WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon's decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat presents a daunting challenge to top military leaders who now will have to decide which, if any, jobs they believe should be open only to men.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce Thursday that more than 230,000 battlefront posts — many in Army and Marine infantry units and in potentially elite commando jobs — are now open to women. It will be up to the military service chiefs to recommend and defend whether women should be excluded from any of those more demanding and deadly positions, such as Navy SEALs or the Army's Delta Force.
The historic change, which was recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units.
The change won't take place overnight: Service chiefs will have to develop plans for allowing women to seek the combat positions, a senior military official said. Some jobs may open as soon as this year, while assessments for others, such as special operations forces, may take longer. The services will have until January 2016 to make a case to that some positions should remain closed to women.
Officials briefed The Associated Press on the changes Wednesday on condition of anonymity so they could speak ahead of the official announcement.
NKorea warns it will conduct nuclear test, carry out more long-range rocket launches
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea's top governing body warned Thursday that the regime will conduct its third nuclear test in defiance of U.N. punishment, and made clear that its long-range rockets are designed to carry not only satellites but also warheads aimed at striking the United States.
The National Defense Commission, headed by the country's young leader, Kim Jong Un, denounced Tuesday's U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea's long-range rocket launch in December as a banned missile activity and expanding sanctions against the regime. The commission reaffirmed in its declaration that the launch was a peaceful bid to send a satellite into space, but also clearly indicated the country's rocket launches have a military purpose: to strike and attack the United States.
The commission pledged to keep launching satellites and rockets and to conduct a nuclear test as part of a "new phase" of combat with the United States, which it blames for leading the U.N. bid to punish Pyongyang. It said a nuclear test was part of "upcoming" action but did not say exactly when or where it would take place.
"We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level which will be carried out by it in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century, will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people," the commission said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words, as it regards jungle law as the rule of its survival," the commission said.
A revised deficit collision course: Senate Dems eye new taxes, GOP seeks deeper spending cuts
WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's sharp disagreements over taxes and spending are on a re-routed collision course, as Senate Democrats launch a plan that includes new taxes and House Republicans vow to speed up their plan to balance the federal budget with spending cuts alone.
The Republicans' new approach would require even deeper cuts in social programs than they pushed last year. Liberals denounced those earlier plans as severe and unfair, and they say the new version would be worse.
The new commitments by House and Senate members stem from the ongoing dispute over raising the federal debt ceiling. The House voted Wednesday to postpone any showdown over the borrowing limit for three months. The Democratic-led Senate plans to endorse the idea, which the White House also supports.
That means the next big budget clash will occur in March. That's when major, across-the-board spending cuts — both parties dislike them — are scheduled to begin unless they are replaced by a different deficit-cutting technique.
It's possible that both parties will continue to find ways to postpone and minimize tough decisions on taming the deficit. But the new House and Senate endeavors could make such dodges more difficult. Voters, meanwhile, may get a clearer picture of the unpleasant choices they face.
Indian trial of 5 suspects in gang rape and murder of woman starts in special New Delhi court
NEW DELHI (AP) — Five suspects, their faces covered with woolen caps, arrived in a special fast-track New Delhi court Thursday for the start of their trial for the rape and murder of a young woman on a bus last month in a case that triggered outrage and questions over the treatment of women in India's justice system.
Police were on alert outside the sprawling court complex in south New Delhi as the suspects arrived. Inside the court, about 30 policemen blocked access to the room where the trial was to be held, while scores of journalists and curious onlookers crowded the hallway.
The suspects were whisked into the courtroom by a phalanx of armed policemen for the start of the trial, although there were no immediate details released.
The court will hear opening arguments by the prosecution and defense lawyers. The trial will be conducted in a closed court room after Judge Yogesh Khanna denied a defense motion to make the proceedings public.
A sixth suspect says he is a juvenile and is expected to be tried in a juvenile court.
Families of many Bangladesh factory fire victims still waiting for promised compensation
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — When fire ravaged a Bangladeshi garment factory, killing 112 workers, dozens of their families did not even have a body to bury because their loved ones' remains were burned beyond recognition. Two months later, the same families have yet to receive any of the compensation they were promised — not even their relatives' last paychecks.
An official with the country's powerful garment industry said DNA tests must first be conducted to confirm the losses of more than 50 families. He would not say why the families have not even received the wages their relatives had earned before the Nov. 24 blaze.
Many of the families desperately need money after losing their primary breadwinners in the fire at the Tazreen factory, which made clothes for Wal-Mart, Disney and other Western brands.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a foreign supplier and the government promised to give the families of the dead 600,000 takas ($7,500) each, finance the education of the dead workers' children and pay the November salaries of both dead and surviving factory workers.
"I have got nothing. Nobody is saying anything," said Ansar, who uses one name and who lost his wife and daughter in the fire.
Fontana, Calif., school police get semiautomatic rifles in controversial safety program
FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — The high-powered semiautomatic rifles recently shipped to school police in this Southern California city look like they belong on a battlefield rather than in a high school, but officials here say the weapons could help stop a massacre like the one that claimed the lives of 26 students and educators in Connecticut just weeks ago.
Fontana Unified School District police purchased 14 of the Colt LE6940 rifles last fall, and they were delivered the first week of December — a week before the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Over the holiday break, the district's 14 school police officers received 40 hours of training on the rifles. Officers check them out for each shift from a fireproof safe in the police force's main office.
Fontana isn't the first district to try this. Other Southern California districts also have rifle programs — some that have been in operation for several years. Fontana school police Chief Billy Green said he used money from fingerprinting fees to purchase the guns for $14,000 after identifying a "critical vulnerability" in his force's ability to protect students. The officers, who already wear sidearms, wouldn't be able to stop a shooter like the one in Connecticut, he said Wednesday.
"They're not walking around telling kids, 'Hurry up and get to class' with a gun around their neck," the chief said. "Parents need to know that if there was a shooter on their child's campus that was equipped with body armor or a rifle, we would be limited in our ability to stop that threat to their children."
Some parents and students, however, reacted with alarm to the news that school resource officers were being issued the rifles during their shifts. The officers split their time between 44 schools in the district and keep the rifles in a safe at their assigned school or secured in their patrol car each day before checking the weapon back in to the school police headquarters each night.
Big Data and cloud computing empower smart machines to do human work, take human jobs
WASHINGTON (AP) — Art Liscano knows he's an endangered species in the job market: He's a meter reader in Fresno, Calif. For 26 years, he's driven from house to house, checking how much electricity Pacific Gas & Electric customers have used.
But PG&E doesn't need many people like Liscano making rounds anymore. Every day, the utility replaces 1,200 old-fashioned meters with digital versions that can collect information without human help, generate more accurate power bills, even send an alert if the power goes out.
"I can see why technology is taking over," says Liscano, 66, who earns $67,000 a year. "We can see the writing on the wall." His department employed 50 full-time meter readers just six years ago. Now, it has six.
From giant corporations to university libraries to start-up businesses, employers are using rapidly improving technology to do tasks that humans used to do. That means millions of workers are caught in a competition they can't win against machines that keep getting more powerful, cheaper and easier to use.
AP PHOTOS: A look at jobs being replaced by technology
Five years after the start of the Great Recession, the toll is terrifyingly clear: Millions of middle-class jobs have been lost in developed countries the world over.
Worse, those jobs weren't just lost to China and other developing countries. No one got them. They vanished, victims of increasingly sophisticated software and machines that can do tasks faster, cheaper and often better than humans.
Here is a photo gallery of jobs especially hard hit by the technological onslaught:
John Kerry, Obama's pick for secretary of state, to field questions from committee he chairs
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. John Kerry, on a smooth path to confirmation as secretary of state, is likely to face friendly questioning when he testifies before the committee that he's served on for 28 years and led for the past four.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman will sit at the witness table Thursday when he appears before the panel, a month after President Barack Obama said he wanted him to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton is stepping down.
The five-term Massachusetts senator is widely expected to win overwhelming bipartisan support from his colleagues, and that notion was reinforced by the list of people who will introduce him: Clinton, Massachusetts freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. John McCain.
McCain and Kerry are friends who have worked closely on national security issues. They're also decorated Vietnam War veterans and former presidential candidates who know the sharp sting of defeat.
At the conclusion of a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday, McCain joked about Kerry's hearing and the tough tactics that won't be employed.
WTC workers leave graffiti of defiance, hope on skyscraper rising at ground zero in NY
NEW YORK (AP) — On most construction projects, workers are discouraged from signing or otherwise scrawling on the iron and concrete. At the skyscraper rising at ground zero, though, they're being invited to leave messages for the ages.
"Freedom Forever. WTC 9/11" is scrawled on a beam near the top of the gleaming, 104-story One World Trade Center. "Change is from within" is on a beam on the roof. Another reads: "God Bless the workers & inhabitants of this bldg."
One of the last pieces of steel hoisted up last year sits near a precarious edge. The message on it reads: "We remember. We rebuild. We come back stronger!" It is signed by a visitor to the site last year — President Barack Obama.
The words on beams, walls and stairwells of the skyscraper that replaces the twin towers lost on Sept. 11, 2001, form the graffiti of defiance and rebirth, what ironworker supervisor Kevin Murphy calls "things from the heart." They're remembrances of the 2,700 people who died, and testaments to the hope that rose from a shattered morning.
"This is not just any construction site, this is a special place for these guys," says Murphy of the 1,000 men and some women who work in the building at any given time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.