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Feb. 6, 2013 at 4:58 PM
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Postal Service dropping Saturdays for mail

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. Postal Service, which lost $16 billion last year, announced Wednesday it will end Saturday mail delivery beginning Aug. 5.

Package deliveries will continue on a six-days per week schedule and post office branches currently open on Saturdays will remain open Saturdays. In addition, delivery to PO Boxes will continue on Saturdays, the Post Office said.

The American Postal Worker Union condemned the move, saying service cuts "will weaken the nation's mail system and put it on a path to privatization."

The APWU called the postal service's funding problem a "congressionally mandate financial crisis," caused by enactment in 2006 of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, requiring that the USPS pre-fund 75 years worth of future retiree health benefits by 2016.

"No other entity -- public or private -- bears this burden," said APWU President Cliff Guffey in a statement Wednesday. "Since the PAEA took effect in 2007, the Postal Service has been required to pre-pay approximately $5.5 billion per year. Yet the same law prohibits the Postal Service from raising postage rates to cover the cost."

The USPS had considered dropping both mail and package deliveries on Saturday, but the plan was altered due to "strong growth in package delivery (14 percent volume increase since 2010) and projections of continued strong package growth," the Post Office said in a statement.

Panetta warns against spending cuts

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday $46 billion in U.S. military budget cuts would "degrade our ability to respond to a crisis."

Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington, Panetta said the impending automatic cuts, or sequestration, would result in "a serious disruption in defense programs and a sharp decline in our military readiness."

He said 46,000 department jobs would be at risk, as many as 800,000 civilian workers could be furloughed for as long as 22 days, and Army combat brigade readiness would be compromised by cutting back on training, shrinking naval operations and a reduction in Air Force flying hours and weapons systems maintenance.

"This is not a game. This is reality," Panetta said. "These steps would seriously damage a fragile American economy and they would degrade our ability to respond to a crisis precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe."

His comments sought to increase pressure on members of Congress to reach agreement on deficit-reduction steps to avoid the spending cuts that were included in a 2011 deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, CNN reported Wednesday.

Obama: Assault weapons ban should get vote

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama thinks a proposal to ban assault weapons "should come to a vote" in Congress, the White House said Wednesday.

In his daily briefing with reporters, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama "firmly supports reinstatement" of the 1994 ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.

"He understands that these issues are difficult, that achieving them will not be easy, but he is committed to pressing forward on them and to enlisting the support of lawmakers in both the House and the Senate of both parties in the effort," Carney said.

"As for the assault weapons ban, in particular, I think he said on Sunday and I know he believes that this needs to come to a vote," Carney said. "The American people actually, by most polls, support passage of the assault weapons ban. The president certainly does, and he believes it should come to a vote."

Asked if the president would still support pressing the issue even if it puts congressional Democrats in a difficult political position, Carney said: "I think he thinks that the American people, understandably, expect Congress to vote on these important matters, to vote yes or no. And he would hope that the Senate has an opportunity to do that."

REI CEO Jewell nominated to lead interior

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday nominated Sally Jewel, chief executive officer of sporting goods retailer REI, to lead the Interior Department.

In announcing his choice of Jewell to succeed outgoing Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar, the president called Jewell "an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future."

Jewell, who must be confirmed by the Senate, began her career as an engineer for Mobil Oil and worked as a commercial banker before becoming CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc, a nearly $2 billion outdoors equipment company. She has less public policy experience than other candidates who were reported to be under consideration but has been nationally recognized for her management skills and support for outdoor recreation and habitat conservation, The Washington Post reported.

Introducing her at the White House, Obama said, "I'm willing to bet she'll be the first secretary of the interior who frequently hikes Mailbox Peak in her native Washington state and who once spent a month climbing mountains in Antarctica."

Ph.D. revoked for top German educator

DUSSELDORF, Germany, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Germany's education minister may have to resign from the government following university revocation of her doctorate, officials say.

The University of Dusseldorf declared Annette Schavan's doctoral thesis "invalid" and revoked her Ph.D., Der Spiegel reported Wednesday.

Schavan has been under a cloud for some time over allegations she plagiarized parts of her thesis.

Announcing the revocation Tuesday night, Bruno Bleckmann, a professor of ancient history at the university, said a committee had voted 12-2 to annul the doctorate.

Bleckmann said the committee found while a doctoral student, Schavan had "systematically and deliberately presented intellectual efforts throughout her entire dissertation that were not her own,"

He said large portions of her thesis had been taken from other sources without adequate attribution.

Four detained in Kabul attack

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Afghanistan's intelligence agency said four people were detained for plotting an attack in the capital city of Kabul that killed three police officers.

The National Directorate of Security said the Afghan Taliban was incapable of plotting an attack as complex as that of two weeks ago, and suspected what it called "spy agencies" were behind the incident.

Spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiri said the disruption to Kabul roads and traffic was well-coordinated, with delineated tasks for carrying out the attack.

The eight-hour episode of violence included a firefight in the streets, and killed three police officers and five militants, the Afghan news agency Khaama Press reported Wednesday.

Quinn calls for $10 minumum wage

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday called for an increase in the state's minimum wage to "at least $10," well above the federal level.

In his State of the State address, Quinn also called on the Legislature to make hard choices on the debt-ridden state pension system.

"Nobody in Illinois should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty. That's a principle as old as the Bible," Quinn said. "That's why, over the next four years, we must raise the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour."

Currently, the federal government has set the minimum wage at $7.25 while the state of Washington has the highest minimum wage at $9.19. Illinois' currently is $8.25.

On state pensions, Quinn said reining them in was crucial to the economy.

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