- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

SENATE

Abortion vote targets GOP

Democrats on a key Senate panel voted Thursday to permanently reverse a policy in effect under recent Republican administrations that banned giving U.S. taxpayer money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information.

The 17-11 vote by the Appropriations Committee would give the current policy - set by President Obama by executive order days after taking office - the force of law. That means the next Republican president would not be able to put the ban back in place with the stroke of a pen, as has been recent practice.

The policy in effect under President George W. Bush had banned U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion as a family planning method.

The ban was put in place by President Reagan and has been known as the “Mexico City policy” for the city where a U.S. delegation first announced it at a U.N. International Conference on Population.

NOAA

El Nino returns, scientists declare

Government scientists said Thursday that El Nino, the periodic warming of water in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which can affect weather around the world, has returned.

The Pacific had been in what is called a neutral state, but forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the sea surface temperature climbed to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal along a narrow band in the eastern equatorial Pacific in June.

In addition, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said temperatures in other tropical regions are also above normal, with warmer-than-usual readings as much as 975 feet below the ocean surface.

In general, El Nino conditions are associated with increased rainfall across the east-central and eastern Pacific and with drier-than-normal conditions over northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

A summer El Nino can lead to wetter than normal conditions in the intermountain regions of the United States and over central Chile. In an El Nino year, there tends to be more Eastern Pacific hurricanes and fewer Atlantic hurricanes.

The forecasters said they expect this El Nino to continue strengthening over the next few months and to last through the winter.

AIDS

Capitol Police arrest protesters

A group of AIDS activists was arrested Thursday for unlawfully demonstrating in the Capitol rotunda, a Capitol Police spokeswoman said.

Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said 11 men and 15 women were charged with unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. Their names and ages were not immediately released.

Sgt. Schneider said the group entered the rotunda, located beneath the Capitol dome, and linked themselves together with a white chain at about 10 a.m. The area is usually crowded with tourists, but police restricted the traffic while they made arrests.

The activists carried signs in support of funding for needle exchange, HIV/AIDS housing and programs aimed at fighting AIDS. They chanted, “Fight global AIDS now,” and, “Clean needles save lives.” They marched in a circle before lying down on the floor.

Police bound the activists’ hands together and dragged some of them to their feet as they arrested them.

The activists were part of a coalition of five AIDS groups from Washington, Philadelphia and New York. They included ACT UP Philadelphia, DC Fights Back, Health GAP, New York City AIDS Network and Housing Works.

FOSSETT

Experts blame wind for air crash

The aircrash that killed entrepreneur Steve Fossett, famed for his daredevil aerial feats, probably was caused by downdrafts that exceeded the ability of his small plane to recover before slamming into a mountainside, federal safety officials said Thursday.

Mr. Fossett, 63, disappeared Sept. 3, 2007, after taking off alone from a Nevada ranch owned by hotel magnate Barron Hilton for what was supposed to be a short pleasure flight. His Bellanca 8KCAB-180, a single-engine, two-seater known as the “Super Decathalon,” crashed near Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

An extensive, high-profile search failed to turn up any clues to his fate. A year later, on Oct. 7, 2008, a hiker found some of Mr. Fossett’s belongings. An aerial search located the wreckage about a half-mile away at an elevation of about 10,000 feet.

On the day of the accident, no emergency radio transmissions were received from Mr. Fossett, nor were any emergency locator transmitter signals received, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report.

However, after the wreckage was discovered, a review of radar data from September 2007 revealed a “track” that ended about a mile northwest of the accident site, the board said.

TRANSPORTATION

Fewer flights, but more on time

U.S. airlines have cut many flights and they are getting better at staying on schedule with their remaining flights as more trips arrived on time in May than a year earlier.

The Transportation Department also said Thursday that fewer flights were canceled and passengers reported fewer cases of mishandled baggage.

Airlines have been cutting flights since last year, first in response to rising fuel prices, then to cope with a slump in travel because of the recession. In June, capacity - mostly measured in the number of flights - was down about 6 percent from June 2008 at the largest U.S. airlines.

That’s made it easier for airlines to stay on schedule, which the Transportation Department defines as arriving within 15 minutes of the ending time listed in the airline’s own computerized reservations system.

Overall, 80.5 percent of May flights arrived on time, compared with 79 percent in May 2008 and 79.1 percent in April of this year, according to the Transportation Department.

RELIGION

Agency asks Iran to free 7 Baha’is

A U.S. government agency is demanding that Iran release seven Baha’i prisoners rather than submit them to trials on charges of spying for Israel and religious charges.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is responding to a plea from Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist who spent almost four months in an Iranian jail, was convicted of spying for the United States, then expelled. Miss Saberi says two of the Baha’is were her cellmates.

In her letter to the USCIRF, Miss Saberi says intercession on behalf of the Baha’is would show Iranian authorities that “the Iranian people’s human rights are a matter of international concern.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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