HONG KONG (AP) — World stock markets were uneven Friday and Wall Street futures slid ahead of quarterly growth figures that will show whether weakness in China, Japan and Europe has hit the U.S. economy.
KEEPING SCORE: In Europe, France's CAC 40 was down 0.4 percent to 4,612.87 and Germany's DAX was 0.3 percent lower at 10,705.74. Britain's FTSE 100 slipped 0.4 percent to 6,781.41. U.S. stocks were set to open with a thud. Dow futures lost 0.8 percent while the S&P 500 futures were down 0.7 percent.
U.S. ECONOMY: Investors were looking ahead to U.S. Commerce Department's release later Friday of the first of three estimates of growth in the world's biggest economy. The University of Michigan's monthly consumer sentiment index for January is also due. A FactSet survey of analysts forecast that the U.S. economy grew 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter. The U.S. zoomed ahead in the third quarter while Europe, Japan and China struggled. The fourth quarter report will show whether the momentum continued or succumbed to global headwinds.
EUROZONE GLOOM: Sentiment in Europe was dented by a report showing eurozone consumer prices fell 0.6 percent in the year to January. That was due not only to lower oil prices and is a sign of a weak economy. The figures raise the risks of an extended drop in prices, which can hurt growth for years, and come as the European Central Bank is about to launch an aggressive stimulus program to push inflation higher.
JAPAN GLIMMER: Japan's industrial output edged higher in December, suggesting the world's third-largest economy may be turning the corner on a recession brought on by a hefty sales tax hike. Manufacturing output increased 0.3 percent in December from a year earlier. Japan's jobless rate dipped to 3.4 percent from 3.5 percent the month before. But stagnant wages meant household spending dropped 3.4 percent from a year earlier.
MARGIN PROBE: Worries about a new probe by Chinese regulators into margin trading depressed sentiment in Chinese markets. The China Securities Regulatory Commission plans to inspect 45 brokers, the official Xinhua news agency reported Thursday. Shanghai shares plunged earlier this month after the regulator imposed margin trading curbs on major brokerages. The mood was also cautious ahead of monthly factory data on the weekend that will show whether the world's No. 2 economy continues to slow.
ASIA'S DAY: The benchmark Nikkei 225 in Tokyo added 0.4 percent to close at 17,674.39 while South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.1 percent to 1,949.26. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 5,588.30. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.4 percent to 24,507.05 and China's Shanghai Composite dropped 1.6 percent to 3,210.36.
RUBLE DROP: The Russian ruble fell sharply after the country's central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates to 15 percent from 17 percent to help the weakening economy. It had previous raised interest rates to support the ruble, but on Friday said the risk of recession was greater than the damage wrought by the fall in the currency. The ruble was down 3 percent at 71 rubles per dollar.
OTHER CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 117.79 yen from 118.20 the previous day. The euro fell to $1.1295 from $1.1327.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 45 cents to $44.99 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 8 cents to close at $44.53 on Thursday.
“I am in agreement with Governor Deal and the State Board of Education that our Social Studies – and Science – standards must be Georgia-owned and Georgia-grown. We will conduct a full review of our Social Studies standards to ensure that they have proper focus on the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and all aspects of American History. We will also forge partnerships to supply every 5th grader in Georgia with a pocket Constitution so the foundations that built our great country are easily accessible to them.
ESKI MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — An unarmed Sunni Arab man walked along a road in a patch of northern Iraq newly liberated from Islamic State extremists, holding a white surrender flag — a signal to Kurdish fighters that he is not a militant. Cars drove by, a similar white banner flying from their windows.
As they retake territory from Islamic State militants, Iraqi Kurdish fighters have found surprising ambivalence in areas they freed from the jihadis' oppressive rule. Locals have swiftly shaken off the imposed Islamic lifestyle — but as Sunnis, from the same ethnic group as the militants, many are nonetheless bracing for treatment as collaborators.
For their part, the Kurdish peshmerga troops are suspicious about why the locals chose to stay on when the Islamic State conquered the area in a blitz last year. An Associated Press team travelling with the Kurds found the road to Mosul, a coveted prize in the battle for Iraq, strewn with suspicion and fear.
The recent Kurdish push secured several towns and villages along a critical junction that connects the town of Tal Afar to the city of Mosul — two of the IS group's biggest strongholds in Iraq. The artery, which eventually leads to Syria, has been a vital supply line for militants transporting weapons, goods and people across the lawless Iraq-Syria border.
The Kurdish fighters struggled for months to inch ahead, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. On Tuesday, at least four airstrikes hit IS positions near Eski Mosul, a village of up to about 9,000 residents some 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Mosul.
Kurdish Brig. Gen. Bahjat Taymes, who led the peshmerga operation to retake the Tal Afar-Mosul junction, said seizing it was "crucial" because it also leads to the Mosul Dam, which Kurdish and Iraqi forces won back in August with the help of U.S. airstrikes.
Last week's uptick in the airstrikes marked the start of a new, broader effort to disrupt Islamic State's supply lines ahead of an expected operation later this year to take back Mosul, U.S. military officials said.
A senior U.S. military official said military leaders were watching to see how Islamic State militants respond as their supply and communications lines dry up. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operations.
Islamic State fighters destroyed many power lines and bridges trying to slow the Kurdish advance but were eventually routed from the area. In the nearby town of Shandoukhah, bulldozers and Kurdish troops worked feverishly this week to enforce positions, piling up dirt and sandbags as deterrents against suicide bombers or shelling.
"Before we proceed further, we have to secure our backs," Kurdish Col. Marwan al-Mizouri told the AP.
The Kurdish fighters in Eski Mosul — Turkish for "Old Mosul," a name from the Ottoman rule — say they plan to leave as soon as Iraqi troops return but their enthusiasm about pressing ahead in a fight for predominantly Arab territory is half-hearted.
Last June, Iraqi forces suffered a humiliating defeat amid the IS group's lightening advance. Their commanders disappeared, pleas for more ammunition went unanswered and in some cases, soldiers stripped off their uniforms and ran. The Kurdish fighters then filled the vacuum in northern Iraq, seeing a chance to spread out from their semi-autonomous region and claim long-disputed territories in their bid for full independence.
The Iraqi military briefly returned in August for the battle to retake the Mosul Dam, "but we haven't seen them since," said Taymes, the Kurdish general.
The villagers in Eski Mosul are grateful for their Kurdish liberators, many of whom speak almost no Arabic. But the Sunni villagers also know it will take time to convince the newcomers they hold no allegiance to the Islamic State. The militants left much devastation before they fled.
Many in Eski Mosul admit they welcomed the IS when the group first arrived, resentful of what they perceive as years of neglect, discrimination and sectarian policies by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
"We thought they were revolutionaries coming to help us and give us our rights," said 30-year-old grocer, Salim Khudair.
Hard times followed. The village soon lost cooking gas and electricity, forcing the people to heat what little food remained over open ground fires. The cows became emaciated and many stopped giving milk. Most of the infants and the elderly became sickly.
Now, they can glimpse a better life emerging. Cigarettes — strictly banned under the Islamic State, which seized a third of both Iraq and neighboring Syria and imposed strict Sharia law — are sold and smoked freely. For the first time in months, women and young girls walk the narrow dirt streets without having to cover their faces. Young boys wrestle and play soccer without fear.
But mistrust lingers.
As several Kurdish fighters on Tuesday handed out bottled water, speaking to the villagers in broken Arabic, a group of village girls came up, timidly saying to the soldiers, "please don't blow up our homes."
Shaimaa, a resident of Eski Mosul who declined to give her full name out of fear for her safety, said her brother-in-law supported the Islamic State and so the Kurdish troops deemed her husband guilty by association and detained him.
Khudair, the grocer, claimed the peshmerga fighters confiscated some of his belongings, including a credit card machine he uses for work.
With the Islamic State still sporadically shells the village — the last time as recently as Monday — some among the Kurds worry the villagers are tipping off the militants about the Kurdish positions.
"We need them to trust us and to cooperate with us," explained al-Mizouri, the Kurdish colonel. He said he believes some villagers are still loyal to the jihadis. "Not all of them, but maybe 10 percent. It is essential that we identify those people and take care of our backs before we continue."
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Bram Janssen contributed to this report.
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Once a month, baby-toting young women gather in a YMCA conference room to share tips, talk about and demonstrate breast-feeding — an age-old yet sometimes shunned practice in their community.
It's part of a grassroots movement that breast-feeding advocates think just might yield profound benefits — potentially helping diminish health gaps facing black Americans, from higher rates of infant mortality and childhood obesity, to more breast cancer deaths and heart disease in adults.
Breast-feeding is thought to help protect against these ills — and it's much less common among U.S. black women than in whites and others. Rates have improved in recent years but the disparity remains.
"In the African-American community, we don't see breast-feeding publicly — our sisters and aunts aren't breast-feeding in the living room, they're not talking about it in the kitchen. It's different in the Caucasian community," said Dalvery Blackwell, a lactation consultant-educator and co-founder of the Milwaukee-based African American Breastfeeding Network.
The networks' gatherings aim to change that. Similar groups meet in Detroit, Atlanta and other cities, organized by black women, for black women. While promoting breast-feeding, they acknowledge obstacles that are more prevalent in black communities — absent partners, employers who discourage workplace nursing and flex time for new moms, hospitals that feed newborns formula.
The gatherings encourage new mothers to breast-feed for as long as possible; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends doing it for at least a year.
Just over 60 percent of U.S. black mothers have tried breast-feeding but only 16 percent continue for a full year, federal data show. By comparison, more than 80 percent of Hispanics and whites have tried it and at least 25 percent do it for a year.
A government report last year cited the breast-feeding network among efforts to improve rates. Dr. Myrtis Sullivan, a black pediatrician and former maternal and child health director for Illinois, said this type of community gathering can be particularly effective.
"The synergy that goes on when women interact with other women that are similar to them both culturally and socioeconomically ... seems to be very supportive for breast-feeding," Sullivan said.
At a recent Milwaukee gathering, mothers nursed and shared a meal provided by a University of Wisconsin public health partnership program. Blackwell offered tips about the best breast-feeding diet, how to hold a nursing baby, and signs that a baby is hungry.
Retail worker Leslie Curtis, 22, has breast-fed her 6-month-old son, Jace, since his birth. She said the meetings have helped her stick with it.
"I learn so much," she said. "I learn how to properly latch, properly pump, all the nutrition he's getting, I learn a lot and I love it."
Most of her friends think breast-feeding is too time-consuming, or too painful, and Curtis said her baby's father "doesn't understand the whole breast-feeding thing so I don't even try to explain it." But Curtis is determined to keep it up for their son's sake.
"Just coming to this group tells me why it's important," she said. "It's really healthy, I know what he's drinking and he's eating, compared to formula."
In Detroit, educator Kiddada Green runs the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Club as a modern-day old front porch, a place to encourage breast-feeding while building sisterhood. The club meets in women's homes, drawing a mix of working women and stay-at-home moms.
"We work with many women who have never seen a woman breast-feed," Green said. "We're making it visible."
"Although you're getting medical benefits, you're also getting connections and relationships and bonds that are also healthy for women," she said.
Breast-feeding's benefits include fewer infant infections and reduced risks for infant mortality, asthma, type 2 diabetes and obesity — which all disproportionately affect black children.
Effects on moms' long-term health are less studied but breast-feeding has been linked with lower breast and ovarian cancer rates, while emerging research suggests women who breast-feed may have less heart disease later in life.
Reasons why some blacks shun breast-feeding vary but slavery's legacy is often cited among them. Breast-feeding was common in Africa but became a stigma when women were separated from their own children and forced to breast-feed slave-owners' babies, Blackwell said.
Kimarie Bugg, a nurse and founder of the Atlanta-based Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, said many doctors never discuss breastfeeding with black patients "because they just assume they're not going to do it — they don't even mention it."
No one thinks that breast-feeding is a magic panacea and scientific evidence is mixed on some of its purported advantages. But few experts dispute that breast milk is the best nourishment for infants, with potential lifelong benefits.
"We know there are significant underlying conditions that lead to poor health outcomes — socioeconomic disparities, racism — all play a part," said Laurence Grummer-Strawn, a longtime breast-feeding advocate and former chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's nutrition branch.
Lack of breast-feeding contributes and improving rates could help reduce disparities, although by how much is uncertain, he said.