Monday February 18, 2013

Daughter of WWII soldier receives Purple Heart, Silver Star stashed away for years

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A Southern California woman who never knew her father has received his Purple Heart, Silver Star and other military medals he earned before he died in World War II.

Hyla Merin tearfully accepted eight medals earned by her father 2nd Lt. Hyman Markel on Sunday at her home in Thousand Oaks on Sunday.

Markel died while fighting German troops in Italy in 1945, before his daughter was born, and received the Purple Heart and Silver Star posthumously.

In October, the manager of a West Hollywood apartment building where Merin’s mother had lived in the 1960s found a box containing the Purple Heart.

The manager contacted a nonprofit organization that returns medals to vets or their families. The group found Merin and discovered several other medals she should have received.

GOP opponent of Hagel’s nomination says Senate vote should go ahead

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s pick to be defense secretary is unsuited to head the Pentagon, but Republican senators should stop stalling the nomination and allow a vote on Chuck Hagel, a leading opponent said Sunday.

"No, I don’t believe he’s qualified," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further, because I think it’s (been) a reasonable amount to time to have questions answered.


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Republicans have angered Obama by delaying the formation of his second-term national security team, which includes Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, and John Brennan, the president’s top counterterrorism adviser who’s awaiting confirmation as CIA director.

Critics contend that Hagel, who snubbed McCain by staying neutral in 2008 presidential race when McCain ran against Obama, isn’t supportive enough of Israel and is unreasonably sympathetic to Iran. The nomination also became entangled in Republican lawmakers’ questioning of how the White House handled the Sept. 11 attack against a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

GOP senators also have challenged his past statements and votes on nuclear weapons, and his criticism of the President George W. Bush’s administration lingers.

Maker’s Mark reverses decision to cut amount of alcohol in whiskey, restores historic level

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- After backlash from customers, the producer of Maker’s Mark bourbon is reversing a decision to cut the amount of alcohol in bottles of its famous whiskey.

Rob Samuels, Maker’s Mark’s chief operating officer, said Sunday that it is restoring the alcohol volume of its product to its historic level of 45 percent, or 90 proof. Last week, it said it was lowering the amount to 42 percent, or 84 proof, because of a supply shortage.

"We’ve been tremendously humbled over the last week or so," Samuels, grandson of the brand’s founder, said of customers’ reactions.

The brand known for its square bottles sealed in red wax has struggled to keep up with demand. Distribution has been squeezed, and the brand had to curtail shipments to some overseas markets.

In a tweet Sunday, the company said to its followers: "You spoke. We listened."

Iran’s supreme leader steps deeper into the political fray and uncharted territory

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Iran’s supreme leader is supposed to be many things in the eyes of his followers: Spiritual mentor, protector of the Islamic Revolution, a moral compass above the regular fray.

Political referee is not among them.

Yet that is the unfamiliar role Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has adopted as the political mudslinging gets heavier ahead of elections in June to pick a successor for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Bad, wrong, inappropriate," scolded Khamenei on Saturday in his most stinging rebuke of Ahmadinejad for his mounting attacks on rivals -- including an ambush earlier this month in parliament when he played a barely audible videotape that purported to show corruption inside the family of the chamber’s speaker.

Khamenei then went on to chide the parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, for publicly humiliating Ahmadinejad in response to the tape.

Pope thanks faithful in St. Peter’s Square first time since resignation announcement

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- His arms outstretched in a symbolic embrace, Pope Benedict XVI blessed tens of thousands of cheering people on Sunday in one of his last appearances as pontiff from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

Last week, 85-year-old Benedict shocked the world by announcing his resignation. He will step down on Feb. 28, planning to retreat to a life of prayer in a monastery behind the Vatican’s ancient walls.

The noontime appointment in the vast cobblestone square also served as a kind of trial run for how Rome will handle the logistics, including crowd security, as the city braces for faithful to flock to Rome for the election and installation of the cardinal who will succeed Benedict as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno said upward of 100,000 people turned out Sunday and that everything went smoothly. But while there was still space in St. Peter’s Square for more, many couldn’t get in -- or easily out -- because entrances from the main boulevard were just too narrow.

Cuban dissident blogger starts 3-month world tour after long denied exit permit

HAVANA (AP) -- Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez set off on a three-month, dozen-nation world tour Sunday, after a new law eliminated the exit permit that had been required of islanders for five decades and was denied to her around 20 times in recent years.

Pulling a blue rolling suitcase emblazoned with the logo of her "Generation Y" blog at Havana’s international airport, Sanchez showed reporters her brand new passport with a fresh U.S. double-entry visa, valid for six months. She paid the $25 airport tax, disappeared beyond the passport control checkpoint and said via Twitter that the only thing left was to get on the plane.

"My name has not been called over the loudspeakers, they have not taken me to a room to strip me or give me a warning," she tweeted from the waiting lounge. "Everything is going well."

Sanchez is one of Cuba’s most prominent dissidents, though her blog is not widely followed on the island. Whether authorities would allow her to go abroad was seen as a key test of the travel law, one of the most significant reforms of President Raul Castro’s ongoing plan to refashion some elements of the economy, government and society.

Ted Henken, a professor of Latin American studies at New York’s Baruch College who studies social media and civil society in Cuba, said letting prominent dissidents travel is a "calculated risk" in which the government could figure good public relations outweigh the downside of people using their bully pulpit to bash the Communist system abroad. Henken has been closely involved in arranging Sanchez’s U.S. meetings and appearances.

Citizens of Britain, Italy, Greece, Lebanon and Philippines kidnapped in Nigeria

BAUCHI, Nigeria (AP) -- Gunmen attacked a camp for a construction company in rural northern Nigeria, killing a guard and kidnapping seven foreign workers from Britain, Greece, Italy, Lebanon and the Philippines, authorities said Sunday, in the biggest kidnapping yet in a region under attack by Islamic extremists.

The attack Saturday night happened in Jama’are, a town in Bauchi state. There, the gunmen first attacked a local prison, burning two police trucks, said Bauchi state police spokesman Hassan Muhammed.

The gunmen then targeted a workers’ camp for Lebanese construction company Setraco, which is building a road in the area, Muhammed said. The gunmen shot dead a guard at the camp before kidnapping the foreign workers, the spokesman said.

"The gunmen came with explosives, which they used to break some areas," Muhammed said. He did not elaborate and an AP journalist could not immediately reach the town, which is about 125 miles north of the state capital, Bauchi.

One British citizen, one Greek, one Italian, three Lebanese and one Filipino were kidnapped, said Adamu Aliyu, the chairman of the local government area that encompasses Jama’are. He said one of the hostages was a woman, while the rest were men.