Tuesday February 19, 2013

White House: Backup immigration plan being offered only in case Congress fails

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House is downplaying its draft immigration proposal as merely a backup plan if lawmakers don’t come up with an overhaul of their own. It won’t be necessary, Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike are telling the Obama administration.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday that President Barack Obama wants to "be prepared" in case the small bipartisan group of senators fails to devise a plan for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. In response, lawmakers assured the White House they are working on their own plan -- and warned that Obama would be heading toward failure if the White House gets ahead of them.

"We will be prepared with our own plan if these ongoing talks between Republicans and Democrats up on Capitol Hill break down," McDonough said, adding he’s optimistic they would not crumble.

But he was equally realistic about the fierce partisanship on Capitol Hill.

"Well, let’s make sure that it doesn’t have to be proposed," McDonough said of the president’s pitch, first reported on USA Today’s website late Saturday.

As Boy Scouts face furor over no-gays policy, alternative scouting groups see a chance to grow

NEW YORK (AP) -- With the Boy Scouts of America entangled in a furor over its ban on gays, lesser-known youth organizations across the ideological spectrum see an opportunity.


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They wonder if the turmoil might prompt some families to give them a closer look as options for their boys.

They range from Bible-based programs run by conservative religious organizations to coed, inclusive groups, including one founded on the basis of pagan beliefs.

None of the groups has the size or iconic status of the BSA, though some have been around for many decades.

Leaders of several of the groups, in public statements and interviews with The Associated Press, made clear they are following the Boy Scouts’ predicament with interest and pondering possible ramifications for their own prospects -- though not seeking to profit from "someone else’s misfortune," as one leader said.

The BSA, founded in 1910 and now serving about 2.66 million boys, is deliberating a possible shift in its long-standing policy of excluding gays as youth members or adult leaders.

Syrian Kurds who fled to Iraq have mixed feelings about Syria, no rush to go home

DOMIZ REFUGEE CAMP, Iraq (AP) -- Syrian Kurds who fled their country’s civil war have mixed feelings about a future without Bashar Assad: They hope to win a measure of autonomy after the fall of the regime, but fear chaos and the rise of Islamists could instead make their lives worse.

More than 81,000 Syrian Kurds have found refuge in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region in recent months and hundreds more arrive every day. Few seem in a rush to go home.

The Kurdistan Regional Government allows fellow Kurds from Syria to work and move freely in the three provinces of northern Iraq it controls. Some 30,000 refugees still live in a camp of tents and cinderblock shacks near the Syrian border, while the rest have found jobs and homes in towns across the autonomous region, some staying with relatives.

Even those struggling with the hardships of camp life say they prefer to stay in Iraq after the fall of the regime, until they have a better idea how Islamists and other groups in the Sunni Arab-dominated Syrian opposition will deal with Kurds, Syria’s largest ethnic minority.

"If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over and there are problems in the future, we want to stay here," said Faroush Fattah, a 28-year-old laborer from the northeastern Syrian town of Qamishli who arrived in the Domiz camp three months ago.

Coast Guard: Fire that disabled cruise ship was caused by a leak in the
fuel oil return line

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- A Coast Guard official said Monday that the cause of the engine-room fire on the Carnival cruise ship Triumph was a leak in a fuel oil return line.

Cmdr. Teresa Hatfield gave the description in a conference call with reporters and estimated that the investigation of the disabled ship would take six months.

Hatfield said the Bahamas --where the ship is registered, or flagged -- is leading the investigation, with the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board leading U.S. interests in the probe.

She said investigators have been with the ship since it arrived Thursday in Mobile. Since then, she said, interviews have been conducted with passengers and crew and forensic analysis has been performed on the ship.

She said the crew responded appropriately to the fire. "They did a very good job," she said.

Pistorius girlfriend’s mom to paper: ‘Why did he do this?’; family wants answers

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- The family of Oscar Pistorius’ slain girlfriend wants answers, her mother told a Johannesburg newspaper, as South Africans braced to hear why prosecutors believe a national hero murdered the model who was shot multiple times.

June Steenkamp, Reeva Steenkamp’s mother, told The Times in a front page interview published Monday: "Why? Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?"

"Just like that she is gone," the newspaper quoted her as saying in what it described as an emotional telephone interview. "In the blink of an eye and a single breath, the most beautiful person who ever lived is no longer here."

Pistorius, who remains in custody in a red-brick, one-story police station in Pretoria, is set to return to court Tuesday for the start of his bail hearing. It will be the first opportunity for the prosecution to describe evidence police gathered against the 26-year-old double-amputee runner and the reasons why he was charged with murder. Prosecutors allege the killing was premeditated.

Pistorius’ family denies he committed murder though they have not addressed whether he shot her. When word first emerged about the killing there was speculation in the local media that Steenkamp had been mistaken for an intruder in Pistorius’ home. Police have said that was not something they were considering.

Chavez back in Venezuela after more than 2 months of cancer treatment in Cuba

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- President Hugo Chavez returned to Venezuela early Monday after more than two months of treatment in Cuba following cancer surgery, his government said, triggering street celebrations by supporters who welcomed him home while he remained out of sight at Caracas’ military hospital.

Chavez’s return was announced in a series of three messages on his Twitter account, the first of them reading: "We’ve arrived once again in our Venezuelan homeland. Thank you, my God!! Thank you, beloved nation!! We will continue our treatment here."

They were the first messages to appear on Chavez’s Twitter account since Nov. 1.

"I’m clinging to Christ and trusting in my doctors and nurses," another tweet on Chavez’s account said. "Onward toward victory always!! We will live and we will triumph!!"

Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on television that Chavez arrived at 2:30 a.m. and was taken to the Dr. Carlos Arvelo Military Hospital in Caracas, where he will continue his treatment.

Russian authorities want answers in 3-year-old adoptee’s death in Texas

DALLAS (AP) -- Russian authorities have blamed "inhuman treatment" for the death of a 3-year-old boy adopted by an American family, but Texas officials say they are still investigating claims that the child was abused before his death.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said Monday that it had questions about the death of an adoptee authorities identified as Maxim Kuzmin. The committee is the country’s top investigative agency.

Texas Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins confirmed the agency had received a report on Jan. 21 of the death of a 3-year-old named Max Shatto, and that the Ector County Sheriff’s Office in West Texas was investigating.

Crimmins said CPS had received allegations of physical abuse and neglect, but had not determined whether those allegations were true. Sgt. Gary Duesler, spokesman for the Ector County Sheriff’s Office, said no arrests have been made and authorities are waiting for autopsy results.

An obituary for Max Shatto published Jan. 26 by the Midland Reporter-Telegram says he was born on Jan. 9, 2010, in the town of Pskov, near Russia’s western border with Estonia. The boy lived with a family in Gardendale, about 350 miles west of Dallas, before his death on Jan. 21, according to the obituary.

British couple who blogged about their round-the-world cycling trip killed in Thai road crash

LONDON (AP) -- A British couple’s round-the-world cycling odyssey ended in tragedy when both of them were killed in a road accident in Thailand.

Peter Root and Mary Thompson, who had been chronicling their journey in a blog, died Wednesday when they were hit by a pickup truck in a province east of Bangkok, Thai police said Monday.

The couple, both 34 and from Guernsey in the Channel Islands, left Britain in July 2011 and had cycled through Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and China.

The trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the couple, who met in art school and spent six years saving money and planning their journey, Peter’s father Jerry Root told the Associated Press in an interview.

"They were both inspirational," Jerry Root said. "They didn’t just talk about it, they did it. I couldn’t be prouder of them."

Country singer Mindy McCready dies in apparent suicide after chart-topping career, stormy life

HEBER SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) -- Perhaps there was one heartbreak too many for Mindy McCready.

The former country star apparently took her own life on Sunday at her home in Heber Springs, Ark. Authorities say McCready died of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot to the head and an autopsy is planned. She was 37, and left behind two young sons.

McCready had attempted suicide at least three times since 2005 as she struggled to cope amid a series of tumultuous public events that marked much of her adult life.

Speaking to The Associated Press in 2010, McCready smiled wryly while talking about the string of issues she’d dealt with over the last half-decade.

"It is a giant whirlwind of chaos all the time," she said of her life. "I call my life a beautiful mess and organized chaos. It’s just always been like that. My entire life things have been attracted to me and vice versa that turn into chaotic nightmares or I create the chaos myself. I think that’s really the life of a celebrity, of a big, huge, giant personality."