Friday, January 17, 2014

Published:

APNewsBreak: Pope defrocked 400 priests in 2 years, Vatican document obtained by the AP says

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- In his last two years as pope, Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests for raping and molesting children, more than twice as many as the two years that preceded a 2010 explosion of sex abuse cases in Europe and beyond, according to a document obtained Friday by The Associated Press and an analysis of Vatican statistics.

The data -- 260 priests defrocked in 2011 and 124 in 2012, a total of 384 -- represented a dramatic increase over the 171 priests defrocked in 2008 and 2009.

It was the first compilation of the number of priests forcibly removed for sex abuse by the Vatican's in-house procedures -- and a canon lawyer said the real figure is likely far higher, since the numbers don't include sentences meted out by diocesan courts.

The spike started a year after the Vatican decided to double the statute of limitations on the crime, enabling victims who were in their late 30s to report abuse committed against them when they were children.

The Vatican has actually made some data public year by year in its annual reports. But an internal Vatican document prepared to help the Holy See defend itself before a U.N. committee this week in Geneva compiled the statistics over the course of several years. Analysis of the raw data cited in that document, which was obtained by the AP, confirmed the figures.

___

UN secretary-general says 4 United Nations personnel confirmed dead in Kabul attack

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says four United Nations personnel have been killed in the "horrific attack" on a Kabul restaurant.

Officials say a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Kabul restaurant filled with foreigners and affluent Afghans having dinner Friday night, while two gunmen sneaked in through the back door and opened fire.

The U.N. chief condemned Friday's attack "in the strongest terms," saying "such targeted attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable and are in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law," U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Ban said the U.N. personnel, who were not identified, were among at least 14 foreigners and Afghans killed, including a number of people from other international organizations. Kabul police say 16 people were killed.

Ban demanded an immediate end to the attacks.

___

Facing pressure at home and abroad, Obama tightens reins on US surveillance programs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Tightening the reins on the nation's sweeping surveillance operations, President Barack Obama on Friday ordered new limits on the way intelligence officials access phone records from hundreds of millions of Americans -- and moved toward eventually stripping the massive data collection from the government's hands.

But Obama's highly anticipated intelligence recommendations left many key details unresolved, most notably who might take over as keeper of the vast trove of U.S. phone records. Final decisions on that and other major questions were left to the Justice Department and to intelligence agencies that oppose changing surveillance operations, and to a Congress that is divided about the future of the programs.

If fully implemented, Obama's proposals would mark the most significant changes to the surveillance laws that were passed in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2011, terror attacks. While Obama has said he has welcomed the recent spying debate, it's unlikely to have happened without the national and international backlash following a wave of leaks from former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden.

For now, the phone records will continue to reside with the government. But the NSA will need to get approval from the secretive Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court each time it wants to access the data, a more cumbersome process than currently required. Exceptions will be made in the event of a national security emergency, officials said.

Responding to outrage overseas, Obama pledged on Friday to curb spying on friendly allied leaders and to extend some privacy protections to foreign citizens. The proposals appeared to ease some anger in Germany, which had been particularly incensed by revelations that the NSA had monitored the communications of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

___

State budget surpluses offer an election-year choice: tax cuts, spending hikes or more savings

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- As legislatures return to action and governors outline their budget plans, politicians in many states are facing a pleasant election-year challenge: What to do with all the extra money?

A slow but steady economic recovery is generating more tax revenue than many states had anticipated, offering elected officials tantalizing choices about whether to ply voters with tax breaks, boost spending for favorite programs or sock away cash for another rainy day.

It's a tricky question because of the economic experiments begun almost nationwide since the recession. A couple of dozen states controlled by Republicans have been seeking prosperity with tax cuts and less government. Their Democratic counterparts have sought to fortify their economies by investing more in education and other social services.

The clamor for new spending is already revealing fissures among some governors and lawmakers. And clashes have arisen even within the same party, suggesting that the debate in some places could widen beyond typical partisan disputes.

Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, wants to tap a surplus to cut taxes, despite other Democrats' ideas for new spending. In Louisiana, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to steer the surplus to education and health care.

___

Ohio's longest execution places future of states' efforts to obtain lethal drugs in doubt

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The long and fitful execution of an Ohio inmate with an untested combination of chemicals brought cries of cruel and unusual punishment Friday and could further narrow the options for other states that are casting about for new lethal injection drugs.

A gasping, snorting Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die after the chemicals began flowing Thursday -- the longest execution of the 53 carried out in Ohio since capital punishment resumed 15 years ago, according to an Associated Press analysis.

McGuire's adult children complained it amounted to torture, with the convicted killer's son, also named Dennis, saying: "Nobody deserves to go through that."

Whether McGuire felt any pain was unclear. But Ohio's experience could influence the decisions made in the 31 other lethal-injection states, many of which have been forced in the past few years to rethink the drugs they use.

States are in a bind for two main reasons: European companies have cut off supplies of certain execution drugs because of opposition to capital punishment in Europe. And states can't simply switch to other chemicals without triggering legal challenges from defense attorneys.

___

With rare bipartisanship, Congress, president keep government running until October

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After last fall's tumultuous, bitterly partisan debt ceiling and government shutdown fights, a sense of fiscal fatigue seems to be setting in among many Washington policymakers as President Barack Obama prepares for his fifth State of the Union address later this month.

A declining U.S. budget deficit, still-accommodative Federal Reserve and a small-bore budget deal negotiated last month -- given final approval Thursday in Congress and signed by Obama on Friday -- are helping to temper partisan rhetoric in the short term as attention in Washington shifts to the approaching midterm elections.

The recovery from the deep recession of 2007-2009 has been one of the slowest in history and still has a ways to go, especially in terms of regaining lost jobs. That was driven home by a Labor Department report last Friday that U.S. employers added just 74,000 jobs last month, far fewer than had been forecast and the smallest monthly gain in three years.

The overall jobless rate dropped to 6.7 percent from 7 percent in November, the lowest level since October 2008. Much of the decline came from Americans who stopped looking for jobs and are no longer being counted by the government as unemployed. Meanwhile, a growing number of baby boomers are retiring.

Still, economists are generally predicting a pickup in economic growth in 2014 amid a continued favorable climate of low inflation, falling oil prices, a housing recovery and the Fed sticking to its plan to only slowly pare back the hundreds of billions of dollars in financial stimulus it has pumped into the economy over the past four years.

___

California governor proclaims state is in a drought, paves way for federal assistance

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- California is nearly as dry as it's ever been. High water marks rim half-full reservoirs. Cities are rationing water. Clerics are praying for rain. Ranchers are selling cattle, and farmers are fallowing fields.

Gov. Jerry Brown formally proclaimed a drought Friday, saying California is in the midst of perhaps its worst dry spell in a century. He made the announcement in San Francisco amid increasing pressure from lawmakers and as firefighters battled flare-ups in a Southern California wildfire that chased thousands of people from their homes.

Unless the state gets significant rainfall in the next two months, television sets glowing with wildfires could play like reruns throughout the year.

Reservoir levels in the north and central parts of the state were more depleted than in Southern California, but Brown still asked Los Angeles to do its part to conserve -- and gave a nod to the politics of water in the vast state.

"The drought accentuates and further displays the conflicts between north and south and between urban and rural parts of the state. So, as governor, I'll be doing my part to bring people together and working through this."

___

Commander of nuke unit in cheating scandal says the setback has left his unit 'brokenhearted'

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Members of the Air Force nuclear missile unit hit with the double whammy of drug and cheating scandals are "brokenhearted," their commander said Friday.

In his first interview since the investigations were announced Wednesday at the Pentagon, Col. Robert W. Stanley II said the 341st Missile Wing is compensating for the loss of 34 launch control officers by increasing the work load on others. They operate 150 nuclear-tipped Minuteman 3 missiles.

Stanley said this can be managed "pretty easily" because the unit has long had contingency plans for the sudden loss of large numbers of launch officers for any number of reasons, including illness. It has taken a toll, nonetheless.

"We certainly wish this had not happened. I mean, holy cow," Stanley said by telephone from his headquarters at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mont.

"It's the worst possible thing that I can think of an officer of the U.S. Air Force doing, aside from murder, is lying," he said. "And so that's tough on us."

___

NTSB: Airline pilots who landed at wrong Missouri airport were confused by runway lights

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Southwest Airlines pilots who recently landed at the wrong airport in Missouri have told investigators they were confused by the small airport's runway lights, believing it to be a larger airport in nearby Branson, the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday.

The pilots of Southwest Flight 4013 from Chicago's Midway Airport said in interviews with investigators that they had programmed the Boeing 737 flight management system for the Branson airport, NTSB said. But as they were approaching to land at night last Sunday, they first saw the airport beacon and bright runway lights of Graham Clark Downtown Airport, located in Hollister, Mo., and mistakenly identified it as the Branson airport, which is 7 miles away.

The captain had not previously landed in Branson, and the first officer had previously landed there once, and that was during the daytime, NTSB said in an update on the incident. They didn't realize until the plane touched down that they were at the wrong airport, the NTSB said.

During the landing approach, the pilots contacted the Branson control tower. They were told by controllers they were 15 miles from their target. But the pilots responded that they had the airfield in sight. Controllers then cleared the plane for a visual approach to land on Branson runway 14. That means the pilots were relying on what they could see rather than automation to orient the plane.

Instead, the midsized airliner with 124 passengers on board landed on the Downtown Airport runway, which is half as long as the Branson runway. The runways are oriented in a similar direction. Passengers later described the plane coming to an extremely hard stop just short of a ravine at the end of the runway, and the smell of burnt rubber.

___

Kershaw, baseball's richest pitcher, calls $215 million, 7-year deal 'pretty humbling'

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Even Clayton Kershaw has trouble contemplating the enormity of a $215 million, seven-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers that makes him baseball's richest pitcher.

The team finalized the deal Friday, when Kershaw stayed home in Dallas. The 25-year-old ace said by phone that talking money is "a little bit uncomfortable for me."

Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, have been discussing how to spend the money, and most of their ideas revolve around charitable interests. The couple supports an orphanage in Africa and two groups that fund afterschool programs for children in Los Angeles and Dallas. They have no children of their own.

"Ellen and I understand the effects we can have on a lot of people with this money," he said. "We realize to whom much is given much is expected and that's what we're going to try and do."

Kershaw gets an $18 million signing bonus, payable in $6 million installments this April 15, July 15 and Sept. 15. He receives salaries of $4 million this year, $30 million next year, $32 million in 2016, $33 million in each of the next two seasons, $32 million in 2019 and $33 million in 2020.