Pentagon to beef up missile defense system designed to protect US against NKorean attack
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon announced Friday it will spend $1 billion to add 14 interceptors to an Alaska-based missile defense system, responding to what it called faster-than-anticipated North Korean progress on nuclear weapons and missiles.
In announcing the decision, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he is determined to protect the U.S. homeland and stay ahead of a worrisome North Korean missile threat. He acknowledged that the interceptors already in place to defend against potential North Korean missile strikes have had poor test performances.
"We will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitments to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression," Hagel told a Pentagon news conference.
He said the 14 additional interceptors will be installed at Fort Greely, Alaska, where 26 already stand in underground silos, connected to communications systems and operated by soldiers at Greely and at Colorado Springs, Colo. The interceptors are designed to lift out of their silos, soar beyond the atmosphere and deploy a "kill vehicle" that can lock onto a targeted warhead and, by ramming into it at high speed, obliterate it.
Hagel also cited a previously announced Pentagon plan to place an additional radar in Japan to provide early warning of a North Korean missile launch and to assist in tracking its flight path.
Portman's gay marriage stand a sign of GOP soul-searching in times of shifting social views
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Republican senator's embrace of gay marriage is the latest sign of soul-searching in a party struggling to adapt in a society whose demographics -- and views on emotional issues -- are changing fast.
Gay marriage still divides the party, with the conservative wing strongly opposed. But an increasing number of Republicans, now including Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, are reversing course. Many others simply downplay the subject.
With the issue of immigration also shifting rapidly under Republicans' feet, they seem increasingly focused -- and united -- on one overarching goal: keeping income taxes from rising. Their solidarity on that issue is hindering President Barack Obama's efforts to make higher tax revenue part of a compromise approach to deficit spending and expensive social programs.
These trends raise the possibility that the GOP -- reeling after losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections -- will lessen its identity with hot-button social issues and sharpen its emphasis on tax and spending matters.
Portman announced Friday that he now supports gay marriage, linking his stand to learning that one of his sons is gay.
Vatican lashes out at "anti-clerical left-wing" campaign against pope over Dirty War actions
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The honeymoon that Pope Francis has enjoyed since his remarkable election hit a bump Friday, with the Vatican lashing out at what it called a defamatory and "anti-clerical left-wing" media campaign questioning his actions during Argentina's murderous military dictatorship.
On Day 2 of the Francis pontificate, the Vatican denounced news reports in Argentina and beyond resurrecting allegations that the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio failed to openly confront the junta responsible for kidnapping and killing thousands of people in a "dirty war" to eliminate leftist opponents.
Bergoglio, like most Argentines, didn't publicly confront the dictators who ruled from 1976-83, while he was the leader of the country's Jesuits. And human rights activists differ on how much blame he personally deserves.
Top church leaders had endorsed the junta and some priests even worked alongside torturers inside secret prisons. Nobody has produced any evidence suggesting Bergoglio had anything to do with such crimes. But many activists are angry that as archbishop of Buenos Aires for more than a decade, he didn't do more to support investigations into the atrocities.
On Thursday, the old ghosts resurfaced.
US clergy abuse victims want new pope to take action against cardinals, release all files
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Most Roman Catholics are rejoicing at the election of Pope Francis, but alleged victims of clergy abuse in the U.S. are demanding swift and bold actions from the new Jesuit pontiff: Defrock all molester priests and the cardinals who covered up for them, formally apologize, and release all confidential church files.
Adding to their distrust are several multimillion dollar settlements the Jesuits paid out in recent years, including $166 million to more than 450 Native Alaskan and Native American abuse victims in 2011 for molestation at Jesuit-run schools across the Pacific Northwest. The settlement bankrupted the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus. The order also paid $14 million to settle nine California cases.
"I would like to see this pope stand up and say to those cardinals, 'You need to square this away and change everything that was covered up,' " said Ken Smolka, a 70-year-old retired actor who claimed in a lawsuit he was abused as a teen by a Jesuit priest. "You need to get them on their knees, and let them spend the rest of their lives on their knees praying for the victims."
Pope Francis, who has already set the tone for a new era of humility and compassion, is likely to be sensitive to the plight of clergy abuse victims and aware of the need to work with the worldwide church to prevent more abuse, said Christopher Ruddy, an associate professor at Catholic University of America. Meting out punishment to individual cardinals, however, is much less likely, Ruddy said.
"My sense is that if a bishop really wanted to dig in his heels, it would be very difficult to get him to resign. We have this idea that the pope says something, and everybody just leaps. It doesn't really work that way," Ruddy said. "The bishops themselves have certain rights under church law and they have authority, so that's a hard thing to talk about."
Federal judge says FBI's secret national security letters seeking records are unconstitutional
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A federal judge has ruled that the FBI's practice of issuing so-called national security letters to banks, phone companies and other businesses is unconstitutional, saying the secretive demands for customer data violate the First Amendment.
The FBI almost always bars recipients of the letters from disclosing to anyone -- including customers -- that they have even received the demands, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said in the ruling released Friday.
The government has failed to show that the letters and the blanket non-disclosure policy "serve the compelling need of national security," and the gag order creates "too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted," the San Francisco-based Illston wrote.
FBI counter-terrorism agents began issuing the letters, which don't require a judge's approval, after Congress passed the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The case arises from a lawsuit that lawyers with the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed in 2011 on behalf of an unnamed telecommunications company that received an FBI demand for customer information.
Romney tells conservatives he's sorry he's not president, pledges to work to strengthen GOP
OXON HILL, Md. (AP) -- Republican Mitt Romney told conservative activists Friday that he's sorry he's not their president but promised to work alongside them to help strengthen the Republican Party.
"Each of us in our own way will have to step up and meet our responsibility," Romney told a crowded ballroom at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a three-day political summit in suburban Washington.
"I am sorry that I will not be your president," the 2012 Republican presidential nominee said during his first public speech since last fall's election loss. "But I will be your co-worker, and I will work shoulder-to-shoulder alongside you."
Romney's conservative credentials were sometimes questioned during his presidential campaign, but he was greeted with a roaring ovation and interrupted by applause several times during his brief remarks. Advisers said his appearance was designed to thank conservatives for backing his candidacy.
Romney won the conference's straw poll one year ago, when he described himself as "severely conservative." He did not repeat that phrase on Friday, but he did borrow heavily from his campaign trail speech. Romney referred to the same furniture upholsterer and truck driver he cited almost daily as he crisscrossed the country last year.
Lawmakers approve measure to make Md. 18th state to ban death penalty; Gov. O'Malley to sign
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Maryland lawmakers approved a measure abolishing the death penalty on Friday and sent the bill to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has long supported banning capital punishment.
The House of Delegates voted 82-56 for legislation already approved by the Senate. Eighty Democrats and two Republicans voted for the bill, which needed 71 votes to pass. Eighteen Democrats joined 38 Republicans to vote against it.
The vote represented a major victory for the Democratic governor, who has pushed for five years for the death penalty's repeal. He is widely believed to be weighing a presidential bid in 2016.
"We have a moral responsibility to stop doing the things that are wasteful and do not work and, that I would argue, run contrary to the deeper principles that unite us as Marylanders," O'Malley said, flanked by a group of death penalty opponents, including NAACP President Benjamin Jealous.
Under the bill, life without the possibility of parole would be the most severe sentence in the state.
Police: NY man cut monitoring bracelet, carjacked and killed woman, raped her daughter, 10
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- A man previously charged with having child pornography cut an electronic monitoring device off his ankle before carjacking a woman, fatally stabbing her and raping her 10-year-old daughter, authorities said.
David J. Renz abducted the school librarian and her daughter as they left a gymnastics class at a mall in the Syracuse suburb of Clay, about 150 miles west of Albany, on Thursday night, state police said Friday.
Renz bound both victims, raped the girl and drove a short distance to a spot where the girl escaped and was found by a passing motorist, troopers said.
The motorist told 911 dispatchers he saw a man running away from the scene, allowing police to quickly send in officers on the ground and a sheriff's helicopter in the air. Renz was caught a short time later near a wooded area.
It was unclear how the girl escaped or when her mother was killed, authorities said.
Prosecutors pursue felonies against journalist in LA Times hack; some say that's too harsh
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Federal prosecutors say Reuters' deputy social media editor conspired with a notorious hacker network to cause an online security breach that should be punished by decades in federal prison.
Fervent online supporters of Matthew Keys say the journalist was just taking part in an online prank that briefly altered the Los Angeles Times' website, and he shouldn't even have been suspended from his job.
In an age when the line between tech superstardom and outright hacking grows increasingly blurry, the case against Keys, 26, lays bare sharp divisions about what constitutes Internet crime and how far the government should go to stop it.
"Congress wants harsh penalties doled out for these crimes because they don't want people defacing websites, but there has to be a way that we can bring the law into harmony with the realities of how people use technology today," said Hanni Fakhoury, an attorney at the San Francisco-based nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Keys, a well-known figure in the Twitterverse, was charged Thursday with conspiring with the hacking group Anonymous to alter a Times news story in late 2010.
Heat win 21st straight, beat Bucks 107-94 as Bosh, James each score 28
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- LeBron James and Chris Bosh each scored 28 points, and the Miami Heat made it 21 straight wins, beating the Milwaukee Bucks 107-94 on Friday night.
Only three other teams have won 20 in a row in one season, and the Heat now trail just the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (33) and the 2007-08 Houston Rockets (22) after moving ahead of the 1970-71 Bucks.
They withstood an early scare when Dwyane Wade walked to the locker room with a neck strain after crashing to the court. Miami led by as much as 17 in the third quarter, then withstood a push by the Bucks to remain unbeaten since a loss at Indiana on Feb. 1.