Pope Francis to call on Benedict next Saturday, also will meet with Argentine president
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis will visit his predecessor at the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo next Saturday+-, an eagerly anticipated meeting given the novelty of having a reigning and retired pope side-by-side. He will also meet with the Argentine president, whom he has criticized for her liberal measures.
Francis will fly by helicopter March 23 to the retreat in the hills south of Rome and will have lunch with Benedict XVI before returning to the Vatican, the Holy See said in a statement Saturday.
Benedict resigned Feb. 28, the first pontiff in 600 years to step down. Francis was elected on Wednesday.
Francis will also meet with the Argentine president, Christina Kirchner, on the eve of his installation Mass on Tuesday, the Vatican said.
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been an outspoken critic of Kirchner, who has imposed socially liberal measures that are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.
Syrian regime expands use of widely banned cluster bombs against civilians, rights group says
BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian regime is expanding its use of widely banned cluster bombs, an international human rights group said in a report Saturday as the deadlocked conflict entered its third year.
In the past six months, Syrian forces have dropped at least 156 cluster bombs in 119 locations across the country, causing mounting civilian casualties, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said.
Two strikes in the past two weeks killed 11 civilians, including two women and five children, the report said. The group said it based its findings on field investigations and analysis of more than 450 amateur videos.
Cluster bombs open in flight, scattering smaller bomblets. They pose a threat to civilians long afterwards since many don't explode immediately. Most countries have banned their use.
The report came a day after Syrians marked the second anniversary of their uprising against President Bashar Assad. The rebellion began with largely peaceful protests but in response to a harsh regime crackdown turned into an insurgency and, by last summer, into a full-scale civil war.
Obama draws praise for reaching out to Republicans but gets no concessions from either party
WASHINGTON (AP) — Over dinner at a swank hotel a few blocks from the White House, Republican senators wanted to know if President Barack Obama would support a gradual increase in the age of eligibility for Medicare, set at 65 since the program's inception more than four decades ago.
The president hedged, according to several at the event, recalling the discussion on a cost-saving change to Medicare that most if not all leading Democrats in Congress adamantly oppose. One later recalled that Obama "drew no bright line" in opposition, but the lawmaker came away believing that the president "would be very resistant" even if it might unlock a long-sought deal to reduce deficits and an ever-growing federal debt.
That lawmaker and some of the others describing what occurred in the meetings spoke on condition of anonymity, noting that the sessions were supposed to be private discussions.
The politically fraught moment came at the outset of Obama's widely publicized recent string of meetings with rank-and-file lawmakers. The unusual commitment of presidential time netted public praise from his most implacable critics and was supplemented by numerous conversations among lawmakers and senior White House aides.
No breakthroughs were anticipated and none emerged, and for all the warm talk, House Speaker John Boehner delivered a tart summation.
Prosecutors pursue felonies against journalist in LA Times hack; some say that's too harsh
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal prosecutors say Reuters' deputy social media editor conspired with a notorious hacker network to cause an online security breach that should be punished by decades in federal prison.
Fervent online supporters of Matthew Keys say the journalist was just taking part in an online prank that briefly altered the Los Angeles Times' website, and he shouldn't ever have been suspended from his job.
In an age when the line between tech superstardom and outright hacking grows increasingly blurry, the case against Keys, 26, lays bare sharp divisions about what constitutes Internet crime and how far the government should go to stop it.
"Congress wants harsh penalties doled out for these crimes because they don't want people defacing websites, but there has to be a way that we can bring the law into harmony with the realities of how people use technology today," said Hanni Fakhoury, an attorney at the San Francisco-based nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Keys, a well-known figure in the Twitterverse, was charged Thursday with conspiring with the hacking group Anonymous to alter a Times news story in late 2010.
China installs Cabinet of party veterans, technocrats to overhaul economy, boost global role
BEIJING (AP) — China's new leaders turned Saturday to veteran technocrats with greater international experience to staff a Cabinet charged with overhauling a slowing economy and pursuing a higher global profile for the country without triggering opposition.
The ceremonial legislature approved nearly three dozen trusted politicians, experienced officials and career diplomats who make up the State Council. Their appointment largely completes a once-a-decade transfer of power to a new generation of communist leaders.
The new team takes charge at a time of difficult transitions. With the economic model that brought decades of high growth sputtering, the government is looking to transform the world's second-largest economy by nurturing self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption and technology industries instead of labor-intensive exports and investment. A more assertive foreign policy, cyber-hacking and years of scouring the world for resources have also touched off nervousness among China's neighbors and the U.S. and set off a small but potentially threatening backlash against Chinese investment.
The senior officials installed Saturday are representative of how far China's reach extends, having far more international exposure than their predecessors.
Beijing's French-educated trade envoy, Gao Hucheng, was named commerce minister. Appointed finance minister was Lou Jiwei, chairman of China's multibillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund and a former deputy finance minister who is a fixture in international financial circles. Their appointment is likely to reassure trading partners and financial markets about policy continuity.
US changes in missile defense plan may provide opening for new arms-control talks with Russia
WASHINGTON (AP) — In adding 14 interceptors to a missile defense system based in Alaska and California, the U.S. abandoned a key part of a European missile defense plan that had been strongly opposed by Russia. At the same time, the decision provided a potential opening for new arms control talks.
The Obama administration cited development problems and a lack of money on Friday in announcing the cancellation of the interceptors that were to be deployed in Poland and possibly Romania early next decade.
Russian officials suspected that the interceptors were a counter to their missiles and had indicated that they would not consider further nuclear arms cuts unless their concerns were resolved.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the cancellation was part of an overall restructuring of missile defense plans aimed at stopping missiles from North Korea and Iran. He made no reference to Russia's objections to the European plans but said that other parts of the missile defense plans in Europe would move forward and that the U.S. commitment to missile defense in the region "remains ironclad."
The restructuring includes spending $1 billion to add the 14 new interceptors to the 26 that are in underground silos in Alaska to counter the threat from North Korea.
Federal judge says FBI's secret national security letters seeking records are unconstitutional
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — They're called national security letters and the FBI issues thousands of them a year to banks, phone companies and other businesses demanding customer information. They're sent without judicial review and recipients are barred from disclosing them.
On Friday, a federal judge in San Francisco declared the letters unconstitutional, saying the secretive demands for customer data violate the First Amendment.
The government has failed to show that the letters and the blanket non-disclosure policy "serve the compelling need of national security," and the gag order creates "too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted," U.S. District Judge Susan Illston wrote.
She ordered the FBI to stop issuing the letters, but put that order on hold for 90 days so the U.S. Department of Justice can pursue an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The DOJ said it is reviewing the decision.
North Dakota has funds for court battle over what would be strictest abortion laws in US
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — As oil-rich North Dakota moves toward outlawing most abortions, it's in a better position than most states for what could be a long and costly court battle over its restrictions.
Lawmakers on Friday sent the Republican governor two anti-abortion bills, one banning the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and another prohibiting women from having the procedure because a fetus has a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome. They would be the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S
Abortion-rights activists have promised a legal battle over the measures if they become law. But supporters of the bills say their goal is to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks
Unlike other states, North Dakota isn't looking at budget cuts. The state actually has a budget surplus nearing $2 billion, thanks to new-found oil wealth. Record oil production has made North Dakota the nation's No. 2 oil producer behind Texas.
But that oil wealth has come at a price: increased crime, shortages of housing, greater costs for road repairs and other infrastructure improvements. Democratic Sen. Mac Schneider, an attorney from Grand Forks, said the Legislature should focus on those needs instead of "expensive and potentially protracted abortion litigation."
Lil Wayne says he's OK; reps confirm he's recovering in a hospital; source says he had seizure
Lil Wayne has been hospitalized, but according to his camp and his official Twitter account — he's OK.
The multiplatinum rapper was hospitalized in Los Angeles on Friday and reps confirmed he was "recovering." He apparently tweeted to his fans from his official account on Friday night: "I'm good everybody. Thx for the prayers and love."
A person close to the superstar's camp who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter confirmed to The Associated Press that Lil Wayne had a seizure. He has a history of seizures in recent years that have led to previous hospital visits.
While there were some reports that Lil Wayne was fighting for his life, members of his Young Money camp denied it on Twitter.
Before the tweet from Lil Wayne's account, rapper Mack Maine tweeted: "Wayne is alive and well! We watching the Syracuse game...thanks for the prayers and concern. he will update you all soon."
Heat win 21st straight, beat Bucks 107-94 as Bosh, James each score 28
MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Miami Heat had just watched the Super Bowl when Shane Battier delivered a speech that left quite the impression.
Whatever he said that night in Toronto, the Heat sure took off from there.
They haven't come down yet.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh each scored 28 points, and the Heat made it 21 straight wins, beating the Milwaukee Bucks 107-94 on Friday night.
Only three other teams have won 20 in a row in one season, and the Heat now trail just the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (33) and the 2007-08 Houston Rockets (22) after moving ahead of the 1970-71 Bucks.