Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Published:

Hagel orders renewed focus on military ethics amid Air Force, Navy cheating scandals

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Concerned that ethical problems inside the military might run deeper than he realized, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered service leaders Wednesday to add urgency to their drive to ensure "moral character and moral courage" in a force emerging from more than a decade of war.

Almost a year into his tenure as Pentagon chief, Hagel had been worried by a string of ethics scandals that produced a wave of unwelcome publicity for the military. But in light of new disclosures this week, including the announcement of alleged cheating among senior sailors in the nuclear Navy, Hagel decided to push for a fuller accounting.

Last month the Air Force revealed it was investigating widespread cheating on proficiency tests among nuclear missile launch officers in Montana, and numerous senior officers in all branches of the armed forces have been caught in embarrassing episodes of personal misbehavior, inside and outside the nuclear force. The Air Force also is pursuing a drug use investigation, and a massive bribery case in California has ensnared six Navy officers so far.

At the same time, hundreds of soldiers and others are under criminal investigation in what the Army describes as a widespread scheme to take fraudulent payments and kickbacks from a National Guard recruiting program.

The steady drumbeat of one military ethics scandal after another has caused many to conclude that the misbehavior reflects more than routine lapses.

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Pope Francis under pressure to act on abuse after UN committee accuses Vatican of complicity

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis came under new pressure Wednesday to punish bishops who covered up for pedophile priests when a U.N. human rights panel accused the Vatican of systematically protecting its reputation instead of looking out for the safety of children.

In a scathing report that thrilled victims and stunned the Vatican, the United Nations committee said the Holy See maintained a "code of silence" that enabled priests to sexually abuse tens of thousands of children worldwide over decades with impunity.

Among other things, the panel called on the Vatican to immediately remove all priests known or suspected to be child molesters, open its archives on abusers and the bishops who covered up for them, and turn the abuse cases over to law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution.

The committee largely brushed aside the Vatican's claims that it has already instituted new safeguards, and it accused the Roman Catholic Church of still harboring criminals.

"The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators," the panel said.

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:

1. POPE PRESSURED TO ACT ON ABUSE

In a scathing report, a U.N. panel calls on the Vatican to immediately remove all priests known or suspected to be child molesters.

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Texas executes woman for slaying of mentally impaired man she lured with promise of marriage

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- A woman convicted of torturing and killing a mentally impaired man she lured to Texas with the promise of marriage was put to death Wednesday evening in a rare execution of a female prisoner.

The lethal injection of Suzanne Basso, 59, made the New York native only the 14th woman executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to resume. Almost 1,400 men have been put to death during that time.

Before being put to death, Basso told a warden who stood near her, "No sir," when asked to make a final statement. She appeared to be holding back tears, then smiled at two friends watching through a window. She mouthed a brief word to them and nodded.

As the lethal dose of pentobarbital took effect, Basso, dressed in a white prison uniform, began to snore. Her deep snoring became less audible and eventually stopped.

She was pronounced dead at 6:26 p.m. CST, 11 minutes after the drug was administered.

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Law enforcement officials: Suspect in NY drug case had actor Hoffman's cellphone number

NEW YORK (AP) -- At least one of four people arrested during an investigation of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's suspected fatal heroin overdose had the actor's cellphone number, two law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Investigators zeroed in on the four after a tipster, responding to publicity about Hoffman's death, told police he had seen Hoffman at the lower Manhattan apartment building where they were arrested on Tuesday and he believed that's where Hoffman got the heroin, the officials said. In searches of two apartments in the building, police found hundreds of packets of heroin in one of them, according to a criminal complaint.

But prosecutors declined to pursue charges against one of the four, saying there was no evidence that he had control of the drugs or the apartment in which they were found, and two of the others were charged only with a misdemeanor charge of possessing cocaine, not heroin. Only one, jazz musician Robert Vineberg, was facing a felony charge of heroin possession with intent to sell.

Lawyers for the three people charged vigorously denied their clients had any role in Hoffman's death and suggested they were being swept up in a maelstrom of attention surrounding the actor's demise.

"This case and the charges against Mr. Vineberg have absolutely nothing to do with the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. ... We're hoping the (district attorney) will not use Mr. Vineberg as a scapegoat," said his lawyer, Edward Kratt, who declined to say whether Vineberg knew Hoffman.

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GOP conservatives adamant in ruling out immigration overhaul in 2014, say wait till next year

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Conservative Republicans on Wednesday ruled out any immigration legislation in the House this year, insisting that the GOP should wait until next year when the party might also control the Senate.

House GOP leaders unveiled their broad immigration principles last week that gave hope to advocates and the Obama administration that the first changes in the nation's laws in three decades might happen in the coming months.

Immigration legislation is one of the top priorities for Obama's second term.

But several of the conservatives were adamant that the House should do nothing on the issue this year, a midterm election year when the GOP is angling to gain six seats in the Senate and seize majority control. Democrats currently have a 55-45 advantage but are defending more seats, including ones in Republican-leaning states.

"I think it's a mistake for us to have an internal battle in the Republican Party this year about immigration reform," Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told reporters at a gathering of conservatives. "I think when we take back the Senate in 2014 one of the first things we should do next year after we do certain economic issues, I think we should address the immigration issue."

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HEALTHBEAT: Scientists add sense of touch to robotic hand, a step to more lifelike prosthetics

WASHINGTON (AP) -- To feel what you touch -- that's the holy grail for artificial limbs. In a step toward that goal, European researchers created a robotic hand that let an amputee feel differences between a bottle, a baseball and a mandarin orange.

The patient only got to experiment with the bulky prototype for a week, and it's far from the bionics of science fiction movies. But the research released Wednesday is part of a major effort to create more lifelike, and usable, prosthetics.

"It was just amazing," said Dennis Aabo Sorensen of Aalborg, Denmark, who lost his left hand in a fireworks accident a decade ago and volunteered to pilot-test the new prosthetic. "It was the closest I have had to feeling like a normal hand."

This isn't the first time scientists have tried to give some sense of touch to artificial hands; a few other pilot projects have been reported in the U.S. and Europe. But this newest experiment, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, shows Sorensen not only could tell differences in the shape and hardness of objects, he also could quickly react and adjust his grasp.

"It was interesting to see how fast he was able to master this," said neuroengineer Silvestro Micera of Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, who led the Swiss and Italian research team. "He was able to use this information immediately in a quite sophisticated way."

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Police say bad weather, distinctive eyes led to fugitive's arrest after 37 years on run

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Police say Judy Lynn Hayman's luck ran out after 37 years on the run not because of an intense manhunt but rather two disparate factors: bad weather that kept an investigator at his desk and her distinctive eyes that had never changed since her mug shot was taken.

San Diego police arrested the 60-year-old woman Monday at her San Diego apartment after receiving a mug shot from Michigan, where an officer staying off icy roads sent fingerprint cards for all old escapees to the FBI.

Authorities had been searching for Hayman since she escaped from Ypsilanti prison in 1977. Hayman served eight months of an 18- to 24-month sentence for attempting to steal clothes from a Detroit-area store.

San Diego police say Hayman identified herself as Jamie Lewis and produced government documents with the name. Officers, however, remained suspicious because of inconsistencies in her story and her resemblance to an old Michigan mug shot they were holding.

"Her eyes gave her away," San Diego police Lt. Kevin Mayer said. "The eyes in the picture matched the eyes of this woman."

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CVS Caremark plans to snuff out tobacco sales at stores nationally due to health care focus

CVS Caremark's decision to pull cigarettes and other tobacco products from its stores could ripple beyond the nation's second-largest drugstore chain.

The move, which drew praise from President Barack Obama, doctors and anti-smoking groups when it was announced on Wednesday, puts pressure on other retailers to stop selling tobacco as well. But first they have to overcome their addiction to a product that attracts customers.

"They don't make much money on tobacco, but it does draw people into the store," said Craig R. Johnson, president of the retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners.

CVS Caremark Corp. said it will phase out tobacco by Oct. 1 in its 7,600 stores nationwide as it shifts toward being more of a health care provider. CVS and other drugstore chains have been adding in-store clinics and expanding their health care offerings. They've also been expanding the focus of some clinics to include helping people manage chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes.

CVS CEO Larry Merlo said the company concluded it could no longer sell cigarettes in a setting where health care also is being delivered. In fact, as CVS has been working to team up with hospital groups and doctor practices to help deliver and monitor patient care, CVS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troyen A. Brennan said the presence of tobacco in its stores has made for some awkward conversations.

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Lights out for 1M; Northeast slammed by snow, ice, rain after storm leaves Midwest

More than a million homes and businesses were left in darkness and cold Wednesday after snow, sleet and freezing rain moved into the Northeast. The region's second winter storm of the week canceled classes, closed government and business offices and sent cars and trucks sliding on slippery roads and highways. Around a foot of snow fell in some states. Moving in overnight from the Midwest, where it wreaked similar havoc, the storm tested the region already battered by a series of heavy snows and below-freezing temperatures this winter.

PENNSYLVANIA

Ice and snow brought down trees and limbs and knocked out power to some 750,000 customers. Most of the outages were in the Philadelphia suburbs, and PECO, the major utility company, warned it could be the weekend before some people get their lights back on. The Pennsylvania Turnpike was closed around Harrisburg, the state capital, for more than 13 hours after a fatal crash Tuesday night. Gov. Tom Corbett signed a disaster emergency proclamation, freeing up state agencies to use all available resources and personnel to respond to the storm. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Administration reported delays and some cancellations on suburban Philadelphia routes, while Amtrak suspended its Philadelphia-to-Harrisburg service indefinitely because of downed trees on wires and along tracks. Many schools were closed.

NEW YORK

Up to a foot of snow fell in places upstate; hundreds of schools upstate were closed. Four inches of snow and a quarter-inch of ice covered New York City. The state deployed 3,500 tons of stockpiled road salt to New York City, where supplies were running low, while plows and other heavy equipment aimed to keep roads clear. A 65-mile stretch of Interstate 84 between the Pennsylvania and Connecticut borders was closed to all vehicles until mid-afternoon. The Metropolitan Transit Authority said Metro-North Railroad service was reduced by 18 percent on morning trains.