AP News in Brief

June 17, 2011 - 6:14 PM

UN decries anti-gay discrimination for first time ever; African and Muslim countries object

GENEVA (AP) — The United Nations endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people for the first time ever Friday, passing a resolution hailed as historic by the U.S. and other backers and decried by some African and Muslim countries.

The declaration was cautiously worded, expressing "grave concern" about abuses because of sexual orientation and commissioning a global report on discrimination against gays.

But activists called it an important shift on an issue that has divided the global body for decades, and they credited the Obama administration's push for gay rights at home and abroad.

"This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement.

Following tense negotiations, members of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council narrowly voted in favor of the declaration put forward by South Africa, with 23 votes in favor and 19 against.

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Syrian forces open fire on protests, killing 16 as harrowing accounts emerge of crackdown

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian security forces fired on thousands of protesters Friday, killing a teenage boy and at least 15 other civilians as accounts emerged of more indiscriminate killing and summary executions by the autocratic regime of President Bashar Assad, activists said.

The three-month uprising has proved stunningly resilient despite a relentless crackdown by the military, the pervasive security forces and pro-regime gunmen. Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as Assad desperately tries to maintain his grip on power.

"What is our guilt? We just demanded freedom and democracy nothing else," said Mohamed, 27, who spoke to The Associated Press from a refugee camp in neighboring Turkey where nearly 10,000 Syrians have fled.

Mohamed, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of reprisals, and other refugees offered harrowing accounts of the regime's bombardment.

"I saw people who were beheaded with machine-gun fire from helicopters" and a man tortured to death when security forces poured acid on his body, he said.

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AARP slammed for not fighting all cuts to Social Security benefits; group says view long-held

WASHINGTON (AP) — AARP, the powerful lobby for older Americans, was hammered Friday by fellow activists for refusing to oppose any and all cuts to Social Security benefits, a position the group says it has long held as a way to extend the life of the massive retirement and disability program.

The group, which has 37 million Americans as members, adamantly opposes cutting Social Security benefits to help reduce the federal budget deficit, said David Certner, the organization's director of legislative policy. But for years AARP has acknowledged that cuts to future benefits may be necessary to improve the program's finances, he said.

"Our policy for decades has always been that we basically support a package that would include revenue enhancements and benefit adjustments to get Social Security to long-term solvency," Certner said. "That has been our policy stated over and over again for, I mean, literally it has to be two decades, now."

However, the issue gained major notice Friday as White House and congressional leaders continued to negotiate ways to reduce government red ink. Social Security has not been a part of those talks. Instead, negotiators have focused on potential cuts to Medicare, the government health insurance program for older Americans.

In the midst of that, The Wall Street Journal quoted AARP's longtime policy chief, John Rother, saying the agency was dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits.

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Investors may be partying like it's 1999, but some indicators suggest it's justified this time

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — It's starting to feel like a 1999 flashback. Internet companies — some of them profitable, some not — sense a golden opportunity and are lining up to go public this year.

But here's something to keep in mind as the latest case of Internet fever grips Wall Street: It's still nowhere close to the giddy days of the dot-com boom, when investors bought stocks as impulsively as lottery tickets. Technology stocks today are the cheapest in more than nine years, at least judging by one benchmark for appraising companies.

This year could yield the most initial public offerings of technology stocks since 2000. But the venture capitalists who bankroll high-tech startups aren't pouring money into the Internet like they once did. And even rapidly growing Internet companies LinkedIn Corp. and Pandora Media Inc. have lost some of their luster after dazzling investors when they went public in recent weeks.

All those factors signal that cooler heads are prevailing, especially with the global economy on shaky ground.

So far this year, 28 of the 74 IPOs completed in the U.S. have been by technology companies, according to IPO investment advisory firm Renaissance Capital. If, as expected, another 31 tech IPOs are completed by the end this year, it will be the most from the sector since 2000.

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No more health care waivers after Sept. 22, removing potential political distraction in 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — Removing a potential political distraction ahead of next year's elections, the Obama administration Friday announced an early end to a health care waiver program that has come under fire from congressional Republicans.

Political considerations were "absolutely not" part of the decision, said Steve Larsen, head of a section of the Health and Human Services department that oversees President Barack Obama's health care law.

Larsen said no new applications for waivers will be considered after Sept. 22. Approvals or renewals received by the deadline will be good through 2013. Starting in 2014, the main coverage provisions of the health care law will take effect, and such waivers will no longer be needed.

The waivers address a provision of the law that phases out annual dollar limits on coverage by health insurance plans. Starting this year, plans could not impose a limit below $750,000. But some plans, offered mainly to low-income workers, currently provide $50,000 a year in coverage, and in certain cases much less.

Those plans would have been forced to close down or jack up premiums significantly, leaving more people uninsured.

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'Saudi women, start your engines:' Campaign against driving ban hits the road

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Saudi woman defiantly drove through the nation's capital Friday while others brazenly cruised by police patrols in the first forays of a campaign that hopes to ignite a road rebellion against the male-only driving rules in the ultraconservative kingdom.

It was a rare grass-roots challenge to the Western-backed Saudi monarchy as it tries to ride out the Arab world's wave of change, and a lesson in how the uprisings are taking root in different ways. In this case, the driver's seat was turned into a powerful platform for women's rights in a country where wives and daughters have almost no political voice.

"We've seen that change is possible," said Maha al-Qahtani, a computer specialist at Saudi's Ministry of Education. She said she drove for 45 minutes around the capital, Riyadh, with her husband in the passenger seat. "This is Saudi women saying, 'This is our time to make a change.'"

About 40 women took part in Friday's show of defiance. No arrests or violence were immediately reported, though al-Qahtani was later ticketed for driving without a license.

But the demonstration could bring difficult choices for the Saudi regime, which has so far has escaped major unrest. Officials could either order a crackdown on the women or give way to the demands at the risk of angering clerics and other conservative groups.

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Feel like airfare search is lose-lose? Here are some rules on how to win this summer

NEW YORK (AP) — Searching for airfares often seems to be a game passengers are set up to lose.

Prices change from day to day, even minute to minute. Scouring multiple websites for the best deal can be overwhelming. And after you book, there's no guarantee that you got the best price.

"You just don't know when to pull the trigger. It's not like buying anything else I can think of," said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com.

Harriet Levy paid $179 for a recent round-trip flight on American Airlines between New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Sitting just one row behind her, Shirley Harrison paid $215. A few rows back, Ellis and Dianne Traub paid $317 each. There were at least 12 fares on the flight, ranging from $169 to $360.

"There's no rhyme or reason to it," Harrison said.

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Phil Campbells from around the world team up to help Ala. town of Phil Campbell after tornado

PHIL CAMPBELL, Ala. (AP) — After the small Alabama city of Phil Campbell was ravaged in April by a tornado that killed more than two dozen people and hurt even more, a select group from around the world offered to help: men named Phil Campbell.

Phil Campbells from across the globe are converging this weekend on the hard-hit city of 1,150 for the "I'm With Phil" convention, a gathering meant to raise spirits, money and new roofs.

Phil Campbells are cleaning up storm debris, marching in a parade, donating money to build a Habitat for Humanity house, listening to country music and just showing they care.

"We're doing whatever it takes to be part of the town for a weekend," said Phil Campbell of Nottingham, England.

There's also Phil Campbell from Brooklyn, N.Y.; Phil Campbell from Juneau, Alaska; Phil Campbell from La Farge, Wis.; Phil Campbell from Austin, Texas; Phil Campbell from Glasgow, Scotland; Phil Campbell from Palo Alto, Calif., ... you get the idea. A couple Phils from Alabama are here, and two from Australia are expected.

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UN envoy Angelina Jolie sees plight of Syrian refugees in Turkey who fled violence at home

ALTINOZU, Turkey (AP) — U.N. envoy Angelina Jolie traveled to Turkey's border with Syria on Friday, sharing fruit and dessert with some of the thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled their government's bloody crackdown.

The Hollywood celebrity and goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees arrived in the Turkish province of Hatay on a private jet with boxes of toys for the refugee camps and visited one of the three refugee camps in Turkey, where nearly 10,000 Syrians have sought refuge.

Jolie spent two-and-a-half hours with about 1,700 refugees at a camp in Altinozu, 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Syrian border, asking how they were in Arabic and then speaking with them through an interpreter, Turkey's NTV television reported. It said she took notes, showing particular interest in the women and children.

"The people in this camp have fled in fear for their lives, and many told me they were distraught about the safety of loved ones still in Syria." Jolie said in a UNHCR statement.

Jolie met with one woman who managed to leave Syria heavily pregnant, and has since given birth to her child in the camp, the statement said. She told how her husband had been killed. Another distraught woman told Jolie how she was sick with worry about the fate of her husband still in Syria and unable to cross the border.

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A bad finish can't prevent McIlroy from setting a US Open record

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — The double bogey to close the day would have left the average player in a snit.

Rory McIlroy? He's anything but average, and he couldn't help but smile.

Not even the mistakes he made could turn this U.S. Open into a fair fight.

For 17 holes Friday, the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland systematically dissected the monstrous layout at Congressional and put the same kind of hurt on a U.S. Open record book that doesn't change easily.

McIlroy made a 6 to finish the day but by then, the damage was done. He shot 5-under-par 66 to head into the weekend at 11-under 131, setting the record for the best 36-hole score in the 111-year history of the tournament.