Friday June 21, 2013

Stocks, bonds extend
slide as China adds to market fears of Fed stimulus pullback

NEW YORK (AP) -- There was no let-up in the flight from stocks and bonds Thursday as the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 353 points and wiped out almost two months of gains.

A day after the Federal Reserve roiled U.S financial markets when it said it could step back from its aggressive economic stimulus program later this year, financial markets continued to slide. A slowdown in Chinese manufacturing added to Wall Street’s worries.

The breadth of the sell-off was seen across global financial markets, from sharply lower stock markets in Asia to falling government bond prices in Europe and the U.S. Gold also plunged.

The Dow’s drop -- which knocked the average down 2.3 percent to 14,758.32 -- was its biggest since November 2011. It comes just three weeks after the blue-chip index reached an all-time high of 15,409.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 lost 40.74 points, or 2.5 percent, to 1,588.19. It also reached a record high last month, peaking at 1,669.

Report: NSA can keep
U.S. phone records, e-mails indefinitely if connected
to terror or crime

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The National Security Agency can keep copies of intercepted communications from or about U.S. citizens if the material contains significant intelligence or evidence of crimes.


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That’s according to exemptions in NSA’s top secret rules published Thursday in the latest leak of classified U.S. materials.

Top secret documents published by The Guardian describe how NSA must first build a case in order to target a foreigner for phone or Internet surveillance. The documents also describe how the agency is to make sure the person is outside the U.S. -- and not an American.

But if the target is communicating with an American, the record of contact can be kept indefinitely. Administration officials have said material NSA inadvertently gathers on Americans is destroyed. NSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

White House: Obama announcing nomination Friday of ex-Justice Dept. official Comey to head FBI

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Friday plans to nominate President George W. Bush’s former No. 2 at the Justice Department, Jim Comey, to lead the FBI as the agency grapples with privacy debates over a host of recently exposed investigative tactics.

If confirmed by the Senate, Comey would serve a 10-year tenure and replace Robert Mueller, who has held the job since the week before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Mueller is set to resign on Sept. 4 after overseeing the bureau’s transformation into one the country’s chief weapons against terrorism.

The White House said in a statement that Obama would announce his choice of Comey on Friday afternoon.

Comey was a federal prosecutor who severed for several years as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York before coming to Washington after the Sept. 11 attacks as deputy attorney general. In recent years he’s been an executive at defense company Lockheed Martin, general counsel to a hedge fund, board member at HSBC Holdings and lecturer on national security law at Columbia Law School.

The White House may hope that Comey’s Republican background and strong credentials will help him through Senate confirmation at a time when some of Obama’s nominees have been facing tough battles. Republicans have said they see no major obstacles to his confirmation, although he is certain to face tough questions about his hedge fund work, his ties to Wall Street as well as how he would handle current, high-profile FBI investigations.

The government pays tens of thousands of dollars for portraits. Should it?

WASHINGTON - Politicians have long debated whether the federal government should subsidize public art. But should it pay tens of thousands of dollars for an oil painting of Jack Lew? That’s the question Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is asking. In turn, he’s tackling one of Washington’s long-held artistic traditions - the right of agency directors to have their likenesses recreated on canvas.

The Eliminating Government-Funded Oil-Painting Act, alternatively titled "The EGO Act" would prohibit the use of federal dollars to pay for official portraits of members of Congress, heads of executive agencies or directors of offices in the executive branch. Cassidy proposed the bill in late April after reports surfaced that the Environmental Protection Agency spent $38,350 on an oil on canvas portrait of former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. Reports from the Washington Times and ABC News indicated that the Obama administration had spent nearly $400,000 on portraits of agency directors and Cabinet secretaries since 2010. Cassidy, who was elected to Congress in 2009, only recently learned of the costs of oil paintings.

"It’s the sort of thing that just gnaws at you," Cassidy said. "It never dawns on you how these portraits are funded. If we’re cannibalizing funding from important programs or increasing taxes to pay for such vanity, it sticks with you."

Along with his argument that the cost of portraiture is too high--most federally-funded portraits cost between $20,000 and $50,000 - Cassidy says that much of this art remains in private offices, unavailable for public viewing.

"These are pieces that are tucked away," Cassidy added. "They’re not funding for the arts, but for the art piece, for the subject to put in the agency."

WHO study : Third of women suffer domestic violence, biggest murder risk is from partner

LONDON (AP) -- In the first major global review of violence against women, a series of reports released Thursday found that about a third of women have been physically or sexually assaulted by a former or current partner.

The head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, called it "a global health problem of epidemic proportions," and other experts said screening for domestic violence should be added to all levels of health care.

Among the findings: 40 percent of women killed worldwide were slain by an intimate partner, and being assaulted by a partner was the most common kind of violence experienced by women.

Researchers used a broad definition of domestic violence, and in cases where country data was incomplete, estimates were used to fill in the gaps. WHO defined physical violence as being slapped, pushed, punched, choked or attacked with a weapon. Sexual violence was defined as being physically forced to have sex, having sex for fear of what the partner might do and being compelled to do something sexual that was humiliating or degrading.

The report also examined rates of sexual violence against women by someone other than a partner and found about 7 percent of women worldwide had previously been a victim.

Taliban offer to free
U.S. soldier captured
if conditions are met

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Taliban proposed a deal in which they would free a U.S. soldier held captive since 2009 in exchange for five of their most senior operatives at Guantanamo Bay, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai eased his opposition Thursday to joining planned peace talks.

The idea of releasing these Taliban prisoners has been controversial. U.S. negotiators hope they would join the peace process but fear they might simply return to the battlefield, and Karzai once scuttled a similar deal partly because he felt the Americans were usurping his authority.

The proposal to trade U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for the Taliban detainees was made by senior Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail in response to a question during a phone interview with The Associated Press from the militants’ newly opened political office in Doha, the capital of the Gulf nation of Qatar.

The prisoner exchange is the first item on the Taliban’s agenda before even starting peace talks with the U.S., said Suhail, a top Taliban figure who served as first secretary at the Afghan Embassy in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad before the Taliban government’s ouster in 2001.

"First has to be the release of detainees," Suhail said Thursday when asked about Bergdahl. "Yes. It would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward."

All-women jury chosen for Zimmerman’s trial in fatal Trayvon Martin shooting

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- A jury of six women, five of them white, was picked Thursday to decide the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who says he fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in self-defense.

Prosecutors have said Zimmerman, 29, racially profiled the 17-year-old Martin as he walked back from a convenience store on a rainy night in February 2012 wearing a dark hooded shirt.

The race and ethnicity of the sixth juror was not immediately available. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.

Two of the jurors recently moved to the area -- one from Iowa and one from Chicago -- and two are involved with rescuing animals as their hobbies.

One juror had a prior arrest, but she said it was disposed of and she thought she was treated fairly. Two jurors have guns in their homes. All of their names have been kept confidential and the panel will be sequestered for the trial.

Christian group that sought to help gays repress same-sex attraction apologizes, closes down

The leader of Exodus International, a Christian ministry that worked to help people repress same-sex attraction, has apologized to the gay community for inflicting "years of undue suffering." He plans to close the organization while launching a new effort to promote reconciliation.

"The church has waged the culture war, and it’s time to put the weapons down," Alan Chambers told The Associated Press on Thursday, hours after announcing his decision at Exodus’ annual conference and posting his apology online.

"While there has been so much good at Exodus, there has also been bad," Chambers said at the conference. "We’ve hurt people."

Based in Orlando, Fla., Exodus was founded 37 years ago and claimed 260 member ministries around the U.S. and abroad. It offered to help conflicted Christians rid themselves of unwanted homosexual inclinations through counseling and prayer, infuriating gay rights activists in the process.

Exodus had seen its influence wane in recent years as mainstream associations representing psychiatrists and psychologists rejected its approach. However, the idea that gays could be "converted" to heterosexuality through prayer persists among some evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Could Paula Deen’s
words bring down her
food empire? Racial
talk a second strike

NEW YORK (AP) -- Paula Deen should hope for more fans like Jennifer Everett of Tyler, Texas, who carried a shopping bag filled with $53 worth of merchandise from the celebrity chef’s Georgia store on Thursday. A day earlier, it was revealed that Deen admitted during questioning in a lawsuit that she had slurred blacks in the past.

"Who hasn’t ever said that word?" Everett said. "I don’t think any less of her. She’s super friendly. She’s a warm person who wouldn’t hurt a fly."

Deen’s admission that she had used the N-word in the past wasn’t the first time the queen of comfort food’s mouth had gotten her into big trouble. She said in 2012 that for three years she hid her Type 2 diabetes while continuing to cook the calorie-laden food that’s bad for people like her.

Hypocrisy is one thing, hostility another. From her days as a divorced mother selling bag lunches on the streets of Savannah, Deen has parlayed her folksy, Southern gal charm into an empire that includes Food Network TV shows, cookbooks, magazines and a wide swath of product endorsements.

Now there’s at least some risk to that image -- and her empire. The Food Network, which began airing "Paula’s Home Cooking" in 2002 and added "Paula’s Best Dishes" in 2008, has said it does not tolerate discrimination and is looking at the situation. She is one of the network’s longest-running and most recognizable stars, although her show airs in daytime -- not prime-time. About three-quarters of her audience is female. The network, using Nielsen data, said it did not break down its audience racially.

Lawmakers try to save student loan deal

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senators are struggling to hold together a bipartisan deal to keep student loan rates from doubling on July 1 as their colleagues trade political barbs with little more than a week to go before the deadline.

The Congressional Budget Office on Thursday said a bipartisan proposal that would link student loan interest rates to financial markets would save the government more than $8 billion over the next decade.

That sum is unlikely to win much support from Democrats, who say student loans should not make profits for the government.

Two Senate aides insist on anonymity to discuss the budget office report because it has not been released to the public yet and they aren’t authorized to discuss it publicly.

White House officials are meeting with lawmakers to push a deal.

James Gandolfini,
star of ‘The Sopranos,’
dies in Italy of cardiac arrest at age 51

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- James Gandolfini’s lumbering, brutish mob boss with the tortured psyche will endure as one of TV’s indelible characters.

But his portrayal of criminal Tony Soprano in HBO’s landmark drama series "The Sopranos" was just one facet of an actor who created a rich legacy of film and stage work in a life cut short.

Gandolfini, 51, who died Wednesday while vacationing in Rome, refused to be bound by his star-making role in the HBO series that brought him three Emmy Awards during its six-season run and helped change the landscape of television drama.

"He was a genius," said "Sopranos" creator David Chase. "Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes."

Dr. Claudio Modini, head of the emergency room at the Policlinic Umberto I hospital in Rome, said Gandolfini suffered a cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. Wednesday after resuscitation efforts in the ambulance and hospital failed.