Obama seeks to shift political pressure over border crisis back to Republicans
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Faced with a potentially awkward scene at the Texas-Mexico border, President Barack Obama sought to recast the political debate over a flood of young migrants as a question of Republican willingness to tackle the problem, not his decision to skip a chance to view the crisis first-hand.
Obama turned to one of his chief critics, Texas' Republican Gov. Rick Perry, to try to make his point.
Following a meeting with Perry in Dallas Wednesday, the president suggested there was little daylight between Perry's calls for additional assistance at the border and the nearly $4 billion request Obama sent to Congress this week. He also made a public appeal for Perry, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, to wield his influence with Texas' Republican-heavy congressional delegation and press them to back the emergency spending package.
"The only question at this point is why wouldn't the Texas delegation or any of the other Republicans who are concerned about this not want to put this on a fast track and get this on my desk so I can sign it and we can start getting to work?" Obama said. He argued that opposition to the urgent spending request would be part of a pattern of obstructionism from Republicans who have also resisted moving forward on a comprehensive immigration bill.
Back in Washington, Republican opposition to the request hardened. Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, have criticized the plan as a "blank check" and Arizona Sen. John McCain voiced his opposition to the measure Wednesday.
Military commanders suggest a 2nd group was involved in deadly Benghazi attacks
WASHINGTON (AP) — Well-trained attackers executed the deadly dawn assault on a CIA complex in Benghazi, Libya, suggesting different perpetrators from those who penetrated the U.S. diplomatic mission the previous night, according to newly revealed testimony from top military commanders.
The initial attack, on Sept. 11, 2012, killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and communications specialist Sean Smith and set the mission ablaze. Nearly eight hours later at the CIA complex nearby, two more Americans, contract security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, died in a mortar attack that showed clear military training, retired Gen. Carter Ham told Congress in closed-door testimony earlier this year.
The House Armed Services Committee released the testimony Wednesday.
The second assault probably was the work of a new team of militants who had seized on reports of violence at the diplomatic mission the night before and hit the Americans while they were most vulnerable, according to testimony that could clarify the events. The testimony also reveals how little information the military had on which to base an urgent response.
Bitter recriminations in the U.S. followed the 2012 attacks, including Republican-led congressional investigations and campaign-season denunciations of the Obama administration, which made inaccurate statements about the Libyan attacks. The testimony released Wednesday underscored a key detail that sometimes has been lost in the debate: that the attacks were two distinct events over two days on two different buildings, perhaps by unrelated groups.
Israeli aerial offensive against Gaza rocket launchers enters third day
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel dramatically escalated its aerial assault in Gaza Thursday hitting hundreds of Hamas targets, and the Palestinians said a family of eight was killed in a strike that destroyed their home. Israel's missile defense system once again intercepted rockets fired by militants at the country's heartland.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Israel struck more than 320 Hamas targets overnight, focusing on underground tunnel networks and rocket launching sites. That brought the total number of targets hit to 750 in three days of the massive offensive. At least 75 Palestinians have been killed.
Lerner said Israel has already mobilized 20,000 reservists for a possible ground operation into Gaza, but for the time being Israel remained focused on maximizing its air campaign. A ground invasion could lead to heavy civilian casualties on the Palestinian side while putting Israeli ground forces in danger.
Neither side is showing any sign of halting their heaviest fighting since an eight-day battle in late 2012. Israel says that Hamas must cease rocket fire from Gaza for Israel to consider a truce. Militants have fired hundreds of rockets, striking across the length of Israel and disrupting life across the country. No one has been seriously harmed as the "Iron Dome" defense system has intercepted at least 70 of the projectiles destined for major population centers.
"The ground option needs to be the last option and only if it is absolutely necessary. It is a carefully designed plan of action," Lerner said.
Utah to appeal ruling in favor of gay marriage directly to US Supreme Court
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah has decided to go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue against gay marriage, meaning the nation's highest court will have at least one same-sex marriage case on its plate when it returns in October.
The office of the Utah attorney general announced Wednesday that it would bypass a full appeals court and take the gay marriage case to the Supreme Court instead.
If the U.S. Supreme court decides to take the case, it will be the first time the top court considers gay marriage since justices last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The high court is under no obligation to the take the case, and it could wait for rulings from one or more of the five other appellate courts with gay marriage cases pending, legal scholars say.
Utah's appeal is of a June 25 ruling from a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which found states cannot deprive people of the fundamental right to marry simply because they choose partners of the same sex. The panel immediately put the ruling on hold pending an appeal.
The Utah case is certain to pique the Supreme Court's interest, but the justices usually look for cases that involve split rulings from federal appeals courts, said Douglas NeJaime, a University of California-Irvine law professor.
Report: Chinese hackers break into US personnel networks, target security clearance files
WASHINGTON (AP) — Chinese hackers broke into the computer networks of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management earlier this year with the intention of accessing the files of tens of thousands of federal employees who had applied for top-secret security clearances, according to The New York Times.
Senior U.S. officials say the hackers gained access to some of the agency's databases in March before the threat was detected and blocked, the Times reported in an article posted on its website Wednesday night. How far the hackers penetrated the agency's systems was not yet clear, the newspaper said.
Accusations of hacking by China and counterclaims of such activity by the U.S. government have strained U.S.-Chinese relations. Chinese hacking has been a major theme of U.S.-China discussions this week in Beijing, though both sides have publicly steered clear of the controversy.
In May, the Justice Department filed a 31-count indictment against five Chinese military officials operating under hacker aliases and accused them of penetrating computer networks of a half-dozen steel companies and makers of solar and nuclear technology to gain a competitive advantage. The Chinese government denied the allegations and suspended a working group on cyber rules that was to be part of the annual "Strategic and Economic Dialogue" this week.
The Office of Personnel Management houses personal information for all federal employees. Those applying for security clearances would be expected to provide such information as foreign contacts, previous jobs, past drug use and other personal details, the newspaper reported.
Stigma versus green allure: Nuke professionals at Japan's Fukushima utility quit in droves
TOKYO (AP) — Stigma, pay cuts, and risk of radiation exposure are among the reasons why 3,000 employees have left the utility at the center of Japan's 2011 nuclear disaster. Now there's an additional factor: better paying jobs in the feel good solar energy industry.
Engineers and other employees at TEPCO, or Tokyo Electric Power Co., were once typical of Japan's corporate culture that is famous for prizing loyalty to a single company and lifetime employment with it. But the March 2011 tsunami that swamped the coastal Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, sending three reactors into meltdown, changed that.
TEPCO was widely criticized for being inadequately prepared for a tsunami despite Japan's long history of being hit by giant waves and for its confused response to the disaster. The public turned hostile toward the nuclear industry and TEPCO, or "Toh-den," as the Japanese say it, became a dirty word.
Only 134 people quit TEPCO the year before the disaster. The departures ballooned to 465 in 2011, another 712 in 2012 and 488 last year. Seventy percent of those leaving were younger than 40. When the company offered voluntary retirement for the first time earlier this year, some 1,151 workers applied for the 1,000 available redundancy packages.
The exodus, which has reduced staff to about 35,700 people, adds to the challenges of the ongoing work at Fukushima Dai-ichi to keep meltdowns under control, remove the fuel cores and safely decommission the reactors, which is expected to take decades.
WHO urges pilgrims to Mecca: Wash hands, keep away from coughing people to prevent MERS spread
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A World Health Organization official on Thursday urged millions of Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to exercise basic hygiene as mass gatherings pose risks of spreading the Middle East respiratory syndrome.
The U.N. agency has recorded 827 cases of MERS and 287 deaths, mostly in Saudi Arabia. The virus is believed primarily acquired through contact with camels and spread among humans through body fluids and droplets.
Hand washing and keeping away from coughing people are simple ways to prevent the virus' spread, said Mark Jacobs, WHO Western Pacific region director for communicable diseases.
He said there's a low chance of its spread in most settings, but health workers caring for MERS patients, people exposed to camels and those in large gatherings are at some risk. "Any gathering of large numbers of people can produce, can result, in risks of any sort of infectious diseases," he added.
Jacobs said cases of MERS have been found in a number of countries but they are linked to cases in a small number of countries in the Arabian peninsula.
Huge US salamander is disappearing from Eastern rivers, worrying scientists
CORYDON, Ind. (AP) — With a long, slimy body and beady eyes, North America's largest salamander wouldn't top any cutest animal lists. The hellbender's alien appearance and mysterious ways have earned the big amphibian a bad reputation and unflattering nicknames ranging from snot otter to devil dog.
But hellbenders, which can grow two or more feet long, are facing troubles bigger than an image problem. The aquatic creatures found only in swift-flowing, rocky rivers and streams are disappearing from large parts of the 16 states they inhabit.
The rare amphibians breathe almost entirely through their skin, making them a living barometer of water quality because of their sensitivity to silt and pollution, said Rod Williams, a Purdue University associate professor of herpetology who's tracked Indiana's hellbenders for nearly a decade.
"These are animals that live up to 30 years in the wild, so if you have populations declining, that alerts us that there could be a problem with the water quality," he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting an assessment of the eastern hellbender — one of two subspecies — to determine if it should be added to the federal endangered species list. The other subspecies, the Ozark hellbender, found only in Missouri and Arkansas, was declared endangered in 2011 after a 75 percent decline.
Authorities: Google exec died on yacht after upscale prostitute injected him with heroin
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — A Silicon Valley success story turned sordid this week with the arrest of an upscale prostitute who allegedly left a Google executive dying on his yacht after shooting him up with a deadly hit of heroin.
Forrest Hayes, 51, was found dead by the captain of his 50-foot yacht Escape last November. At the time, a simple obituary described him as a beloved husband and father of five who enjoyed spending time with his family and on his boat.
On Wednesday, that got a lot more complicated as Alix Tichelman, 26, of Folsom, stood handcuffed and mumbling in red jail scrubs facing manslaughter charges for her role in Hayes' death, as well as drug and prostitution charges. She is being held on $1.5 million bail.
Surveillance footage from the yacht shows everything, police said, from when she came aboard until after Hayes collapsed. That's when Tichelman picked up her clothes, the heroin and needles, casually stepping over Hayes as he lay dying. She swallowed the last of a glass of wine, lowered a blind and walked back on the dock to shore, police said.
Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Hayes had hired Tichelman before, and that their Nov. 23 encounter "was a mutually consensual encounter including the introduction of the heroin."
Heads up, World Cup teams: The robots are coming and their goal is to conquer the soccer field
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — When robots first started playing soccer, it was a challenge for them just to see the ball. And to stay upright.
But the machines participating in this month's international RoboCup tournament are making passes and scoring points. Their ultimate goal? To beat the human World Cup champs within the next 35 years.
"It's hard to predict what will happen in 2050, but we are on the right path," said event co-founder Manuela Veloso, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
A week after the World Cup title game in Rio de Janeiro, teams from 45 countries will face off at RoboCup about 1,200 miles away in the Brazilian coastal town of Joao Pessoa.
The "players," which range from life-size humanoids to wheeled objects the size of soccer balls, compete in size-based divisions on miniature indoor fields. The tournament runs from July 19-25.