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Thursday, February 28, 2013 - Updated: 4:51 PM

N'town father asks to ban assault weapons

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After weeks of arguing constitutional fine points and citing rival statistics, senators wrangling over gun control saw and heard the anguish of a bereft father.

Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was among those cut down at a Connecticut elementary school in December, asked the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to ban assault weapons like the one that killed his child.

"I'm not here for the sympathy or the pat on the back," Heslin, a 50-year-old construction worker, told the senators, weeping openly during much of his hushed 11-minute testimony. "I'm here to speak up for my son."

At his side were photos: of his son as a baby, of them both taken on Father's Day, six months before Jesse was among 20 first-graders and six administrators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That massacre has hoisted gun control to a primary political issue this year, though the outcome remains uncertain.

The hearing's focus was legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds. A Bushmaster assault weapon was used at Newtown by the attacker, Adam Lanza, whose body was found with 30-round magazines.

Part of voting rights law draws court's ire

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court's conservative justices voiced deep skepticism Wednesday about a section of a landmark civil rights law that has helped millions of Americans exercise their right to vote.

In an ominous note for supporters of the key provision of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy both acknowledged the measure's vital role in fighting discrimination and suggested that other important laws in U.S. history had run their course. "Times change," Kennedy said during the fast-paced, 70-minute argument.

Kennedy's views are likely to prevail on the closely divided court, and he tends to side with his more conservative colleagues on matters of race.

The court's liberals and conservatives engaged in a sometimes tense back-and-forth over whether there is an ongoing need in 2013 for the part of the voting rights law that requires states with a history of discrimination, mainly in the Deep South, to get approval before making changes in the way elections are held.

Justice Antonin Scalia called the law a "perpetuation of racial entitlement."

Tycoon's offer: A trip for couple to Mars

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's a road trip that could test the best of marriages: Mars.

A tycoon announced plans Wednesday to send a middle-aged couple on a privately built spaceship to slingshot around the red planet and come back home, hopefully with their bodies and marriage in one piece after 501 days of no-escape togetherness in a cramped capsule half the size of an RV.

Under the audacious but bare-bones plan, the spacecraft would blast off less than five years from now and pass within 100 miles of the Martian surface. The cost was not disclosed, but outsiders put it at more than $1 billion.

The team of space veterans behind the project hasn't quite figured out the technical details of the rocket they will use or the capsule the husband-and-wife astronauts will live in during the 16-month voyage. But they know it will be an adventure not for the weak of body or heart.

"This is not going to be an easy mission," chief technical officer and potential crew member Taber MacCallum said. "We called it the Lewis and Clark trip to Mars."

First Lady highlights fight against obesity

CLINTON, Miss. (AP) -- Michelle Obama on Wednesday congratulated this Southern state for a more than 13 percent drop in its child obesity rates and said its example should inspire the rest of the country.

It's the reason the first lady made Mississippi the first stop on a two-day tour to promote her signature effort, the anti-childhood obesity campaign she launched three years ago called "Let's Move."

In remarks at a school near Jackson, Mrs. Obama cited new research showing that childhood obesity rates among elementary school pupils in the state had declined by more than 13 percent between 2005 and 2011.

     

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