News briefs: Boy Scouts file for bankruptcy after sex abuse suits

Associated Press

Barraged by hundreds of sex-abuse lawsuits, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday in hopes of working out a potentially mammoth victim compensation plan that will allow the hallowed, 110-year-old organization to carry on. 

The Chapter 11 filing in federal bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware, sets in motion what could be one of the biggest, most complex bankruptcies ever seen. Scores of lawyers are seeking settlements on behalf of several thousand men who say they were molested as scouts by scoutmasters or other leaders decades ago but are only now eligible to sue because of recent changes in their states' statute-of-limitations laws.

By going to bankruptcy court, the Scouts can put those lawsuits on hold for now. But ultimately they could be forced to sell off some of their vast property holdings, including campgrounds and hiking trails, to raise money for a compensation trust fund that could surpass a billion dollars. 

The bankruptcy petition listed the Boy Scouts' assets as between $1 billion and $10 billion, and its liabilities at $500 million to $1 billion.

"Scouting programs will continue throughout this process and for many years to come," the Boy Scouts said in a statement. "Local councils are not filing for bankruptcy because they are legally separate and distinct organizations."

Virus claims life of hospital director in hard-hit Wuhan

BEIJING (AP) — As a mysterious new virus enveloped central China's Wuhan early this year, Liu Zhiming mobilized all the resources of his hospital in the city's Wuchang district to deal with the thousands of sick people arriving daily, threatening to overwhelm the local health care system. 

That dedication appears to have cost him his life, with Wuhan's health bureau announcing Tuesday that he became infected and died despite "all-out" attempts to save him. 

Liu is at least the seventh health worker to die of the COVID-19 disease among the more than 1,700 doctors and nurses who have become sick. His death comes as authorities are cautiously cheering a reduction in the number of new daily cases and deaths, along with the results of a study showing most people who contracted the virus experienced only mild symptoms. 

China on Tuesday reported 1,886 new cases and 98 more deaths. That raised the number of deaths in mainland China to 1,868 and the total number of confirmed cases to 72,436. 

Japan, meanwhile, announced that 88 more cases of the virus were confirmed aboard a quarantined cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 542 among the 3,700 initially on board. 

Bloomberg makes debate stage, facing Dem rivals for 1st time

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg has qualified for the upcoming Democratic presidential debate, marking the first time he'll stand alongside the rivals he has so far avoided by bypassing the early voting states and using his personal fortune to define himself through television ads. 

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll published Tuesday shows Bloomberg with 19% support nationally in the Democratic nominating contest.

The former New York City mayor will appear in Wednesday's debate in Las Vegas alongside former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Fellow billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer is still hoping to qualify. 

Bloomberg's campaign said that it was seeing "a groundswell of support across the country" and that qualifying for Wednesday's debate "is the latest sign that Mike's plan and ability to defeat Donald Trump is resonating with more Americans."

"Mike is looking forward to joining the other Democratic candidates on stage and making the case for why he's the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump and unite the country," Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement.

Disgraced religious order tried to get abuse victim to lie

MILAN (AP) — The cardinal's response was not what Yolanda Martínez had expected — or could abide.

Her son had been sexually abused by a priest of the Legion of Christ, a disgraced religious order. And now she was calling Cardinal Valasio De Paolis -- the Vatican official appointed by the pope to lead the Legion and to clean it up -- to report the settlement the group was offering, and to express her outrage.

The terms: Martínez's family would receive 15,000 euros ($16,300) from the order. But in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to Milan prosecutors that the priest had repeatedly assaulted him when he was a 12-year-old student at the order's youth seminary in northern Italy. He would have to lie.

The cardinal did not seem shocked. He did not share her indignation.

Instead, he chuckled. He said she shouldn't sign the deal, but should try to work out another agreement without attorneys: "Lawyers complicate things. Even Scripture says that among Christians we should find agreement." 

Hundreds still flooded from homes in Mississippi capital

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The swollen Pearl River appeared to have crested Monday in Mississippi's capital, but authorities warned the hundreds of evacuees in the Jackson area not to rush back home until they got the all clear, and a forecast of more rain put counties further south at risk of flooding.

No injuries were reported from the major flooding in central Mississippi and southern Tennessee. But as the high water recedes, officials expect to find damaged roads and problems with water and sewage pipes. In Savannah, Tennessee, two houses slid down a muddy bluff into the Tennessee River, although its residents had fled earlier.

"Please do not move back into your neighborhood or into your home until authorities and officials give you the OK to do so," Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said at a news conference.

A near-record rainy winter has forced authorities to release water from swollen reservoirs, potentially worsening the flooding for those living downstream.

"It is a chess match we're playing with Mother Nature," said Jim Hopson, spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

'Whitey' Bulger juror says she regrets murder conviction

EASTHAM, Mass. (AP) — The notorious crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger terrorized Boston from the 1970s into the 1990s with a campaign of murder, extortion, and drug trafficking, then spent 16 years on the lam after he was tipped to his pending arrest.

In 2013, Janet Uhlar was one of 12 jurors who found Bulger guilty in a massive racketeering case, including involvement in 11 murders, even after hearing evidence that the mobster was helped by corrupt agents in the Boston office of the FBI.

But now Uhlar says she regrets voting to convict Bulger on any of the murder charges.

Her regret stems from a cache of more than 70 letters Bulger wrote to her from prison, some of which describe his unwitting participation in a secret CIA experiment with LSD. In a desperate search for a mind control drug in the late 1950s, the agency dosed Bulger with the powerful hallucinogen more than 50 times when he was serving his first stretch in prison __ something his lawyers never brought up in his federal trial.

"Had I known, I would have absolutely held off on the murder charges," Uhlar told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "He didn't murder prior to the LSD. His brain may have been altered, so how could you say he was really guilty?" At the same time, Uhlar says she would have voted to convict Bulger on the long list of other criminal counts, meaning he still would likely have died in prison.

Aging Shiite cleric a powerhouse in Iraq. What comes after?

NAJAF, Iraq (AP) — When Iraq's top Shiite cleric underwent surgery for a fractured bone last month, it sent shivers around the country and beyond. "May God heal Iraq," read a photo of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that circulated online.

Frantic supporters shared prayers. Anti-government protesters hung photos of the black-turbaned cleric with a long white beard and bushy eyebrows, declaring, "The hearts of the revolutionaries are with you." Al-Sistani's well-wishers included officials from both Iran and the United States, the bitter rivals for influence in Iraq.

The incident put into focus the question: what will happen after al-Sistani, who turns 90 this year, is gone? The question has gained added importance for an Iraq deeply embroiled in U.S.-Iranian tensions and gripped by months of anti-government protests.

Al-Sistani's death would rob Iraq of a powerful voice whose sway among followers and positions against foreign intervention are believed to have curbed further Iranian influence. He sought to restrain Iranian-backed Shiite militias accused of abuses and moderate the government, repeatedly stating that the Iraqi people are the source of authority. 

Iran, analysts say, will likely try to exploit the vacuum to expand its influence among Iraq's Shiites. 

China's closed: Palestinian traders fear losing a good deal

HEBRON, West Bank (AP) — The West Bank city of Hebron is separated from the epicenter of China's virus outbreak by more than 4,000 miles and a ring of Israeli checkpoints. But even here the economic symptoms of the outbreak are starting to appear.

Palestinian markets have long been flooded by low-cost Chinese goods. Traders in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city and a commercial hub for the territories, fear that if the outbreak and quarantine efforts continue they will have to switch to more expensive alternatives, passing higher prices on to consumers in an already weakened economy. 

Their concerns point to the potential for wide-ranging ripple effects from the outbreak in China, the world's largest exporter. The health crisis has already thrown the global travel industry into chaos and threatened to disrupt supply chains around the world that depend on China. That a city deep inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank is so reliant on Chinese goods illustrates the perils of global economic integration.

The illness, recently named COVID-19, first emerged in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Since then, the virus — a new type of coronavirus — has spread to about two dozen countries and infected more than 73,000 people. It has caused more than 1,800 deaths, nearly all in China. No cases have yet been identified in Israel or the Palestinian territories, but merchants have felt the impact and fear the worst is yet to come.

Samer Abu Eisha, a children's clothes wholesaler in Hebron, has been importing from China for more than two decades. He has a permit from Israel that allows him to fly from Ben Gurion International Airport to China's Guangzhou province every two months so he can place orders with factories there and supervise output.

Hamlin and Newman contrast risk and reward at Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — In a single thrilling lap around NASCAR's most storied track, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman displayed the risks and rewards of the dangerous sport they both love.

Hamlin won his second consecutive Daytona 500 and third in five years on Monday night as he surged past Newman on the final lap of a second overtime shootout. The win came as Newman's car was turned hard into the wall, then flipped onto its roof, where he was helpless as he was hit in the driver's side by another car.

His car continued to skid upside down along the speedway and it crossed the finish line in flames as safety crews hurried to snuff out the fire and pry Newman loose. It took several minutes for his car to be rolled back onto its wheels, and medical personnel used solid black barriers to block the view as the 2008 Daytona 500 winner was placed in a waiting ambulance and taken to a hospital. 

All the while, a sense of dread settled over Daytona and its showcase race, already pushed back a day by rain that dampened a raucous visit by President Donald Trump. There has not been a fatality in NASCAR's elite Cup Series since 2001, but Newman's crash had everyone worried.

The damage to his Mustang was extensive — it appeared the entire roll cage designed to protect his head had caved — and officials would not allow his team near the accident site. Two agonizing hours after the crash, NASCAR read a statement from Roush Fenway Racing that said Newman was in "serious condition, but doctors have indicated his injuries are not life threatening." 

Karen Pence adds campaigning for Trump to busy to-do list

WASHINGTON (AP) — Karen Pence has no shortage of projects.

The wife of Vice President Mike Pence promotes the healing power of art therapy and help for military spouses. She's into honeybees and supports sister cities. She's a watercolorist who designs the family's annual Christmas card and teaches art at a religious elementary school.

Now, she's beginning to campaign on her own to help win a second term for President Donald Trump and her husband. And with first lady Melania Trump largely avoiding the political scene, the campaign sees Mrs. Pence as an asset in one of the areas where they most need help — with suburban woman.

"I just feel like I want to do my part," Mrs. Pence told The Associated Press in an interview shortly before she took a solo trip home to Indianapolis to add the Trump-Pence ticket to the ballot for the state's Republican presidential primary in May. Mike Pence is a former Indiana governor.

"This is so exciting for me," she told supporters at the Indiana Statehouse. "Under the leadership of President Trump and Vice President Pence — I have to put his name in there, too — we are getting things done."

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