- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

Bomb explodes in shrine at busy central Bangkok intersection; at least 18 dead, 117 wounded

BANGKOK (AP) - A bomb exploded Monday within a central Bangkok shrine that is among the city’s most popular tourist spots, killing at least 18 people and injuring more than 100 across a hectic intersection surrounded by five-star hotels and upscale shopping malls.

With a powerful flash caught on security video and a boom heard blocks away, the blast from the improvised explosive device scattered body parts across Rachaprasong intersection, spattered blood, blasted windows and burned motorbikes to the metal. It exploded during evening rush hour as the area was filled with tourists, office workers and shoppers.

“Suddenly there was a big boom, and the whole room just shook, like someone dropped a wrecking ball on top of our ceiling,” said Pim Niyomwan, an English instructor working on the eighth floor of the building right next to the shrine. “The whole building just shook. My four students were hysterical.”

Video shortly after the blast depicts a scene of shock and desperation: people running for their lives and crying amid the debris. An emergency worker in an ambulance, frantically pounding the chest of a victim.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing.


Russian, Chinese acts lead Pentagon to increase drone flights by 50 percent over decade

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. (AP) - Faced with escalating aggression from Russia and China, the Pentagon is planning to increase its use of drones by about 50 percent over the next several years, using the Army and civilian contractors to put more of the unmanned aircraft in the air.

The decision to add Army and civilian-operated missions to the mix was triggered because the Air Force - which had been running about 65 combat air patrol missions a day - asked to decrease that number to 60 because of stress on the force. But 60 patrols don’t come close to meeting the demands of top military commanders facing growing security threats around the world.

Senior U.S. officials said that while drones have been used largely to target terrorists and collect intelligence over combat zones, those needs may shift in the coming years.

Top military leaders, including the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, have named Russia as the nation’s most serious security threat. And China’s rising military power and island-building program in the South China Sea have increased tensions and prompted a greater demand for U.S. surveillance and intelligence across the Pacific.

One senior defense official said Pentagon leaders are taking those security challenges into account as they decide how armed and unarmed drones will be used across Europe and the Pacific. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.


10 Things to Know for Tuesday

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


The Republican frontrunner says he supports deporting U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, which causes a stir among his rivals.


Trump divides GOP anew with his call to end birthright citizenship, make Mexico pay for fence

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Donald Trump is dividing his Republican presidential rivals anew with his call to rewrite the Constitution to crack down on millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, and to force Mexico to pay for a better border fence. Scott Walker embraced some of the plan Monday, but other contenders, such as Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, dismissed elements as unworkable.

Trump’s immigration proposal, his first formal policy plan since announcing his candidacy in June, won praise Monday from the GOP’s conservative tea partyers, some of whom favor changing the Constitution to reverse the “birthright citizenship” guaranteed to anyone born in the United States, no matter the status of their parents. At the same time, surveys show a majority of Americans, including Republicans, support allowing many immigrants in the U.S. illegally to stay.

Trump leads his Republican rivals in national polls, and his proposal quickly reverberated within the party, which has struggled with the issue of immigration.

Party leaders are determined to expand the GOP’s appeal with Hispanics after the 2012 election in which Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Latino vote. But many Republicans have adopted a hardline approach on immigrants, appealing to the party’s core voters who play an oversized role in nominating primaries and caucuses.

Asked at the Iowa State Fair on Monday if he supports building a wall along the U.S. Mexican border, as Trump has proposed, Wisconsin Gov. Walker gave a quick “yes,” but he declined to address whether he supports deporting children of parents in the country illegally. “Going forward, the best thing we can do is enforce the law,” he said.


States raising taxes, fees, and debt to pay for backlog of highway and bridge improvements

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - While Congress remains stalled on a long-term plan for funding highways, state lawmakers and governors aren’t waiting around.

Nearly one-third of the states have approved measures this year that could collectively raise billions of dollars through higher fuel taxes, vehicle fees and bonds to repair old bridges and roads and relieve traffic congestion, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

The surge of activity means at least half of the states - from coast to coast, in both Republican and Democratic areas - now have passed transportation funding measures since 2013.

And the movement may not be done yet.

Tennessee’s governor is in the midst of a 15-city tour highlighting the state’s transportation needs. North Carolina lawmakers are debating a road-bonding proposal. And legislators are returning to work this week in California and Michigan with transportation funding on the agenda.


Civic obligation: Donald Trump takes a detour off the campaign trail, reports for jury duty

NEW YORK (AP) - Donald Trump pulled up in a long black limousine and gave a very presidential wave as he made his way into the building. Then the billionaire promptly found himself seated next to ordinary, wage-earning, subway-riding New Yorkers, forced to wait - and wait some more - for the wheels of justice to turn.

The Republican presidential candidate reported for jury duty in Manhattan on Monday and spent much of the day like everyone else, filling out forms and wondering whether he would get picked.

By late afternoon, he was released without getting selected for a trial, his civic obligation fulfilled.

Trump had high praise for the public servants at the courthouse, saying: “The people in the court system are really professional. It was an honor to see how it worked.”

The businessman’s limo arrived in the morning at the foot of the courthouse steps familiar to viewers of TV’s “Law & Order,” and he was met by a throng of camera crews, reporters and onlookers. Some booed, while others greeted him with fist bumps and books for him to sign.


Judge gives Kentucky clerk time to appeal before issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) - A federal judge on Monday gave a Kentucky county clerk room to continue denying marriage licenses to gays and lesbians while she takes her religious objections case to a higher court.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis last week to issue licenses to two gay couples, and ruled Monday that she is not entitled to any more delays. But because “emotions are running high on both sides of this debate,” he also stayed his decision while she takes her case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal.

Attorneys on both sides disagreed about the implications. Dan Canon, representing the gay couples, said Davis remains under the judge’s order. But Mat Staver, who represents Davis and is the founder of Florida-based Liberty Counsel, said the convoluted order essentially grants her request for more time.

What is clear is that Davis will continue refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone in this county of about 23,000 people, home to Morehead State University in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky. Until the case is resolved, no new wedding can be legally recognized in Rowan County unless the couple obtains a marriage license somewhere else.

“This is not something I decided because of this decision that came down,” Davis testified in federal court last month. “It was thought-out and, you know, I sought God on it.”


Bad weather prevents rescuers from reaching wreckage of Indonesian plane carrying 54 people

JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) - Rugged, forested terrain and bad weather Tuesday have prevented rescuers from reaching the site where an Indonesian plane with 54 people on board crashed two days ago.

Smoldering wreckage of the Trigana Air Service turboprop plane was spotted from the air Monday morning in a rugged area of the easternmost province of Papua, rescue officials said. There was no immediate word of any survivors from Sunday’s crash, which happened in bad weather.

“Steep ravines and bad weather have slowed rescuers,” said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the National Search and Rescue Agency chief. “They haven’t reached it yet, so we don’t know yet if anyone survived.”

He said a helicopter was on standby to lower two rescuers by rope into a valley about 300 meters (yards) from the wreckage but visibility when the search resumed Tuesday was just one meter (yard) due to heavy fog.

The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was flying from Jayapura to the city of Oksibil when it lost contact, and its passengers included four postal workers aboard the plane were escorting four bags of cash totaling $468,750 in government aid for poor families to help offset a spike in fuel prices, Franciscus Haryono, the head of the post office in Jayapura, the provincial capital, told The Associated Press.


Board blocks effort to unionize college athletes, says unions could alter competitive balance

CHICAGO (AP) - The National Labor Relations Board on Monday blocked a historic bid by Northwestern University football players to form the nation’s first college athletes’ union, dealing a blow to a labor movement that could have transformed amateur sports.

In a unanimous decision, the board said the prospect of union and nonunion teams in college could lead to different standards at different schools - from how much money players receive to how much time they practice - and create competitive imbalances on the field.

The new ruling annuls a 2014 decision by a regional NLRB director in Chicago who said scholarship football players are employees under U.S. law and thus entitled to organize. But Monday’s decision did not directly address the question of whether the players are employees.

Some observers said the ruling effectively ends any chance to establish labor unions in college athletics.

“This puts the nail in the coffin of organizing college players,” said Ronald Meisburg, a former NLRB general counsel and onetime board member.


Big wildfire threatens Washington state resort town, destroys warehouse full of apples

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Big wildfires threatened the Lake Chelan resort region of central Washington on Monday after driving away tourists, destroying a warehouse filled with nearly 2 million pounds of apples and forcing thousands of residents to flee.

The several large fires burning near the town of Chelan have scorched more than 155 square miles and destroyed an estimated 75 homes and businesses Friday and Saturday, officials said. Scores of homes remain threatened, and mandatory evacuation orders remained in effect for more than 2,900 people in the Chelan area.

The Chelan fires were just some of the many destructive blazes burning throughout the Northwest. In northern Idaho, more than 40 homes were lost near the town of Kamiah, and in Oregon a lightning-sparked blaze on the Malheur National Forest has grown to more than 60 square miles and has destroyed at least 26 homes.

So many fires are burning across the West that the National Interagency Fire Center announced Monday that 200 active-duty military troops were being called in to help. They will be sent to a fire on Aug. 23.

The blazes near Chelan, about 180 miles east of Seattle, are burning through grass, brush and timber, fire spokeswoman Janet Pearce said. The uncontained fires were being battled by more than 900 firefighters, she said.

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