Thursday May 23, 2013

IRS official in targeting probe says she did nothing wrong -- then says no more, taking the 5th

WASHINGTON (AP) -- At the center of a political storm, an Internal Revenue Service supervisor whose agents targeted conservative groups swore Wednesday she did nothing wrong, broke no laws and never lied to Congress. Then she refused to answer lawmakers’ further questions, citing her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.

In one of the most electric moments since the IRS controversy erupted nearly two weeks ago, Lois Lerner unwaveringly -- but briefly -- defended herself before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. But she would say no more, citing legal advice in the face of a federal investigation.

Members of Congress have angrily complained that Lerner and other high-ranking Internal Revenue Service officials did not inform them that conservative groups were singled out, even though lawmakers repeatedly asked the IRS about it after hearing complaints from local tea party groups.

The Justice Department has launched a criminal probe of the murky events over the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns, saying it is looking into potential civil rights violations. Top IRS officials say Lerner didn’t tell them for nearly a year after she learned that agents working under her had improperly singled out conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.


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Under unrelenting criticism -- most forcefully from Republicans but also from Democrats and people outside politics -- administration officials from President Barack Obama on down have denounced the targeting as inappropriate and inexcusable.

CEO compensation from stock keeps growing as companies respond to shareholder activists

CEO pay has been going in one direction for the past three years: up.

The head of a typical large public company made $9.7 million in 2012, a 6.5 percent increase from a year earlier that was aided by a rising stock market, according to an analysis by The Associated Press using data from Equilar, an executive pay research firm.

CEO pay, which fell two years straight during the Great Recession but rose 24 percent in 2010 and 6 percent in 2011, has never been higher.

Companies say they need to pay CEOs well so they can attract the best talent, and that this is ultimately in the interest of shareholders. But shareholder activists and some corporate governance experts say many CEOs are being paid far above what is reasonable or what their performance merits.

Pay for all U.S. workers rose 1.1 percent in 2010, 1.2 percent in 2011 and 1.6 percent last year -- not enough to keep up with inflation. The median wage in the U.S. was about $39,900 in 2012, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Obama administration acknowledges 4 American citizens killed in U.S. drone strikes since 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that four American citizens have been killed in drone strikes since 2009 in Pakistan and Yemen. The disclosure to Congress comes on the eve of a major national security speech by President Barack Obama.

In conducting U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida and its associated forces, the government has targeted and killed one American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, and is aware of the killing by U.S. drones of three others, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.

Al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric, was killed in a drone strike in September 2011 in Yemen. Holder said three other Americans were killed by drones in counterterrorism operations since 2009 but were not targeted. The three are Samir Khan, who was killed in the same drone strike as al-Awlaki; al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, a native of Denver, who also was killed in Yemen two weeks later; and Jude Kenan Mohammed, who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.

Man shot to death in Fla. while being questioned in Boston bombing investigation

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- A Chechen immigrant was shot to death by authorities early Wednesday after he turned violent while being questioned about his ties to one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, officials said.

Ibragim Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter, was gunned down at his Orlando townhouse during a meeting with an FBI agent and two Massachusetts state troopers, authorities said. The agent was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.

Three law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Todashev had lunged at the FBI agent with a knife. However, two of those officials said later in the day it was no longer clear what happened. The third official had not received any new information.

The FBI gave no details on why it was interested in Todashev except to say that he was being questioned as part of the Boston investigation.

But some of his former roommates who were questioned as well said that Todashev knew one of the bombing suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, from mixed martial arts fighting in Boston and that the FBI was asking about him.

London terror attack leaves 1 man hacked to death, two suspects hospitalized

LONDON (AP) -- In a brutal daylight attack which raised fears that terrorism had returned to London, two men with butcher knives hacked another man to death near a military barracks Wednesday before police wounded them in a shootout.

In a shocking video broadcast on British TV, one man gestured with bloodied hands, waving a butcher knife in the air and shouting political statements against the British government as pedestrians milled about a body lying motionless on the street. Bloodstains coated the street.

British officials said the attack appeared to be an act of terrorism, possibly motivated by radical Islam.

The two suspects remained hospitalized on Wednesday night but their identities and that of their victim were not known. One of them was reported to be in serious condition.

The afternoon attack occurred in the southeast London neighborhood of Woolwich, just a few blocks from the Royal Artillery Barracks.

Schools build more ‘safe rooms,’ but storm protection is spotty in many tornado-prone areas

MOORE, Okla. (AP) -- With its single-story design and cinder-block walls, Plaza Towers Elementary School may have seemed sturdy when it was built a couple of generations ago. But a powerful tornado revealed the building’s lack of modern safety standards, destroying the school and killing seven students.

Unlike several other schools in the Oklahoma City area, Plaza Towers had no "safe room" in which students and teachers could seek protection from a twister.

The federal government offers money to schools in some states if they decide to install the reinforced rooms. But doing so can still be a daunting financial decision, requiring up to a $1 million for a single storm shelter that might never be needed. That dollars-and-cents reality has resulted in a patchwork of protection in tornado-prone areas -- sometimes with tragic results.

In response to the tornado that plowed through Moore, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin announced Wednesday the creation of a state fund to accept donations for the construction of safe rooms, which are fortified by deep foundations, thick concrete walls and steel doors designed to withstand winds of 250 mph.

Separately, a member of the state House of Representatives proposed creating a $500 million bond issue to pay for storm shelters at public schools and in private homes across the state.

IAEA report: Iran expands nuclear technology for program that could be used to make weapons

VIENNA (AP) -- The U.N. atomic agency on Wednesday detailed rapid Iranian progress in two programs that the West fears are geared toward making nuclear weapons, saying Tehran has upgraded its uranium enrichment facilities and advanced in building a plutonium-producing reactor.

In a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Tehran had installed close to 700 high-tech centrifuges used for uranium enrichment, which can produce the core of nuclear weapons. It also said Tehran had added hundreds of older-generation machines at its main enrichment site to bring the total number to more than 13,000.

Iran denies that either its enrichment program or the reactor will be used to make nuclear arms. Most international concern has focused on its enrichment, because it is further advanced than the reactor and already has the capacity to enrich to weapons-grade uranium.

But the IAEA devoted more space to the reactor Wednesday than it has in previous reports. While its language was technical, a senior diplomat who closely follows the IAEA’s monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities said that reflected increased international concerns about the potential proliferation dangers it represents as a completion date approaches.

He demanded anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss confidential IAEA information.

Arias jurors say they’re unable to agree on sentence; judge tells them to keep deliberating

PHOENIX (AP) -- Jurors in the Jodi Arias murder trial told the judge Wednesday they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on whether the convicted murderer should be sentenced to life in prison or death for killing her one-time boyfriend, prompting the judge to instruct them to continue deliberations and try to work through their differences.

The jury reported its impasse after only about two and a half hours of deliberations that began Tuesday afternoon.

"I do not wish or intend to force a verdict," Judge Sherry Stephens told the jurors before sending them back to continue discussions. She instructed them to try to identify areas of agreement and disagreement as they work toward a decision.

Under Arizona law, a hung jury in the death penalty phase of a trial requires a new jury to be seated to decide the punishment. If the second jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the judge would then sentence Arias to spend her entire life in prison or be eligible for release after 25 years.

Earlier Wednesday, jurors were summoned to the courtroom for a clarification of their instructions.

Kerry, U.S. allies push peace talks on Syrian rebels, while promising them more aid

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- The U.S. and several key allies looked again Wednesday for a strategy to end Syria’s civil war, their united efforts unable at the moment to stem the Assad regime’s military gains and Washington still unwilling to join those providing the rebels with lethal military aid.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry allowed that President Barack Obama won’t send American troops to Syria. But he made clear that more aid to the rebels would be coming if the regime refuses to cooperate with an international effort -- to be put together in June in Geneva -- to form a transitional government.

"In the event that we can’t find that way forward, in the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate Geneva in good faith, we will also talk about our continued support, growing support for opposition in order to permit them to continue to fight for the freedom of their country," Kerry told a news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

They later joined nine of their colleagues from Europe and the Arab world in the Jordanian capital of Amman, alongside Syrian opposition leaders George Sabra and Gen. Salim Idris to plot a path forward. There, the U.S. and its partners sought to convince Syria’s rebels of the need to participate in any peace effort.

"The only alternative to a negotiated settlement," Kerry told the larger meeting, "is more killing, is more innocent civilian deaths, more chaos, more instability in part of the world that has already suffered too much."

Polish man gets quick face transplant in what doctors say was life-saving decision

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- A 33-year-old Polish man received a face transplant just three weeks after being disfigured in a workplace accident, in what his doctors said Wednesday is the fastest time frame to date for such an operation. It was Poland’s first face transplant.

Face transplants are extraordinarily complicated and relatively rare procedures that usually require extensive preparation of the recipient over a period of months or years. But medical officials said the Polish patient’s condition was deteriorating so rapidly that a transplant was seen as the only way to save his life. The patient is now being watched for any potential infections.

In a photo taken Tuesday, just six days after the surgery, the patient, identified only by his first name, Grzegorz, was shown giving a thumbs-up sign from his hospital bed. Another picture, based on computer tomography, showed the extensive damage to his skull.

He was injured in an April 23 accident at his job at a stone mason’s workshop near the southwestern city of Wroclaw when a machine used to cut stone tore off most of his face and crushed his upper jaw.

He received intensive treatment at a hospital in Wroclaw that saved his life and eyesight. But an attempt to reattach his own face failed, leaving an area close to the brain exposed to infections, doctors said. The damage was too extensive for doctors to temporarily seal the exposed areas.