Thursday, February 9, 2012

Published:

Sources: Pentagon rules catching up with reality on women in combat

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pentagon rules are catching up a bit with reality after a decade when women in the U.S. military have served, fought and died on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the Pentagon is recommending to Congress that women be allowed to serve in more jobs closer to the front lines.

According to defense officials, the new rules are expected to continue the long-held prohibition that prevents women from serving as infantry, armor and special operations forces. But they will formally allow women to serve in other jobs at the battalion level, which until now had been considered too close to combat.

In reality, however, the necessities of war have already propelled women to the front lines -- often as medics, military police or intelligence officers. So, while a woman couldn't be assigned as an infantryman in a battalion or in a company going out on patrol, she could fly the helicopter supporting the unit, or move in to provide medical aid if troops were injured.

The officials said the new rules will formally allow women to be assigned to a battalion and serve in jobs such as medics, intelligence officers, police or communications officers. The changes would have the greatest effect on the Army and Marine Corps, which ban women from more jobs than the Navy and Air Force do, largely because of the infantry positions.

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APNewsBreak: Deputies were dispatched to Powell home nearly 8 minutes after call came in

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) -- Emergency call logs show that nearly eight minutes elapsed between when a social worker called 911 to report that Josh Powell's children were in danger and when sheriff's deputies were dispatched. By the time officers were on their way, the home was exploding in a gas-fueled inferno, with Powell and his two young boys inside.

The priority of the dispatch Sunday was "routine" instead of "emergency," which cost several minutes of response time, and when the deputies arrived 14 minutes later, there was nothing they could do.

The Associated Press obtained the logs Wednesday night under a public records request.

Recently released audio recordings of the 911 calls raised questions about how the dispatch center handled the social worker's call regarding Powell, who was a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife two years ago.

The worker detailed how Powell had locked her out of his house during what was supposed to be a supervised visit with his sons, that she could smell gas, and that she feared for their lives.

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Analysis: Obama birth control policy has political cost, angering supporters and critics

The Obama administration's new mandate that religious organizations pay for their workers' birth control has become a bludgeon for Republican culture warriors, as social issues have surged to the forefront in the presidential campaign.

Conservatives who believe religious freedom always trumps gender equity in the public arena are outraged. But so too are Roman Catholic and evangelical moderates who have stuck with President Barack Obama, an abortion rights supporter, because of his 2008 pledge to reduce the abortion rate and find common ground among religious and secular Americans. These backers say the administration could have easily avoided the controversy by including broader religious exemptions already in place at some federal agencies.

After two weeks of unrelenting condemnation led by the nation's Catholic bishops, the White House has responded by hinting at some compromise in how the requirement is enforced. Administration officials insist any accommodation for religious groups will leave in place contraceptive coverage, although they haven't said how. But even the suggestion of a revision, no matter how limited, has infuriated Democrats the president hoped to please with the regulation. As the debate rages, women's groups, liberal religious leaders and health advocates are rallying in favor of the broadest contraceptive coverage that would include Catholic employers.

"We believe that women and men have the right to decide whether or not to apply the principles of their faith to family-planning decisions, and to do so they must have access to services," read a statement Wednesday from liberal religious leaders representing Reform and Conservative Jews, Methodist and Episcopal groups, among others. "The administration was correct in requiring institutions that do not have purely sectarian goals to offer comprehensive preventive health care."

The conflict is erupting as GOP candidates compete for the title of the true conservative in the presidential race. The contraception debate is tailor-made for the fight.

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Ticking clock, rising Israeli fears and the price of gas push Iran to top of US worry list

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The prospect of conflict with Iran has eclipsed Afghanistan as the key national security issue with head-spinning speed. After years of bad blood and an international impasse over Iran's disputed nuclear program, why does the threat of war seem so suddenly upon us?

The short answer is that Iran has used the years of deadlock over whether it was pursuing a bomb to get within roughly 12 months of being able to build one. Iran claims its nuclear program is not aimed at building a bomb, but it has refused to drop suspect elements of the program.

Time is running short for Iran to back down without a fight. Time is also running short for either the United States or Israel to mount a preemptive military strike on Iran's nuclear sites, something that seemed far-fetched until fairly recently. It is still unlikely, and for the U.S. represents the last worst option to stop an Iranian bomb.

The United States has a "very good estimate" of when Iran could produce a weapon, President Barack Obama said this week. He said that while he believes the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program can still be resolved through diplomacy, the U.S. has done extensive planning on a range of options.

"We are prepared to exercise these options should they arise," Obama said during an interview with NBC. He said Israel has not made a decision about whether to launch its own strike.

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Source denies Athens has been granted a deadline extension to agree to €300M in pension cuts

BRUSSELS (AP) -- A person close to Greece's international debt inspectors is denying that the country's politicians have been given an extra 15 days to agree to a €300 million cut in pensions.

Greek party leaders earlier Thursday failed to agree on the cuts in all-night talks. A Greek parliamentarian claimed later that the politicians had been given 15 days to find an alternative way to save this amount.

But a person close to the so-called troika said that claim was "not correct."

He said instead the country has to agree €325 million in savings on top of the €300 million in pension cuts and that it has been given 3 weeks to identify how to do that.

The person was speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

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Disturbing sex charges at Los Angeles elementary school prompt tricky discussions at home

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Sinister allegations of abuse by at least two teachers in a Los Angeles school have forced awkward discussions as parents warn youngsters that people they trust -- pastors, teachers, even relatives -- might do things that could hurt them.

It was a grim reminder of risks faced by kids, even within the safety of school walls.

Sergio Vasquez, 30, said he talked with his daughter for 45 minutes after she watched a news report about the disturbing cases that prompted the Los Angeles Unified School District to replace every employee at Miramonte Elementary School, located in a poor neighborhood about 8 miles from downtown.

With his 8-year-old daughter Hayley at his side, he said he told her to speak up if she sees anything suspicious, or if any teacher tries to manipulate her by giving her candy, or touching her hair or shoulders.

"We told her her body is private and nobody has the right to touch her," said Vasquez, as he stood outside an elementary school near downtown. "No teacher should put his hands on you and tell you 'Oh how beautiful you are.'"

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Gingrich hopes his experience, fundraising and 'big ideas' can hold off Santorum in GOP race

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Newt Gingrich, suddenly in danger of losing his perch as Mitt Romney's strongest GOP challenger, is fine-tuning his presidential campaign to place more emphasis on raising money, guarding his home turf and trying to avoid nasty quarrels with the front-runner.

Rick Santorum's stunning success in this week's elections in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri has fueled his claim that he, not Gingrich, is best qualified to rally conservatives who feel Romney is too moderate and unreliable.

Gingrich, the former House speaker, again faces a dilemma that has dogged him for much of the election. Should he show his feistier, meaner side at the risk of turning off voters who want pragmatic solutions more than expressions of anger? Or should he use a tamer, high-minded tone and risk losing economically anxious, resentful Republicans such as those who handed him his only victory, in South Carolina?

His aide R.C. Hammond said Gingrich favors the second option, at least for now.

"We need to go hard at demonstrating we are the one campaign of leadership," Hammond said in an interview in Cleveland, where Gingrich spoke Wednesday without mentioning Santorum, Romney or his own poor showing in Tuesday's voting.

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GOP report questions release of terror suspects from Guantanamo

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Facing domestic political pressures, the Bush and Obama administrations released or transferred 600 terror suspects deemed an acceptable threat from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only to find that 27 percent re-engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities, according to a report by Republicans on the investigations panel of the House Armed Services Committee.

The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, provides the GOP perspective on an issue that has divided Washington since the start of the Afghanistan war and the opening of the Navy prison for those captured. And it split the White House and Congress last year over how to write rules on handling detainees.

The report comes as Obama administration officials have acknowledged they are considering whether to release several Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo and send them to a third country as an incentive to bring the Taliban to peace talks. The step is certain to create an uproar on Capitol Hill, especially among Republicans. The 93-page study is likely to be part of the GOP effort to influence the ongoing debate.

In a rare break on a committee that typically is bipartisan on defense issues, Democrats dissented from the report despite efforts to reconcile their differences, with four members of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee calling the study incomplete and declining to sign it.

The report cites testimony before the committee last year that 27 percent of former detainees "were confirmed or suspected to have been re-engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities," up from 25 percent the previous year. Intelligence officials had indicated that the number would increase.

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Model's gender-bending visage transfixes fashion industry and passers-by, but can it last?

NEW YORK (AP) -- On a chilly winter afternoon, Andrej Pejic settles into a Manhattan cafe with a cup of Earl Grey tea, sitting gracefully, long legs crossed. The blue-eyed fashion model gazes out a window, unaware that almost every man sitting at surrounding tables is transfixed.

A man in a black leather jacket walks up to the window, presses his face against the glass and kisses it. Pejic giggles and admits: "I find it flattering."

The admirers are likely unaware that the beautiful blonde is actually a man.

As Fashion Week gets under way in New York City, Pejic is one of the most recognizable -- and controversial -- faces in the industry. He's the only top-tier fashion model who can walk down the runway as either a man or a woman. And his androgynous beauty has turned him into a trendsetter in an industry that's always seeking to push the envelope.

"He's just this beautiful thing that everyone wants a piece of," says stylist Ken Anderson, who dressed Pejic for a German magazine cover.

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Rivers buries a 3-pointer at the buzzer to help No. 10 Duke stun No. 5 North Carolina 85-84

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- Austin Rivers and his Duke teammates kept hanging around, doing just enough to keep North Carolina from blowing the game open until the Tar Heels finally gave them an opening.

The freshman took advantage, burying a shot that will live on in the lore of this fierce rivalry.

Rivers hit a 3-pointer at the horn to give the No. 10 Blue Devils an 85-84 win over the fifth-ranked Tar Heels on Wednesday night, snapping the UNC's school-record 31-game home winning streak.

Rivers scored a season-high 29 points and hit six 3s, the last over 7-footer Tyler Zeller with the Blue Devils (20-4, 7-2) trailing by two in the final seconds. The ball swished through the net, sending Rivers running down the court in celebration while the rest of his teammates gave chase before mobbing him in front of a stunned UNC crowd.

Rivers' 3 also sent his father, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, into jubilant celebration from the stands. And it capped a wild rally for the Blue Devils from 10 down in the final 2½ minutes.