ventura County alerted avocado and citrus growers to prepare their crops for freezing conditions.
The National Weather Service issued a warning of potential coastal flooding in Seal Beach, Sunset Beach and parts of San Diego County, the Times said. Counties in middle Tennessee were under an ice storm warning Tuesday, but also were expected to emerge from the warning by Tuesday afternoon as temperatures were forecast to reach in the 40s, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported.