Tuesday May 14, 2013

Obama condemns IRS targeting, calls GOP criticism of Benghazi ‘political sideshow’

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama tried to swat down a pair of brewing controversies Monday, denouncing as "outrageous" the targeting of conservative political groups by the federal IRS but angrily denying any administration cover-up after last year’s deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Simultaneous investigations have put the White House on the defensive, emboldened GOP lawmakers and threatened to overtake a second-term Obama agenda already off to a rocky start.

During a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the normally even-keeled Obama appeared agitated over the resurgent investigation into the September attack at a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. He dismissed the Republican-driven effort as a "sideshow" that dishonors the four Americans who were killed.

"There’s no there there," Obama declared. "The fact that this keeps on getting churned up, frankly, has a whole lot to do with political motivations."

Seeking to keep another controversy from spinning out of control, the president rebuked the IRS for scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of groups with conservative titles such as "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in their names. Those responsible, Obama said, must be held "fully accountable."

Abortion doctor guilty of murder in deaths of 3 babies, could face execution

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- An abortion doctor was convicted Monday of first-degree murder and could face execution in the deaths of three babies who were delivered alive and then killed with scissors at his grimy, "house of horrors" clinic.

In a case that became a grisly flashpoint in the nation’s abortion debate, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the overdose death of an abortion patient. He was cleared in the death of a fourth baby, who prosecutors say let out a whimper before the doctor cut the spinal cord.

Gosnell, who portrayed himself as an advocate for poor and desperate women in an impoverished West Philadelphia neighborhood, appeared hopeful before the verdict was read and calm afterward.

The jury reached its verdict on its 10th day of deliberations. It will return May 21 to hear evidence on whether Gosnell should get the death penalty.

Gosnell attorney Jack McMahon called it a "very difficult case" to defend and said there was "a little bit of feeling on the defense part of what salmon must feel swimming upstream."

Retailers embrace reforms in Bangladesh as search for bodies ends; death toll at 1,127

SAVAR, Bangladesh (AP) -- Several of the biggest Western retailers embraced a plan that would require them to pay for factory improvements in Bangladesh as the three-week search for victims of the worst garment-industry disaster in history ended Monday with the death toll at a staggering 1,127.

Bangladesh’s government also agreed to allow garment workers to form unions without permission from factory owners. That decision came a day after it announced a plan to raise the minimum wage in the industry.

The collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza factory building April 24 focused worldwide attention on hazardous conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry, where workers sew low-cost clothing that ends up on store shelves around the globe, including the U.S. and Western Europe.

The tragedy came months after a fire at another garment factory in Bangladesh killed 112 workers.

Swedish retailing giant H&M, the biggest purchaser of garments from Bangladesh; British companies Primark and Tesco; C&A of the Netherlands; and Spain’s Inditex, owner of the Zara chain, said they would sign a contract that requires them to conduct independent safety inspections of factories and cover the costs of repairs.

Families recount Honduran police raids where detainees turn up dead, missing

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- At least five times in the last few months, members of a Honduras street gang were killed or went missing just after run-ins with the U.S.-supported national police, The Associated Press has determined, feeding accusations that they were victims of federal death squads.

In a country with the highest homicide rate in the world and where only a fraction of crimes are prosecuted, the victims’ families say the police are literally getting away with murder.

In March, two mothers discovered the bodies of their sons after the men had called in a panic to say they were surrounded by armed, masked police. The young men, both members of the 18th Street gang, had been shot in the head, their hands bound so tightly the cords cut to the bone.

That was shortly after three members of 18th Street were detained by armed, masked men and taken to a police station. Two men with no criminal history were released, but their friend disappeared without any record of his detention.

A month after the AP reported that an 18th Street gang leader and his girlfriend vanished from police custody, they are still missing.

Deadly car bomb strikes civilian area
in eastern Libyan city of Benghazi

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- A deadly car bomb exploded Monday near a hospital in a busy area packed with civilians in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, destroying part of the facility, officials said.

Officials gave conflicting casualty figures, with death tolls ranging from three to 10 in the chaotic aftermath of the attack.

Benghazi, which was the birthplace of the revolution that led to the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, has suffered a series of assassinations and other attacks, including the Sept. 11 assaults on the U.S. diplomatic mission that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The oil-rich North African nation is still largely dominated by militias, many including fighters who battled Gadhafi’s forces during the 2011 civil war, and many attacks are blamed on them as infighting is rampant in the battle for control.

But witnesses and analysts said Monday’s explosion stood out because it struck during the day in a crowded area, putting civilians at risk.

New Orleans police say they’ve made progress in probe of Mother’s Day shooting

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- New Orleans police hope a $10,000 reward and blurry surveillance camera images will lead to arrests in a Mother’s Day shooting that wounded 19 people and showed again how far the city has to go to shake a persistent culture of violence that belies the city’s festive image.

Angry residents said gun violence -- which has flared at two other city celebrations this year -- goes hand-in-hand with the city’s other deeply rooted problems such as poverty and urban blight. The investigators tasked with solving Sunday’s shooting work within an agency that’s had its own troubles rebounding from years of corruption while trying to halt violent crime.

"The old people are scared to walk the streets. The children can’t even play outside," Ronald Lewis, 61, said Monday as he sat on the front stoop of his house, about a half a block from the shooting site. His window sill has a hole from a bullet that hit it last year. Across the street sits a house marked by bullets he said were fired two weeks ago.

"The youngsters are doing all this," said Jones, who was away from home when the latest shooting broke out.

Video released early Monday shows a crowd gathered for a boisterous second-line parade suddenly scattering in all directions, with some falling to the ground. They appear to be running from a man in a white T-shirt and dark pants who turns and runs out of the picture. The image isn’t clear, but police say they hope someone will recognize him and notify investigators.

U.S.government files appeal to delay unrestricted sales of morning-after pill

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Obama administration on Monday filed a last-minute appeal to delay the sale of the morning-after contraceptive pill to girls of any age without a prescription.

The legal paperwork asked the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan to postpone a federal judge’s ruling that eliminated age limits on the pill while the government appeals that overall decision.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman has said politics was behind efforts by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to block the unrestricted sale of the Plan B One-Step morning-after pill and its generic competitors.

Last month, he ordered that the levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives be made available without prescription and without age restrictions. He then denied a request to postpone his ruling while the government appealed but gave it until Monday to appeal again.

Government attorneys warned that "substantial market confusion" could result if Korman’s ruling was enforced while appeals are pending. On Monday, lawyers argued that the district court "plainly overstepped its authority," and that they believe they will win the overall appeal.

OJ Simpson returns to court in bid for new trial in 2008 robbery-kidnap conviction

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A weary-looking O.J. Simpson weighed down by shackles and more than four years in prison shuffled into a Las Vegas courtroom on Monday hoping to eventually walk out a free man.

His arrival in court to ask for a new trial in the armed robbery-kidnapping case that sent him to prison in 2008 for up to 33 years could be heard before he was seen -- as a loud rattling of the chains that bound his hands to his waist and restrained his feet.

His lawyers had unsuccessfully argued to forego the shackles. After the 65-year-old Simpson was seated, a guard removed his handcuffs and clicked them onto the chair arms next to him.

The once glamorous football star and TV pitchman was subdued in his dingy blue prison uniform. Grayer and heavier, he briefly flashed a smile and mouthed a greeting to people he recognized before being stopped by a bailiff.

Simpson listened intently as his lawyers tried to make the case that he had poor legal representation in the trial involving the gunpoint robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in 2007 in a Las Vegas hotel room. Of the 22 allegations of conflict-of-interest and ineffective counsel his lawyers raised, Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell has agreed to hear 19.