AP News in Brief at 4:58 p.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on December 23, 2012 at 6:02 PM

Ranchers split over US border security plan to end environmental reviews on big swaths of land

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — When Dan Bell drives through his 35,000-acre cattle ranch, he speaks of the hurdles that the Border Patrol faces in his rolling green hills of oak and mesquite trees — the hours it takes to drive to some places, the wilderness areas that are generally off-limits to motorized vehicles, the environmental reviews required to extend a dirt road.

John Ladd offers a different take from his 14,000-acre spread: the Border Patrol already has more than enough roads and its beefed-up presence has flooded his land and eroded the soil.

Their differences explain why ranchers are on opposite sides of the fence over a sweeping proposal to waive environmental reviews on federal lands within 100 miles of Mexico and Canada for the sake of border security. The Border Patrol would have a free hand to build roads, camera towers, helicopter pads and living quarters without any of the outside scrutiny that can modify or even derail plans to extend its footprint.

The U.S. House approved the bill authored by Utah Republican Rob Bishop in June. But prospects in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate are extremely slim and chances of President Barack Obama's signature even slimmer. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified in Congress this year that the bill was unnecessary and "bad policy."

Still, an idea that House Republicans kicked around for years has advanced farther in the legislative process than ever before and rekindled discussion over how to balance border security with wildlife protection.

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Lieberman fears country may go over 'fiscal cliff,' cites 'congressional irresponsibility'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators bickered Sunday over who's to blame for lurching the country toward a year-end "fiscal cliff," bemoaning the lack of a deal days before the deadline but bridging no differences in the debate.

With the collapse Thursday of House Speaker John Boehner's plan to allow tax rates to rise on million-dollar-plus incomes, Sen. Joe Lieberman said "it's the first time that I feel it's more likely we'll go over the cliff than not," meaning that higher taxes for most Americans and painful federal agency budget cuts would be in line to go ahead.

"If we allow that to happen it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history because of the impact it'll have on almost every American," said Lieberman, a Connecticut independent.

Wyoming Sen. Jon Barrasso, a member of the GOP leadership, predicted that the new year would come without an agreement, and he faulted the White House.

"I believe the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. He senses a victory at the bottom of the cliff," he said.

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Analysis: Constitution 'yes' gives Egypt's Islamists foundation to create more religious state

CAIRO (AP) — With the passage of a divisive constitution, Egypt's Islamist leadership has secured its tightest grip on power since Hosni Mubarak's ouster nearly two years ago and laid the foundation for legislation to create a more religious state.

The opposition's response — a vow to keep fighting the charter and the program of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi — ensured that the turmoil of the past two years will not end as many, especially the tens of millions of poor craving stability, had fervently hoped.

"The referendum is not the end game. It is only a battle in this long struggle for the future of Egypt," the opposition National Salvation Front said in a strongly worded statement on Sunday.

"We will not allow a change to the identity of Egypt or the return of the age of tyranny," added the front, which claims the new constitution seeks to enshrine Islamic rule in Egypt and accuses the Islamists of trying to monopolize power.

Critics say the new constitution does not sufficiently protect the rights of women and minority groups and empowers Muslim clerics by giving them a say over legislation. Some articles were also seen as tailored to get rid of Islamists' enemies and undermine the freedom of labor unions.

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Official: Navy SEAL commander dies of apparent suicide while deployed in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. military officials are investigating the apparent suicide of a Navy SEAL commander in Afghanistan.

A U.S. military official says SEAL Team Four member Cdr. Job W. Price, 42, of Pottstown, Pa., died Saturday of a non-combat-related injury that the official says "appears to be the result of suicide."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the death is still being investigated.

Troops from SEAL Team 4, which is based in Virginia Beach, Va., are part of the mission to train Afghan local police to stave off the Taliban in remote parts of Afghanistan.

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Members of public say final good-bye to late Sen. Daniel Inouye with memorial in Honolulu

HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and other dignitaries attended a memorial service for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye on Sunday.

A 19-gun cannon salute was fired as Inouye's coffin arrived for the service at Honolulu's National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the final resting place to thousands of World War II veterans. More than 400 members of the storied Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team — of which Inouye was a part — are buried at the site.

Several cabinet secretaries and a number of senators also attended the service, including fellow Hawaii Democrat Daniel Akaka and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"Daniel was the best senator among us all," Reid told those assembled. "Whenever we needed a noble man to lean on, we turned to Sen. Dan Inouye. He was fearless."

The 88-year-old Inouye died of respiratory complications on Dec. 17.

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Richard Adams dies in Los Angeles; broke ground for gay marriage through wedding and lawsuit

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Richard Adams, who used both the altar and the courtroom to help begin the push for gay marriage four decades before it reached the center of the national consciousness, has died, his attorney said Sunday.

After a brief illness, Adams died Dec. 17 at age 65 in the Hollywood home he shared with Tony Sullivan, his partner of 43 years, attorney Lavi Soloway told The Associated Press.

"Theirs was a pretty remarkable story," Soloway said in an email. "They were far ahead of their time when they took up the fight to have their legal Colorado marriage recognized by the federal government."

The two men met at a Los Angeles gay bar called "The Closet" in 1971.

In 1975, they heard about a rogue county clerk in Boulder, Colo., named Clela Rorex, a pioneer in her own right, who decided she would give marriage licenses to gay couples after learning from the district attorney's office that nothing in Colorado law expressly forbade it.

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Egypt's opposition alleges vote fraud in constitutional referendum, more turmoil likely

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's opposition said Sunday it will keep fighting the Islamist-backed constitution after the Muslim Brotherhood, the main group backing the charter, claimed it passed with a 64 percent "yes" vote in a referendum.

The opposition alleged vote fraud and demanded an investigation — a sign that the referendum will not end the turmoil that has roiled this country for nearly two years since the uprising that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. Many Egyptians, especially the tens of millions who live in extreme poverty, had hoped the new constitution might usher in a period of more stability.

A heated political debate over the past month leading up to the referendum at times erupted into deadly street battles. There were no mass opposition demonstrations on Sunday after the unofficial results came out.

Renewed violence and political tensions have further imperiled Egypt's already precarious economy, reeling from dwindling resources and a cash-strapped government whose plans to borrow from the International Monetary Fund had to be pushed back because of the turmoil.

The finance ministry said Sunday the budget deficit reached $13 billion in the five months from July-November, about 4.5 percent higher compared to the same period last year.

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Syrian airstrike kills dozens as international envoy pushes for peace with top officials

BEIRUT (AP) — A government airstrike on a bakery in a rebel-held town in central Syria killed more than 60 people on Sunday, activists said, casting a pall over a visit by the international envoy charged with negotiating an end to the country's civil war.

The strike on the town of Halfaya left scattered bodies and debris up and down a street, and more than a dozen dead and wounded were trapped in tangled heap of dirt and rubble.

The attack appeared to be the government response to a newly announced rebel offensive seeking to drive the Syrian army from a constellation of towns and village north of the central city of Hama. Halfaya was the first of the area's towns to be "liberated" by rebel fighters, and activists saw Sunday's attack as payback.

"Halfaya was the first and biggest victory in the Hama countryside," said Hama activist Mousab Alhamadee via Skype. "That's why the regime is punishing them in this way."

The total death toll remained unclear, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 60 people were killed. That number is expected to rise, it said, because some 50 of those wounded in the strike are in critical condition.

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Despite billions spent to address hunger, families in Chad cling to harmful traditions

MOUSSORO, Chad (AP) — On the day of their son's surgery, the family woke before dawn. They saddled their horses and set out across the 12-mile-long carpet of sand to the nearest town, where they hoped the reputed doctor would cure their frail, feverish baby.

The neighboring town, almost as poor and isolated as their own, hosts a foreign-run emergency clinic for malnourished children. But that's not where the family headed.

The doctor they chose treats patients behind a mud wall. His operating room is the sand lot that serves as his front yard. His operating table is a plastic mat lying on the dirt. His surgical tools include a screwdriver. And his remedy for malnourished children is the removal, without antiseptic or anesthesia, of their teeth and uvula.

That day, three other children were brought to the same traditional doctor, their parents paying up to $6 for a visit, or more than a week's earnings. Not even a mile away, the UNICEF-funded clinic by contrast admitted just one child for its free service, delivered by trained medical professionals.

The 4:1 ratio that you see in this sandy courtyard on just one day in just one town is a microcosm of what is happening all over Chad, and it helps to explain why, despite an enormous, international intervention, malnutrition continues to soar to scandalous levels throughout the Sahel.

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Ho Ho Holy Discount: Vatican tax-free department store open late to accommodate Christmas rush

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Anyone left on your Christmas list just aching for a 65-inch Samsung 3D flat-screen television? Just your luck. The Vatican's duty-free department store has one on sale for €2,899 ($3,840) — a nifty savings over the €3,799 ($5,032) it costs at Italy's main electronics chain Euronics.

Or how about some new luggage for the holidays? The Vatican shop stocks a variety of Samsonite Cordoba Duo carry-ons for €123, a nice markdown from the €135 on the Samsonite website. But if a last-minute shopping splurge is in order, the Vatican can also oblige: Take this leather-bound travelling trunk from Florence's "The Bridge" leatherworks, with its five drawers, plaid interior, six wooden hangars and shiny brass buckles.

At €5,900, it comes with a matching leather golf club bag, just what every monsignor needs under his Christmas tree.

There's a little-known open secret in the Vatican gardens, a few paces behind St. Peter's Basilica and tucked inside the Vatican's old train station: a sprawling, three-story tax-free department store that rivals any airport duty free or military PX, stocking everything from Church's custom grade shoes (€483 a pair) to Baume et Mercier watches (ladies €1,585, men's Capeland €5,000).

There's a hitch, however. It's not open to the public, only to Vatican citizens, employees and their dependents, diplomats accredited to the Holy See and (unofficially) their lucky friends who, after stocking up on holiday must-haves, proceed to the checkout with their Vatican connection and the ID card that entitles them to shop there.

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