Atlanta, other parts of South brace for ice storm; 4 killed in accidents in Texas

ATLANTA (AP) -- The city dodged the first punch of a dangerous winter storm Tuesday, but forecasters warned of a potentially "catastrophic" second blow in a thick layer of ice that threatened to bring hundreds of thousands of power outages and leave people in their cold, dark homes for days.

The streets and highways in metro Atlanta were largely deserted as people in the South’s business hub heeded advice from officials to hunker down at home, especially after the snow jam two weeks ago saw thousands of people stranded on icy, gridlocked roads for hours when 2 inches of snow fell.

"Last time I was totally unprepared, I was completely blindsided," said Lisa Nadir, of Acworth, who sat in traffic for 13 hours and then spent the night in her car when the storm hit Jan. 28. "I’m going to be prepared from now on for the rest of my life."

Nadir was telecommuting from home Tuesday and she had kitty litter in her trunk in case she needed to put it down on icy roads for extra traction.

The forecast drew comparisons to an ice storm in the Atlanta area in 2000 that left more than 500,000 homes and businesses without power and an epic storm in 1973 that caused an estimated 200,000 outages for several days. In 2000, damage estimates topped $35 million.

Air Force’s push to fix what ails the nuclear missile force features ideas tried 5 years ago

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Five years ago the Air Force considered a series of proposals to boost morale and fix performance and security lapses in its nuclear missile corps, according to internal emails and documents obtained by The Associated Press. But many fell short or died on the vine, and now, with the force again in crisis, it’s retracing those earlier steps.

The new effort is more far-reaching, on a tighter timetable and backed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. So it appears to hold more promise for an Air Force under scrutiny after a variety of embarrassing setbacks and missteps raised questions about whether some of the world’s most fearsome weapons are being properly managed.

The earlier approach, shown in internal Air Force documents and emails from 2008-09, included some of the ideas being floated again today by a new set of Air Force leaders, including bonus pay and other incentives to make more attractive the work of the men and women who operate, maintain and secure an Air Force fleet of 450 Minuteman 3 nuclear-tipped missiles. Then, as now, the Air Force also looked for ways to eliminate the most damaging "disincentives" -- parts of the job that can make missile duty onerous.

"Keep the faith," one commander wrote to his ICBM troops in an email in early 2009.

Faith, however, seemed to falter.

Attorney general urges states to restore voting rights to former inmates

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Eric Holder called on a group of states Tuesday to restore voting rights to ex-felons, part of a push to fix what he sees as flaws in the criminal justice system that have a disparate impact on racial minorities.

"It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision," Holder said, targeting 11 states that he said continue to restrict voting rights for former inmates, even after they’ve finished their prison terms.

"Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans -- 5.8 million of our fellow citizens -- are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions," Holder told a symposium on criminal justice at Georgetown University.

Now into his fifth year as attorney general and hinting that this year might be his last, Holder survived political controversies that, early on, placed him on the defensive. Now, he is doubling down on the kinds of issues that have long held his interest during a career in law enforcement -- prison overcrowding, overly harsh mandatory drug sentences and school disciplinary policies that he says push kids into street crime.

Congress used to be the place that highlighted Holder’s problems, including a plan to try terrorists in New York City and the failed Justice Department investigation of gun smuggling in Arizona that ended in the death of a border patrol agent.

Shirley Temple, child star who made ‘em smile during Depression, dies at 85

Any kid who ever tap-danced at a talent show or put on a curly wig and auditioned for "Annie" can only dream of being as beloved -- or as important -- as Shirley Temple.

Temple, who died Monday night at 85, sang, danced, sobbed and grinned her way into the hearts of dispirited Depression-era moviegoers and remains the ultimate child star decades later. Other pre-teens, from Macaulay Culkin to Miley Cyrus, have been as famous in their time. But none of them helped shape their time the way she did.

Dimpled, precocious and oh-so-adorable, she was America’s top box office draw during Hollywood’s golden age, and her image was free of the scandals that have plagued Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan and so many other child stars -- parental feuds, or drug and alcohol addiction.

Temple remains such a symbol of innocence that kids still know the drink named for her: a sweet, nonalcoholic cocktail of ginger ale and grenadine, topped with a maraschino cherry.

Her hit movies -- which included "Bright Eyes" (1934), "Curly Top" (1935), "Dimples" (1936), "Poor Little Rich Girl" (1936) and "Heidi" (1937) -- featured sentimental themes and musical subplots, with stories of resilience and optimism that a struggling American public found appealing. She kept children singing "On the Good Ship Lollipop" for generations.

Belgium set to extend right-to-die law to children, arousing intense opposition from some

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Belgium, one of the very few countries where euthanasia is legal, is expected to take the unprecedented step this week of abolishing age restrictions on who can ask to be put to death -- extending the right to children for the first time.

The legislation appears to have wide support in the largely liberal country. But it has also aroused intense opposition from foes -- including a list of pediatricians -- and everyday people who have staged noisy street protests, fearing that vulnerable children will be talked into making a final, irreversible choice.

Backers like Dr. Gerland van Berlaer, a prominent Brussels pediatrician, believe it is the merciful thing to do. The law will be specific enough that it will only apply to the handful of teenage boys and girls who are in advanced stages of cancer or other terminal illnesses and suffering unbearable pain, he said.

Under current law, they must let nature take its course or wait until they turn 18 and can ask to be euthanized.

"We are talking about children that are really at the end of their life. It’s not that they have months or years to go. Their life will end anyway," said Van Berlaer, chief of clinic in the pediatric critical care unit of University Hospital Brussels. "The question they ask us is: ‘Don’t make me go in a terrible, horrifying way, let me go now while I am still a human being and while I still have my dignity."’

U.S. aid programs in Afghanistan hinge on security issues as U.S. forces withdraw

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Warily watching to see how many U.S. troops might remain in Afghanistan next year, American diplomats and aid workers are facing a drawdown of their own as security threats and dwindling resources limit their 12-year push to develop the mostly primitive nation.

Nearly $100 billion has been spent since 2001 on U.S. projects to better Afghan lives after generations of war and isolation, including boosting security forces, educating young girls and launching mobile phone technology.

But the State Department’s ability to continue aid programs, or start new ones, hinges largely on Afghanistan’s security -- and whether officials can travel to project sites to make sure the money is being spent wisely. A long-delayed decision on whether as many as 10,000 American forces will remain in Afghanistan after the war ends this year will determine how deeply the aid will be cut.

It’s an all-too-familiar pattern of anxiety for diplomats who saw years of development projects in Iraq wither away after U.S. troops withdrew in 2011 because of reduced resources and increased security threats.

"It was not ... particularly pleasant to have to take a very large program down to a very small program in a very short period of time," said Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, who oversaw a gutting of State Department aid to Iraqi police forces two years ago. Violence in Iraq has surged ever since.

Prosecutor: slaying of girl, 15, prompted by 2 teens trying to sell their souls to devil

HOUSTON (AP) -- Two teenage boys were hoping to make a deal with the devil when they sexually assaulted and killed a 15-year-old suburban Houston girl in a satanic ritual, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Seventeen-year-old Jose E. Reyes and a 16-year-old boy are accused of disfiguring the girl’s body, including carving an upside down crucifix on her stomach.

Reyes and the 16-year-old boy, whose name is not being released because he is a juvenile, each face a capital murder charge for the death of Corriann Cervantes.

Authorities say that after the boys lured Cervantes to a vacant apartment in southeast Houston on Feb. 5, they hit her with an ashtray and toilet tank lid and stabbed her in the face with a screwdriver.

"What happened in that vacant apartment was sadistic. What will eventually happen in the ... courtroom will be justice," Harris County prosecutor John Jordan told reporters Tuesday.

U.S. to crack down
on ivory to protect elephants

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration says it will enforce a ban on nearly all sales and purchases of ivory to help stem the slaughter of elephants in Africa.

The White House says President Barack Obama has signed off on a new national strategy for combating wildlife trafficking. In addition to the ivory ban, the U.S. will seek to strengthen global enforcement and international cooperation to fight the illicit trade.

The ivory ban will use existing laws about conservation and endangered species. Despite those laws, the U.S. has not strictly enforced the requirements in those laws dealing with sale within the U.S. of ivory products. But the Fish and Wildlife Service says it will now crack down.

Certain transactions will be exempted, including some antiquities and items imported before limitations were enacted.

Defense ministry: Algerian military plane crash kills 77 people but 1 soldier survives

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- An Algerian military transport plane slammed into a mountain Tuesday in the country’s rugged eastern region, killing 77 people and leaving just one survivor, the defense ministry said.

Air traffic controllers lost radio and radar contact with the U.S.-built C-130 Hercules turboprop just before noon and dispatched helicopters to try to find it. The plane was discovered in pieces on Mount Fortas near the town of Ain Kercha, 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Constantine, the main city in eastern Algeria.

The plane was heading to Constantine from the southern Saharan city of Tamanrasset, which has a massive military presence due to its proximity to the country’s unstable southern borders. It was at least 24 years old, according to sales information supplied by its maker, Lockheed Martin Corp.

The plane carried 74 passengers and four crew members, the military said in its statement, blaming poor weather for the crash.

Earlier in the day, Algerian government officials and Algerian state media had reported that the plane had 99 passengers, making for a much higher death toll.