Nation roundup for March 6
Senate panel OKs nominee for CIA
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Tuesday to approve President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the CIA after winning a behind-the-scenes battle with the White House over access to a series of top-secret legal opinions that justify the use of lethal drone strikes against terror suspects, including American citizens.
John Brennan’s installation at the spy agency has been delayed as Senate Democrats and Republicans have pressed the Obama administration to allow a review of the classified documents prepared by the Justice Department.
The senators have argued they can’t perform adequate oversight without reviewing the contents of the opinions, but the White House had resisted requests for full disclosure.
The intelligence committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement Tuesday that the committee voted 12-3 to send Brennan’s nomination to the full Senate for confirmation. The panel’s deliberations were held behind closed doors.
Nullify pot laws, ex-DEA heads say
CHICAGO (AP) — Eight former U.S. drug chiefs warned the federal government Tuesday that time is running out to nullify Colorado and Washington’s new laws legalizing recreational marijuana use, and a United Nations agency also urged challenges to the measures it says violate international treaties.
The former Drug Enforcement Administration chiefs criticized Barack Obama’s administration for moving too slowly to file a lawsuit that would force the states to rescind the legislation. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.
“My fear is that the Justice Department will do what they are doing now: do nothing and say nothing,” former DEA administrator Peter Bensinger told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. “If they don’t act now, these laws will be fully implemented in a matter of months.”
Bensinger, who lives in the Chicago area, said if the federal government doesn’t immediately sue the states it’ll risk creating “a domino effect” in which other states legalize marijuana too.
The statement from the DEA chiefs came the same day the International Narcotics Control Board, a U.N. agency, made its appeal in an annual drug report, calling on federal officials to act to “ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties on its entire territory.”
Martha Stewart testifies in N.Y.
NEW YORK (AP) — Home decor and food guru Martha Stewart testified in court on Tuesday that she did nothing wrong when she signed an agreement to open shops within most of J.C. Penney’s stores across the country.
Stewart testified in New York state court in a trial over whether the company she founded breached its contract to sell cookware, bedding and other items exclusively at Macy’s when she inked the deal with Penney.
During three hours of testimony, Stewart, who founded Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., denied Macy’s allegations that she did anything unethical and said she was only looking to expand her brand.
In fact, Stewart said it’s Macy’s that didn’t uphold its end of the agreement to try to maximize the potential of her business. She said her brand had grown to about $300 million at Macy’s, but the business was now “static” at the department store chain. She said she had hoped the business would exceed $400 million.
“We were disappointed,” Stewart, 71, wearing a light brown tunic and a mini skirt, testified. ” We got to a certain dollar amount and struggled and never got any further.”
The trial, which began Feb. 20, focuses on whether Macy’s has the exclusive right to sell some Martha Stewart branded products such as cookware, bedding and bath items.
Suspect in triple fatality to give up
NEW YORK (AP) — The suspected driver who fled the scene of a grisly crash that killed a pregnant woman, her husband and ultimately the child they were expecting is meeting with an attorney Tuesday and plans to report to police.
Julio Acevedo, 44, told the Daily News of New York that he was speeding away from a gunman who was trying to shoot at him early Sunday when the accident with a hired car happened in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
He said he fled the scene because he was worried he’d be killed and didn’t know the couple had died until he saw it in newspapers.
“My heart goes out to them,” Acevedo told the newspaper Tuesday in a phone call arranged by a friend. “I didn’t know they died until I saw the news.”
The friend who arranged the call, Derrick Hamilton, said Acevedo was running for his life after the crash, and called it a terrible accident.
“He’s meeting with a lawyer right now, they are going to arrange how to turn himself in,” Hamilton told The Associated Press.
Home prices rose by most in 7 years
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices jumped in January, a sign the housing market is gaining momentum as it nears the spring selling season.
Home prices rose 9.7 percent in January from a year ago, according to data released Tuesday by CoreLogic. That’s up from an 8.3 percent increase in December and the biggest annual gain since April 2006.
Prices rose in all states except Delaware and Illinois. And prices increased in 92 of the 100 largest metro areas, up from 87 in December.
Home prices also rose 0.7 percent in January from December. That’s a solid increase given that sales usually slow over the winter months.
Rising demand combined with fewer available homes is pushing up prices. Sales of previously owned homes ticked up in January after rising to their highest level in five years in 2012, according to the National Association of Realtors. At the same time, inventories of homes for sale fell to a 13-year low.
The states with the biggest price gains were Arizona, where prices rose 20.1 percent, followed by Nevada, with 17.4 percent, and Idaho, with 14.9 percent. California and Hawaii rose 14.1 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
The cities with the biggest gains were Phoenix, Los Angeles, Riverside, Calif., New York, and Atlanta.
Nationwide, home values were still down more than 26 percent from their peak in April 2006 through January, CoreLogic said. But in some states prices have recovered a lot of lost ground. In 15 states, home prices are within 10 percent of their peak values, CoreLogic said.
There have been other recent signs that the housing market is going strong. A measure of the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in January from December to the highest level in more than 2 ½ years. That suggests sales of previously occupied homes will keep rising in the coming months.
Steady increases in prices help fuel the housing recovery. They encourage some homeowners to sell homes and entice some would-be buyers to purchase homes before prices rise further.
Higher prices can also make homeowners feel wealthier. That can encourage more consumer spending, which drives 70 percent of the U.S. economy.
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