Nation roundup for December 21


Possible changes for NSA programs

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama suggested Friday that he may be ready to make some changes in the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records to allay the public’s concern about privacy.

Obama said he has not yet made any decisions about the National Security Agency’s collection programs. But among the dozens of recommendations he’s considering, he hinted that he may strip the NSA of its ability to store data in its own facilities and instead shift that storage to the private phone companies.

“There may be another way of skinning the cat,” Obama said during a news conference.

His hint at concessions came the same week a federal judge declared the bulk collection program unconstitutional and a presidential advisory panel that included intelligence experts suggested reforms. Both the judge and the panel said there was little evidence any terror plot had been thwarted by the program, known as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

“There are ways we can do it, potentially, that gives people greater assurance that there are checks and balances — that there’s sufficient oversight and sufficient transparency,” Obama said. Programs like the bulk collection of phone records “could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse.”

The advisory panel offered 46 recommendations in the wake of public outrage over the government’s vast surveillance.

Storms threaten travel for holidays

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Holiday travelers in the Midwest and parts East and South were keeping a leery eye Friday on a band of foul weather stretching across the nation’s midsection that was threatening to mar the opening weekend of one of the year’s busiest travel periods.

Forecasters were predicting a stew of foul weekend weather, from freezing rain and snow in the north to torrential rain in the Ohio Valley and Appalachia and possibly even tornadoes in the South.

The worst of the storm wasn’t expected to hit Midwest population centers until today, and although few flights had been cancelled as of midday Friday, the weather was already taking a toll on air travel: FlightStats.com reported more than 1,900 U.S. delays, with the most at Chicago’s O’Hare, Denver International, and the three big New York-area airports.

The foul weather could cause headaches for the estimated 94.5 million Americans planning to travel by road or air during this holiday season, which runs from today through New Year’s Day. Concerns were similar a month ago, when a winter storm hit just as people were traveling for Thanksgiving.

Victory for gay marriage in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal judge struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban Friday in a decision that brings a growing shift toward allowing gay marriage to a conservative state where the Mormon church has long been against it.

The Salt Lake County clerk’s office started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Deputy Clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee said the district attorney authorized her office to begin issuing the licenses but she couldn’t immediately say how many have been issued so far.

Just hours earlier, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby issued a 53-page ruling saying Utah’s law passed by voters in 2004 violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

Shelby said the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.

Defrocking for gay wedding appealed

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A United Methodist pastor defrocked for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding has appealed the decision, a move that offered the latest evidence of a split in the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination and came as yet another state legalized gay marriage.

Frank Schaefer, who lives in central Pennsylvania, said he was shocked and upset that he could be punished for showing love for his son. He said he believed the penalty was meted out reluctantly by members of the church’s regional Board of Ordained Ministry.

“So many of them came to me and they shook my hand and some hugged me, and so many of them had tears in their eyes,” Schaefer said. “They said, ‘We really don’t want to do this, you know that, don’t you?’”

Most other Protestant denominations have decided their position on the issue. But the Methodists, with about 7.7 million members in the U.S. and many more overseas, remain divided. At their last national meeting in 2012, delegates reaffirmed the church’s 40-year-old policy on gays.

Although the church accepts gay and lesbian members, it rejects homosexual acts as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and bars clergy from performing same-sex unions.

 

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