AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on January 28, 2013 at 9:30 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 29 at 4:02 AM

No alarm, no escape: Focus turns to Brazil nightclub's safeguards after deadly fire

SANTA MARIA, Brazil (AP) — There was no alarm, no extinguishers, no sprinklers and almost no escape from the nightclub that became a death trap for more than 200 Brazilian college students.

As investigators began poking through the rubble and families mourned their dead, questions abounded as the university city in southern Brazil tried to understand how the Sunday morning blaze that killed 231 people could have been sparked in the first place, then rage rapidly out of control.

Why was there only one door available for exit and entry? What was the flammable material in the ceiling that allowed the conflagration to move so quickly? And, more pointedly, why was a band playing at the club allowed to use pyrotechnics inside the building?

Police were leaning toward the band's pyrotechnics as the cause of the blaze during a party at the Kiss nightclub organized by several academic departments at the Federal University of Santa Maria. Inspector Antonio Firmino, who's part of the team investigating the fire, said it appeared the club's ceiling was covered with an insulating foam made from a combustible material that ignited with the pyrotechnics.

Firmino said the number and state of the exits is under investigation but that it appeared that a second door was "inadequate," as it was small and protected by bars that wouldn't open.

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Boy Scouts considering retreat from no-gays policy; unit sponsors could set membership rules

NEW YORK (AP) — Facing diverse and ceaseless protests, the Boy Scouts of America is signaling its readiness to end the nationwide exclusion of gays as scouts or leaders and give the sponsors of local troops the freedom to decide the matter for themselves.

If approved by the Scouts' national executive board, possibly as soon as next week, the change would be another momentous milestone for America's gay-rights movement, following a surge of support for same-sex marriage and the ending of the ban on gays serving opening in military.

"The pulse of equality is strong in America, and today it beats a bit faster with news that the Boy Scouts may finally put an end to its long history of discrimination," said Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, a major gay-rights group.

Under the proposed change, which was outlined Monday by the Scouts, the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units would be able to decide for themselves how to address the issue — either maintaining an exclusion of gays, as is now required of all units, or opening up their membership.

Southern Baptist leaders — who consider homosexuality a sin — were furious about the possible change and said its approval might encourage Southern Baptist churches to support other boys' organizations instead of the BSA. The Southern Baptists are among the largest sponsors of Scout units, along with the Roman Catholic, Mormon and United Methodist churches.

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After a gun crime, history of a weapon takes time to find; ATF doesn't know who has guns

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the fictional world of television police dramas, a few quick clicks on a computer lead investigators to the owner of a gun recovered at a bloody crime scene. Before the first commercial, the TV detectives are on the trail of the suspect.

Reality is a world away. There is no national database of guns. Not of who owns them, how many are sold annually or even how many exist.

Federal law bars the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from keeping track of guns. The only time the government can track the history of a gun, including its first buyer and seller, is after it's used in a crime. And though President Barack Obama and numerous Democratic lawmakers have called for new limits on what kinds of guns should be available to the public and urged stronger background checks in gun sales, there is no effort afoot to change the way the government keeps track — or doesn't — of where the country's guns are.

When police want to trace a gun, it's a decidedly low-tech process.

"It's not CSI and it's not a sophisticated computer system," said Charles J. Houser, who runs the ATF's National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, W. Va.

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NKorea all set for N-test but confirming it will be virtually impossible

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea appears all set to detonate an atomic device, but confirming the explosion when it takes place will be virtually impossible for outsiders, specialists said Tuesday.

The best indication of a test will be seismic tremors and abnormal radiation in the air, but even that can be masked if North Korea wants to. In all likelihood the first word of the test will come from Pyongyang itself, just as it happened when the country conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

Last week, North Korea warned a third nuclear test is planned to protest toughened international sanctions meant to punish it for firing a long-range rocket in December. The world sees the launch a ballistic missile test banned by the U.N. while Pyongyang says it only shot a satellite aboard the rocket into orbit as part of a peaceful space development program.

The U.S., South Korea and their allies pressed the North to scrap its nuclear test plans, saying that will only worsen the country's decades-old international isolation.

The threats have placed scientists and experts in South Korea on high alert as any test is likely to aggravate the already high tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula.

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Governor promises Washington will try to keep legal weed out of other states — but how?

SEATTLE (AP) — No one is suggesting checkpoints or fences to keep Washington state's legal pot within its borders.

But Gov. Jay Inslee insists there are ways to prevent the bulk diversion of marijuana to the black market, including digitally tracking weed to ensure it goes from where it's grown to where it's sold.

It's not just about being a good neighbor. Inslee is trying to persuade the Justice Department not to sue to block Washington state from licensing pot growers, processors and sellers.

How well such schemes can keep pot from being diverted isn't clear.

Colorado has rules aimed at keeping its medical marijuana market in line, but police say it nevertheless reaches the black market.

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Memorial in campus dissection lab more moving than macabre, honors bodies donated to science

GARY, Ind. (AP) — When medical students have finished their study and practice on cadavers, they often hold a respectful memorial service to honor these bodies donated to science.

But the ceremonies at one medical school have a surreal twist: Relatives gather around the cold steel tables where their loved ones were dissected and which now hold their remains beneath metal covers. The tables are topped with white or burgundy-colored shrouds, flags for military veterans, flowers and candles.

The mixture of grace and goth at the Indiana University School of Medicine-Northwest campus might sound like a scene straight out filmmaker Tim Burton's quirky imagination. Yet, despite the surrounding shelves of medical specimens and cabinets of human bones, these dissection lab memorials are more moving than macabre.

The medical students join the families in the lab and read letters of appreciation about the donors, a clergy member offers prayers, and tears are shed.

Family members are often squeamish about entering that room. This year's ceremony was last Friday, and relatives of one of the six adult donors being honored chose not to participate. And some who did attend had mixed feelings.

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Egypt's army chief warns of 'the collapse of the state' if political crisis continues

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's army chief has warned of "the collapse of the state" if the political crisis roiling the nation for nearly a week continues.

The warning by Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, also the defense minister, comes as the country sinks deeper into chaos and lawlessness. Attempts by the Islamist president to stem a wave of political violence appear to have made no headway.

Some 60 people have been killed in the unrest that began last Thursday.

El-Sissi's warning came in an address to military academy cadets on Tuesday. His comments were posted on the armed forces' official Facebook page.

"The continuation of the conflict between the different political forces and their differences over how the country should be run could lead to the collapse of the state and threaten future generations," he said.

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Report: Unemployed people pay millions in needless fees under state-run payment-card programs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jobless Americans are paying millions in unnecessary fees to collect unemployment benefits because of state policies encouraging them to get the money through bank-issued payment cards, according to a new report from a consumer group.

People are using the fee-heavy cards instead of getting their payments deposited directly to their bank accounts. That's because states issue bank cards automatically, require complicated paperwork or phone calls to set up direct deposit and fail to explain the card fees, according to a report issued Tuesday by the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit group that seeks to protect low-income Americans from unfair financial-services products. An early copy of the report was obtained by The Associated Press.

Until the past decade, states distributed unemployment compensation by mailing out paper checks. Some also allowed direct deposit. The system worked well for people who had bank accounts and could deposit the check without paying a fee.

It also cost states millions of dollars each year to print and mail the checks.

Banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co., U.S. Bancorp and Bank of America Corp. seized on government payments as a business opportunity. They pitched card programs to states as a win-win: States would save millions in overhead costs because the cards would be issued for free. And people without bank accounts would avoid the big fees charged by storefront check cashers.

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At a glance: 3 months later, losses from Superstorm Sandy still carry power to astound

The hurricane that merged with another weather system to form Superstorm Sandy spun ashore three months ago Tuesday, devastating coastal New Jersey and New York and spreading its winds, rain, snow and waves over parts of more than 20 states. The latest tallies from the second most expensive storm in U.S. history, after 2005's Hurricane Katrina:

DEATHS

The toll continues to fluctuate as causes of death are determined or changed, but as of Monday, the storm was behind the deaths of at least 146 people in the United States, according to government counts. That includes at least 98 in New York and New Jersey. There were 71 additional deaths in the Caribbean.

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Chatty Ravens selective with words now, but could give 49ers an earful at Super Bowl

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens' reputation for trash-talking arrived at the Super Bowl before they did.

While the Ravens were en route from Baltimore to the Big Easy, the San Francisco 49ers were already preparing for war of words with the chattiest team in the NFL.

"Most teams don't really talk that much, but I've heard stories about them talking a lot," San Francisco guard Alex Boone said. "Guys have told me not to get into it with them. We're not here to get into a yelling match."

That might change a bit Sunday when both teams play for the NFL championship at the Superdome.

The Ravens developed their swagger years ago under coach Brian Billick, who rarely backed away from a microphone and made no effort to put a muzzle on his players, most notably Shannon Sharpe and Tony Siragusa — both of whom are now being paid to blab as television commentators.

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