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March 13, 2013 at 10:00 PM   |   Comments

Obama: Secret Service canceled tours

WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Secret Service made the decision to cancel White House tours, President Obama said in an interview broadcast Wednesday.

Obama talked to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. He said the Secret Service -- whose responsibilities include guarding the president, his family and the White House -- did not consult the administration but decided potential furloughs because of the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester meant the personnel was not available to allow the tours.

The estimated cost of public tours of the White House is $74,000 a week with total savings through September of about $2 million.

The president said he was trying to get exceptions for special circumstances.

"Well, what I'm asking them is are there ways, for example, for us to accommodate school groups -- you know, who may have traveled here with some bake sales," he said. "Can we make sure that kids, potentially, can still come to tour?

"I'm always amused when people on the one hand say the sequester doesn't mean anything and the administration's exaggerating its effects, and then whatever the specific effects are, they yell and scream and say, 'Why are you doing that?' Well, there are consequences to Congress not having come up with a more sensible way to reduce the deficit," Obama said.


Pope Francis: Jorge Mario Bergoglio

VATICAN CITY, March 13 (UPI) -- Jorge Mario Bergoglio, selected Wednesday as the successor to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, was archbishop of Buenos Aires before his elevation to pope.

Bergoglio took the name Francis for his papacy. He is the first Jesuit selected pope, the first pope from the Americas and the first pope in 1,000 years from outside Europe.

Bergoglio, who was educated at the Theological Faculty of San Miguel and taught theology at the school, was ordained for the Jesuits Dec. 13, 1969, a biography posted by the Vatican said. He became a cardinal in 2001.

Bergoglio was born Dec. 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires, the son of Italian immigrants and was trained as a chemist.

He spent much of his career working with the poor and has encouraged both the clergy and the faithful to oppose abortion and euthanasia, but supports the use of contraception to prevent the spread of disease.

Bergoglio has supported respectful treatment of homosexuals but opposed Argentine government efforts to legalize gay marriage and opposes allowing gays to adopt, Wikipedia says.


Organized faith adherence at all-time low

BERKELEY, Calif., March 13 (UPI) -- A survey conducted by researchers from three universities showed the number of Americans affiliated with organized religion is at an all-time low.

Sociologists Mike Hout and Claude Fischer of the University of California at Berkeley, and Duke University's Mark Chaves used data on religious beliefs from the General Social Survey, a biannual poll conducted by NORC, a University of Chicago independent research institute, to find 20 percent of a nationally representative group said they had no religious preference.

The number of Americans professing no religion is more than double the number reported in 22 years earlier, when 92 percent of Americans identified as a member of an organized religion, the survey showed.

Hout, the lead author of the study, said, "This continues a trend of Americans disavowing a specific religious affiliation that has accelerated greatly since 1990."

Survey questions included, "What is your religious preference? Is it Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion?"

Survey results suggest liberals, men, whites, those between the ages of 18 and 24, and residents of both coasts were most likely to claim "no religion."


Olympic camp flooded as Russian dam breaks

SOCHI, Russia, March 13 (UPI) -- Some 700 workers building the 2014 Winter Olympic facilities were evacuated after their camp was flooded by a dam break, Russian officials said Wednesday.

The camp, where some 1,500 workers live, was inundated after heavy rains caused the Mzymta River to breach the dam Wednesday morning, R-Sport reported.

No one was injured, the regional office of the Emergencies Ministry said in a statement.

Repairs to the dam have already begun.

The camp is in the village of Esto-Sadok near the Krasnaya Polyana mountains where skiing and other events will be held.


Twenty-one coal miners killed in China

GUIYANG, China, March 13 (UPI) -- Rescue operations were under way in a coal mine in southwestern China where an accident killed 21 miners and left four others missing, local authorities said.

The victims were among 83 coal miners who were working underground when a blast occurred about 8 p.m. Tuesday, China's Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday.

Fifty-eight of the workers at the Machang Coal Mine in Guizhou province managed to get to the surface safely.

The cause of the accident was under investigation. Further details were not available.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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