Posted: Jun 26, 2014 4:00 AM
Updated: Jun 26, 2014 4:00 AM
Analysis: US treads warily on unwelcome common ground with Iran and Syria in Iraq
WASHINGTON (AP) Strange bedfellows, indeed.
The Obama administration has found itself in a foreign policy and national security pickle of rare complexity with the apparent entry of Syria into the Iraq conflict on the side of the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad, as well as active Iranian military support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Washington already was toeing a delicate line with Shiite Iran, which the U.S. deems the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism, over their common short-term interest in turning back the advance of militant Sunni rebels in Iraq.
Now, to its dismay, Syrian President Bashar Assad regarded in Washington as a pariah who should be ousted has joined the club with what U.S. and Iraqi officials say are airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in western Iraq. ISIL had been fighting Assad in Syria before turning its major focus to seizing large swaths of northern Iraq.
Assad is being supported by Iran in his country's own civil war with opposition forces, and a decision for Syria to hit ISIL on Iraqi soil is perhaps not surprising. While al-Maliki may not like Syrian attacks on Iraqi territory, "if it distracts the Islamic State from its trek towards Baghdad for a while, then they will welcome it," said Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria.
Gay marriage moves closer to Supreme Court after appeals court rules gays have right to wed
DENVER (AP) The first ruling by a federal appeals court that states cannot prevent gay couples from marrying makes it more likely the Supreme Court will ultimately have to make a decision it has so far avoided do states have the ability to prohibit same-sex marriage?
The court danced around that question precisely one year ago when it issued a pair of rulings on gay marriage. At the time, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer warned about the high court trying to enforce societal changes through judicial fiat, with Ginsberg citing the lingering abortion rights battle ever since the court legalized the practice in Roe v. Wade.
The high court's caution was evident in its rulings: It upheld a decision striking down California's gay marriage ban but relied on technicalities rather than finding a national right for same sex couples to marry. Then it struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, finding same-sex marriages from states where the practice was legal must be recognized.
That decision triggered an avalanche of 17 straight court decisions upholding the rights of gays to marry, including Wednesday's 2-1 ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the highest court to weigh in since the Supreme Court. Utah, whose gay marriage ban was struck down in the decision, is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.
"This tees it up for possible Supreme Court review," said William Eskridge, a law professor at Yale University. "When a federal appeals court strikes down a major state law, there is a lot more pressure for the justices to take that."
APNewsBreak: After 12 years, US to disband anti-terror force in Philippines but keeps presence
MANILA, Philippines (AP) After more than a decade of helping fight Islamic militants, the United States is disbanding an anti-terror contingent of hundreds of elite American troops in the southern Philippines where armed groups such as Abu Sayyaf have largely been crippled, officials said Thursday.
But special forces from the U.S. Pacific Command, possibly in smaller numbers, will remain after the deactivation of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P), to ensure al-Qaida offshoots such as Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah do not regain lost ground, according to U.S. and Philippine officials.
The move marks a new chapter in the long-running battle against an al-Qaida-inspired movement in the southern Philippines, viewed by the U.S. as a key front in the global effort to keep terrorists at bay. It reflects shifting security strategies and focus in economically vibrant Asia, where new concerns such as multiple territorial conflicts involving China have alarmed Washington's allies entangled in the disputes.
A year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. military established the task force in the southern Philippines to help ill-equipped Filipino forces contain a bloody rampage by Abu Sayyaf gunmen, who carried out bombings, terrorized entire towns and kidnapped more than 100 people, including three Americans.
Although U.S. forces are barred by the Philippine Constitution from engaging in combat, the advice, training, military equipment and intelligence, including drone surveillance, that they provided helped the underfunded Philippine military beat back the Abu Sayyaf. U.S.-backed Philippine offensives whittled the militants' ranks from a few thousand fighters mostly drawn from desperately poor hinterland villages to about 300 gunmen, who survive on extortion and kidnappings for ransom while dodging military assaults.
Police, prosecutors make changes to comply with Supreme Court's ruling on cellphone searches
LOS ANGELES (AP) Officers are being briefed during roll calls, new procedures are in place, and prosecutors are considering the effect on potentially thousands of pending court cases after the Supreme Court's ruling that restricts police searches of cellphones.
From Los Angeles to New York, and in San Diego, Chicago and Houston, officials met to discuss Wednesday's unanimous ruling that could make it harder for officers to quickly find incriminating evidence. The ruling prohibits law enforcement from searching an arrestee's cellphone without a warrant unless a person's safety or life may be in danger.
Because cellphone technology has so rapidly advanced over the last decade, more information than ever before including personal documents, photos and emails is now stored on these devices. For investigators, they can be a treasure trove of suspects' pictures with fellow gang members, not to mention text messages and call records that help police find accomplices or victims.
Few, if any, in law enforcement circles were surprised by the high court's ruling, and they said many cautious investigators were already getting warrants to ensure evidence doesn't get tossed out of trials. But they also universally acknowledged that it would make their jobs more difficult, especially for the rank-and-file patrol officer.
"It's going to be more cumbersome, it's going to take more work, it's going to take more time," said Los Angeles County sheriff's Lt. Kent Wegener, of the Major Crimes Bureau. Wegener said his investigators routinely seek search warrants for their cases.
Hunt for missing Malaysian jet shifts as investigators say plane was on autopilot before crash
SYDNEY (AP) Investigators looking into the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane are confident it was on autopilot when it crashed in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, Australian officials said Thursday as they announced the latest shift in the search for the jet.
After analyzing data exchanged between the plane and a satellite, officials believe Flight 370 was on autopilot the entire time it was flying across a vast expanse of the southern Indian Ocean, based on the straight path it took, Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Martin Dolan said.
"Certainly for its path across the Indian Ocean, we are confident that the aircraft was operating on autopilot until it ran out of fuel," Dolan told reporters in Canberra, the nation's capital.
Asked whether the autopilot would have to be manually switched on, or whether it could have been activated automatically under a default setting, Dolan replied, "The basic assumption would be that if the autopilot is operational it's because it's been switched on."
But exactly why the autopilot would have been set on a flight path so far off course from the jet's destination of Beijing, and exactly when it was switched on remains unknown.
Median age in Great Plains states slides amid oil boom as rest of America keeps getting older
WASHINGTON (AP) The United States is still growing older, but the trend is reversing in the Great Plains, thanks to a liberal application of oil.
The aging baby boom generation helped inch up the median age in the United States last year from 37.5 years to 37.6 years, according to data released Thursday by the Census Bureau. But a closer examination of those numbers shows that seven states Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming actually became younger.
Credit for the de-aging of the mainland states between 2012 and 2013 goes to the increase in oil and gas exploration in the Great Plains. The Census Bureau offered no reason for the decrease in Alaska and Hawaii.
"We're seeing the demographic impact of two booms," Census Bureau Director John Thompson said. "The population in the Great Plains energy-boom states is becoming younger and more male as workers move in seeking employment in the oil and gas industry, while the U.S. as a whole continues to age as the youngest of the baby boom generation enter their 50s."
Williams County, North Dakota, which the Census Bureau called the center of the country's Bakken shale energy boom, had the largest decline in age in the United States 1.6 years.
Outside Rio's soccer stadium, fans hunt for tickets at inflated prices as scalpers dodge cops
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) After an overnight flight from the United States, Greg Thomas swigged a beer Wednesday afternoon on a sidewalk near Rio's famed Maracana stadium and raised his arm high into the air with four fingers displayed to attract scalpers who might sell him and three friends tickets to get into the Ecuador-France World Cup game.
They were willing to pay about $500 each, but the asking price from scalpers working the crowds and dodging police was $1,000 per ticket just before the game started. That didn't leave Thomas angry, but wondering whether he and his old college buddies would manage to get into a game during their reunion for a one-week Brazil soccer trip.
"Scalpers are scalpers, they're going to gouge you wherever you go," said Thomas, 33, of Denver, Colorado. "And remember, this is the World Cup."
The intense search for tickets outside Maracana was a lot tougher Wednesday because police boosted security after 88 ticketless Chilean fans broke through barriers at the stadium's media entrance last week and rampaged through the press center, busting down temporary walls while trying to find a way into the stands.
As fans from around the world held up hand-scrawled signs looking for tickets, police identified scalpers by watching for tickets and money changing hands among the hordes of fans arriving at the stadium's main entrance points. They took into custody sellers from countries ranging from Britain to Russia accused of trying to unload tickets for prices higher than the official FIFA price range of $90 to $175.
Once found from Red Sea to India, only a few dozen Asiatic cheetahs remain, found in Iran
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iran is rushing to try to save one of the world's critically endangered species, the Asiatic cheetah, and bring it back from the verge of extinction in its last remaining refuge.
The Asiatic cheetah, an equally fast cousin of the African cat, once ranged from the Red Sea to India, but its numbers shrunk over the past century to the point that it is now hanging on by a thin thread an estimated 50 to 70 animals remaining in Iran, mostly in the east of the country. That's down from as many as 400 in the 1990s, its numbers plummeting due to poaching, the hunting of its main prey gazelles and encroachment on its habitat.
Cheetahs have been hit by cars and killed in fights with sheep dogs, since shepherds have permits to graze their flocks in areas where the cheetahs live, said Hossein Harati, the local head of the environmental department and park rangers at the Miandasht Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Iran.
At the reserve, rangers are caring for a male cheetah named Koushki, rescued by a local resident who bought it as a cub from a hunter who killed its mother around seven years ago, said Morteza Eslami Dehkordi, the director of Iranian Cheetah Society. "Since he was interested in environment protection, he bought the cub from him and handed it to the Department of Environment," he said. The cheetah was named after his rescuer's family name.
With help from the United Nations, the Iranian government has stepped up efforts to rescue the species also with an eye to the potential for tourism to see the rare cat.
Lacking fastball, shaggy hair, Giants Tim Lincecum still has stuff for 2nd no-hitter vs Padres
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The shaggy hair, overpowering fastball and consistent dominance have been replaced by a mustache, off-speed pitches and a long stretch of mediocrity.
Tim Lincecum has undergone quite a transformation since bursting on the scene as the undersized Freak who dominated bulky sluggers. Through it all, Lincecum has remained a fan favorite in San Francisco for his ability to produce memorable performances.
Lincecum pitched his second no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in less than a year, allowing only one runner Wednesday and leading the San Francisco Giants to a 4-0 win.
"Right now I guess I can say it's really cool," Lincecum said. "When I get older I can reflect on that a little more and just take it in for what it's worth. Right now I'm still kind of in the moment."
Lincecum shut down the weakest-hitting team in the majors, striking out six and walking one in a 113-pitch outing 35 fewer than he needed last July 13 against the Padres in his first no-hitter.
Alaska decides to end state troopers' reality TV show after 5 years on National Geographic
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) It's a wrap for the Alaska State Troopers' reality show.
The agency's director, Col. James Cockrell, has let Alaska Department of Public Safety employees know by email that the state has decided not to participate in another season of "Alaska State Troopers," which airs on the National Geographic Channel, agency spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said Wednesday.
Cockrell's Tuesday email said that after five years, "it's time to stand down and focus on our principal mission of providing professional statewide law enforcement without any added outside distractions," The Anchorage Daily News reported (http://is.gd/I9zGjvhttp://is.gd/I9zGjv ).
This season's filming will conclude June 30, Cockrell said. He did not rule out resuming the series "in a couple of years" if there is interest within the department.
"This decision was not reflective of the production company (PSG Films) or the quality of their product," Cockrell said. "They have been responsive to our requests and have done an excellent job of accurately depicting our troopers and our mission."