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Associated Press

Posted on February 16, 2014 at 6:02 AM

AP Exclusive: Data shows Army forcing more soldiers out due to misconduct; war partly to blame

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of U.S. soldiers forced out of the Army because of crimes or misconduct has soared in the past several years as the military emerges from a decade of war that put a greater focus on battle competence than on character.

Data obtained by The Associated Press shows that the number of officers who left the Army due to misconduct more than tripled in the past three years. The number of enlisted soldiers forced out for drugs, alcohol, crimes and other misconduct shot up from about 5,600 in 2007, as the Iraq war peaked, to more than 11,000 last year.

The data reveals stark differences between the military services and underscores the strains that long, repeated deployments to the front lines have had on the Army's soldiers and their leaders.

It also reflects the Army's rapid growth in the middle part of the decade, and the decisions to relax standards a bit to bring in and retain tens of thousands of soldiers to fill the ranks as the Pentagon added troops in Iraq and continued the fight in Afghanistan.

The Army grew to a peak of about 570,000 soldiers during the height of the wars, and soldiers represented the bulk of the troops on the battlefields compared with the other services.

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Fla. man convicted of lesser counts in loud-music killing trial; mistrial on murder charge

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida jury's inability to agree on a murder charge will give prosecutors and defense attorneys fodder for their next moves in the case of a teen fatally shot after an argument over loud music.

Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old software developer, was convicted Saturday of attempted murder for shooting into a carful of teenagers after the argument but jurors couldn't agree on the most serious charge of first-degree murder. A mistrial was declared on the murder charge.

State Attorney Angela Corey said her office would consider seeking a retrial of Dunn on a first-degree murder charge.

Meanwhile, defense attorney Cory Strolla said he plans to appeal based on several issues, including how the jury could reach guilty verdicts on four counts and deadlock on another.

Dunn was charged with fatally shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis, of Marietta, Ga., in 2012 after the argument over loud music coming from the SUV occupied by Davis and three friends outside a Jacksonville convenience store. Dunn, who is white, had described the music to his fiancee as "thug music." He claimed he acted in self-defense.

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Puppeteer John Henson, son of Muppets creator Jim Henson, dies of heart attack in NY at age 48

SAUGERTIES, N.Y. (AP) — Puppeteer John Henson, the son of the late Muppets creator Jim Henson, has died in New York. He was 48.

Cheryl Henson says her brother died of a "massive heart attack" at his home in Saugerties on Friday. She says it happened after he had been building an igloo in the snow with his daughter.

Henson followed in his famous father's footsteps as a puppeteer, performing as Sweetums the ogre in several films, including "Muppet Treasure Island" and "It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie."

Cheryl said her brother also made appearances in the original Coca-Cola Polar Bear suit. She described him as an "artist who also loved working the land."

Henson was a shareholder and board member of The Jim Henson Company.

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Kerry: Climate change is world's 'most fearsome' WMD, slams deniers as 'flat earthers'

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Climate change may be the world's "most fearsome" weapon of mass destruction and urgent action is needed to combat it, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday, comparing those who deny its existence or question its causes to people who insist the Earth is flat.

In a speech to Indonesian students, civic leaders and government officials in Jakarta, Kerry laid into climate change deniers, accusing them of using shoddy science and scientists to delay measures needed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases at the risk of imperiling the planet. He also went after those continue to dispute who is responsible for such emissions, arguing that everyone and every country must take responsibility and act immediately.

"We simply don't have time to let a few loud interest groups hijack the climate conversation," he said, referring to what he called "big companies" that "don't want to change and spend a lot of money" to act to reduce the risks.

"We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific facts," Kerry told the audience gathered at a U.S. Embassy-run American Center in a Jakarta shopping mall. "Nor should we allow any room for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right thing outweigh the benefits."

"The science is unequivocal, and those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand," Kerry said. "We don't have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society,"

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Obama signs debt ceiling, military cost of living benefits measures into law

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — President Barack Obama on Saturday signed separate measures into law to lift the federal debt limit and restore benefits that had been cut for younger military retirees.

Obama signed the bills during a weekend golf vacation in Southern California.

The debt limit measure allows the government to borrow money to pay its bills, such as Social Security benefits and federal salaries. Failure to pass the measure, which the Senate passed 67-31 earlier this week and sent to Obama for his signature, most likely would have sent the stock market into a nosedive.

The Treasury Department is now free to borrow regularly through March 15, 2015, meaning lawmakers won't have to revisit the issue until a new Congress is sworn in after the November elections.

Separate legislation passed in December would have held annual cost-of-living increases for veterans age 62 and younger to 1 percentage point below the rate of inflation, beginning in 2015. The measure was designed to hold the line on the soaring cost of government benefit programs, which have largely escaped trillions of dollars in deficit cuts over the past three years.

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Singapore firms hire repatriation companies accused of forcing out overstaying migrants

SINGAPORE (AP) — Bapari Jakir's employers wanted to see him off the job, but the welder was heavily in debt and didn't want to go back to Bangladesh. So, he says, they encouraged him to leave — by hiring a company whose thugs held him captive in a room, holding a knife to his throat.

Singapore needs foreign workers, but it doesn't want them to overstay their welcome, and firms get fined when they do. That has created a market for "repatriation companies," which deny allegations from activists and the United States that they use illegal tactics to expel foreign workers.

The country's wealth and continued growth rely in large part on foreign workers like Jakir, who build its skyline and maintain its top-notch infrastructure. Yet as the numbers of migrant workers soar, tales of abuse and exploitation are threatening to take some of the shine off the city-state's international reputation.

In December, migrant workers from South Asia rioted in the country's first social unrest for more than 40 years. Some activists claim that anger over working conditions might have been a factor in the riots, which shocked a nation long seen as an island of stability in an unruly region.

The activities of "repatriation companies" are a major source of concern for activists on the tightly controlled island.

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Russian bathhouse traditions live on in the Sochi region during the Olympics

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — "What's the score?" asks Svetlana Fedorenko as she enters a bathhouse in The Russian Caucuses mountains with her husband and friends: the U.S.-Russia hockey game is still on and most of the country is glued to a television.

A few miles away from the ski slopes of Krasnaya Polyana, where athletes are competing for Olympic medals, an outdoor bathhouse called British Banya is attracting visitors who feel so strongly about the banya, a Russian ritual of sweating it all out in a steam room and whipping each other with bunches of leafy branches, that even a crucial game against the old rivals can't stand in the way of this weekend tradition.

Bathhouse master Ivan Tkach starts his preparations late in the afternoon, at least three hours before the bathing party arrives. He chops the wood, heats up the stove in the Russian sweat room, builds the fire for the native American sweat lodge and ignites the fire underneath a Japanese hot tub, which is swinging on chains from wooden poles.

"The most important thing about the banya is to have a good spirit in the body," Tkach explains. "When people come to the bath house it is not only about warming up the body, but more importantly about relaxing, getting the toxins out of the body and psychologically, leaving the worries behind."

The banya is an institution in Russia. Businessmen make deals there and romantic comedies have been set in the banya. Russians even have a specific greeting for each other as they emerge from the steam room: "Happy light steam!"

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US marijuana policy, pot wins in Colorado, Washington fuel push for legal pot worldwide

In a former colonial mansion in Jamaica, politicians huddle to discuss trying to ease marijuana laws in the land of the late reggae musician and cannabis evangelist Bob Marley. In Morocco, one of the world's top producers of the concentrated pot known as hashish, two leading political parties want to legalize its cultivation, at least for medical and industrial use.

And in Mexico City, the vast metropolis of a country ravaged by horrific cartel bloodshed, lawmakers have proposed a brand new plan to let stores sell the drug.

From the Americas to Europe to North Africa and beyond, the marijuana legalization movement is gaining unprecedented traction — a nod to successful efforts in Colorado, Washington state and the small South American nation of Uruguay, which in December became the first country to approve nationwide pot legalization.

Leaders long weary of the drug war's violence and futility have been emboldened by changes in U.S. policy, even in the face of opposition from their own conservative populations. Some are eager to try an approach that focuses on public health instead of prohibition, and some see a potentially lucrative industry in cannabis regulation.

"A number of countries are saying, 'We've been curious about this, but we didn't think we could go this route,'" said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who helped write Colorado's marijuana regulations. "It's harder for the U.S. to look at other countries and say, 'You can't legalize, you can't decriminalize,' because it's going on here."

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Plenty of Putin on display midway through an Olympics that delivers

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — No protests. No real problems.

But plenty of Putin.

Midway through the Winter Olympics, things couldn't be going much better for both Russia and its president, even if winter is actually missing from Sochi itself. The arenas and mountains are spectacular, the games have been peaceful and protest-free, and Russians seem filled with pride about their country's ability to put on a spectacle for the world to see.

Worries about terrorist attacks and fears that gay protests could overshadow the Olympics have faded as the world's best battle for medals on the ice and in the snow. Grandstands are mostly filled, television ratings are strong, and athletes haven't said a negative word about either Russia's laws or the food in the athlete's village.

Yes, a heat wave turned the snow a bit slushy and drew bathers to the Black Sea just steps from the main Olympic stadium. But weather is a factor at any Winter Games, and even Vladimir Putin can't do anything about that.

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T.J. Oshie's 4 shootout goals lead US past Russia 3-2 in a men's hockey thriller

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — T.J. Oshie brainstormed while he skated to center ice, desperately trying to come up with one last move to end an epic shootout. He had already taken five shots at Sergei Bobrovsky, and the Russians were still even.

Yet Oshie was chosen for the U.S. men's hockey team with just such a situation in mind, and the shootout specialist concocted one last clever goal to silence an arena filled with screaming Russian fans.

Oshie scored four times in the shootout and put the winner between Bobrovsky's legs in the eighth round, leading the United States past Russia 3-2 Saturday in the thrilling revival of a classic Olympic hockey rivalry.

"I was just thinking of something else I could do, trying to keep him guessing," said Oshie, the St. Louis Blues forward. "Had to go back to the same move a couple times, but I was glad it ended when it did. I was running out of moves there."

International rules allow the same player to take multiple shots after the first three rounds of a shootout, and U.S. coach Dan Bylsma leaned on Oshie's array of slick shots and change-of-pace approaches to the net. Oshie scored on the Americans' first shot before taking the last five in a row, going 4 for 6 against Bobrovsky and disappointing a Bolshoy Ice Dome crowd including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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