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Jan. 24, 2013 at 5:00 PM   |   Comments

Military leaders applaud end of combat ban

NEW YORK, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision to remove the ban on women serving in combat deserves both praise and caution, former U.S. military leaders said.

Panetta formally ended the ban on female U.S. soldiers serving in combat units Thursday, opening approximately 230,000 military jobs, including serving on the front lines.

"Women have shown great courage and sacrifice on and off the battlefield, contributed in unprecedented ways to the military's mission and proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles," Panetta said at the Pentagon. "The department's goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender."

President Barack Obama praised Panetta's decision, noting women already serve in non-combat units such as military police or as truck drivers that expose them to danger.

"Today, by moving to open more military positions -- including ground combat units -- to women, our armed forces have taken another historic step toward harnessing the talents and skills of all our citizens," the president said in a statement.

"Earlier today I called Secretary of Defense Panetta to express my strong support for this decision, which will strengthen our military, enhance our readiness, and be another step toward fulfilling our nation's founding ideals of fairness and equality."

Retired Col. Jack Jacobs called the change a "watershed moment."

"When people are trying ardently to kill you, it really doesn't matter to you who is on to the left and on your right as long as they're doing their job," Jacobs said on NBC's "Today" show.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, speaking on CBS' "This Morning," cautioned that some things wouldn't change.

"I think the one thing they'll probably look at is not changing training standards to accommodate women," he said. "When we brought women fighter pilots into the Air Force, we didn't change our training standards, and women are totally accepted as part of the crew force in bombers and fighters and so forth."


Kerry: Relations with China 'critical'

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Sen. John Kerry Thursday told a Senate panel considering his nomination for secretary of state it's "critical" to strengthen the relationship with China.

But he warned that the United States will have to compete with China in Africa and elsewhere.

The relationship with "China is an ongoing process. And it takes commitment and perseverance to break through on one issue or another," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he still heads. "We have a lot of issues with China. [But] it's critical for us to strengthen our relationship with China.

"China is, you know, the other sort of significant economy in the world, and obviously has [a] voracious appetite for resources around the world," Kerry said. "But on things like intellectual property, market access, currency, there are still significant challenges ahead with China. Now, my hope is that [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping and the new [Chinese] administration will recognize also the need to sort of broaden the relationship with us in return."

Kerry said he "could envision a way in which China could play a much more significant role as a partner in any number of efforts globally. ... We will be competitors in the economic marketplace, but shouldn't be viewed as adversaries in some way that diminishes our ability to cooperate in a number of things.

"China is cooperating with us now on Iran. I think there might be more we could perhaps do with respect to North Korea. There could be more we could do in other parts of the Far East. And hopefully, we can build those relationships that will further that transformation.

"We make progress," he said. "It's incremental. You know, it's a tough slog."

Kerry the United States is falling behind China in Africa.

"Now with respect to China and Africa, China is all over Africa -- I mean, all over Africa. And they're buying up long-term contracts on minerals, on ... you name it," Kerry said. "And there're some places where we're not in the game, folks. And I hate to say it. And we got to get in. But it takes a little bit of resourcing. Believe me, somebody's paying for those folks to be over there. And somebody's investing in their investment of time.

"And we have to be prepared," he said, "because I think that what we bring to the table is, frankly, a lot more attractive than what a lot of other countries bring to the table. People like to do business with American businesses. People -- we're open, we're accountable. ... I think that if we can organize ourselves more effectively in this sector we can win."


Senate near changing filibuster rules

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Republicans and Democrats in the Senate Thursday tentatively agreed on new rules to limit the filibuster, speeding up action on bills, officials say.

Current rules require 60 votes by senators just to bring filibustered legislation to the floor.

Once a rarely used procedure, liberal use of the filibuster has been blamed by both political parties for the Senate's gridlock in passing legislation and approving nominations.

Politico said the modest proposals under consideration avoid a partisan showdown in the Senate but do little to end the practices that led to calls for reform. Democratic and Republican caucuses were to review the filibuster rule proposals Thursday afternoon.

Some Democrats supported a wider-range proposal that would have required members to actually take and hold the floor during a talking filibuster -- instead of just to threaten a filibuster.

Democratic Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to limit the ability to stall Senate action at the beginning of debate and after a bill has passed the Senate and before negotiations begin with the House, Politico said.

In the 112th Congress that ended in early January, the filibuster was employed 115 times. In the 111th Congress, 137 times, more than double than during the early 2000s when Democrats were in the minority, The New York Times said.

The tentative deal would eliminate filibusters to prevent lawmakers from considering new business, The Hill said.

Sources told Politico the changes would limit Republicans' use of the filibuster to allow minority members to offer two amendments to legislation as it comes up for vote on the floor. If the amendments are not germane to the bill they would be subject to a 60-vote majority.


Chicago man gets 35 years in Mumbai attack

CHICAGO, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- A Chicago federal judge sentenced David Coleman Headley to 35 years in prison for his role in the 2008 terror attack that killed 160 people in Mumbai, India.

Headley, 52, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, admitted he attended training camps in Pakistan operated by the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba on five occasions from 2002 to 2005, and traveled to India five times to conduct surveillance before the Mumbai massacre.

He faced possible life in the prison after pleading guilty to 12 counts for his role in planning the November 2008 Mumbai attack, which killed at least 160 people, including six Americans, and an aborted attack on a Danish newspaper over the printing of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

In handing down the 35-year sentence Thursday U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said he wanted to make sure Headley is "never in a position to commit a terrorist attack."

Although Headley cooperated with authorities investigating the Mumbai attack, Leinenweber said he should be "under lock and key for the rest of his life.

"Mr. Headley is a terrorist," the judge said.

"There is little question that life imprisonment would be an appropriate punishment for Headley's incredibly serious crimes but for the significant value provided by his immediate and extensive cooperation," prosecutors said in seeking a lesser sentence of 30 to 35 years.

Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said at the hearing Headley had "freely admitted" his role in the Mumbai attack when he was arrested at O'Hare International Airport and asked the judge to consider Headley's cooperation in imposing his sentence, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Seven people, including Headley's childhood friend from Pakistan, Tahawwur Rana, were charged with terrorism. Rana was sentenced to 14 years last week in the Denmark plot.


Poll: Most favor Obama on gun control

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- A majority of Americans support President Barack Obama's proposals to address gun violence, an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Thursday found.

The telephone survey of 1,033 adults, conducted Jan. 16-20, found 53 percent view Obama's proposals favorably while 41 percent view the proposals unfavorably.

Thirty-eight percent said they strongly approve and 31 percent said they strongly disapprove of the president's proposals for universal background checks on all guns sales, reinstatement of a federal ban on military-style assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and armor-piercing bullets, new restrictions on gun trafficking laws and greater access to mental health treatment, ABC News said.

Seventy-six percent of Democrats approved of the president's proposal while 72 percent of Republicans disapproved. Independents favored the proposals 51 percent to 44 percent.

Fifty-six percent of women and 49 percent of men supported Obama, as did 58 percent of seniors and 47 percent of young adults.

The poll found support for the proposals has slipped since a similar ABC News/Washington Post on the same questions this month.

The survey's margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.


Arctic air grips Midwest to East Coast

INTERNATIONAL FALLS, Minn., Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Arctic air gripping a 1,400-mile swath of the U.S. from the Northern Plains to the East Coast has plunged temperatures brutally low, meteorologists said.

A Canadian air mass arrived in the Upper Midwest last weekend and dived into portions of the country's northern tier.

Commuters in Minneapolis were anticipating temperatures of minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit, CNN reported Thursday.

A frozen banana made for a fruity hammer to drive a nail, a television reporter in North Dakota demonstrated, while in Grand Forks the wind chill was -33.

In the northern Maine town of Presque Isle, the thermometer recorded 24 below zero.

Exposure to the sub-freezing temperatures left at least three people dead in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, authorities said.

Firefighters battling a stubborn warehouse fire in Chicago were hampered by water from their hoses freezing to the outside of the brick building.

Wind chill advisories were in effect from the Dakotas to Maine, the National Weather Service said.

International Falls, Minn., which promotes itself as the nation's icebox, reached -33 degrees overnight and temperatures were expected to drop to -38 by dawn Friday, AccuWeather.com reported.

Duluth, Minn., a port city on the north shore of Lake Superior, recorded 21 degrees below zero overnight, while Minneapolis had a low of -13.

Forecasters said the cold weather could be accompanied by several inches of snow in parts of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin, and snowfall was expected as far east as New York and as far south as Virginia Friday.

In New Hampshire's White Mountains, Wildcat Mountain Ski Area near Jackson said it would remain closed for a second day as bitter-cold temperatures and high wind warnings were forecast to create unsafe conditions. The ski center predicted a wind chill of minus 48 degrees.

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