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March 15, 2013 at 12:03 PM
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Obama seeks $2B for clean-fuels research

ARGONNE, Ill., March 15 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama will propose using $2 billion in revenue from oil and gas leases to pay for research on energy-efficient vehicles, the White House said.

Obama was to present his proposition Friday in a visit to the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago to tour the facility and promote the concept he first spoke of during his State of the Union in February, The New York Times reported.

Obama wants researchers to find new sources of energy-efficient power for automobiles, trucks and other vehicles.

The idea has some bipartisan and business support, but likely will encounter resistance from congressional Republicans, who will call it a tax on energy producers, observers said.

The White House said the proposal isn't a new tax, explaining that the money would come from growth in drilling revenue from leases on public lands and waters during the next decade, the Times said.

Obama's proposal, the Energy Security Trust, is part of his "all-of-the-above" energy strategy that includes an increase in oil and gas development; support for clean sources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy; loan guarantees for new nuclear plants; and research into long-term alternatives to fossil fuels, White House officials said during a telephone briefing Thursday.

Vatican defends pope in 'Dirty War' claim

VATICAN CITY, March 15 (UPI) -- The Vatican denied Pope Francis failed to speak against human rights abuses during military rule in his native Argentina in the 1970s.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said no "credible, concrete accusation" has been made against the newly elected pontiff, who led the Jesuits in Argentina and was archbishop of Buenos Aires before being elected pope Wednesday, the BBC reported Friday.

Pope Francis, born Jorge Bergoglio, led Argentina's Jesuits under the junta. He has been the subject of allegations concerning the kidnapping of two priests by the military during Argentina's Dirty War in 1976. He had dismissed the priests just before their disappearance.

The spokesman blamed the accusations on "anti-clerical left-wing elements" used to assail the Catholic church.

Australia's Cardinal George Pell also defended Pope Francis, telling the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Friday the controversy over the pope's role during Argentina's military dictatorship in the late 1970s was simply "a smear and lie."

N. Korea accuses U.S., allies of hacking

PYONGYANG, North Korea, March 15 (UPI) -- North Korea has accused the United States and its allies of hacking into its Internet servers and shutting down websites.

Official sites such as North Korea's Korean Central News Agency, Air Koryo and the party newspaper Rodong Sinmun have been inaccessible periodically, the BBC reported Friday.

Despite the periodic disruptions, the websites for the state news agency and party newspaper were accessible Friday, The New York Times reported.

"It is nobody's secret that the U.S. and South Korean puppet regime are massively bolstering up cyberforces in a bid to intensify the subversive activities and sabotages against [the Democratic People's Republic of Korea]," the North's Korean Central News Agency said. "They are seriously mistaken if they think they can quell the DPRK's voices of justice through such base acts."

North Korea has been accused of hacking into government websites and disrupting Internet service to South Korea.

GOP's Portman supporting same-sex marriage

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he now endorses same-sex marriage, a "new perspective" brought on after his son revealed in 2011 that he is gay.

"I think we should be allowing gay couples the joy and stability of marriage," Portman told The Cincinnati Enquirer Thursday.

While serving in the House in 1996, Portman signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and woman, The Hill reported.

In an op-ed piece he wrote for the Columbus Dispatch, Portman said his son's revelation to him and his wife, Jane, caused him to re-evaluate his stance.

"Jane and I were both surprised, very surprised, but also very supportive of him. Our reaction was not about policy or positions. It was about him as a son and letting him know we were 110 percent supportive of him," Portman said.

His son's homosexuality "allowed me to think about this issue from a new perspective, and that's as a dad who loves his son a lot," he said.

Another Carnival cruise has problems

PHILIPSBURG, Netherlands, March 15 (UPI) -- Carnival said it was ending a Caribbean cruise early and flying passengers home after a problem developed in a ship's backup diesel generator.

The company said it was keeping the Carnival Dream in its port of St. Maarten, USA Today reported Friday.

The incident marks the second time a Carnival cruise has recently been halted by problems on a ship. The Triumph lost power power Feb. 10, leaving passengers with little lighting, clogged toilets and food shortages.

The company said passengers on the Dream were "safe and comfortable" and reports about seeping sewage were not true.

After the company's announcement, an official said another of its ships, the Carnival Legend, was experiencing a technical issue with a unit that affects its speed.

The safety systems were all functioning normally, but the company canceled the ship's visit to Grand Cayman and it would proceed to its home port of Tampa, WKMG-TV, Orlando said.

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