EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 22, 2013

Around the World and Nation


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Gunfire hit three U.S. military aircraft trying to evacuate American citizens in a remote region of South Sudan that on Saturday became a battle ground between the country’s military and renegade troops, officials said. Four U.S. service members were wounded in the attack in the same region where gunfire downed a U.N. helicopter the day before.

The U.S. military aircraft were about to land in Bor, the capital of the state of Jonglei and scene of some of the nation’s worst violence over the last week, when they were hit. The military said the four wounded troops were in stable condition.

The U.S. military said three CV-22 Ospreys — the kind of aircraft that can fly like a helicopter and plane — were “participating in a mission to evacuate American citizens in Bor.” A South Sudan official said violence against civilians there has resulted in bodies “sprinkled all over town.”

“After receiving fire from the ground while approaching the site, the aircraft diverted to an airfield outside the country and aborted the mission,” the statement said. “The injured troops are being treated for their wounds.” It was not known how many U.S. civilians are in Bor.

After the aircraft took incoming fire, they turned around and flew to Entebbe, Uganda. From there the service members were flown to Nairobi, Kenya aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 for medical treatment, the statement said.

US releases legal rulings in attempt to justify Bush-era surveillance programs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The director of national intelligence on Saturday declassified more documents that outline how the National Security Agency was first authorized to start collecting bulk phone and Internet records in the hunt for al-Qaida terrorists and how a court eventually gained oversight of the program, after the Justice Department complied with a federal court order to release its previous legal arguments for keeping the programs secret.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explained in a statement Saturday that President George W. Bush first authorized the spying in October 2001, as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, just after the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush disclosed the program in 2005. The Terrorist Surveillance Program — which had to be extended every 30-60 days by presidential order — eventually was replaced by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — a law that requires a secret court to OK the bulk collection.

Clapper also released federal court documents from successive intelligence directors arguing to keep the programs secret, after a California judge this fall ordered the administration to declassify whatever details already had been revealed as part of the White House’s campaign to justify the NSA surveillance. Former agency contractor Edward Snowden first made the surveillance programs public in leaks to the media.

President Barack Obama hinted Friday that he would consider some changes to NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records to address the public’s concern about privacy. His comments came in a week where a federal judge declared NSA’s collection program “unconstitutional,” and a presidential advisory panel suggested 46 changes to NSA operations.

The judge said there was little evidence any terror plot had been thwarted by the program, known as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The advisory panel recommended continuing the program but requiring a court order for each NSA search of the phone records database, and keeping that database in the hands of a third party — not the government. Obama said he would announce his decisions in January.

NASA astronauts tackle urgent spacewalking repairs

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Astronauts removed an old space station pump Saturday, sailing through the first of a series of urgent repair spacewalks to revive a crippled cooling line.

The two Americans on the crew, Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins, successfully pulled out the ammonia pump with a bad valve —well ahead of schedule. That task had been planned for the next spacewalk on Monday.

“An early Christmas,” observed Mission Control as Mastracchio tugged the refrigerator-size pump away from its nesting spot.

If Mastracchio and Hopkins keep up the quick work, two spacewalks may be enough to complete the installation of a spare pump and a third spacewalk will not be needed on Christmas Day as originally anticipated.

The breakdown 10 days earlier left one of two identical cooling loops too cold and forced the astronauts to turn off all nonessential equipment inside the orbiting lab, bringing scientific research to a near-halt and leaving the station in a vulnerable state.

Walking across US: Whether for cause or just because, lure of road irresistible, inexplicable

For a week following Jadin’s death, Joe Bell lay in bed, beating himself up, wondering what he could — should — have done differently to help his son.

In the face of relentless bullying at high school, the openly gay 15-year-old had confessed to his parents six months earlier that he’d been having suicidal thoughts. Bell and his wife got their son into counseling, and Jadin appeared to be doing well.

Then he hanged himself.

Racked with guilt, Bell chided himself over scolding Jadin for smoking a few days before the hanging. The Oregon man worried that he couldn’t survive this grief.

Bell knew he had to do something. Then it came to him: He’d walk across the country, sharing Jadin’s story.

Congress argues a lot, accomplishes little in year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Call it a steady diet of gridlock, with “Green Eggs and Ham” on the side.

Congress did not pass White House-backed immigration or gun control legislation in 2013. Or raise the minimum wage. Or approve many other items on President Barack Obama’s agenda.

But tea party-inspired House Republicans did propel the country into a 16-day partial government shutdown that cost the still-recovering economy $24 billion, by one estimate.

Congress didn’t repeal the health law known as “Obamacare.” Or endorse construction of the proposed Keystone pipeline. Or make it harder for the White House to put costly new federal regulations in place, or accomplish dozens of other measures on the House Republican to-do list.

But Senate Democrats did unilaterally — arrogantly, Republicans said — change century-old procedures to weaken the GOP’s ability to block confirmation of Obama’s appointees.

Online shopping is popular, but remaining challenges keep it from reaching its full potential

ATLANTA (AP) — More Americans are deciding to shop online this holiday season instead of heading to crowded stores.

But that alone won’t save what is turning out to be a ho-hum Christmas for department stores and clothing chains.

Online sales have surged 9 percent so far this holiday season as Wal-Mart, Macy’s and other retailers improved their websites and prices to better compete with their online nemesis Amazon.com. Meanwhile, shopping at physical stores is up just 2 percent.

Still, it’s estimated that for every $9 shoppers spend in physical stores during the two-month season that ends on New Year’s Eve, they’ll only spend $1 online, according to research firm comScore.

Why? Retailers haven’t solved many of the challenges that initially turned many shoppers off from buying online. Some websites still crash fairly frequently. Hot merchandise often sells out quickly online. And retailers haven’t convinced people to use their shopping apps on smartphones and tablets.

Budget crunched: Cutting smaller sports a growing trend at cash-strapped universities

The meeting was brief. A few minutes tops.

Temple athletic director Kevin Clark didn’t mince words. Standing inside the football team’s indoor practice facility earlier this month, Clark scanned the crowd of dozens of student-athletes — none of them football players — and told them the financially strapped athletic department was cutting their sport at the end of the 2013-14 academic year.

There weren’t a lot of details. No lengthy question and answer session. Sitting alongside his 16 teammates on the men’s gymnastics team, sophomore Evan Eigner sat in stunned silence.

“When I heard the news,” Eigner said, “I kind of went numb a little bit.”

Temple’s announcement that it’s going from 24 sports to 17 next fall, a move that will eventually save about $3-3.5 million a year, was just the latest in a growing line of colleges and universities that are reshaping overextended athletic programs by shuttering smaller sports to help make those that remain — particularly those designed to bring in revenue — more competitive.