Thursday November 29, 2012

Bangladesh factory where fire killed 112 made clothes for Wal-Mart, Sears, other big retailers

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- A hooded Mickey Mouse sweatshirt from Disney. Piles of children’s shorts with Wal-Mart’s Faded Glory label. Clothes with hip-hop star Sean Combs’ ENYCE tag.

The garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 people were killed in a fire over the weekend was used by a host of major U.S. and European retailers, an Associated Press reporter discovered Wednesday from clothes and account books left amid the blackened tables and melted sewing machines at Tazreen Fashions Ltd.

Wal-Mart had been aware of safety problems at the factory and said it had decided well before the blaze to stop doing business with it. But it said a supplier had continued to use Tazreen without authorization.

Sears, likewise, said its merchandise was being produced there without its approval through a vendor, which has since been fired. The Walt Disney Co. said its records indicate that none of its licensees have been permitted to make Disney-brand products at the factory for at least a year. Combs’ Sean Jean Enterprises did not return calls for comment.

Labor activists have long contended that retailers in the West bear a responsibility to make sure the overseas factories that manufacture their products are safe. They seized on the blaze -- the deadliest in Bangladesh’s nearly 35-year history of exporting clothing -- to argue that retailers must insist on more stringent fire standards.


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Latest Rice stumbling block: Moderate GOP senator expresses concerns, seeks more information

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A moderate Republican senator, vital to any White House hopes of getting U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice confirmed as secretary of state, said Wednesday she couldn’t back any nomination until more questions are answered about the deadly Sept. 11 attack in Libya and Rice’s State Department role during the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya.

In a fresh suggestion of eroding GOP support for Rice, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine emerged from a 90-minute, closed-door meeting with the ambassador voicing new criticism of her initial account about Libya. Collins also questioned what Rice, the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Clinton administration, knew about requests for enhanced embassy security before the Nairobi truck bombing.

Pressed on how she would vote if President Barack Obama names Rice to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Collins said, "I would need to have additional information before I could support her nomination."

At the White House, Obama called Rice "extraordinary" and said he couldn’t be prouder of the job she has done as U.N. ambassador. Cabinet members joined Obama in applauding Rice, who attended the meeting. Obama has not named a replacement for Clinton, who has said she intends to step down soon.

The misgivings from Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, came one day after three other GOP senators said they would try to block Rice’s nomination. Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said they were more troubled than ever by Rice’s answers on Libya even though the ambassador conceded that her much-maligned first explanation was wrong.

Obama, Romney to meet privately at White House Thursday for first postelection meeting

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will host his former political rival Mitt Romney for a private lunch at the White House Thursday, their first meeting since the election.

Obama promised in his victory speech earlier this month to engage with Romney following their bitter campaign and consider the Republican’s ideas.

"In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Gov. Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward," Obama said at the time.

Obama aides said they reached out to Romney’s team shortly before Thanksgiving to start working on a date for the meeting. The two men will meet in the White House’s private dining room, with no press coverage expected.

In the days after his loss, Romney told top donors that the president was re-elected because of the "gifts" Obama provided to blacks, Hispanics and young voters, all of which are core Obama constituencies.

Carnage near Damascus as twin suicide blasts kill 34, raising fears among country’s minorities

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Two suicide bombers detonated their explosives packed vehicles near a cluster of commercial buildings in a suburb of Damascus Wednesday, killing at least 34 people and covering the street with pools of blood and debris.

The latest carnage to hit an area populated by religious minorities who support President Bashar Assad further raises concerns of a growing Islamic militant element among the forces seeking to topple him.

In the country’s north, rebels claimed to have shot down a Syrian air force fighter jet, providing further evidence of their growing effectiveness and improved military capabilities. It was not immediately clear how the MiG-23 was downed, although activists and the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency said it was most likely brought down by a missile.

The morning rush hour bombings in the suburb of Jaramana, just few kilometers (miles) southeast of Damascus, were the latest to hit the overwhelmingly pro-regime town. The twin blasts appeared designed to maximize damage and casualties and bore the hallmarks of radical Muslim groups fighting alongside other rebel units in Syria.

Witnesses said the second explosion went off after people rushed in to help those injured from the first blast, a tactic often used by al-Qaida in Iraq and elsewhere.

Palestinians hope UN recognition of ‘Palestine’ will bring leverage in talks with Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- The expected U.N. vote Thursday to recognize a state of Palestine will be far more than symbolic -- it could give the Palestinians leverage in future border talks with Israel and open the way for possible war crimes charges against the Jewish state.

The Palestinians want the 193-member General Assembly to accept "Palestine," on the lands Israel occupied in 1967, as a non-member observer state. They anticipate broad support.

For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the U.N. bid is a last-ditch attempt to stay relevant as a leader after years of failed peace talks with Israel, at a time when his Islamic militant Hamas rivals are gaining ground.

The U.S. and Israel have tried to block the quest for U.N. recognition of Palestine, saying it’s an attempt to bypass Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down four years ago.

The U.S. deputy secretary of state, William Burns, met with Abbas in New York on Wednesday, asking Abbas again to drop the idea and promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat. Abbas told Burns it was too late.

Obama administration
bars BP from new federal contracts, land leases
after Gulf spill deal

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration put a stop to new federal contracts with BP on Wednesday, admonishing the British oil company for a "lack of business integrity" and also disqualifying it indefinitely from winning new leases to drill on taxpayer-owned lands.

A lengthy list of criminal counts against BP stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily suspend new contracts with BP and its affiliates, the agency said. Existing contracts won’t be affected.

"EPA is taking this action due to BP’s lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill and response," the EPA said in a statement.

Eleven oil workers were killed when a rig explosion sent oil gushing unabated into the Gulf in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. More than two years later, BP faces criminal proceedings and massive civil claims related to environmental damage. Wednesday’s decision creates yet another obstacle in BP’s uphill battle to revive its tarnished image in the U.S. and abroad.

The London-based company sought to minimize the effects of the suspension, and said it already is working with the government to resolve the concerns. BP said it has been informed by the EPA that an agreement that would lead to lifting the suspension is already in the works.

Suspect in botched kidnapping that led to deaths of baby, grandmother had lost $15K at casinos

BRIDGEPORT, Pa. (AP) -- A young man mired in gambling debts told police he killed a 10-month-old girl and her grandmother during a botched kidnapping after losing at least $15,000 at a casino near his office.

Raghunandan Yandamuri, 26, knew the family from his apartment complex. Like him, the baby’s parents were young technology professionals from India. He had gone to the wife’s birthday party, met the visiting grandmother and -- tellingly -- used family nicknames in a ransom note demanding $50,000.

"They both are working, so I thought maybe they have some money," Yandamuri told police in a videotaped statement played at his preliminary hearing Wednesday, during which a suburban Philadelphia judge ordered him to stand trial on murder, kidnapping and other charges.

"My intention was not to kill anyone or not to harm anyone," he said. "I only tried to kidnap the baby."

Yandamuri told investigators he panicked after the grandmother, who had opened the apartment door to him on Oct. 22, was killed in a struggle over a kitchen knife he had brought.

Texas attorney general says state will try to seize Warren Jeffs’ West Texas polygamist ranch

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas wants ownership of Warren Jeffs’ massive polygamist ranch where prosecutors say the convicted sect leader and his followers sexually assaulted dozens of children, the state attorney general’s office said Wednesday.

A judge will determine whether to grant the state control of the 1,600-acre property owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The sect bought the land for more than $1.1 million in 2003, according to court records. The affidavit, filed Wednesday, does not provide a current value for the Yearning for Zion Ranch. Texas has spent more than $4.5 million in prosecuting the cases against Jeffs and 10 of his followers.

Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the warrant begins the final chapter in the state’s five-year-old case against Jeffs.

"This is simply the next step," Strickland said.