Thursday June 20, 2013

Summoning Berlin’s history, Obama calls for bold action by U.S., Europe, including nuclear cuts

BERLIN (AP) -- Summoning the harsh history of this once-divided city, President Barack Obama on Wednesday cautioned the U.S. and Europe against "complacency" brought on by peace, pledging to cut America’s deployed nuclear weapons by one-third if Cold War foe Russia does the same.

The president also declared that his far-reaching surveillance programs had saved lives on both sides of the Atlantic, as he sought to defend the controversial data-mining to skeptical Europeans.

Speaking against the soaring backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate, Obama said that "bold reductions" to the U.S. and Russian nuclear forces were needed to move the two powers away from the war posture that continues to seed mistrust between their governments.

"We may not live in fear of nuclear annihilation, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe," Obama said as he closed a three-day visit to Europe, his first trip to the continent since winning re-election.

Obama is grappling with both domestic disputes and foreign policy challenges that have distracted from his second term agenda. Two matters -- the fierce civil war in Syria and the U.S.government’s domestic surveillance program -- trailed Obama in Germany, as well as during the Group of 8 summit in Northern Ireland earlier this week.

Cold War enemies U.S.
and Cuba agree to resume talks on migration issues
in latest sign of thaw

HAVANA (AP) -- The United States and Cuba have agreed to resume bilateral talks on migration issues next month, a State Department official said Wednesday, the latest evidence of a thaw in chilly relations between the Cold War enemies.

Havana and Washington just wrapped up a round of separate negotiations aimed at restarting direct mail service, which has been suspended since 1963. Both sets of talks have been on hold in recent years in a dispute over the fate of U.S.government subcontractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year jail sentence in Havana after he was caught bringing communications equipment onto the island illegally.

The migration talks will be held in Washington on July 17. The State Department official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publically, spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Representatives from the Department of State are scheduled to meet with representatives of the Cuban government to discuss migration issues," the official said, adding that the talks were "consistent with our interest in promoting greater freedoms and respect for human rights in Cuba."

Word of the jump-started talks sparked an angry reaction from Cuban-American Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who blasted the Obama administration for what she saw as a policy of appeasement.

FBI says it found no sign of remains of ex-Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa in suburban Detroit

OAKLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- Beneath a swimming pool, under a horse farm and now a weed-grown field north of Detroit. For at least the third time in a decade, FBI agents grabbed shovels and combed through dirt and mud in the search for Jimmy Hoffa’s remains or clues to the disappearance of the former Teamsters boss.

Once again, the search was futile.

"Certainly, we’re disappointed," Detroit FBI chief Robert Foley told reporters Wednesday as federal and local authorities wrapped up another excavation that failed to turn up anything that could be linked to Hoffa, who has been missing since 1975.

Many people interested in the mystery assume Hoffa ran afoul of the mob and was whacked.

"Right now the case remains open," Foley said. "At this point, if we do get logical leads and enough probable cause that warrant the resources to do an investigation, then we’ll continue to do so."

U.S. scrambles to save talks with Taliban after angry complaints from Karzai

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Hopes dimmed for talks aimed at ending the Afghan war when an angry President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday suspended security negotiations with the U.S. and scuttled a peace delegation to the Taliban, sending American officials scrambling to preserve the possibility of dialogue with the militants.

What provoked the mercurial Karzai and infuriated many other Afghans was a move by the Taliban to cast their new office in the Gulf nation of Qatar as a rival embassy. The Taliban held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday in which they hoisted their flag and a banner with the name they used while in power more than a decade ago: "Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Karzai on the phone, telling him that his concerns were justified and that he would work to resolve the issue.

An American official, speaking anonymously, said he still expects to have the first public meeting with Taliban representatives in the next few days in Qatar but that no exact meeting date has been set.

Nevertheless, the militants’ attempt at a publicity coup clearly played to Karzai’s longstanding distrust of both the Taliban and the United States, who had announced Tuesday that they would pursue negotiations in the Qatari capital of Doha -- at least initially without the Afghan government.

Analysis sees 25 percent decline in illegal immigration under Senate immigration bill

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Illegal immigration into the United States would decrease by only 25 percent under a far-reaching Senate immigration bill, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office that also finds the measure reduces federal deficits by billions.

Supporters of the legislation moving toward a vote on the Senate floor seized on the deficit-reduction findings by Congress’ nonpartisan scorekeeping agency, along with the agency’s forecast that the immigration measure would boost economic growth as millions of workers join the workforce and begin to pay taxes.

But the CBO report also found that the bill, which takes steps to prevent people coming to the U.S. illegally while offering the hope of citizenship to some 11 million people already here without authorization, does not come close to ending illegal immigration. Indeed some aspects of the bill would make the problem worse, the report said.

"Unauthorized residents would find it harder both to enter the country and to find employment while unauthorized. However, other aspects of the bill would probably increase the number of unauthorized residents -- in particular, people overstaying their visas issued under the new programs for temporary workers," the CBO report said, adding that the net annual flow of unauthorized residents would decrease by about 25 percent compared to current law.

That would amount to 2.5 million fewer immigrants coming to the U.S. illegally over the next 20 years.

Fed sticks with bond purchases but offers brighter outlook for economy

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Chairman Ben Bernanke ended weeks of speculation Wednesday by saying the Federal Reserve will likely slow its bond-buying program later this year and end it next year because the economy is strengthening.

The Fed’s purchases of Treasury and mortgage bonds have helped keep long-term interest rates at record lows. A pullback in its $85 billion-a-month program would likely mean higher rates on mortgages and other consumer and business loans.

Speaking at a news conference after a two-day Fed meeting, Bernanke said the reductions would occur in "measured steps" and that the bond purchases could end by the middle of next year. By then, he thinks unemployment will be around 7 percent.

The chairman likened any reduction in the Fed’s bond purchases to a driver letting up on a gas pedal rather than applying the brakes. He stressed that even after the Fed ends its bond purchases, it will continue to maintain its vast investment portfolio, which will help keep long-term rates down.

The ultra-low borrowing rates the Fed has engineered have been credited with helping fuel a housing comeback, support economic growth, drive stocks to record highs and restore the wealth America lost to the recession.

Men’s Wearhouse fires chairman who told millions ‘You’re going to like the way you look’

NEW YORK (AP) -- Men’s Wearhouse doesn’t like the way its founder looks anymore.

The men’s clothier said Wednesday that it has fired the face of the company and its executive chairman, George Zimmer, 64, who appeared in many of its TV commercials with the slogan "You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it."

The company announced the move in a terse statement that gave no reason for the abrupt firing of Zimmer, who built Men’s Wearhouse Inc. from one small Texas store using a cigar box as a cash register to one of the North America’s largest men’s clothing sellers with 1,143 locations.

The firing appears to end the career of one of TV’s most recognizable pitchmen. Zimmer’s slogan became almost a cultural touchstone, and his natty but down-to-earth charm made dressing sharply feel more accessible to men.

Zimmer said in a written statement that over the past several months he and the company’s board disagreed about the company’s direction.

Paula Deen says in lawsuit questioning that she has used racial slur but
doesn’t tolerate hate

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- Celebrity cook Paula Deen said while being questioned in a discrimination lawsuit that she has used racial slurs in the past but insisted she and her family do not tolerate prejudice.

The 66-year-old Food Network star and Savannah restaurant owner was peppered with questions about her racial attitudes in a May 17 deposition by a lawyer for Lisa Jackson, a former manager of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House. Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, own the restaurant. Jackson sued them last year, saying she was sexually harassed and worked in a hostile environment rife with innuendo and racial slurs.

According to a transcript of the deposition, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, an attorney for Jackson asked Deen if she has ever used the N-word.

"Yes, of course," Deen replied, though she added: "It’s been a very long time."

Asked to give an example, Deen recalled the time she worked as a bank teller in southwest Georgia in the 1980s and was held at gunpoint by a robber. The gunman was a black man, Deen told the attorney, and she thought she used the slur when talking about him after the holdup.

Mass. state police return to Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez’s home

NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- State police returned to the home of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez on Wednesday, two days after a body was found about a mile away.

Two troopers knocked on the door of Hernandez’s sprawling house in an upscale subdivision Wednesday morning, but no one answered. The night before, police spent hours there as another group of officers searched an industrial park where the body was found Monday. No more details about the body have been released.

Sports Illustrated, citing an unidentified source, reported that Hernandez was not believed to be a suspect in what was being treated as a possible homicide. The magazine said police had spoken with Hernandez.

State police referred questions to Bristol District Attorney Sam Sutter’s office, which declined to comment.

Sports Illustrated reported that the link between Hernandez and the case was a rented Chevrolet Suburban with Rhode Island plates that police had been searching for. The Associated Press could not independently confirm the report.

Sao Paulo, Rio officials reverse subway, bus fare hike that sparked nationwide protests

SAO PAULO (AP) -- Leaders in Brazil’s two biggest cities said Wednesday that they have reversed an increase in bus and subway fares that ignited protests across the nation.

However, many doubted the move would help abate the demonstrations that have moved well beyond the outrage over the fare hikes into communal cries against poor public services in Latin America’s biggest nation.

"This will represent a big sacrifice and we will have to reduce investments in other areas," Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad said. He didn’t give details on where other cuts would occur.

Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes also confirmed that the fare increase would be rescinded in that city.

Scattered street demonstrations continued in some parts of Brazil, including Rio’s sister city of Niteroi, as protesters demand improvements of the public services they receive in exchange for high taxes and rising prices.