Aid missions give U.S. military chance to build up positive
image, and battle-readiness

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (AP) -- As soon as Navy pilot Matthew Stafford puts his helicopter down in the village of Borongan, he is rushed by dozens of local men who form a line to unload the supplies and water he has flown in from the mothership, the USS George Washington aircraft carrier. Children swarm him as he breaks out a box of sweets.

On the Philippine islands of Leyte and Samar that were shattered by Typhoon Haiyan, there is no doubt about it: the U.S. military has been a godsend. "It is awesome to see this," says one grateful villager. "They are saving us."

But while U.S. military support can be critical when disasters like Haiyan strike, staging massive humanitarian relief missions for allies in need isn’t just about being a good neighbor. They can be a strategic and publicity goldmine for U.S. troops whose presence in Asia isn’t always portrayed in such a favorable light -- and a powerful warning to countries that aren’t on board.

"These disasters are not unique only to the Philippines. It will send a signal to all of Southeast Asia, to Asia, that the U.S. is serious about its presence here," said Philippine political analyst Ramon Casiple. "It’s easy to translate this capability for disaster handling into handling warfare. This is the new orientation of the task forces."

From the military perspective, humanitarian missions like the ongoing Operation Damayan in the Philippines offer concrete benefits -- the chance to operate in far-flung places, build military-to-military alliances and get realistic training -- that they may later apply to their primary mission, which will always be fighting and winning wars.

Boeing airliner crashes in Russia, all 50 on board killed

MOSCOW (AP) -- A Boeing 737 jetliner crashed and burst into flames Sunday night while trying to land at the airport in the Russian city of Kazan, killing all 50 people aboard in the latest in a string of deadly crashes across the country.

The Tatarstan Airlines plane was trying to make a second landing attempt when it touched the surface of the runway near the control tower, and was "destroyed and caught fire," said Sergei Izvolky, the spokesman for the Russian aviation agency.

The Emergencies Ministry said there were 44 passengers and six crew members aboard the evening flight from Moscow and all had been killed. Kazan, a city of about 1.1 million and the capital of the Tatarstan republic, is about 720 kilometers (450 miles) east of the capital.

The ministry released a list of the dead, which included Irek Minnikhanov, the son of Tatarstan’s governor, and Alexander Antonov, who headed the Tatarstan branch of the Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB.

Some Russian air crashes have been blamed on the use of aging aircraft, but industry experts point to a number of other problems, including poor crew training, crumbling airports, lax government controls and widespread neglect of safety in the pursuit of profits.

Lungs don’t die when you do,
so study seeks donors who die outside of the hospital

The pair of lungs sits inside a clear dome, gently inflating as doctors measure how well they’ll breathe if implanted into a patient who desperately needs a new set.

It’s a little-known twist of nature -- your lungs can live on for a while after you die. The air left inside keeps them from deteriorating right away as other organs do.

An innovative experiment now aims to use that hour-or-more window of time to boost lung transplants by allowing donations from people who suddenly collapse and die at home instead of in a hospital.

"There aren’t enough lungs. We’re burying them," said Dr. Thomas Egan of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who is leading the project. "It turns out your lungs don’t die when you do."

This is a new frontier for transplants.

Military sexual assault bill set
for debate this week splits Senate over role of commanders

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has secured public support from nearly half the Senate, but not enough votes, for her proposal to give victims of rape and sexual assault in the military an independent route outside the chain of command for prosecuting attackers.

Gillibrand’s solution for a problem the military calls an epidemic appears to have stalled in the face of united opposition from the Pentagon’s top echelon and its allies in Congress, including two female senators who are former prosecutors.

Opponents of the proposal by Gillibrand, D-N.Y., insist that commanders, not an outside military lawyer, must be accountable for meting out justice.

Even so, major changes are coming for a decades-old military system just a few months after several high-profile cases infuriated Republicans and Democrats in a rapid chain of events by Washington standards.

"Sexual assault in the military is not new, but it has been allowed to fester," Gillibrand said in a recent Senate speech.

Official: Pakistan government to put ex-President Pervez Musharraf on trial for treason

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistan’s government plans to put former President Pervez Musharraf on trial for treason for declaring a state of emergency and suspending the constitution while in power, the interior minister said Sunday.

Musharraf, a former army chief, would be the first military ruler tried for treason in a country that has experienced three military coups in its 66-year history. He could face the death penalty or life in prison if he is convicted of treason, but some question whether the country’s powerful army actually will let that happen. Musharraf has maintained his innocence.

The government plans to send a letter to the Supreme Court on Monday asking that treason proceedings begin under Article 6 of the constitution, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said during a news conference. The government made its decision after an investigating committee formed under the direction of the Supreme Court collected enough evidence for a trial, Khan said.

"Gen. Musharraf is accountable to the nation and the constitution," Khan said.

He specifically mentioned Musharraf’s decision to suspend senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and detain them after he declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3, 2007. He was apparently concerned they would challenge his re-election as president.

Author Barbara Park, creator
of smart-mouthed Junie B. Jones, dead at age 66

NEW YORK (AP) -- Barbara Park, a former class clown who channeled her irreverence into the million-selling mishaps of grade schooler Junie B. Jones, has died. She was 66.

Park died Friday after a long battle with ovarian cancer, according to a statement released Sunday by Random House Books for Young Readers. She was a longtime resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., where she lived with her husband, Richard, and raised two sons.

Starting in 1992, Park wrote more than 30 illustrated chapter books about the smart-mouthed girl with an ungrammatical opinion of everybody -- her parents, her teachers, her friends and her classmate and enemy for life, May, who is so mean she won’t even acknowledge Junie’s middle initial (which stands for Beatrice: "Only I don’t like Beatrice. I just like B and that’s all," Junie warned).

The books’ titles alone were windows into Junie’s slangy mind: "Junie B. Jones and Her Big Fat Mouth," "Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus," "Junie B. Jones and That Meanie Jim’s Birthday." Junie was stuck in kindergarten for years before Park advanced her to the next class, starting with Book 18 and "Junie B., First Grader (at last!)."

"I don’t have a problem being 6 years old in my head," Park once explained during an interview with barnesandnoble.com. "It’s almost embarrassing; if I’m talking to librarians or teachers who know my books and they say, ‘How do you do this?’ It’s not a stretch.

Doris Lessing, Nobel Prize-winning novelist, dies aged 94

LONDON (AP) -- Doris Lessing emerged from a black cab outside her home in London one day in 2007 and was confronted by a horde of reporters. When told she had won the Nobel Prize, she blinked and retorted "Oh Christ! ... I couldn’t care less."

That was typical of the independent -- and often irascible -- author who died Sunday after a long career that included "The Golden Notebook," a 1962 novel than made her an icon of the women’s movement. Lessing’s books reflected her own improbable journey across the former British Empire, and later her vision of a future ravaged by atomic warfare.

The exact cause of Lessing’s death at her home in London was not immediately disclosed, and her family requested privacy. She was 94.

"Even in very old age she was always intellectually restless, reinventing herself, curious about the changing world around us, always completely inspirational," her editor at HarperCollins, Nicholas Pearson, said in one of the many tributes.

Lessing explored topics ranging from colonial Africa to dystopian Britain, from the mystery of being female to the unknown worlds of science fiction. In winning the Nobel literature prize, the Swedish Academy praised Lessing for her "skepticism, fire and visionary power."