Monday, January 28, 2013

Published:

No fire alarm or extinguishers, only 1 exit in Brazil nightclub fire that left 231 dead

SANTA MARIA, Brazil (AP) -- The nightclub Kiss was hot, steamy from the press of beer-fueled bodies dancing close. The Brazilian country band on stage was whipping the young crowd into a frenzy, launching into another fast-paced, accordion-driven tune and lighting flares that spewed silver sparks into the air.

It was another Saturday night in Santa Maria, a university town of about 260,000 on Brazil's southernmost tip.

Then, in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, it turned into a scene of indescribable horror as sparks lit a fire in the soundproofing material above the stage, churning out black, toxic smoke as flames raced through the former beer warehouse, killing 231 people.

"I was right there, so even though I was far from the door, at least I realized something was wrong," said Rodrigo Rizzi, a first-year nursing student who was next to the stage when the fire broke out and watched the tragedy unfold, horror-stricken and helpless.

"Others, who couldn't see the stage, never had a chance. They never saw it coming."

___

Citizenship for illegal immigrants? GOP, Democratic senators pledge action on emotional issue

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Side by side, leading Democratic and Republican senators pledged Monday to propel far-reaching immigration legislation through the Senate by summer providing a possible path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people now in the U.S. illegally.

The senators acknowledged pitfalls that have doomed such efforts in the past, but they suggested that November's elections -- with Hispanics voting heavily for President Barack Obama and other Democrats -- could make this time different.

Passage of the emotionally charged legislation by the Democratic-controlled Senate is far from assured, and a taller hurdle could come later in the House, which is dominated by conservative Republicans who've shown little interest in immigration overhaul. Obama will lay out his own proposals Tuesday, most of which mirror the Senate plans.

Besides the citizenship provision, including new qualifications, the Senate measure would increase border security, allow more temporary workers to stay and crack down on employers who would hire illegal immigrants. The plans are still short on detail, and all the senators conceded that months of tedious and politically treacherous negotiations lie ahead.

But with a re-elected Obama pledging his commitment, the lawmakers argued that six years after the last sustained congressional effort at an immigration overhaul came up short in the Senate, chances for approval this year are much better.

___

10 Things to Know for Tuesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday:

1. BOY SCOUTS POISED FOR A BIG CHANGE

Under a new policy, sponsors of individual Scout units would be able to decide for themselves whether to accept gays as scouts and leaders.

___

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

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Boy Scouts of America may soon give sponsors of troops the authority to decide whether to accept gays as scouts and leaders - a potentially dramatic retreat from a nationwide no-gays policy that has provoked relentless protests.

Under the change now being discussed, 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.

Gay-rights activists were elated at the prospect of change, sensing another milestone to go along with recent advances for same-sex marriage and the end of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

However, 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.

Monday's announcement of the possible change comes after years of protests over the no-gays policy -- including petition campaigns that have prompted some corporations to suspend donations to the Boy Scouts.

___

Police push for strengthened background checks on gun buys; no unity on assault weapons ban

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Law enforcement leaders who met with President Barack Obama Monday urged him to focus on strengthening gun purchase background checks and mental health systems, but did not unify behind his more controversial gun control efforts.

The message from sheriffs and police chiefs gathered at the White House reflected the political reality in Congress that the assault weapons ban in particular is likely to have a hard time winning broad support. The president appeared to recognize the challenge of getting everything he wants from Congress as well, participants in the meeting said.

"We're very supportive of the assault weapons ban," as police chiefs, said Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief J. Thomas Manger in an interview with The Associated Press. "But I think everybody understands that may be a real tough battle to win. And one of the things that the president did say is that we can't look at it like we have to get all of these things or we haven't won."

Opinions over an assault weapons ban and limits on high capacity magazines -- two measures the president supports -- were divided in the room. While Manger said the police chiefs from the large cities support that kind of gun control, some of the elected sheriffs who were in the meeting may not.

"I think what was made clear was that gun control in itself is not the salvation to this issue," said Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald of Story County, Iowa, one of 13 law enforcement leaders who met with the president, vice president and Cabinet members for more than an hour, seated around a conference table in the Roosevelt Room.

___

FACT CHECK: Some claims are overblown in the case against Chuck Hagel to be new defense chief

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican-leaning groups opposing President Barack Obama's choice of Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department have let loose a barrage of claims about the former GOP senator.

They say he endorses automatic cuts to the defense budget, that he wants to decimate the nation's nuclear arsenal, that his membership on the board of a major company that had a Pentagon contract is a conflict of interest that he's ignoring.

A look at Hagel's record suggests many of the contentions are overblown.

In statements and attack ads, the groups have sought to undermine Hagel's nomination in the weeks leading up to his confirmation hearing on Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. His opponents face a tough challenge as Democrats have begun to rally around the president's choice, and the party has the majority votes to confirm the former two-term Nebraska senator, barring surprises.

Here's a look at the validity of some of the criticism of Hagel.

___

1st soldier to survive losing all limbs in Iraq war gets double-arm transplant in Baltimore

On Facebook, he describes himself as a "wounded warrior...very wounded."

Brendan Marrocco was the first soldier to survive losing all four limbs in the Iraq War, and doctors revealed Monday that he's received a double-arm transplant.

Those new arms "already move a little," he tweeted a month after the operation.

Marrocco, a 26-year-old New Yorker, was injured by a roadside bomb in 2009. He had the transplant Dec. 18 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, his father said Monday.

Alex Marrocco said his son does not want to talk with reporters until a news conference Tuesday at the hospital, but the younger Marrocco has repeatedly mentioned the transplant on Twitter and posted photos.

___

A tell-all memoir by the late Whitney Houston's mother, Cissy Houston

NEW YORK (AP) -- Cissy Houston has a few words, and a few more, for Bobby Brown.

In "Remembering Whitney," the mother of the late Whitney Houston writes that from the start she had doubted whether Brown was right for her daughter. And she thinks that Whitney might not have ended up so "deep" into drugs had they not stayed together.

"I do believe her life would have turned out differently," Houston writes. "It would have been easier for her to get sober and stay sober. Instead she was with someone who, like her, wanted to party. To me, he never seemed to be a help to her in the way she needed."

"Remembering Whitney" came out Tuesday, two weeks short of the first anniversary of Houston's death. She drowned in a hotel bathtub in Beverly Hills, Calif., at age 48. Authorities said her death was complicated by cocaine use and heart disease.

During a recent telephone interview, Houston said she has no contact with Brown and didn't see any reason to, not even concerning her granddaughter, Bobbi Kristina. She reaffirmed her comments in the book that Whitney Houston would have been better off without him. "How would you like it if he had anything to do with your daughter?" she asked.

___

Where's Brady or the Mannings or Roethlisberger? Not in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- No Tom Brady. No Aaron Rodgers. No Ben Roethlisberger. Not a Manning in sight.

Super Bowl has a pair of fresh faces at quarterback, bona fide nobodies as far as the NFL title game goes. One will leave New Orleans as football's newest star.

For Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco, this is new territory. And, of course, exactly where they want to be.

"To be AFC champs feels good," Flacco said Monday. "We move on now to this challenge."

Flacco, the only quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first five NFL seasons, will lead the Baltimore Ravens into Sunday's matchup against the NFC-winning San Francisco 49ers and Kaepernick, a backup for most of his two seasons.

___

As Super Bowl teams settle in, New Orleans relishes the return of the NFL's biggest game

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A 20-story-high mural of the Lombardi Trophy, affixed to the glass exterior of a bustling hotel that was once a shattered symbol of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, rises like a beacon above the expansive white roof of the Superdome.

The Super Bowl is back in the Big Easy, finally, after 11 years, giving New Orleans a spotlight of global proportion to showcase how far it has come since Katrina left the city on its knees and under water in August of 2005.

"The story is much, much bigger than the Super Bowl," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Monday afternoon. "This is a story about the resurrection and redemption of a great American city.

"The Super Bowl gives us an opportunity to reflect on where we've been and where we're going."

From 1970 to 2002, New Orleans was a regular host of the Super Bowl and hopes to become one again. This Sunday, when the Baltimore Ravens meet the San Francisco 49ers in the Superdome, the Crescent City will host the NFL's marquee game for the 10th time, tying Miami for the most of any city. If all goes well, it hopes to get back in the rotation.