January 17, 2013

By NEDRA PICKLER

Associated Press

 

President Barack Obama’s second inauguration is shaping up as a high-energy celebration smaller than his first milestone swearing-in, yet still designed to mark his unprecedented role in American history with plenty of eye-catching glamour.

A long list of celebrity performers will give the once-every-four years right of democratic passage the air of a star-studded concert, from the bunting-draped Capitol’s west front of the Capitol, where Obama takes the oath Jan. 21, to the Washington Convention Center, which is expected to be packed with 40,000 ball-goers that evening.

The first family will lead a parade of clanging bands, elaborate floats and marchers, including costumed dancers, prancing horses and military units, down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president will dance with the first lady, whose dress seems destined to be most anticipated fashion statement of the second Obama administration.

A new element of the inaugural events will be announced next week, with the appointment of around half a dozen “citizen co-chairs,” community leaders from across the country chosen because they represent the president’s accomplishments and commitments. They will take part in inaugural events throughout the weekend.

Estimates of turnout are 600,000 to 800,000, compared with the 1.8 million in the record crowd on the National Mall four years ago to see the first swearing in of a black president. The mood of this 57th inauguration will be tempered by the weak economy, high unemployment, the aftermath of the Connecticut elementary school shooting and the long war in Afghanistan that’s expected to require U.S. combat forces through the end of next year.

Yet developments in the last week have shown that inaugural enthusiasm is high.

A limited offering of $60 inaugural ball tickets for the general public sold out quickly, and inauguration planners have tried to crack down on a scalping business that’s sprung up online. There’s an impressive list of celebrities, including Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Usher, who have signed on to perform.

While organizers said Obama was cutting back the number of balls from 10 last time to just two this year, The Associated Press has learned that they are expecting more than 35,000 to attend the larger of the two and 4,000 to attend a ball in honor of U.S. troops — double the size of four years ago.

Another factor that could increase turnout is the unseasonably warm weather in Washington. Early forecasts indicate that Obama will be taking the oath of office while the temperature is in the 40s, with hardly any chance of precipitation.

Steve Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said that just because the festivities are going to be smaller doesn’t mean they are going to be any less significant.

“What we’ve been seeing from the very beginning is a passion and energy for this inaugural because people want to be a part of history,” Kerrigan said. “This is a moment that’s only happened 56 other times.”

Obama’s speech gives him a moment to command the world's attention on a level that’s rare even for a president.

If history is any guide, Obama will try to put behind the divisive election. He has the State of the Union three weeks later to make his points on taxes, guns, immigration and other issues. It’s a good bet this day will be a patriotic love letter to America.

“Second inaugurals are often a kind of victory lap speech in a lot of ways, that would go back to Thomas Jefferson in 1805,” said presidential historian Leo Ribuffo of George Washington University. “Presidents are often reflecting on accomplishments of the administration and the challenges that will continue into the second term.”

The 2009 inauguration will be remembered as a milestone for a nation built on slavery and blood-stained by the civil rights movement. But Obama clearly has that historical context in mind for his second go-round, as evidenced by the Bibles he chose to place his left hand on while taking the oath of office — one owned by Abraham Lincoln and one by Martin Luther King Jr.

Their selection is especially symbolic because Obama’s second inauguration comes on the federal holiday marking King’s birthday and in a milestone anniversary year involving both men. It was 150 years ago when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery, and 50 years ago when King delivered his “I Had a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial — a monument that will be straight ahead in Obama’s sight as he speaks to his country.

“We’ve got the Bible of the great emancipator on top of the Bible of the leader of the civil rights movement for an African- American president to take the oath of office,” Kerrigan said. “It’s an amazing moment that people want to touch and feel and be a part of.”

The inauguration will transform Washington, where most federal offices would be closed for the King holiday, by shutting down streets downtown and bringing regular daily life in the city to a halt. Viewing stands are set up along Pennsylvania Avenue for the parade from the Capitol to the White House. Street lamps will be removed, then replaced at the day’s end.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

January 10, 2013

Associated Press

 

The Boy Scouts of America must release two decades of files detailing sexual abuse allegations after the California Supreme Court refused the organization’s bid to keep the records confidential.

A Santa Barbara County court ruled last year that the files must be turned over to attorneys representing a former Scout who claims a leader molested him in 2007, when he was 13. That leader later was convicted of felony child endangerment.

Last week, the state Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the Boy Scouts to halt the files’ release.

The former Scout’s lawsuit claims the files, which date to 1991 and involve allegations from across the nation, will expose a “culture of hidden sexual abuse” that the Scouts had concealed.

The Boys Scouts of America has denied the allegations and argued that the files should remain confidential to protect the privacy of child victims and of people who were wrongly accused.

“The BSA will comply fully with the order, but maintains that the files are not relevant to this suit” and won’t be made public unless used as evidence in the case, spokesman Deron Smith told the Los Angeles Times.

It’s not clear how soon the files will become public. The documents are covered by a judge’s protective order and can’t be revealed until they become part of the open court record in the former Scout’s lawsuit.

“Our hands are tied, and we are forbidden to publicize the files,” Timothy Hale, an attorney for the former Scout, said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

A pretrial conference is scheduled next week in Santa Barbara. Hale said lawyers for the two sides likely will discuss how long the Boy Scouts need to turn over the files and then how much review time he and his colleagues will need before the case can go to trial.

Hale surmised it could be fall or later before that happens. He urged the Scouts to turn over the files to law enforcement and publicly identify people accused of abuse.

The Boy Scouts kept internal files on alleged sexual abuse for nearly a century. Through other court cases, the Scouts were forced to reveal files dating from 1960 to 1991.

They detailed numerous cases where abuse claims were made and Boy Scout officials never alerted authorities and sometimes actively sought to protect the accused.

The organization has improved youth protection policies in recent years. It has conducted criminal background checks on volunteers since 2008 and in 2010 mandated any suspected abuse be reported to police.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

January 10, 2013

By ERICA WERNER

Associated Press

 

Vice President Joe Biden vowed urgent action against gun violence in America Wednesday, pledging steps by the Obama administration that he said could “take thousands of people out of harm’s way” and improve the safety of millions more.

But a day ahead of a meeting with the National Rifle Association, which has sunk past gun control efforts and is opposing any new ones, Biden signaled that the administration is mindful of political realities that could imperil sweeping gun control legislation, and is willing to settle for something less. He said the administration is considering its own executive action as well as measures by Congress, but he didn't offer specifics.

“I want to make it clear that we are not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything, we’re going to do nothing,” Biden told an array of gun control advocates, crime victims and others at the White House. “It’s critically important we act.”

Shortly after last month’s slaughter of schoolchildren at Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama tasked Biden with heading a commission to come up with recommendations on gun policy by the end of this month. Obama supports steps including reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and closing loopholes that allow many gun buyers to avoid background checks.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says that some 40 percent of gun sales are made without background checks, such as at gun shows and over the Internet.

The tragedy in Newtown, in which 20 young children and six adults were gunned down by a man with a military-style semiautomatic rifle, has prodded the administration to act. Obama had remained largely silent on gun control after the 2011 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 12 others including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the Colorado movie theater killing of a dozen people and wounding of many more last July.

Connecticut is moving cautiously on gun control, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo in neighboring New York proposed a wide-ranging package of restrictions on Wednesday. He called for loopholes to be closed in a New York ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 bullets. The Democrat also wants to require holders of handgun licenses to undergo follow-ups to make sure they are still qualified to possess a weapon, and he is calling for increased sentences for certain gun crimes.

Biden, referring to the Newtown shootings, said at the White House: “Every once in a while, there’s something that awakens the conscience of the country, and that tragic event did it in a way like nothing I’ve seen in my career.”

“The president and I are determined to take action. ... We can affect the wellbeing of millions of Americans and take thousands of people out of harm’s way if we act responsibly.”

Biden said that the administration is weighing executive action in addition to recommending legislation by Congress. Recommendations to the Biden group include making gun-trafficking a felony, getting the Justice Department to prosecute people caught lying on gun background-check forms and ordering federal agencies to send data to the National Gun Background Check Database.

Some of those pieces could happen by executive action, but congressional say-so would be needed for more far-reaching changes such as reinstating the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Congress let the ban expire in 2004 under heavy pressure from the NRA. Democrats blamed a backlash against some lawmakers who voted for its enactment 10 years earlier for steep election losses that year.

Since then Democrats have been wary of legislating on guns, and efforts have fizzled in Congress. Already there are signs any new legislative effort by Obama could face tough going. Some pro-gun Demo­crats have voiced doubts, and the Senate’s top Republican has warned it could be spring before Congress begins considering any gun legislation.

Obama has said that his efforts on guns can be successful only if he has the support of the public, and advocates who attended Wednesday’s Biden meeting said part of the White House message was for participants to spread the word and keep up pressure on Washington.

“They have made clear that they’re in this for the long haul and they want us to be in this for the long haul,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Advocates participating in Wednes­day’s meeting, some of whom have been critical of Obama’s silence on guns in the past, said they were optimistic that the president and Biden are committed to the effort this time around.

“I think it’s for real,” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA.

Biden also held a call with Wednesday with more than 30 governors, mayors and other state and local officials to get their input on ways to curb gun violence.

The president hopes to announce his administration's next steps to tackle gun violence shortly after he is sworn in for a second term on Jan. 21.

 

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

January 10, 2013

By YVES LAURENT GOMA  Associated Press

 

Talks on the crisis in Central African Republic began Wednesday with representatives of the government, rebels and other groups gathering in this nearby country, said Gabonese government officials.

Several different groups from Central African Republic gathered for the talks including the Seleka rebels, led by Michel Djotodia, representatives of President Francois Bozize's government, the political opposition and civic organizations. Also present were several ministers of the 10 countries in the Economic Community of Central African States.

The rebels have seized control of a dozen towns and cities in northern Central African Republic, confronting Bozize with the most serious challenge to his rule since he came to power through a coup in 2003. He has since won two elections in 2005 and 2011.

Officials say the talks are about the revision of a peace agreement signed in 2007 but the rebels have stated they want the talks to be about the resignation of Bozize. While the rebels are demanding that Bozize step down from power, the president Tuesday spoke to the press in Central African Republic's capital, Banjul, and made it clear that he intends to stay in office.

"Why negotiate?" said Bozize to Radio France International. "Does the rebellion represent the Central African people who have elected me twice? What have I done wrong? I do my job. A rebellion that is growing brutally, that is attacking us. No, I have nothing to negotiate. If I did, the law of the jungle would prevail. And could it spread elsewhere, even to developed countries."

Bozize reiterated his offer of bringing the rebels into a coalition government.

"We are ready for a national unity government," said Bozize to RFI. "In our current government, there are members of the opposition. So for us, it would be nothing new, it's something we've always done."

Bozize dismissed the Seleka rebels as terrorists.

"If the terrorists come to talk terrorism, the whole world will know it," he said at a press conference Tuesday. "If they come to discuss defending the cause of Central African Republic, we are going to listen to them. If there is something positive, we will accept it. If it's armed robbery, we will not accept it."

The rebels of the Seleka alliance come from four separate groups that have now joined forces against Bozize's government.

On Tuesday, the president again accused outside forces of aiding them and said "there is a risk that a religious cause is behind Seleka."

He said it appeared there were Janjaweed, or fighters from neighboring Sudan, along with "people who don't speak Sango, French or even English" from beyond the country's borders.

"Foreign terrorists are attacking the established power in Central African Republic. Under those circumstances, I am proud of having served my country normally, that democracy is functioning normally," he said.

Seleka began its offensive Dec. 10, and the rebels have seized 12 towns in a month's time. They said they were halting their advance before reaching Bangui in an attempt to give the peace negotiations a chance.

However, a spokesman for Seleka in Paris warned earlier this week that they still had the strength to attack the government-fortified city of Damara as well as Bangui.

"If we wanted to take Damara, it would already be done. We have the means to take Damara and also to take Bangui today, but we don't want the capital to suffer attacks," rebel spokesman Eric Massi told The Associated Press in Paris on Monday.

The rebels behind the most recent instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but insurgent leaders say the deal wasn't fully implemented.

They have claimed that their actions are justified in light of the "thirst for justice, for peace, for security and for economic development of the people of Central African Republic."

Despite Central African Republic's wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped. The land-locked nation of 4.4 million, a former French colony, is among the poorest countries in the world.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

January 10, 2013

By KEN THOMAS  Associated Press

 

A White House official says Attorney General Eric Holder and the secretaries of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs will remain with the Obama administration as it enters a second term.

The official said Holder, who leads the Justice Department, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will remain with the administration amid changes to the Cabinet as President Barack Obama moves into his second term.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis submitted her resignation.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel changes, said the three remaining officials were not an exhaustive list of which Cabinet members intended to stay.

Obama has received some criticism that his initial Cabinet choices for the State Department and Defense Department do not reflect the nation's diversity.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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