Wednesday June 26, 2013

Putin: ‘Nyet’ to turning over NSA leaker, says Snowden free to travel wherever he wants

MOSCOW (AP) -- Yes, he’s at a Moscow airport, and no, you can’t have him.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the first official acknowledgment of the whereabouts of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on Tuesday and promptly rejected U.S. pleas to turn him over.

Snowden, who is charged with violating American espionage laws, fled Hong Kong over the weekend, touching off a global guessing game over where he went and frustrating U.S. efforts to bring him to justice.

Putin said Snowden is in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport and has not passed through Russian immigration, meaning he technically is not in Russia and thus is free to travel wherever he wants.

After arriving Sunday on a flight from Hong Kong, Snowden registered for a Havana-bound flight Monday en route to Venezuela and then possible asylum in Ecuador, but he didn’t board the plane.

Watchdog: IRS credit cards used to buy wine for luncheon, romance novels for employee

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Poor oversight by the Internal Revenue Service allowed workers to use agency credit cards to buy wine for an expensive luncheon, dorky swag for managers’ meetings and, for one employee, romance novels and diet pills, an agency watchdog said Tuesday.


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Two IRS credit cards were used to buy online pornography, though the employees said the cards were stolen. One of the workers reported five agency credit cards lost or stolen.

IRS employees used agency credit cards to make more than 273,000 purchases totaling nearly $108 million in 2010 and 2011, according to the report by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

The vast majority of those purchases were legitimate, the report said. However, the report said the IRS has inadequate controls to prevent inappropriate purchases.

For example, investigators found that one IRS employee spent $2,655 on diet pills, romance novels, steaks, a smartphone and baby-related items, including bottles, games and clothes. The case was referred to the IG’s office that investigates employee misconduct, the report said.

Court frees states with history of racial discrimination from strict election oversight

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A deeply divided Supreme Court threw out the most powerful part of the landmark Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, a decision deplored by the White House but cheered by mostly Southern states now free from nearly 50 years of intense federal oversight of their elections.

Split along ideological and partisan lines, the justices voted 5-4 to strip the government of its most potent tool to stop voting bias -- the requirement in the Voting Rights Act that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South, get Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for a majority of conservative, Republican-appointed justices, said the law’s provision that determines which states are covered is unconstitutional because it relies on 40-year-old data and does not account for racial progress and other changes in U.S. society.

The decision effectively puts an end to the advance approval requirement that has been used to open up polling places to minority voters in the nearly half century since it was first enacted in 1965, unless Congress can come up with a new formula that Roberts said meets "current conditions" in the United States. That seems unlikely to happen any time soon.

President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black chief executive, issued a statement saying he was "deeply disappointed" with the ruling and calling on Congress to update the law.

Army to cut brigades at 10 U.S. bases by 2017 to reduce spending as wars end

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Army will eliminate at least 12 combat brigades, relocate thousands of soldiers and cancel $400 million in construction projects as the first wave of federal budget cuts takes aim at military communities around the country.

In a massive restructuring, Army leaders said Tuesday that they will slash the number of active duty combat brigades from 45 to 33, as the service moves forward with a longtime plan to cut the size of the service by 80,000. And they warned that more cuts -- of as many as 100,000 more active duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers -- could be coming if Congress allows billions of dollars in automatic budget cuts to continue next year.

The sweeping changes would eliminate brigades -- which number from 3,500 to 5,000 troops -- at 10 Army bases in the U.S. by 2017, including those in Texas, Kentucky, Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina, New York, Kansas and Washington. The Army will also cut thousands of other jobs across the service, including soldiers in units that support the brigades, and two brigades in Germany have already been scheduled for elimination.

Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said one additional brigade will likely be cut, but no final decisions have been made.

"I know in the local communities it will have its impact," Odierno told reporters Tuesday. "But we’ve done our best to reach out to them so they understand what the impacts are. We’ve tried to make it as small an impact as possible for as many communities as we could."

GOP divided on immigration as Senate passage nears; House prospects unclear

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Republicans are split over the immigration bill steaming toward approval at week’s end, a divide that renders the ultimate fate of White House-backed legislation unpredictable in the House and complicates the party’s ability to broaden its appeal among Hispanic voters.

To some Republicans, the strength of Senate GOP support for the bill is all but irrelevant to its prospects in the House. Conservatives there hold a majority and generally oppose a core provision in the Senate measure, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally.

Any such impact is "greatly overrated," said Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who previously served as chief vote counter for House Republicans.

But Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., offered a different view. A Senate vote on Monday to toughen border security with thousands of new agents and billions of dollars in technology "obviously makes final legislation more likely," the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee said on CBS.

One prominent Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, also says House sentiment can be changed, particularly through the addition of strong border security measures of the kind that resulted from negotiations with previously uncommitted Republicans.

Judge in Trayvon Martin case weighs whether to admit Zimmerman’s previous calls to police

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- Several times in six months, neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman called police to report suspicious characters in the gated townhouse community where he lived. Each time, when asked, he reported that the suspects were black males.

On Tuesday, the judge at Zimmerman’s murder trial in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin listened to those five calls and weighed whether to let the jury hear them, too.

Prosecutors want to use them to bolster their argument that Zimmerman was increasingly frustrated with repeated burglaries and had reached a breaking point the night he shot the unarmed teenager.

The recordings show Zimmerman’s "ill will," prosecutor Richard Mantei told Judge Debra Nelson.

"It shows the context in which the defendant sought out his encounter with Trayvon Martin," Mantei said.

An hour in Kabul: A reporter’s eyewitness account of a deadly Taliban attack

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- One moment I was standing in a quiet, secure and heavily guarded area and the next it had turned into a battlefield.

It was 6:30 a.m., and I waiting with about 20 other journalists for an escort into the palace for a speech by President Hamid Karzai. It was a routine assignment for Kabul journalists, and the presidential compound is a scenic and peaceful oasis lined with pine trees in my chaotic hometown.

Suddenly I saw the four armed men jump out of their vehicle. They kneeled down and started shooting. Two of them fired at presidential palace security guards stationed at a checkpoint. The two others aimed their weapons at the Ariana Hotel, where the CIA is known to have an office.

I didn’t know what to do. Bullets were flying all over. Gunfire was coming from different directions. No one really knew who were the attackers and who were the security forces because both sides were wearing similar uniforms.

I thought at first that this must be an insider attack or an argument between security guards. I just couldn’t believe that Taliban fighters could have made it this far into the presidential compound, through two checkpoints. Soon I realized they must be Taliban.

Floodwaters from rising creek force 100s of residents to evacuate Iowa town

NEW HARTFORD, Iowa (AP) -- The northeast Iowa town of New Hartford was mostly deserted Tuesday after authorities went door-to-door before dawn, warning residents a flooded stream would inundate most of the small community.

"Everybody was notified and told to evacuate," said Butler County emergency management coordinator Mitch Nordmeyer as he surveyed the town, about 90 miles northeast of Des Moines. "If they stayed they were staying at their own risk."

Although most of New Hartford’s 500-plus residents heeded warnings and left town, some stayed behind and there was no sense of panic.

Residents had seen the normally placid Beaver Creek flood before. And after some areas upstream received more than 7 inches of rain on Monday, few seemed surprised the stream was surging out of its banks again.

Jim Johnson, 49, rowed down Main Street just before noon. He’s lived in town since the 1960s and said he’s been through it before.

Chris Brown charged with misdemeanor hit-and-run in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles city attorney’s office has charged singer Chris Brown with misdemeanor hit-and-run and driving without a valid license.

City attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan says the charges filed Tuesday involve a minor accident on May 21 in the San Fernando Valley.

If convicted, Brown would face up to one year in jail.

Arraignment is scheduled for July 15 at the Van Nuys courthouse, but an attorney can appear on Brown’s behalf.

Mateljan says the county district attorney’s office will be notified of the charges and it will be up to that office and the courts to determine if the case will have any effect on Brown’s felony probation in the 2009 beating of singer Rihanna.