Monday December 24, 2012

Ranchers split over U.S. border security plan to end environmental reviews on big swaths of land

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) -- When Dan Bell drives through his 35,000-acre cattle ranch, he speaks of the hurdles that the Border Patrol faces in his rolling green hills of oak and mesquite trees -- the hours it takes to drive to some places, the wilderness areas that are generally off-limits to motorized vehicles, the environmental reviews required to extend a dirt road.

John Ladd offers a different take from his 14,000-acre spread: the Border Patrol already has more than enough roads and its beefed-up presence has flooded his land and eroded the soil.

Their differences explain why ranchers are on opposite sides of the fence over a sweeping proposal to waive environmental reviews on federal lands within 100 miles of Mexico and Canada for the sake of border security. The Border Patrol would have a free hand to build roads, camera towers, helicopter pads and living quarters without any of the outside scrutiny that can modify or even derail plans to extend its footprint.

The U.S. House approved the bill authored by Utah Republican Rob Bishop in June. But prospects in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate are extremely slim and chances of President Barack Obama’s signature even slimmer. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified in Congress this year that the bill was unnecessary and "bad policy.


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Still, an idea that House Republicans kicked around for years has advanced farther in the legislative process than ever before and rekindled discussion over how to balance border security with wildlife protection.

Syrian airstrike kills dozens as international envoy pushes for peace with top officials

BEIRUT (AP) -- A government airstrike on a bakery in a rebel-held town in central Syria killed more than 60 people on Sunday, activists said, casting a pall over a visit by the international envoy charged with negotiating an end to the country’s civil war.

The strike on the town of Halfaya left scattered bodies and debris up and down a street, and more than a dozen dead and wounded were trapped in tangled heap of dirt and rubble.

The attack appeared to be the government response to a newly announced rebel offensive seeking to drive the Syrian army from a constellation of towns and village north of the central city of Hama. Halfaya was the first of the area’s towns to be "liberated" by rebel fighters, and activists saw Sunday’s attack as payback.

"Halfaya was the first and biggest victory in the Hama countryside," said Hama activist Mousab Alhamadee via Skype. "That’s why the regime is punishing them in this way."

The total death toll remained unclear, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 60 people were killed. That number is expected to rise, it said, because some 50 of those wounded in the strike are in critical condition.

Egypt’s opposition alleges vote fraud in constitutional referendum; turmoil likely

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s opposition said Sunday it will keep fighting the Islamist-backed constitution after the Muslim Brotherhood, the main group backing the charter, claimed it passed with a 64 percent "yes" vote in a referendum.

The opposition alleged vote fraud and demanded an investigation -- a sign that the referendum will not end the turmoil that has roiled this country for nearly two years since the uprising that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. Many Egyptians, especially the tens of millions who live in extreme poverty, had hoped the new constitution might usher in a period of more stability.

A heated political debate over the past month leading up to the referendum at times erupted into deadly street battles. There were no mass opposition demonstrations on Sunday after the unofficial results came out.

Renewed violence and political tensions have further imperiled Egypt’s already precarious economy, reeling from dwindling resources and a cash-strapped government whose plans to borrow from the International Monetary Fund had to be pushed back because of the turmoil.

The finance ministry said Sunday the budget deficit reached $13 billion in the five months from July-November, about 4.5 percent higher compared to the same period last year.

Billions spent to address hunger, yet families in Chad cling to harmful traditions

MOUSSORO, Chad (AP) -- On the day of their son’s surgery, the family woke before dawn. They saddled their horses and set out across the 12-mile-long carpet of sand to the nearest town, where they hoped the reputed doctor would cure their frail, feverish baby.

The neighboring town, almost as poor and isolated as their own, hosts a foreign-run emergency clinic for malnourished children. But that’s not where the family headed.

The doctor they chose treats patients behind a mud wall. His operating room is the sand lot that serves as his front yard. His operating table is a plastic mat lying on the dirt. His surgical tools include a screwdriver. And his remedy for malnourished children is the removal, without antiseptic or anesthesia, of their teeth and uvula.

That day, three other children were brought to the same traditional doctor, their parents paying up to $6 for a visit, or more than a week’s earnings. Not even a mile away, the UNICEF-funded clinic by contrast admitted just one child for its free service, delivered by trained medical professionals.

The 4:1 ratio that you see in this sandy courtyard on just one day in just one town is a microcosm of what is happening all over Chad, and it helps to explain why, despite an enormous, international intervention, malnutrition continues to soar to scandalous levels throughout the Sahel.

Iran claims it has circumvented sanctions

TEHRAN,Iran (AP) -- Iran’s oil minister claims his country has successfully circumvented sanctions on the sale of its oil.

State TV on Sunday broadcast comments by Rostam Ghasemi that the industry was in "bad shape" about two months ago due to the oil embargo by the West, "but we left the bottleneck behind, almost."

Ghasemi also said that Iran has set up its own insurance for ships that carry its oil after Western companies refused to cover them.

Iran’s oil exports have fallen by about half in recent months due to the punitive oil and banking measures enacted by the U.S. and Europe over concerns Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons. The currency has also plummeted.

Iran denies that it is developing weapons. It has taken a consistently defiant tone toward the sanctions.

Adams, groundbreaker for gay marriage, dies in LA

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Richard Adams, who used both the altar and the courtroom to help begin the push for gay marriage four decades before it reached the center of the national consciousness, has died, his attorney said Sunday.

After a brief illness, Adams died Dec. 17 at age 65 in the Hollywood home he shared with Tony Sullivan, his partner of 43 years, attorney Lavi Soloway told The Associated Press.

"Theirs was a pretty remarkable story," Soloway said in an email. "They were far ahead of their time when they took up the fight to have their legal Colorado marriage recognized by the federal government."

The two men met at a Los Angeles gay bar called "The Closet" in 1971.

In 1975, they heard about a rogue county clerk in Boulder, Colo., named Clela Rorex, a pioneer in her own right, who decided she would give marriage licenses to gay couples after learning from the district attorney’s office that nothing in Colorado law expressly forbade it.