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World briefly for Dec. 20

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POSTED: December 20, 2012 9:20 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — With steroids easy to buy, testing weak and punishments inconsistent, college football players are packing on significant weight — 30 pounds or more in a single year, sometimes — without drawing much attention from their schools or the NCAA in a sport that earns tens of billions of dollars for teams.

Rules vary so widely that, on any given game day, a team with a strict no-steroid policy can face a team whose players have repeatedly tested positive.

An investigation by The Associated Press — based on dozens of interviews with players, testers, dealers and experts and an analysis of weight records for more than 61,000 players — revealed that while those running the multibillion-dollar sport believe the problem is under control, that is hardly the case.

The sport's near-zero rate of positive steroids tests isn't an accurate gauge among college athletes. Random tests provide weak deterrence and, by design, fail to catch every player using steroids. Colleges also are reluctant to spend money on expensive steroid testing when cheaper ones for drugs like marijuana allow them to say they're doing everything they can to keep drugs out of football.

"It's nothing like what's going on in reality," said Don Catlin, an anti-doping pioneer who spent years conducting the NCAA's laboratory tests at UCLA. He became so frustrated with the college system that it drove him in part to leave the testing industry to focus on anti-doping research.

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Teachers carry concealed weapons in tiny Texas town as national school safety debate heats up

HARROLD, Texas (AP) — In this tiny Texas town, children and their parents don't give much thought to safety at the community's lone school — mostly because some of the teachers are carrying concealed weapons.

In remote Harrold, the nearest sheriff's office is 30 minutes away, and people tend to know — and trust — one another. So the school board voted to let teachers bring guns to school.

"We don't have money for a security guard, but this is a better solution," Superintendent David Thweatt said. "A shooter could take out a guard or officer with a visible, holstered weapon, but our teachers have master's degrees, are older and have had extensive training. And their guns are hidden. We can protect our children."

In the awful aftermath of last week's Connecticut elementary school shooting, lawmakers in a growing number of states — including Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota and Oregon — have said they will consider laws allowing teachers and school administrators to carry firearms at school.

Texas law bans guns in schools unless the school has given written authorization. Arizona and six other states have similar laws with exceptions for people who have licenses to carry concealed weapons.

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Old assault-weapons ban draws attention from Obama and others, but it was an imperfect law

WASHINGTON (AP) — One early focus of new gun regulations by President Barack Obama and some lawmakers would reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons, a law widely regarded as imperfect.

The ban, which existed for 10 years until 2004, would have made it illegal for the young gunman in Connecticut to use the 30-round magazines that allowed him to shoot so many elementary school students before he reloaded. But the ban and other U.S. gun laws wouldn't have prevented his mother's purchase of the powerful assault rifle or the especially deadly ammunition that he used to kill 26 people.

A generation of U.S. gun laws — and the inherent compromises intended to balance constitutional gun rights and public safety — reflects the intricacies of applying government policy to stem acts of mass violence.

Since July, there have been at least four mass shootings that killed 47 people and wounded dozens more in Connecticut, Colorado, Oregon and Wisconsin. The killing of 20 children and six adults in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school appears to be a tipping point that pushed Congress and the White House toward tackling new gun laws.

Obama on Wednesday directed Vice President Joe Biden to produce recommendations on new gun laws and pledged to push for them without delay.

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Lawmakers press for answers on security, military response to 9/11 Libya assault

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers want to know why security was "grossly inadequate" at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya when militants stormed the facility on Sept. 11, killing the ambassador and three other Americans, and why the military failed to respond faster during the nine-hour assault.

Members of the Senate and House foreign affairs committees on Thursday were to question Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who is in charge of policy, and Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, who is in charge of management, at back-to-back congressional hearings.

Their public testimony comes two days after an independent review panel issued a blistering report blaming management failures at the State Department for the lack of security at the Benghazi compound. It also comes as fallout from the report forced four State Department officials to step down Wednesday.

"Why, if we quickly did find out it was in part a terrorist attack, why wasn't there better security on that evening with the ambassador in Benghazi and in the consulate and what do we need to do to make sure?" said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"People keep forgetting that was about a nine-hour attack moving from the consulate to the annex. We had already called up troops from Fort Bragg (North Carolina) and got them to Sicily before the attack was over," he said. "We knew it was a big-time attack. We flew in two planes from Djibouti, additional assets from Croatia. We need to find out who knew what when."

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Putin says draft bill banning US adoptions of Russian children is 'appropriate'

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin says a draft bill banning U.S. adoptions of Russian children is a legitimate response to a new U.S. law that calls for sanctions on Russians deemed to be human rights violators. But he has not committed to signing it.

He says the measure, which received overwhelming preliminary approval in parliament, is also a response to an alleged U.S. failure to protect the rights of adopted Russian children.

Speaking at his annual marathon news conference Thursday, Putin said while most Americans who adopt Russian children are "kind and honorable," the protection for abuse victims is insufficient.

The bill faces a few more steps before it can reach Putin.

"I will make a decision depending on what is written there," he said.

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Park Geun-hye elected South Korea's 1st female president, is open to North Korea detente

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Park Geun-hye's election as South Korea's first female president could mean a new drive to start talks with bitter rival North Korea, though it's unclear how much further she will go than the hard-line incumbent, a member of her own conservative party.

After five years of high tension under unpopular President Lee Myung-bak, Park has vowed to pursue engagement with Pyongyang despite its continuing nuclear program and its widely condemned long-range rocket launch last week. The daughter of late South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, she placed more conditions on resuming negotiations than the liberal opposition candidate she defeated Wednesday, Moon Jae-in.

On Thursday, Park mentioned the North Korean rocket launch during a nationally televised speech.

"The North's long-range missile launch symbolically showed how grave our security reality is," Park said following a visit to Seoul's National Cemetery, where she paid silent tributes to late presidents, including her father.

North Korean state media have repeatedly questioned the sincerity of Park's North Korea engagement policy, since she and Lee are from the same party.

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With a penny costing 2 cents, US Mint tests new metals to make coins for less

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — When it comes to making coins, the Mint isn't getting its two cents worth. In some cases, it doesn't even get half of that. A penny costs more than two cents and a nickel costs more than 11 cents to make and distribute. The quandary is how to make coins more cheaply without sparing our change's quality and durability, or altering its size and appearance.

A 400-page report presented last week to Congress outlines nearly two years of trials conducted at the Mint in Philadelphia, where a variety of metal recipes were put through their paces in the massive facility's high-speed coin-making machinery.

Evaluations of 29 different alloys concluded that none met the ideal list of attributes. The Treasury Department concluded that additional study was needed before it could endorse any changes.

"We want to let the data take us where it takes us," Dick Peterson, the Mint's acting director, said Wednesday. More test runs with different alloys are likely in the coming year, he said.

The government has been looking for ways to shave the millions it spends every year to make bills and coins. Congressional auditors recently suggested doing away with dollar bills entirely and replacing them with dollar coins, which they concluded could save taxpayers some $4.4 billion over three decades. Canada is dropping its penny as part of an austerity budget.

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Budget deal could phase in higher monthly premiums for 1 out of 4 Medicare beneficiaries

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's a health care change that President Barack Obama and Republicans both embrace: Expand a current, little-known law so more retirees the government considers well-off are required to pay higher Medicare premiums.

That plan is likely to be part of any budget deal to reduce the overhang of federal debt, raising $20 billion or more over 10 years. It could come as a shock to many seniors who will have to pay the higher premiums even though they consider themselves solidly middle-class, and by no means wealthy.

That's what happened to Tom James. He and his wife recently got an official notice that they will have to start paying more for Medicare next year, about $1,000 for the two of them. James is among the 5 percent of beneficiaries currently facing higher "income-related" premiums. If the budget change goes through, that number will grow to 25 percent.

"I was blindsided," said James, a retired bank examiner who lives near Philadelphia. "The camel has got his nose in the tent now, and the question is how far do they want to go with that?"

The idea is to continue broadening the reach of income-based Medicare premiums introduced under former President George W. Bush and later expanded by Obama's health care law.

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Commuters warned of blizzards, whiteouts as Midwest gets its first major snowstorm this season

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Midwest's first major snowstorm of the season was sweeping across several states early Thursday, shuttering schools, creating treacherous roadways and threatening to slow down one of the nation's busiest airports ahead of the holiday weekend.

Forecasters warned that heavy snowfall coupled with strong winds would create blizzard conditions for morning commuters from Kansas to Wisconsin.

Nebraska's largest school district canceled classes because of heavy overnight snow, as did many districts across Iowa, where drivers were being told to stay off the roads starting Wednesday evening because of whiteout conditions.

But Iowa native Laurie Harry said the weather likely wouldn't stop her from starting up her car Thursday morning.

"If I need to get into work, I'll be here," said Harry, a manager at a Casey's General Store in the western Iowa town of Atlantic. "We've had snow before. Iowans know what to expect. We're used to it."

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Rhode Island's Olivia Culpo crowned Miss Universe, marking Miss USA's 1st win since 1997

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A 20-year-old Boston University sophomore and a self-described "cellist-nerd" brought the Miss Universe crown back to the United States for the first time in more than a decade when she won the televised contest Wednesday.

Olivia Culpo beat out 88 other beauty queens from six continents at the Planet Hollywood casino on the Las Vegas Strip to take the title from outgoing champion Leila Lopes of Angola.

Culpo wore a tight navy blue mini-dress with a sequined bodice as she walked on stage for the competition's opening number. Later in the night, she strutted in a purple and blue bikini, and donned a wintery red velvet gown with a plunging neckline.

Culpo's coronation ends a long losing spell for the U.S. in the competition co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC. An American had not won the Miss Universe title since Brook Lee won in 1997.

No one seemed more surprised than Culpo's family, who "looked at her like she had three heads" when told them she was entering the Miss Rhode Island contest last year, her father Peter recalled.

 

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