Wednesday, February 6, 2013

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News,Science and Technology

Boy Scouts delay decision on whether to lift policy excluding gays, set new vote for May

IRVING, Texas (AP) — Caught in an ideological crossfire, the Boy Scouts of America is putting off a decision on whether to ease its policy of excluding gays. Whatever the organization eventually does, it's likely to anger major constituencies and worsen schisms within Scouting.

The delay, which the Scouts attributed to "the complexity of this issue," was announced Wednesday after closed-door deliberations by the BSA's national executive board. Under consideration was a proposal to ease the longstanding ban on gays by allowing sponsors of local troops to decide for themselves on the membership of gay Scouts and adult leaders.

As the board met over three days at a hotel near Dallas, it became clear that the proposal would be unacceptable to large numbers of impassioned Scouting families and advocacy groups on both the left and right.

The iconic youth organization is now deeply entangled in the broader cultural and political conflicts over such issues as same-sex marriage and religious freedom. Tilting toward either side will probably alienate the other, and a midway balancing act will be difficult.

Gay-rights supporters contend that no Scout units anywhere should exclude gays, and vowed to maintain pressure on the BSA's corporate donors to achieve that goal. Some conservatives, including religious leaders whose churches sponsor troops, warned of mass defections if the ban were even partially eased. They urged supporters to flood headquarters with phone calls.

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Financially strapped Postal Service plans to cut Saturday mail, but continue package delivery

WASHINGTON (AP) — Saturday mail may soon go the way of the Pony Express and penny postcards. The Postal Service said Wednesday that it plans to cut back to five-day-a-week deliveries for everything except packages to stem its financial losses in a world radically re-ordered by the Internet.

"Our financial condition is urgent," declared Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. But Congress has voted in the past to bar the idea of eliminating Saturday delivery, and his announcement immediately drew protests from some lawmakers. The plan, which is to take effect in August, also brought vigorous objections from farmers, the letter carriers' union and others.

The Postal Service, which suffered a $15.9 billion loss in the past budget year, said it expected to save $2 billion annually with the Saturday cutback. Mail such as letters and magazines would be affected. Delivery of packages of all sizes would continue six days a week.

The plan accentuates one of the agency's strong points: Package delivery has increased by 14 percent since 2010, officials say, while the delivery of letters and other mail has plummeted. Email has decreased the mailing of paper letters, but online purchases have increased package shipping, forcing the Postal Service to adjust to customers' new habits.

"Things change," Donahoe said.

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Budget strains lead US to cut carrier fleet in Persian Gulf from 2 to 1

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is cutting its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf region from two carriers to one, the Defense Department said Wednesday, in a move that represents one of the most significant effects of budget cuts on the U.S. military presence overseas. The decision comes as Washington struggles to find a way to avoid sharp automatic spending cuts set to strike the Pentagon and domestic programs next month.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has approved keeping just one carrier in the Persian Gulf region. The U.S. has maintained two aircraft carrier groups in the Gulf for most of the last two years.

Panetta has been leading a campaign to replace the automatic cuts he warns would "hollow out" the military, and the Pentagon has been providing greater details on the cuts it would have to make if Congress fails to both replace them and agree on a 2013 defense budget bill. The carrier decision is one of the most significant announcements made thus far.

Plans for the USS Harry S Truman to deploy to the Gulf later this week have been canceled. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, brought home to Norfolk, Va., from the Gulf in December for the resurfacing of its flight deck and other maintenance, will return later this month and stay until about summer. The USS John C. Stennis will leave the Gulf and return home after the Eisenhower arrives.

Pentagon press secretary George Little issued a statement Wednesday afternoon confirming the carrier decision after The Associated Press, citing unidentified U.S. officials, reported Panetta's move.

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World's eyes are on Acapulco rape case as Mexico prepares for peak spring break season

ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) — The tourism world turned its eyes on Mexico after six Spanish women were raped by masked gunmen during a vacation in the long-troubled Pacific coast resort of Acapulco.

While there has been talk of reviving the golden era of the '40s and '50s, international tourists have long steered away from Acapulco, even before the drug violence of recent years, as the city fell into disrepair and glitzier Cancun and Los Cabos gained favor.

The question now is whether the attack will affect other resorts as Mexico prepares for its annual spring break onslaught and peak season.

The hours-long assault was carried out by a gang of masked gunmen who burst into the beachfront home before dawn on Monday and tied up the six men inside, then raped the women. A seventh Mexican woman was unharmed.

"We are really sorry about what happened with the Spanish tourists because ... it is something that affects Mexico's image," said Juan Carlos Gonzalez, tourism secretary of Quintana Roo, the Caribbean coast state where Cancun is located and which hosted about 17 million tourists last year.

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Tunisia remakes government in wake of assassination of opposition politician

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Shaken by the assassination of a prominent leftist opposition leader that unleashed major protests, Tunisia's prime minister announced Wednesday that he would form a new government of technocrats to guide the country to elections "as soon as possible."

The decision by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali was a clear concession to the opposition, which has long demanded a reshuffle of the Islamist-dominated government. It also came hours after the first assassination of a political leader in post-revolutionary Tunisia.

The killing of 48-year-old Chokri Belaid, a secularist and fierce critic of Ennahda, the moderate ruling Islamist party, marked an escalation in the country's political violence and sparked allegations of government negligence — even outright complicity. It also bolstered fears that Tunisia's transition to democracy will be far more chaotic than originally hoped.

"This is a sad day that shook the country regardless of our differences," Jebali said in an address to the nation, whose capital city still smelled of the tear gas lobbed at protesters angry over the killing. "We are at a crossroads, and we will learn from it to make a peaceful Tunisia, secure and pluralist, where we may differ but not kill each other."

The ruling coalition, led by Jebali's Ennahda party, had been in stalled negotiations with opposition parties to expand the coalition and redistribute ministerial portfolios in an effort to calm the country's fractious politics. Elections had been expected for the summer, but an exact date depended on lawmakers finishing work on a new constitution.

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Brennan's second bid to lead CIA offers a chance to strike back at critics and defend drones

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate hearing on John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA could lay bare some parts of the secret war against al-Qaida: lethal drone strikes from covert bases against even American terror suspects, harsh interrogation methods and long detention of suspects without due process.

Some of the practices produced revulsion among some in Congress and the public, but the outcry has been muted because Brennan and others say that these harsh and secretive methods have saved American lives.

Those issues will be front and center in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday for Brennan — a chance for him to answer criticism that he backed the detention and interrogation policy while he served at the CIA under President George W. Bush, charges that stymied his first attempt to head the intelligence agency in 2008.

In answers to questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee before the hearing, Brennan said he was "aware of the program but did not play a role in its creation, execution, or oversight," and added that he "had significant concerns and personal objections" to the interrogation techniques.

He wrote that he voiced those objections to colleagues at the agency privately.

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FBI and police used military tactics, weapons, to rescue 5-year-old hostage in Alabama

Within hours after an armed, angry man shot a school bus driver and kidnapped a 5-year-old boy, workers feverishly unloaded boxes packed with percussive grenades, military C-4 explosives and an array of guns from a windowless DC-9 that had landed just miles from the suspect's isolated compound.

Helmeted officers decked out in tan fatigues, camouflage and body armor, many carrying long guns, rumbled in rented cargo trucks to and from the property in southeastern Alabama where 65-year-old Jim Lee Dykes and his young captive were hunkered down in a roughly 6-by-8-foot hand-dug bunker with only one small hatch for an entryway.

Two Humvees belonging to the Dale County Sheriff's Department and a tan, military-style personnel carrier were parked in a field beside the bunker throughout much of the ordeal, along with sport-utility vehicles. Officers dressed in combat-style gear could be seen watching the bunker from an opening in the roof of the tan personnel vehicle.

And as the standoff stretched into days, drones flew large, lazy circles high above the scene at night.

In many ways, the scene resembled more of a war-time situation than a domestic crime scene as civilian law enforcement relied heavily on military tactics and equipment to end the six-day ordeal.

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New study shows closest Earth-like planet 'stroll across park,' possibly 13 light-years away

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Earth-like worlds may be closer and more plentiful than anyone imagined.

Astronomers reported Wednesday that the nearest Earth-like planet may be just 13 light-years away — or some 77 trillion miles. That planet hasn't been found yet, but should be there based on the team's study of red dwarf stars.

Galactically speaking, that's right next door.

If our Milky Way galaxy were shrunk to the size of the United States, the distance between Earth and its closest Earth-like neighbor would be the span of New York's Central Park, said Harvard University graduate student Courtney Dressing, the study's lead author.

"The nearest Earth-like planet is simply a stroll across the park away," she said at a news conference in Cambridge, Mass.

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Chris Brown returns to Los Angeles court to address issues with probation; April hearing set

LOS ANGELES (AP) — With the woman he assaulted throwing him a kiss, Chris Brown walked into court Wednesday to face allegations he failed to complete his community labor sentence for Rihanna's 2009 beating.

A judge asked for more information and scheduled another hearing in two months.

Rihanna, the glamorous singer whose bruised face became a tabloid fixture after she was beaten by her then-boyfriend on the way to the Grammys, has been dating Brown again.

She arrived with the R&B star, his mother and two other women and blew him a kiss as he entered the courtroom. They left together after the short proceeding in which Superior Court Judge James Brandlin set the next hearing for April 5.

Brown's lawyer, Mark Geragos, said he was disturbed about the way the district attorney handled the matter and said he would be filing a motion opposing the prosecution's move to modify Brown's fulfillment of his community labor sentence.

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Can't Miss: Ole Miss muscles in on traditional powers with signing day surge of blue-chippers

Alabama. Ohio State. Michigan. Florida. Notre Dame. Mississippi?

Ole Miss muscled in on the powerhouses that usually dominate national signing day, landing some of the most sought-after prospects in the country on college football's annual first-Wednesday-in-February frenzy.

The Rebels, coming off a promising 7-6 season in their first season under coach Hugh Freeze, had the experts swooning by signing three of the bluest chips still on the board and building a well-rounded class otherwise.

The day started with defensive end Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville, Ga., rated the No. 1 recruit in the country by just about everyone who ranks them, deciding to join his brother, Denzel, in Oxford, Miss.

"I feel like it's the right place for me," Nkemdiche said after slipping on a red Ole Miss cap. "I feel like they can do special things and they're on the rise. I feel like going to play with my brother, we can do something special."

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