'Cure worse than the disease': Experts say bombing chemical weapon sites may cause problems
WASHINGTON (AP) — You simply can't safely bomb a chemical weapon storehouse into oblivion, experts say. That's why they say the United States is probably targeting something other than Syria's nerve agents.
But now there is concern that bombing other sites could accidentally release dangerous chemical weapons that the U.S. military didn't know were there because they've lost track of some of the suspected nerve agents.
Bombing stockpiles of chemical weapons — purposely or accidentally — would likely kill nearby civilians in an accidental nerve agent release, create a long-lasting environmental catastrophe or both, five experts told The Associated Press. That's because under ideal conditions — and conditions wouldn't be ideal in Syria — explosives would leave at least 20 to 30 percent of the poison in lethal form.
"If you drop a conventional munition on a storage facility containing unknown chemical agents — and we don't know exactly what is where in the Syrian arsenal — some of those agents will be neutralized and some will be spread," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonprofit that focuses on all types of weaponry. "You are not going to destroy all of them."
"It's a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease," Kimball said. He said some of the suspected storage sites are in or near major Syrian cities like Damascus, Homs and Hama. Those cities have a combined population of well over 2 million people.
French president says his country can strike Syria despite British failure to endorse action
PARIS (AP) — French President Francois Hollande says his country can go ahead with plans to strike Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons despite the British parliament's failure to endorse military action.
"The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished," Hollande said in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde, published on Friday.
The French president reiterated that France wants a "proportional and firm action" but said when asked about the type of intervention that "all options are on the table."
Alawite coastal stronghold a haven of coexistence amid Syria's raging civil war
TARTOUS, Syria (AP) — In this picturesque coastal city fiercely loyal to President Bashar Assad, beaches are dotted with swimmers, cafes are filled with Syrians smoking water pipes, and restaurant bars are packed with late night revelers, seemingly oblivious to the civil war raging in the rest of the country.
The Mediterranean port has emerged as an unusual example of coexistence in this country torn apart by sectarian violence. It is populated mostly by members of Assad's Alawite minority sect, the most diehard supporters of his regime. At the same time, hundreds of thousands have flocked here to escape violence in war-shattered cities such as Homs and Aleppo, many of them Sunnis, some with relatives fighting alongside the rebellion.
Despite a few small incidents of verbal arguments reported by residents, sectarian tensions are minimal. Neither side wants to bring the war here.
"I think we all realized that this is the last safe place in Syria," said Fuad, a Sunni chef in one of the city's restaurants, who arrived with his family from the Damascus suburb of Daraya four months ago. Like others interviewed by The Associated Press here, he spoke on condition he be identified by his first name only, or not at all, for security reasons.
Even now, with looming punitive military action by Western countries against Assad's regime, residents of Tartous seem unfazed. Some have fled to neighboring countries for a few days to wait out the strikes, but there are no signs of widespread panic — though many are convinced military installations in the city would be targeted.
War drums on Syria, other foreign-policy events overshadowing economy as political issue
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama still calls shoring up the middle class his "No. 1 priority," but recent events overseas and at home are overshadowing the U.S. economy as a political issue.
The civil war in Syria and alleged use by Damascus of chemical weapons, political turmoil in Egypt and revelations about the extent of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs are complicating Obama's efforts to keep the focus on the economy.
And while the slow and uneven recovery is now 4 years old, its advance could be threatened by U.S.-led airstrikes against targets in Syria that might send already rising oil prices soaring.
The eclipsing of the U.S. recovery by other pressing events could be a factor in next year's midterm election campaigns and in the presidential contests two years later. Also, as Obama slips more and more into lame-duck territory, his ability to shape the national agenda seems diminished.
While the unemployment rate of 7.4 percent is still well above the 5 to 6 percent typical of a healthy economy, it has been tracking down steadily since it peaked at 10 percent in late 2009. House prices are on the rise and so is consumer spending. Big banks are reporting strong profits again and regulators are winding down investigations into reckless Wall Street lending practices.
APNewsBreak: US says Iran can't access nearly half of its oil export earnings due to sanctions
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has concluded that nearly half of Iran's monthly earnings from crude oil exports are accumulating in accounts overseas because of sanctions that restrict Tehran's access to the money.
The estimates, provided to The Associated Press by a senior U.S. official and never released before, are the latest indication that new sanctions imposed in February are deepening Iran's economic distress and making it increasingly difficult to access billions of dollars in vital oil revenues. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of sanctions policy.
The U.S. hopes the pressure will force Iran to compromise on its nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at making a weapon. Iran insists it is for peaceful purposes only and has not budged on demands to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can be used to make fuel for energy production or for a nuclear weapon.
The U.S. estimates that about $1.5 billion in crude oil revenues is piling up in restricted foreign accounts every month. Crude revenues overall averaged about $3.4 billion monthly in the first half of year, according to the assessment.
That means Iran is not able to either spend or repatriate about 44 percent of its crude oil income.
Green light: DOJ gives pot crusaders in Wash., Colo. a chance to show that legalization works
SEATTLE (AP) — For generations, pot crusaders have called for an end to the nation's prohibition of marijuana, citing everything from what they say are the government's exaggerated claims about its dangers to the racial disparities in who gets busted for drug possession.
Now, they will get their chance in Colorado and Washington state to show that legalizing pot is better, less costly and more humane than the last 75 years of prohibition — all with the federal government's blessing.
In a sweeping new policy statement, the Justice Department said Thursday it will not stand in the way of states that want to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana as voters in Washington and Colorado did last fall, as long as there are effective controls to keep marijuana away from kids, the black market and federal property.
"It's nothing short of historic," said Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project, which backed Colorado's new law. "It's a very big deal for the DOJ to say that if the states want to legalize marijuana, that's fine. Everybody in this movement should be thrilled."
It won't just be the White House watching to make sure Washington and Colorado get it right. Voters in Oregon and Alaska could weigh marijuana legalization measures next year, and several states could face ballot questions in 2016, activists say.
Russian, NORAD air forces cooperate in exercise tracking hijacked plane over Alaska, Russia
OVER ALASKA (AP) — Flying at 34,000 feet over the Bering Strait, the Russian pilots had a singular focus: making sure they smoothly received the hand-off of a "hijacked" jetliner from their U.S.-Canadian counterparts.
Up here, there were no thoughts about strained Russia-U.S. relations. Those were for another day, and for high-level officials. This training exercise was to make sure Russia and NORAD forces could find, track and escort a hijacked aircraft over international borders.
NORAD's director of operations, Canadian Major Gen. André Vien, said there were never any discussions about canceling the exercise, known as Vigilant Eagle. It's been held five times since 2003. But the exercises on Tuesday and Wednesday were the first since U.S.-Russian relations became strained because of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, Syria, human rights and other issues.
"The cooperation with the Russian Federation Air Force personnel has been ongoing for the past year for this particular serial, and at no time there was any discussion about cancelling the event for this year," Vien said Thursday at the conclusion of the two-day exercise.
His counterpart, Gen. Major Dmitry Gomenkov, commander of the Aerospace Defense Brigade for eastern Russia, agreed. "I see no problems," Gomenkov said through a translator.
Federal judge in Calif says VA should give benefits to lesbian veteran, spouse
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge in Los Angeles ruled Thursday that a lesbian Army veteran and her spouse should be entitled to disability benefits given the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall said that a federal code defining a spouse as a person of the opposite sex is unconstitutional "under rational basis scrutiny" since the high court's decision allowing legally married gay couples the right to health care benefits.
"The court finds that the exclusion of spouses in same-sex marriages from veterans' benefits is not rationally related to the goal of gender equality," in the code, Marshall wrote in her four-page ruling.
The Department of Veterans Affairs denied an application from veteran Tracey Cooper-Harris and her spouse seeking additional money and benefits that married veterans are entitled to receive. Cooper-Harris suffers from multiple sclerosis and receives disability benefits.
She and Maggie Cooper-Harris got married in California during the brief period in 2008 when same-sex unions were legal in the state. The plaintiffs' attorneys had said previously the couple would receive about $150 more a month in disability payments, and Maggie Cooper-Harris would be eligible for about $1,200 a month in survivor's benefits if her wife died.
The Bard behind bars: Bringing a hip-hop version of 'Othello' to jail inmates
CHICAGO (AP) — Act I, Scene 1: Four actors in well-worn coveralls and baseball caps take the stage at the county jail. They're here to tell a tale of love, friendship, jealousy and betrayal. It's the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy. The names and themes haven't changed over the centuries, but the language has a modern beat:
"Othello never knew,
He was getting schemed on by a member of his crew."
This is "Othello-The Remix," the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's hip-hop version of the tragedy about a valiant Moor deceived by the villainous Iago into mistakenly believing his wife has been unfaithful. After Othello smothers his beloved Desdemona, he discovers she has been true to him and he kills himself.
That's how Shakespeare told the story 400 years ago. This modern version — performed this week for about 450 Cook County jail inmates — is a rhyming, rapping, poetic homage to the Bard. It has singing and dancing. Comic touches. Men playing women. Sexual talk. References to Eddie Murphy and James Brown. A throbbing beat, courtesy of an onstage DJ.
'We got what we wanted': NFL agrees to pay more than $750M to settle players' concussion case
NEW YORK (AP) — They were Hall of Famers like Tony Dorsett, Super Bowl MVPs like Mark Rypien, and longtime backups like Don Strock.
In all, more than 4,500 retired players began suing the NFL two years ago, saying the league concealed what it knew about the long-term dangers of concussions and did not properly care for the head injuries that were long an accepted part of the game.
Under a tentative settlement announced Thursday, the NFL agreed to shell out more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, nearly all going to any former players — not just those who went to court — with dementia or other concussion-related health problems, even if the cause was not the very on-field violence that fueled professional football's rise in popularity and profit.
The deal stipulates that it is not to be considered an admission of liability by the NFL.
"It's a good day, because we're getting help for those who need help," Rypien told The Associated Press, "and a sad day, because we didn't get this done earlier to help guys in the past."