Tuesday May 21, 2013

Massive tornado roars through Oklahoma City suburb, leaves neighborhoods in ruins

MOORE, Okla. (AP) -- A monstrous tornado as much as a mile wide roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths, but the storm laid waste to scores of buildings in Moore, south of the city. Block after block of the community lay in ruins, with heaps of debris piled up where homes used to be. Cars and trucks were left crumpled on the roadside.

Volunteers and first responders were searching through debris looking for survivors. Television footage showed first-responders picking through rubble and twisted metal.

Oklahoma City Police Capt. Dexter Nelson said downed power lines and open gas lines posed a risk in the aftermath of the system.

The storm seemed to blow neighborhoods apart instantly, scattering shards of wood and pieces of insulation across the scarred landscape.

Circle of White House advisers who knew of IRS probe widens; officials say Obama wasn’t told

WASHINGTON (AP) -- White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and other senior advisers knew in late April that an impending report was likely to say the IRS had inappropriately targeted conservative groups, President Barack Obama’s spokesman disclosed Monday, expanding the circle of top officials who knew of the audit beyond those named earlier.


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But McDonough and the other advisers did not tell Obama, leaving him to learn about the politically perilous results of the internal investigation from news reports nearly three weeks later, officials said.

The decision to keep the president in the dark underscores the White House’s cautious legal approach to controversies, as well as an apparent desire by top advisers to distance Obama from troubles threatening his administration.

Obama spokesman Jay Carney defended the decision to keep the president out of the loop on the Internal Revenue Service audit, saying Obama was comfortable with the fact that "some matters are not appropriate to convey to him, and this is one of them."

"It is absolutely a cardinal rule as we see it that we do not intervene in ongoing investigations," Carney said.

Hezbollah pulled more deeply into Syria war, activists say 28 members killed in key battle

BEIRUT (AP) -- Hezbollah was pulled more deeply into Syria’s civil war as 28 guerrillas from the Lebanese Shiite militant group were killed and dozens more wounded while fighting rebels, Syria activists said Monday.

The intense battle drove rebels from large parts of the town of Qusair, part of a withering government offensive aimed at securing a strategic land corridor from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast.

Hezbollah-affiliated hospitals in Lebanon urged blood donations through mosque loudspeakers and ambulances raced along the Damascus road in a stark indication of the group’s increasingly prominent role in Syria.

The overt Hezbollah involvement -- several funerals for group members were held Monday in Lebanon -- edges the war further into a regional sectarian conflict pitting the Middle East’s Iranian-backed Shiite axis against Sunnis.

It also raised tensions considerably in Lebanon, where Hezbollah has come under harsh criticism for its involvement in the civil war next door. Attacks across Iraq kill
95 in hints of sectarian spillover from Syria

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq’s wave of bloodshed sharply escalated Monday with more than a dozen car bombings across the country, part of attacks that killed at least 95 people and brought echoes of past sectarian carnage and fears of a dangerous spillover from Syria’s civil war next door.

The latest spiral of violence -- which has claimed more than 240 lives in the past week -- carries the hallmarks of the two sides that brought nearly nonstop chaos to Iraq for years: Sunni insurgents, including al-Qaida’s branch in Iraq, and Shiite militias defending their newfound power after Saddam Hussein’s fall.

But the widening shadow and regional brinksmanship from Syria’s conflict now increasingly threaten to feed into Iraq’s sectarian strife, heightening concerns that Iraq could be turning toward civil war.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must balance its close ties with Iran -- the main regional ally of Syria’s Bashar Assad -- and its position among fellow Arab League members and neighboring Turkey, which strongly back Syria’s mainly Sunni opposition.

Al-Maliki appears determined to boost security crackdowns to keep Iraq’s minority Sunnis from taking a more high-profile role in the anti-Assad forces, which have received pledges of support from the longtime insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq.

Obama cites movement toward political, economic reforms in Myanmar during Oval Office visit

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a long-awaited White House visit, President Barack Obama on Monday told Myanmar’s president that he appreciates the Asian leader’s efforts to lead the country in "a long and sometimes difficult, but ultimately correct, path to follow" toward democracy.

Obama spoke as he sat in the Oval Office with former general Thein Sein, who became the first president of Myanmar to visit the White House in 47 years. Activists object to the invitation because of concerns over human rights in the country, but it marks a turnaround in international acceptance for Myanmar after decades of isolation and direct military rule.

Obama credited Thein Sein’s leadership in political and economic reform in bringing about an end to significant tensions between their two countries.

Thein Sein previously served in a repressive junta, and his meetings at the White House and Congress would have been all-but-impossible before he took the helm of a nominally civilian government in 2011. His name was only deleted from a blacklist barring travel to the U.S. last September.

Yahoo buys blogging forum Tumblr for $1.1 billion in boldest move yet under CEO Marissa Mayer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Yahoo is buying online blogging forum Tumblr for $1.1 billion as CEO Marissa Mayer tries to rejuvenate an Internet pioneer that had fallen behind the times.

The deal announced Monday is Mayer’s boldest move since she left Google 10 months ago to lead Yahoo’s latest comeback attempt. It marks Yahoo’s most expensive acquisition since the Sunnyvale, Calif., company bought online search engine Overture a decade ago for $1.3 billion in cash and stock.

Yahoo is paying mostly cash for Tumblr, dipping into what remains of a $7.6 billion windfall reaped last year from selling about half of its stake in Chinese Internet company Alibaba Holdings Group. Taking over Tumblr will devour about one-fifth of the $5.4 billion in cash that Yahoo had in its accounts at the end of March.

While hailing Tumblr as a fount of creativity that attracts 300 million visitors each month, Mayer told analysts Monday that she is "making a sincere promise to not screw it up." David Karp, a high school dropout who started Tumblr six years ago, will remain in control of the service in an effort to retain the same "irreverence, wit and commitment to empower creators," Yahoo said.

Karp, 26, may now have a managerial mentor in Mayer, 37. Tumblr, which will remain based in New York, has about 175 employees while Yahoo has 11,300 workers.

He done Ma proud: 26-year-old Tumblr founder’s transformation from whiz kid to tech king

NEW YORK (AP) -- As a teenager, Tumblr CEO David Karp would canvass the streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, offering to build websites for local businesses. After his freshman year of high school, the precocious, computer-savvy kid decided to drop out altogether to devote more time to his passion for technology.

A few years later, Karp built Tumblr -- the wildly popular blogging forum -- from his tiny childhood bedroom, hunched over his laptop with bags of Tostitos. And on Saturday, the 26-year-old technology wunderkind returned home to inform his mother that, in a game-changing transaction, Yahoo was buying Tumblr for $1.1 billion.

"There were a few tears and lots of hugs, and a lot of excitement," said his mother, Barbara Ackerman. "This is something that he built -- it’s his baby -- and it’s emotional."

The deal was a transcendent moment for Karp, who created one of the world’s busiest websites. It boasts 75 million daily posts and a user base that’s loyal, young and hip. While Facebook has morphed into a mainstream social network where grandparents talk golf, Tumblr is still that little corner of the Internet where the cool kids hang out.

True to the company’s laid-back, jeans-and-sneakers culture, Karp’s wry sense of humor remained intact on Monday morning, when all employees were summoned to a meeting in Tumblr’s New York headquarters. Cognizant of media reports that Tumblr was on the verge of a sale, everyone waited with bated breath as Karp kicked off the meeting with a tongue-in-cheek announcement: It was time to formulate a new "dog policy."

Questions linger over events preceding police shooting of N.Y. college student during standoff

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) -- As a family prepared for the funeral of a Hofstra University junior killed by a police officer’s bullet during a standoff with an armed intruder, some on Monday questioned whether officers should have confronted the gunman or waited for help, including a hostage negotiating team.

The dead woman’s godfather criticized the police handling of the confrontation as unprofessional and others offered insights into the difficulty of making the call to use deadly force.

"There’s a balancing act of trying to take decisive action, but wise action," said Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and professor of law and police studies at John Jay College. "These situations are so unique and are differentiated by what the cops knew at the time."

A key question is whether the officers responding to the house near the Hofstra campus at 2:30 a.m. Friday were aware the intruder was holding hostages. Police officials described the initial report as simply a robbery in progress.

One of the two officers who entered the home found the intruder holding 21-year-old Andrea Rebello in a headlock and "kept saying ‘I’m going to kill her,’ and then he pointed the gun at the police officer," said county homicide squad Lt. John Azzata. That’s when the officer, who has not been identified, fired eight times, fatally striking 30-year-old Dalton Smith with seven shots and Rebello with one shot to the head.

Israel and Palestinians still battling over how boy, who became symbol, was killed in 2000

JERUSALEM (AP) -- A new Israeli report into the death of a Palestinian boy during a fierce gunbattle in the Gaza Strip more than a dozen years ago has reignited an emotional debate over who killed him -- and how the incident has shaped perspectives of the Mideast conflict.

Israel says a French TV report in 2000 that claimed Israeli forces killed the boy is misleading, provides no evidence and is part of a smear campaign against the Jewish state. For Palestinians, the case remains a vivid symbol of Israeli oppression and of their own sense of victimhood.

The deep feelings surrounding the death of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura illustrate how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes far beyond the battlefield and is often a high-profile media war as well.

While Israel enjoys an overwhelming military advantage, it is often outclassed in the imagery battle, with the Palestinians portraying themselves as David to Israel’s Goliath. It’s a touchy subject for Israel, which devotes an enormous amount of energy to promote its image to counter what it sees as hostile international opinion.

The France 2 network report aired on Sept. 30, 2000, days after a Palestinian uprising erupted.

Jodi Arias’ attorneys say they will put only one witness on during death-penalty phase: Arias

PHOENIX (AP) -- Complaining that Jodi Arias’ sensational murder case has become a modern-day "witch trial," her lawyers tried to quit in the middle of the death-penalty phase Monday, then said they will call only one witness: Arias.

When Arias addresses the jury on Tuesday, the big question will be whether she pleads for mercy or repeats what she told a TV reporter minutes after she was convicted: that she would rather be executed than spend the rest of her life in prison.

The courtroom fireworks came as the jury that found Arias guilty of murder in the 2008 shooting and stabbing death of boyfriend Travis Alexander was hearing evidence on whether the former waitress should get the death penalty or a life sentence.

Last week, Alexander’s brother and sister tearfully described for the jury how his killing had torn their lives apart. This week, the defense planned to call its own witnesses, including a female friend and an ex-boyfriend of Arias, in hopes of convincing the jury her life is worth saving.

But defense attorney Kirk Nurmi told the court Monday morning that the female witness refused to testify after receiving threats, and he asked the judge to declare a mistrial in the penalty phase. He argued that he could no longer effectively defend Arias without all of the intended witnesses, and that "a partial picture is not good enough for this jury."