Senators move to assist veterans and businesses

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to temporarily set aside its partisan standoff over President Obama’s jobs plan and move toward giving a modest economic spark to two potent interest groups: veterans and businesses.

In a 94-1 roll call (Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was the only dissenter), senators voted to start debating a measure repealing a requirement that federal, state and many local governments withhold 3 percent of their payments to contractors.

By the time the Senate approves the legislation, Democrats plan to add language backed by both parties offering tax breaks to firms that hire veterans and providing vets with employment counseling and other job-hunting services.

Monday’s one-sided vote signaled that barring an unexpected twist, the Senate was likely to send the overall measure to the House.

The tax credits wuld give companies up to $9,600 for hiring disabled veterans who have been jobless at least six months,.


U.S. computers vulnerable, ex-security official warns

America’s critical computer networks are so vulnerable to attack that it should deter U.S. leaders from going to war with other nations, a former top U.S. cybersecurity official said Monday.

Richard Clarke, a top adviser to three presidents, joined U.S. military and civilian experts in offering a dire assessment of America’s cybersecurity at a conference, saying the country simply can’t protect its critical networks.

Clarke said if he were advising the president, he would warn against attacking other countries because so many of them – including China, North Korea, Iran and Russia – could retaliate by launching devastating cyberattacks that could destroy power grids, banking networks or transportation systems.

The U.S. military, he said, is entirely dependent on computer systems and could end up in a future conflict in which troops trot out onto a battlefield “and nothing works.”


Syrian military continues crackdown on civilians

Syrian troops stormed a restive neighborhood in Homs on Monday, making house-to-house arrests in an area that has spiraled out of government control after nearly a week of deadly assaults, activists said.

The regime is scrambling to clear out Baba Amr, a major center of resistance and reprisal, as Damascus faces potential fallout from the Arab League for defying a peace plan brokered by the 22-nation body with persistent violence.

The Arab League scheduled an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday.

It was not clear what action the league would take if the bloodshed continues.


Thousands contribute cash to Chinese dissident artist

Thousands of people have sent more than $800,000 to Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, some tossing cash folded into airplanes over his gate, to help him pay a tax bill they see as government harassment, he said Monday.

A state-run newspaper criticized the outpouring and warned it could be illegal.

The donation campaign is rare for Chinese dissidents because of the threat of retaliation that comes with supporting high-profile government critics.

MANAGUA, Nicaragua

Ortega wins in landslide amid reports of problems

President and one-time Sandinista revolutionary Daniel Ortega was re-elected in a landslide, according to results released Monday, overcoming a constitutional limit on re-election and reports of voting problems.

Ortega had 63 percent support compared to 31 percent for his nearest challenger, Fabio Gadea, with 86 percent of the votes counted.

The size of Ortega’s margin of victory is likely to reduce the impact of reports of irregularities during Sunday’s vote.

A domestic group of observers, Let’s Have Democracy, said it recorded 600 complaints of voting irregularities, a handful of injuries in protests and 30 arrests.

Gadea, election observers and oppositions groups raised questions about the validity of the vote, as did the United States.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland repeated U.S. concerns over whether the elections were transparent and free of intimidation, violence and harassment.