House GOP leaders to outline broad immigration principles, focus on legalization
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republican leaders plan to outline broad immigration principles, including legalization for the 11 million immigrants living here illegally, to the GOP rank and file as they look to revive long-stalled efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration system.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other House GOP leaders will measure the willingness of party members to tackle immigration in a midterm election year when they unveil the principles Thursday at the GOP caucus' annual retreat in Cambridge, Md.
"We're going to outline our standards, principles of immigration reform and have a conversation with our members, and once that conversation's over we'll have a better feel for what members have in mind," Boehner told reporters this week.
Boehner faces strong opposition from several conservatives who fear that legislation will lead to citizenship for people who broke U.S. immigration laws, are suspicious of President Barack Obama and his enforcement of any law and are reluctant to give the president a long-sought legislative victory.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, delivered a 30-page package to all 232 House Republicans on Wednesday that offered a point-by-point rebuttal to the expected principles.
Syria has deliberately razed entire neighborhoods, international rights group says
BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian government used controlled explosives and bulldozers to raze thousands of residential buildings, in some cases entire neighborhoods, in a campaign that appeared designed to punish civilians sympathetic to the opposition or to cause disproportionate harm to them, an international human rights group said Thursday.
The demolitions took place between July 2012 and July 2013 in seven pro-opposition districts in and around the capital, Damascus, and the central city of Hama, according to a 38-page report by Human Rights Watch. The New York-based group said the deliberate destruction violated international law, and called for an immediate end to the practice.
"Wiping entire neighborhoods off the map is not a legitimate tactic of war," said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher for HRW. "These unlawful demolitions are the latest additions to a long list of crimes committed by the Syrian government."
Human Rights Watch said many of the demolished buildings were apartment blocks, and that thousands of families have lost their homes because of the destruction.
It said government officials and media have described the demolitions as part of urban planning or an effort to remove illegally constructed buildings. But Human Rights Watch said its investigation determined that military forces supervised the demolitions, which in each instance targeted areas that had recently been hit by fighting and were widely understood to be pro-opposition.
Modest snowfall creates chaos in Atlanta, drivers warned to avoid overnight travel
ATLANTA (AP) — The snow and sleet have stopped falling and traffic was moving again around Atlanta following a crippling storm — but transportation and rescue officials said that didn't mean it was safe yet to drive, especially after the sun goes down.
Officials from the Georgia Department of Transportation said Wednesday night that they were concerned with sub-freezing overnight lows potentially leading to layers of black ice coating roads that might appear to be safe.
Temperatures were expected to drop to about 15 degrees overnight in the Atlanta area, according to National Weather Service forecasters. Although it was supposed to be in the high 30s Thursday, it is forecast to dip below freezing again before rising into the 50s on Friday.
"Whatever little leeway that we've gained with melting and slushiness is gonna refreeze," Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Karlene Barron said of local road conditions. She added that the department was especially concerned with semi-trucks jackknifing and leading to additional traffic jams.
Heeding the warnings, school districts and state and local governments stretching from northwest to coastal Georgia announced that offices and classrooms would remain closed Thursday.
Thai government, weakened by protests, forced to beg for access to its own offices
BANGKOK (AP) — The protest leader, a monk in flowing orange robes, sat sternly at the head of a long hardwood table, his newfound authority in this patch of Bangkok plain for all to see.
Before him, three high-level Thai officials were begging permission to get back to work — in offices across the street his anti-government demonstrators had shut them out of two weeks earlier. Tens of thousands of passport applications were piling up, they said. Bankruptcy declarations needed tending to. One official was desperate to access environmental databases.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Bangkok's deputy police chief, Maj. Gen. Adul Narongsak, pressed his palms together in a traditional sign of respect, and smiled meekly. "We are begging for your mercy," he said.
The monk, Luang Pu Buddha Issara, pursed his lips and gave a blunt reply: "Lord Buddha once taught that effects only come from causes. And right now, the cause (of the problem) is this government."
It was an extraordinarily humbling moment for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's embattled administration, which took power following a landslide election two and a half years ago. That vote was seen as a major rebuke to the elite establishment that applauded the overthrow of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra in a 2006 army coup.
Gaza's 2nd feature film revisits familiar theme of fighting Israeli occupation
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza's tiny movie industry may struggle with amateur actors and power outages, but at least it has a winning formula of which the producers never seem to tire: the heroics, from a Palestinian perspective, of those fighting Israeli occupation.
"Losing Schalit" will be the second feature-length film made in the blockaded territory since 2009. It's the first of a planned three-part series about the 2006 capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit by gunmen allied with the Islamic militant Hamas movement. It's currently in production and parts two and three will depict Schalit's time in captivity and his 2011 swap for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Like the first Gaza film, about a senior militant commander, it received financing from the Hamas government. The Schalit capture and eventual prisoner swap are seen by Hamas as a triumph in its long-running confrontation with Israel, and helped boost the movement's support in Gaza.
Writer-director Majed Jundiyeh, who also made the territory's first full-length feature "Emad Akel"— a 2009 film about the Hamas military wing commander of the same name — said his work is intentionally political. "I'm working to establish a movie industry of resistance in Gaza, to reflect the Palestinian story with Palestinian actors," he said.
Jundiyeh, 47, studied film in Germany in the 1980s and 1990s and said his teachers included director Volker Schloendorff, a prominent member of the New German Cinema. After his return to Gaza in 1996, Jundiyeh made documentaries and acted in a soap opera on Palestine TV.
Justin Bieber turns self in on assault charge in Toronto, second arrest in a week
TORONTO (AP) — Justin Bieber was charged with assault for allegedly hitting a Toronto limousine driver several times in the back of the head last month, just hours after his attorney entered a separate not guilty plea in Florida to drunken-driving and other charges.
The baby-faced 19-year-old turned himself in to a Toronto police station Wednesday evening, arriving amid a crush of media and screaming fans. He was charged with one count of assault and is scheduled to appear in court in Toronto on March 10.
Police allege Bieber was one of six people who were picked up by a limousine from a nightclub in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, and there was an altercation while en route to a hotel.
Police said during the altercation one of the passengers hit the limo driver in the back of the head several times.
"The driver stopped the limousine, exited the vehicle and called police," a statement said. "The man who struck him left the scene before police arrived."
Democrats, Republicans trying to influence campaigns for secretary of state
WASHINGTON (AP) — Campaigns for secretary of state, often relegated to the back burner of American politics, are drawing increasing attention from Democratic and Republican groups that hope to influence how elections are overseen in a number of presidential battleground states.
Democratic strategists who have advised the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were launching a political action committee called iVote on Thursday, vowing to back Democrats running for secretary of state in Iowa, Colorado, Nevada and Ohio.
A Republican super PAC called SOS for SOS has outlined plans to spend up to $10 million this year to bolster GOP secretary of state campaigns in at least eight states.
"For too long I think we've been on the defensive on these issues," said Jeremy Bird, a founder of iVote and a former Obama campaign national field director. "We're fighting for people to be able to vote, to have easier access to voting and easier opportunities for voter registration."
Republicans currently control 28 of the 50 state elections offices, some of which are part of the lieutenant governor's office, according to the National Association of Secretaries of State. Among the states that elect their top elections official, Republicans control 23 of the 39 offices.
A previous unknown, Egypt's army chief could be carried into presidency
CAIRO (AP) — Unknown only two years ago, the head of Egypt's military, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is riding on a wave of popular fervor that is almost certain to carry him to election as president. Many Egyptians now hail him as the nation's savior after he ousted the Islamists from power and as the only figure strong enough to lead.
Still, if he becomes president, el-Sissi runs enormous risks.
His presidency would enmesh the military even deeper into politics, putting the credibility of the powerful institution on the line if he fails to resolve the country's woes. Turmoil may only increase with a backlash from Islamists, who now despise el-Sissi for his ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and for the brutal crackdown on their ranks that has arrested thousands and killed hundreds since.
And there is little indication of how he would rule.
Secular critics fear a return of an autocracy similar to that led by Hosni Mubarak for nearly 30 years until his ouster in 2011's popular uprising. El-Sissi has said it is impossible to now return to Mubarak's style of rule and that the country must move to democracy. But elements of Mubarak's police state — including top security officials and the business elite — are among his fervent supporters, and the crackdown on Islamists has already expanded into a wider suppression of dissent.
Missouri man executed for 1991 slaying of jeweler after day of appeals and denials
BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — In 1991, Herbert Smulls called jeweler Stephen Honickman and set up an appointment to meet at his store in suburban St. Louis. He said he wanted to buy a diamond for his fiancee.
It was a set up. Smulls wanted to rob the store and took along a 15-year-old friend to help commit what became a far worse crime: Honickman was shot to death. Honickman's wife, Florence, was also shot, but survived by faking death in a pool of her own blood until the assailants left.
Late Wednesday night, Smulls was put to death with a lethal dose of pentobarbital, Missouri's third execution since November and the third since switching to the new drug that's made by a compounding pharmacy the state refuses to name.
Smulls, 56, did not have any final words. The process was brief, Smulls mouthed a few words to his two witnesses, who were not identified, then breathed heavily twice and shut his eyes for good. He was pronounced dead at 10:20 p.m.
Florence Honickman spoke to the media after the execution, flanked by her adult son and daughter. She questioned why it took 22 years of appeals before Smulls was put to death.
SUPER BOWL: Players believe coordinators deserve to be head coaches, glad they aren't
JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Super Bowl coordinators would seem ripe for the head coaching market. Yet the four in Sunday's game aren't going anywhere.
At least not to other NFL teams as the field boss, because all openings have been filled.
That's too bad, say members of the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
It's also good.
"I definitely feel like he will make a great head coach," Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said Wednesday of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. "He's very positive, knows how to lead and teach, and players feed off that.