AP News in Brief at 8:58 p.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on November 26, 2013 at 11:02 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 27 at 12:54 AM

Winds could ground balloons in Macy's parade; rain and snow snarl holiday travel

NEW YORK (AP) — Thanksgiving travelers scrambled to book earlier flights Tuesday to avoid a sprawling storm bearing down on the East Coast with a messy mix of snow, rain and wind that threatened to snarl one of the busiest travel days of the year and ground giant balloon versions of Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants in the Macy's parade.

The characters that soar between Manhattan skyscrapers every year may not lift off Thursday if sustained winds exceed 23 mph and gusts exceed 34 mph, according to city rules enacted after fierce winds in 1997 caused a Cat in the Hat balloon to topple a light pole and seriously injure a spectator.

Current forecasts call for sustained winds of 20 mph and gusts of 36 mph.

"At this time, it is too early to make any determinations on the flight of the giant balloons," said Macy's spokesman Orlando Veras. "On Thanksgiving morning, Macy's works closely with the NYPD, who, based on real time weather data and the official regulations determine if the balloons will fly and at what heights."

Balloons have been grounded only once in the parade's 87-year history, when bad weather kept them from flying in 1971. They're set to be inflated in Manhattan on Wednesday evening.

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In defiance of China's claims, US bombers fly across its newly designated air defense zone

WASHINGTON (AP) — Days after China asserted greater military control over a swath of the East China Sea to bolster claims to a cluster of disputed islands, the U.S. defied the move Tuesday as it flew two B-52 bombers through the area.

The U.S. said what it described as a training mission was not flown to respond to China's latest military maneuver, yet the dramatic flights made clear that the U.S. will not recognize the new territorial claims that Beijing laid out over the weekend.

The two unarmed U.S. B-52 bombers took off from their home base in Guam and flew through China's newly designated air defense zone, then returned to base, U.S. officials said. The bombers were in the zone for less than an hour, thundering across the Pacific skies during midday there, the officials said, adding that the aircraft encountered no problems.

While the U.S. insisted the training mission was long-planned, it came just days after China issued a map and a new set of rules governing the zone, which includes a cluster of islands that are controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.

U.S. officials would not publicly acknowledge the flights on Tuesday, but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said China's move appeared to be an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea.

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Pope issues mission statement for papacy, saying he wants missionary, merciful church for poor

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis denounced the global financial system that excludes the poor as he issued the mission statement for his papacy on Tuesday, saying he wants the Catholic Church to get its hands dirty as it seeks to bring solace and mercy to society's outcasts.

In a 224-page document, Francis pulled together the priorities he has laid out over eight months of homilies, speeches and interviews, pushing to shift the church away from a focus on doctrine to one of joyful welcome in a bid to draw in believers in a world marked by secularization and vast income inequalities.

The document, Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospel), is the second major teaching document issued by Francis, but is the first actually written by him since the encyclical "The Light of Faith," issued in July, was penned almost entirely by Pope Benedict XVI before he resigned.

Francis' concerns are laced throughout, and the theological and historical citations leave no doubt about his own points of reference and priorities: Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, who presided over the Second Vatican Council, which brought the church into the modern world, are cited repeatedly.

And in a first for an apostolic exhortation, as this type of papal pronouncement is called, Francis cited various documents of bishops' conferences from around the world, an indication of the importance he places in giving the local church greater say in church governance.

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IRS, Treasury push to rein in tax-exempt political groups

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration Tuesday launched a bid to rein in the use of tax-exempt groups for political campaigning.

The effort is an attempt to reduce the role of loosely regulated big-money political outfits like GOP political guru Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and the pro-Obama Priorities USA.

The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department said they want to prohibit such groups from using "candidate-related political activity" like running ads, registering voters or distributing campaign literature as activities that qualify them to be tax-exempt "social welfare" organizations.

The agencies say there will be a lengthy comment period before any regulations will be finalized. That means groups like Crossroads and Priorities USA will be able to collect millions of dollars from anonymous donors ahead of next year's campaign.

"This proposed guidance is a first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by tax-exempt social welfare organizations," said Mark Mazur, treasury assistant secretary for tax policy. "We are committed to getting this right before issuing final guidance that may affect a broad group of organizations. It will take time to work through the regulatory process and carefully consider all public feedback as we strive to ensure that the standards for tax-exemption are clear and can be applied consistently."

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Analysis: Iran's nuclear dealmakers hone new pitch for Revolutionary Guard

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Even before Iran's envoys could pack their bags in Geneva after wrapping up a first-step nuclear deal with world powers, President Hassan Rouhani was opening a potentially tougher diplomatic front: selling the give-and-take to his country's powerful insider interests led by the Revolutionary Guard.

Iran's ability to fulfill its part of the six-month bargain — which includes greater access for U.N. inspectors and a cap on the level of uranium enrichment — will depend largely on the Guard and its network.

The Guard's influence stretches from the missile batteries outside key nuclear facilities to the production of the equipment inside. It runs from companies making Iran's long-range missiles to paramilitary units that cover every inch of the country.

Rouhani's praise for the deal announced Sunday has sounded at times like snippets from the national anthem.

"The Iranian nation again displayed dignity and grandeur," he said in a televised address. He went on to laud the "glorious" affirmation that Iran can continue uranium enrichment under the accord — at levels that can power Iran's lone energy-producing reactor but well below what's needed to approach weapons-grade material.

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Penny Lane: The secret Guantanamo Bay facility where CIA turned prisoners into double agents

WASHINGTON (AP) — A few hundred yards from the administrative offices of the Guantanamo Bay prison, hidden behind a ridge covered in thick scrub and cactus, sits a closely held secret.

A dirt road winds its way to a clearing where eight small cottages sit in two rows of four. They have long been abandoned. The special detachment of Marines that once provided security is gone.

But in the early years after 9/11, these cottages were part of a covert CIA program. Its secrecy has outlasted black prisons, waterboarding and rendition.

In these buildings, CIA officers turned terrorists into double agents and sent them home.

It was a risky gamble. If it worked, their agents might help the CIA find terrorist leaders to kill with drones. But officials knew there was a chance that some prisoners might quickly spurn their deal and kill Americans.

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WTO chief says negotiators in Geneva fail to reach global trade deal to sign next week

GENEVA (AP) — Negotiators came close but failed Tuesday to clinch a free-trade deal that could have helped boost the world economy by $1 trillion a year and cleared the way for a broader global agreement.

Diplomats from the World Trade Organization's 159 members had been trying to forge an agreement before a trade ministers' meeting next week in Bali, Indonesia. Achieving a deal in Bali is seen as a final effort to revive a broader 12-year effort to ease global trade rules.

The mini-deal discussed in Geneva had been intended, in part, to reduce delays and inefficiencies at national borders. Making it easier to move goods across borders could boost the global economy by nearly $1 trillion a year and support 21 million jobs, according to a report co-written by Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow in international trade at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The lack of a global deal hasn't prevented individual countries from seeking agreements among themselves. But experts say the failure to reach a global deal leaves poorer countries worse off.

"This should be a no-brainer for developed and developing countries," Schott said.

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After damning report, '60 Minutes' correspondent Lara Logan, producer ordered to take leave

NEW YORK (AP) — CBS ordered "60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan and her producer to take a leave of absence Tuesday following a critical internal review of their handling of the show's October story on the Benghazi raid, based on a report on a supposed witness whose story can't be verified.

The review, by CBS News executive Al Ortiz and obtained by The Associated Press, said the "60 Minutes" team should have done a better job vetting the story that featured a security contractor who said he was at the U.S. mission in Libya the night it was attacked last year.

Questions were quickly raised about whether the man was lying — something "60 Minutes" should have better checked out before airing the story, the report said.

The report also said Logan should not have done the story in the first place after making a speech in Chicago a year ago claiming that it was a lie that America's military had tamed al-Qaida.

CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager, who is also the "60 Minutes" executive producer, said he had asked Logan and her producer, Max McClellan, to take a leave of absence of an undetermined length.

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Comet giving astronomers 'wild ride'; one day looks about to die, next day looks better

WASHINGTON (AP) — Comet ISON is teasing the solar system as it dances with the sun and it's giving astronomers mixed signals.

Will it meet a fiery death — or survive — when it whips around the sun on Thursday?

The icy comet will be only about 1 million miles away from the sun's super-hot surface during its close encounter on Thanksgiving. On Monday, it looked like it was about to die even before it got there. On Tuesday, it appeared healthy again.

"We have never seen a comet like this," Naval Research Laboratory astrophysicist Karl Battams said during a NASA news conference Tuesday. "It has been behaving strangely."

Because it is so close to the sun, ISON (EYE'-sahn) will likely not be visible from Earth on Thursday — except via a fleet of NASA telescopes and spacecraft aimed at the comet as it gets closest to the sun at 1:37 p.m. EST, he said. And it will be a few hours before scientists know whether the comet survives.

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Rare Colonial psalm book from Boston church fetches record $14.2M at New York auction

NEW YORK (AP) — A tiny book of psalms from 1640, believed to be the first book printed in what's now the United States, sold for just under $14.2 million on Tuesday, setting an auction record for a printed book.

The Bay Psalm Book, which was auctioned at Sotheby's in Manhattan, had a pre-sale estimate of $15 million to $30 million. A copy of John James Audubon's "Birds of America" was the previous record-holder, selling for $11.5 million at Sotheby's in 2010.

Only 11 copies of the Bay Psalm Book survive in varying degrees of completeness. The book sold at Sotheby's was one of two owned by Boston's Old South Church, which voted to sell it to increase its grants and ministries. Samuel Adams was a member and Benjamin Franklin was baptized at the church, which was established in 1669.

"This is enormous for us," said the Rev. Nancy Taylor, senior minister of the church. "It is life-changing for the ministries we can do."

The book was bought over the phone by American businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein, who plans to lend it to libraries around the country. The sale price included the buyer's premium.

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