Friday February 8, 2013

Obama pushes agenda, promotes ideas for economic growth in meeting with House Democrats

LEESBURG, Va. (AP) -- President Barack Obama predicted a tough road ahead as he urged House Democrats on Thursday to stick to their principles on guns, immigration and the economy in legislative fights with Republicans.

He told lawmakers at their annual retreat in suburban Virginia that one fundamental question will guide his second-term policies: Do they give everyone a fair shot at success.

"It won’t be smooth. It won’t be simple. There will be frustrations. There will be times when you guys are mad at me, and occasionally I’ll read about it," Obama said.

He asked fellow Democrats to remember what led them to turn to public office in the first place -- a wish to improve their communities. "If we keep that in mind every single day," he said, "I have no doubt that we will continue the extraordinary progress that we’ve made already."

The president also tried to offer hope to Democrats tired of being the minority party in the House.

CIA hearing: Brennan says the US uses drone strikes only to stop imminent terrorist threats

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nominated to head the CIA, John Brennan told a protest-disrupted Senate confirmation hearing Thursday the United States employs drone strikes only as a deterrent against imminent terrorist threats, not as punishment for previous attacks.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said at a session during which he also conceded that after years of intelligence work he is uncertain whether the use of waterboarding in interrogations has yielded valuable information.

He declined several times to say whether waterboarding is torture, but he did say it is "something that is reprehensible and should never be done again."

In hours of questioning from the Senate Intelligence Committee, Brennan made repeated general pledges to increase the flow of information to members of the panel, but he was less specific when it came to individual cases. Asked at one point whether he would provide a list of countries where the CIA has used lethal authority, he replied, "It would be my intention to do everything possible" to comply.

At another point, he said he had no second thoughts about having opposed a planned strike against Osama bin Laden in 1998, a few months before the bombings of two U.S. embassies. The plan was not "well-grounded," he said, adding that other intelligence officials also recommended against proceeding. Brennan was at the CIA at the time.

TV clerics’ screeds, urging killing of opposition, justifying rapes, spark uproar in Egypt

CAIRO (AP) -- One hardline Muslim cleric on an Egyptian TV station justified sexual assaults on women protesters. Others issued religious edicts saying opposition leaders must be killed. Television screeds by ultraconservative sheiks are raising fears of assassinations here a day after a top anti-Islamist politician was gunned down in Tunisia.

Egyptian security officials on Thursday beefed up security around the homes of Egypt’s main opposition politicians, citing the possibility of a Tunisia-type killing after the edicts, or fatwas. The office of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his prime minister denounced the edicts and the top prosecutor began an investigation into one of the clerics.

Two well-known ultraconservative clerics sparked an uproar with their edicts several days ago saying Shariah, or Islamic law, required the killing of opposition figures. A third fanned the flames by justifying a string of mob sexual assaults on women protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

"They are going there to get raped," cleric Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah said, depicting them as loose women. He spoke of their curly hair, saying "these are devils named women ... They speak with no femininity, no morals, no fear ... Learn from Muslim women, be Muslims."

On his TV show on the private Al-Umma station Wednesday, Abdullah, also known as Abu Islam, derided opposition statements that attacking women was "a red line" that must not be crossed.

Boy Scouts face 14 weeks of heavy pressure before planned vote on whether to ease ban on gays

It promises to be a campaign as passionate and dramatic as any big election. For the next 14 weeks, the Boy Scouts of America will be the focus of prayers, petitions and pressure tactics aimed at swaying a vote on whether to ease its ban on gays as Scouts or adult leaders.

The decision will be made the week of May 20 by the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council. The policy was supposed to be settled Wednesday by the Scouts’ 70-member national executive board, but board members said the issue so complex, the organization needed more time to study it.

At stake is a proposal to ease the ban that would allow sponsors of local Scout units to decide for themselves whether to admit gays. Gay-rights groups say the plan is inadequate, and that no units should be allowed to discriminate. Some conservative religious leaders and advocacy groups want the ban to stay in place nationwide.

Both sides are girding for intensive lobbying between now and late May, hoping to influence the outcome.

"Keep the pressure on," was the message Thursday from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to its supporters.

Islamic summit urges Syria dialogue even as opposition leader’s initiative for talks unravels

CAIRO (AP) -- Leaders at an Islamic summit on Thursday urged a dialogue between the Syrian opposition and regime just as a new initiative for talks proposed by an anti-government leader appeared to be unraveling.

Like previous diplomatic initiatives on Syria, opposition chief Mouaz al-Khatib’s call for talks made less than a week ago appeared doomed to failure. And with troops and rebels clashing for a second day around Damascus, frustrated Syrians dismissed the calls for dialogue as empty talk.

"All of this does not concern us," said Iyad, a Syrian fighter on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, which has witnessed heavy fighting in the last two days.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country is Syria’s closest ally in the Middle East, attended the summit and said at a news conference Thursday that he supported dialogue. He added that Egypt, Turkey and Iran were moving toward cooperation on Syria. But he also defended Bashar Assad regime, warning against meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries.

The Syrian civil war is largely at a stalemate, with neither side making significant battlefield gains likely to bring about a military victory any time soon.

Afghan boys who starred in nominated film can’t wait to walk the red carpet at Academy Awards

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Fawad Mohammadi has spent half his life peddling maps and dictionaries to foreigners on a street of trinket shops in Kabul. Now the 14-year-old Afghan boy with bright green eyes is getting ready for a trip down the red carpet at the Oscars.

It will also be his first time out of the country and his first time on a plane.

Mohammadi was plucked from the dingy streets of the Afghan capital to be one of the main stars of "Buzkashi Boys," a coming-of-age movie filmed entirely in a war zone and nominated in the Best Live Action Short Film category.

The movie is about two penniless young boys -- a street urchin and a blacksmith’s son -- who are best friends and dream of becoming professional players of buzkashi, a particularly rough and dangerous game that somewhat resembles polo: Horseback riders wrangle to get a headless goat carcass into a circular goal at one end of the field.

It’s also part of an American director’s effort to help revive a film industry devastated by decades of civil war and by the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist movement that banned entertainment and burned films and theaters during its five years in power.

Ohio Amish sect braces for cultural shift if members get long terms in beard-cutting attacks

BERGHOLZ, Ohio (AP) -- More than 50 Amish children could lose one parent to prison -- and most of the youngest could lose both -- on Friday when 16 men and women are sentenced in beard-cutting attacks on fellow members of their faith in Ohio.

Most defendants could face as long as 10 years in prison and are asking the judge for leniency so they can return to their homes and farms, teaching their sons a trade and their daughters how to sew, cook and keep house.

But their bid faces an uphill battle. Victims of the 2011 attacks, which the government called a hate crime and an attempt by a splinter group to shame members who left or denounced it, say justice is needed, especially for the ringleader.

In a rare interview last week in Bergholz at the community’s sprawling farm amid rolling hills in eastern Ohio, unmarried 19-year-old Edward Mast, grandson of ring leader Sam Mullet Sr., said he is anticipating a life of mentoring Amish children and sharing in child-rearing if the parents go to prison.

While he spoke, a 15-year-old used a chain saw to cut fence planks and a 12-year-old crisply drove nails into the planks as a 10-year-old held up the board. The youngest trudged in boots through ankle-deep mud and a creek surging with melting snow.

BCBG adopts the tune of ‘anything goes’ for its NY Fashion Week catwalk

NEW YORK (AP) -- The BCBG Max Azria customer can do a little wandering in her closet next fall.

The collection that designers Max and Lubov Azria presented Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week had a nomadic, bohemian vibe but not one filtered through their hometown of Paris or home base of Los Angeles.

These clothes came to the runway on the opening day of Fashion Week with an inspiration rooted in Istanbul’s architecture and the Gypsies of southern Europe.

Printed boxy shift dresses were worn over fluid lingerie-like underpinnings. Long vests -- both fur and cashmere -- topped cozy crewnecks. There were more layers, with leather leggings or lizard thigh-high boots that had the effect of leggings peeking out from the hemlines of dresses and sweaters.

"It sounds a little crazy, but it’s also a little bit hippie. It’s different than what we’ve been doing," Max Azria said backstage at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week tents at Lincoln Center.

Massive manhunt on for fired Los Angeles officer accused of killing 3 people, including cop

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Thousands of police officers throughout Southern California and neighboring states hunted Thursday for a disgruntled former Los Angeles officer wanted for going on a deadly shooting rampage that he warned in an online posting would target those on the force who wronged him, authorities said.

Police issued a statewide "officer safety warning" and police were sent to protect people named in the posting that was believed to be written by the fired officer, Christopher Dorner, who has military training. Among those mentioned were members of the Los Angeles Police Department.

"I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty," said the manifesto. It also asserted: "Unfortunately, I will not be alive to see my name cleared. That’s what this is about, my name. A man is nothing without his name."

Dorner has available multiple weapons including an assault rifle, said police Chief Charlie Beck, who urged Dorner to surrender. "Nobody else needs to die," he said.

More than 40 protection details were assigned to possible targets of Dorner. Police spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Smith said he couldn’t remember a larger manhunt by the department.