AP News in Brief

June 24, 2011 - 7:30 PM

Angry House declares Obama lacks Libya war authority — but stops short of cutting off funding

WASHINGTON (AP) — Challenging presidential power, a defiant U.S. House voted overwhelmingly Friday to deny President Barack Obama the authority to wage war against Libya. But Republicans fell short in an effort to actually cut off funds for the operation in a constitutional showdown reflecting both political differences and unease over American involvement.

In a repudiation of their commander in chief, House members rejected a measure to authorize the Libya mission for a year while prohibiting U.S. ground forces in the North African nation, a resolution Obama had said he would welcome.

The vote was 295-123 with 70 Democrats abandoning the president just one day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had made an unusual appeal to rank-and-file members. A Senate committee is to consider the same resolution next Tuesday and is expected to support it, raising the prospect of conflicting messages from Congress.

Friday's votes showed lawmakers' concerns about an open-ended U.S. commitment to a civil war between Moammar Gadhafi and rebel forces looking to oust him — as well as growing weariness among Americans with drawn-out conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition, the resounding number rejecting the authority resolution was a clear sign of anger toward the president for failing to seek congressional consent for the operation within 60 days, as stated in the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Republicans and Democrats argued that an arrogant Obama had run roughshod over the Constitution, ignoring the authority of the legislative branch that the founding fathers had insisted has the power to declare war.

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Mob boss Whitey Bulger brought back to Boston after 16 years on the run; will he sing?

BOSTON (AP) — James "Whitey" Bulger's capture could cause a world of trouble inside the FBI.

The ruthless Boston crime boss who spent 16 years on the lam is said to have boasted that he corrupted six FBI agents and more than 20 police officers. If he decides to talk, some of them could rue the day he was caught.

"They are holding their breath, wondering what he could say," said Robert Fitzpatrick, the former second-in-command of the Boston FBI office.

The 81-year-old gangster was captured Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif., where he apparently had been living for most of the time he was a fugitive. He appeared Friday afternoon inside a heavily guarded federal courthouse in Boston to answer charges he committed 19 murders.

Bulger, wearing jeans and a white shirt, looked tan and fit and walked with a slight hunch at back-to-back hearings on two indictments. He asked that a public defender be appointed to represent him, but the government objected, citing the $800,000 seized from his Southern California apartment and his "family resources."

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Peter Falk, TV's rumpled, squinty-eyed detective Columbo, has died

NEW YORK (AP) — The best way to celebrate Peter Falk's life is to savor how Columbo, his signature character, fortified our lives.

Thanks to Falk's affectionately genuine portrayal, Lt. Columbo established himself for all time as a champion of any viewer who ever felt less than graceful, elegant or well-spoken.

Falk died Thursday at age 83 in his Beverly Hills, Calif., home, according to a statement released Friday by family friend Larry Larson. But Columbo lives on as the shining ideal of anyone with a smudge on his tie, whose car isn't the sportiest, who often seems clueless, who gets dissed by fancy people.

As a police detective, Columbo's interview technique was famously disjointed, with his inevitable awkward afterthought ("Ahhh, there's just one more thing...") that tried the patience of his suspect as he was halfway out the door.

Columbo was underestimated, patronized or simply overlooked by nearly everyone he met — especially the culprit.

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Gay marriage in New York headed to vote on Senate floor in pivotal decision

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Republicans in the New York Senate agreed Friday to allow a full vote on legalizing gay marriage, setting the stage for a possible breakthrough victory for the gay-rights movement in the state where it got its start.

New York could become the sixth state where gay couples can wed, and the biggest by far. A vote could come as soon as tonight.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said the bill will come to the floor and be brought up for an "up or down vote." It will be a "vote of conscience for every member of this Senate," Skelos said.

The heavily Democratic Assembly has already approved one version of the measure and is expected to easily pass the new version that contains more protections for religious groups that oppose gay marriage and feared discrimination lawsuits.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who campaigned on the issue last year, has promised to sign it. Gay weddings could begin 30 days after that.

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Finally, some relief at the pump. Drivers ready to take road trips as gas prices fall.

NEW YORK (AP) — A summer road trip may not be such a bad idea after all.

Gasoline prices are falling fast. In the past 7 weeks, the average U.S. retail prices has dropped 38 cents to $3.60 per gallon. Another 25-cent drop is expected by mid-July.

When prices approached $4 in early May, drivers were worried that $5 gasoline was a possibility this summer. But since then, oil prices have collapsed, the result of slowing economic growth in developed countries, weaker demand for oil and gas and this week's decision by the U.S. and other countries to release 60 million barrels of oil from strategic reserves. Economists say falling prices will benefit consumers by leaving money in their wallets, and making them feel freer to spend on travel, shopping and dining.

Ron Meyers, 51, a handyman from Little Rock, Ark., was doubtful that he could afford the drive to visit family in Pennsylvania. Now, thanks to cheaper gas, the trip is on. And he plans on seeing a few more summer movies, too.

"You can go out and have a good time, and have a little money left in your pocket," he said.

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Defying army's guns, Syrians march demanding Assad ouster; 15 killed

BEIRUT (AP) — Defying government guns, thousands of Syrian protesters poured down city streets and a main highway Friday to press demands for President Bashar Assad's ouster. Security forces opened fire, killing at least 15 people, including two children, activists said.

"Our revolution is strong! Assad has lost legitimacy!" a YouTube video showed protesters chanting in Zabadani, a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

Syria's streets have become the stage for a test of endurance between a 3-month-old pro-democracy movement, bloodied but resilient, and an iron-fisted but embattled regime. The latest round of protests and killings came as international pressure mounted on Assad.

"We will not stand by while the Syrian regime uses violent repression to silence its own people," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said after the European Union expanded sanctions — asset freezes and travel bans — to more members of the Syrian leadership.

The Syrian opposition says 1,400 people have been killed as the government has cracked down on a movement demanding an end to four decades of Assad family rule — a popular uprising renewed each Friday after weekly Muslim prayers.

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Souris River soars nearly 4 feet at Minot; mayor says 2,500 homes have water, more to come

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — The Souris River's full weight hit Minot on Friday, swamping an estimated 2,500 homes as it soared nearly 4 feet in less than a day and overwhelmed the city's levees. City officials said they expected more than 4,000 homes to be flooded by day's end.

More than a quarter of the city's 40,000 residents evacuated earlier this week, packing any belongings they hoped to save into cars, trucks and trailers.

"The river's coming up rapidly," Mayor Curt Zimbelman said. "It's dangerous and we need to stay away."

Fed by heavy rains upstream and dam releases that have accelerated in recent days, the Souris surged past a 130-year-old record Friday and kept going. The river was nearly 5 feet above major flood stage Friday afternoon and expected to crest over the weekend after reaching more than 8½ feet beyond major flood stage.

The predicted crest was lowered a foot based on new modeling by the National Weather Service, but it was little consolation in Minot.

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What's in a name? Bin Laden saw new name for al-Qaida as a way to boost his terrorist brand

WASHINGTON (AP) — As Osama bin Laden watched his terrorist organization get picked apart, he lamented in his final writings that al-Qaida was suffering from a marketing problem. His group was killing too many Muslims and that was bad for business. The West was winning the public relations fight. All his old comrades were dead and he barely knew their replacements.

Faced with these challenges, bin Laden, who hated the United States and decried capitalism, considered a most American of business strategies. Like Blackwater, ValuJet and Philip Morris, perhaps what al-Qaida really needed was a fresh start under a new name.

The problem with the name al-Qaida, bin Laden wrote in a letter recovered from his compound in Pakistan, was that it lacked a religious element, something to convince Muslims worldwide that they are in a holy war with America.

Maybe something like Taifat al-Tawhed Wal-Jihad, meaning Monotheism and Jihad Group, would do the trick, he wrote. Or Jama'at I'Adat al-Khilafat al-Rashida, meaning Restoration of the Caliphate Group.

As bin Laden saw it, the problem was that the group's full name, al-Qaida al-Jihad, or The Base of Holy War, had become short-handed as simply al-Qaida. Lopping off the word "jihad," bin Laden wrote, allowed the West to "claim deceptively that they are not at war with Islam." Maybe it was time for al-Qaida to bring back its original name.

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AP EXCLUSIVE: Experiment with power grid may throw off your electric clock

WASHINGTON (AP) — A yearlong experiment with the nation's electric grid could mess up traffic lights, security systems and some computers — and make plug-in clocks and appliances like programmable coffeemakers run up to 20 minutes fast.

"A lot of people are going to have things break and they're not going to know why," said Demetrios Matsakis, head of the time service department at the U.S. Naval Observatory, one of two official timekeeping agencies in the federal government.

Since 1930, electric clocks have kept time based on the rate of the electrical current that powers them. If the current slips off its usual rate, clocks run a little fast or slow. Power companies now take steps to correct it and keep the frequency of the current — and the time — as precise as possible.

The group that oversees the U.S. power grid is proposing an experiment would allow more frequency variation than it does now without corrections, according to a company presentation obtained by The Associated Press.

Officials say they want to try this to make the power supply more reliable, save money and reduce what may be needless efforts. The test is tentatively set to start in mid-July, but that could change.

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Roddick trudges off with latest early exit at Wimbledon; 2010 finalist Zvonareva out, too

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Head bowed, Andy Roddick trudged off Centre Court, his purple Wimbledon towel dragging along the turf.

As the three-time runner-up at the All England Club headed for the exit, he passed some kids clamoring for an autograph from their front-row perch. Roddick paused and tossed his blue-framed racket underhand. Thanks to his latest earlier-than-anticipated Grand Slam loss, the American won't be needing it next week.

The eighth-seeded Roddick departed quickly Friday, beaten 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the third round by unseeded Feliciano Lopez of Spain. Lopez served spectacularly well, hitting 28 aces, and finally got the better of the 2003 U.S. Open champion after losing all seven previous matches they played.

Roddick turns 29 in August, and he was asked whether, as the years go by, one particularly depressing thought creeps into his mind: He might never win Wimbledon.

"Well, sure. You're human. I mean, of course it does," he replied. Then, speaking directly to the reporter, Roddick added: "You know, you may never get your favorite job, either — no offense to your current employer."