Wednesday July 10, 2013

Economist named Egypt’s prime minister as army presses politicians for smooth transition

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s interim president named an economist as prime minister Tuesday, ending days of deadlock as the head of the military pressured political factions to speed along the process, warning them that "maneuvering" must not hold up the transition toward new elections after the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.

The appointment of Hazem el-Beblawi, along with the setting of a swift timetable for parliamentary and presidential elections early next year, underlined the military-backed leadership’s determination to push ahead with their transition plans in the face of Islamist protests demanding the reinstatement of Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president.

The new leadership got a boost Tuesday from Arab allies in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both opponents of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, celebrated his ouster by showering the cash-strapped Egyptian government with promises of $8 billion worth of cash grants, loans and badly needed gas and oil.

In doing so, they are effectively stepping in for Morsi’s Gulf patron, Qatar, a close ally of the Brotherhood that gave his government several billion in aid. During Morsi’s year in office, he and his officials toured multiple countries seeking cash to prop up rapidly draining foreign currency reserves and plug mounting deficits -- at times getting a cold shoulder.


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The developments underlined the multiple pressures on the new leadership even with the country still in turmoil after what Morsi’s supporters have called a coup against democracy.

Criminal investigation opened into oil train derailment; death toll 15

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (AP) -- Canadian authorities said Tuesday they have opened a criminal investigation into the fiery wreck of a runaway oil train as the death toll climbed to 15, with dozens more bodies feared buried in the blackened, burned-out ruins of this small town.

Quebec police Inspector Michel Forget said that investigators have "discovered elements" that have led to a criminal probe. He gave no details but ruled out terrorism.

Tangled debris and gas leaks hampered rescue workers’ search for bodies three days after the crash early Saturday that incinerated much of Lac-Megantic’s downtown and raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.

Investigators zeroed in on whether a blaze on the train a few hours before the disaster set off the deadly chain of events.

The death toll rose with the discovery of two more bodies Tuesday. About three dozen more people were missing.

Republicans say Obama
exceeds presidential authority
in case after case

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In the courts of law and public opinion, congressional Republicans increasingly accuse President Barack Obama of exceeding his constitutional authority for the benefit of special interests, most recently by delaying a requirement for businesses to provide health care for their workers.

In one instance, Senate Republicans formally backed a lawsuit challenging the president’s appointment of three members of the National Labor Relations Board without confirmation. The Supreme Court has agreed to review a ruling in the case, which found that Obama overstepped his bounds.

Most recently, the White House’s decision to postpone a key part of the president’s health care law drew rhetorical denunciations Tuesday from Republicans who, ironically, want to see the law repealed in its entirety.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the action was part of a pattern of "indifference to the rule of law on the part of this administration. ... He did it with immigration. He did it with welfare work requirements. And he did it with the NLRB when he took it upon himself to tell another branch of government when it was in recess.

"And now he’s doing it again with his own signature health care law," said McConnell, who is seeking re-election next year in a state where Obama is unpopular.

Expert says evidence jibes with Zimmerman’s story; Defense says it’s nearly done making case

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- The trajectory of the bullet and gun powder on Trayvon Martin’s body support George Zimmerman’s account that the teen was on top of him when the defendant shot and killed Martin, an expert on gunshot wounds testified Tuesday as the defense approached the end of its case.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Vincent DiMaio also used photographs of Zimmerman to point out where he appeared to have been struck during testimony that took up a significant portion of the day’s hearing. Defense attorneys, who said they may wrap up their case Wednesday, were hoping DiMaio’s testimony would help convince jurors of Zimmerman’s claims that he shot Martin in self-defense.

DiMaio, who was hired by the defense, said the muzzle of Zimmerman’s gun was against Martin’s clothing and it was anywhere from two to four inches from Martin’s skin.

"This is consistent with Mr. Zimmerman’s account that Mr. Martin was over him, leaning forward at the time he was shot," said DiMaio, the former chief medical examiner in San Antonio.

DiMaio testified that lacerations to the back of Zimmerman’s head were consistent with it striking a concrete sidewalk.

Pentagon orders new review of POW-MIA group, citing concern about scathing internal report

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon said Tuesday it will take a "second look" at how it goes about accounting for missing Americans on foreign battlefields, following the disclosure of an internal assessment that the work is "acutely dysfunctional" and at risk of failure.

"We have a sacred obligation to perform this mission well," Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters, referring to the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, which is based in Hawaii and run by a two-star general.

The U.S. estimates there are more than 83,000 Americans missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Over the past three years, JPAC has reported an average of 69 identifications of recovered remains per year, down from 85 per year over the previous three years. Congress is demanding that it make at least 200 identifications per year starting in 2015, a target it is widely expected to miss.

The Associated Press reported on Sunday that a 2012 internal assessment of JPAC’s field operations -- including the search for and recovery and identification of remains -- found it suffers from ineptitude, waste and mismanagement. JPAC leaders suppressed the study but the AP obtained a copy after it had been denied to others who requested it under the Freedom of Information Act.

FBI nominee says surveillance can be ‘valuable tool’ in law enforcement but needs oversight

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration’s nominee to become the next FBI director, James Comey, told members of Congress on Tuesday that federal judges who oversee government intelligence programs are "anything but a rubber stamp." But Comey also agreed to work with legislators to improve the laws governing surveillance activities.

Comey said he wasn’t familiar with the details of the government’s phone and Internet surveillance programs that recently became public, but he said that collecting that type of information can be "a valuable tool in counterterrorism."

"Folks don’t understand that the FBI operates under a wide variety of constraints," Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering his nomination for FBI director. He added that when critics discount the oversight of federal judges and call them a rubber stamp, it "shows you don’t have experience before them."

Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the expansive scope of the surveillance programs raises the question of "when is enough enough?"

"Just because we have the ability to collect huge amounts of data doesn’t mean that we should be doing so," Leahy said.

’Bless my Hotshot crew’: Survivor of Ariz. fire crew speaks at memorial, reading prayer

PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. (AP) -- On a day filled with speeches from dignitaries including the vice president, the words of the lone survivor of a fire crew overrun by flames resonated deepest in an arena packed with firefighters from around the nation.

A stone-faced Brendan McDonough filed onto the stage at the end of the service and offered what’s called "The Hot Shot’s Prayer," calmly reciting the words: "For if this day on the line I should answer death’s call, Lord, bless my Hotshot crew, my family, one and all."

He concluded by telling the crowd: "Thank you, and I miss my brothers."

McDonough spoke at a memorial for the 19 members of the Prescott-based Granite Mountain Hotshots who died June 30 when a wind-fueled, out-of-control fire overran them as they tried to protect a former gold-mining town from the inferno.

Vice President Joe Biden called them "men of uncommon valor" while thanking God that one member of the crew survived unhurt.

Beefed-up crews battle largest wildfires in Nevada mountains near Vegas and southwest of Reno

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Fire crews worked Tuesday to stop two large Nevada wildfires advancing through rugged mountain areas, including one billowing smoke visible from downtown Las Vegas and another southwest of Reno.

Fifty firefighters were added to the lines on the Carpenter 1 Fire on Mount Charleston, northwest of Las Vegas, bringing to more than 800 the number of personnel battling a blaze identified as the top priority in the West, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jay Nichols said.

"We’ve got a fire running from 11,000 feet to about 5,000 feet," Nichols said of the elevation of the blaze sparked by lightning July 1 and just 15 percent contained eight days later. He said some of the increase in the fire size was due to backfires set to burn forest fuel and protect homes.

The fire area of almost 31 square miles was nearly the size of Manhattan. It charred pinion, juniper and bristlecone pine forest in steep territory and crept to within about a mile of about 400 homes in mountain hamlets. More than 500 residents and another 98 teenagers at a youth correctional camp remained evacuated since the weekend. State highways into the area remained closed.

"It’s dry," Nichols said. "We’ve got torching trees and spotting fire. We’re being extremely careful and monitoring the safety of firefighters and the public."

NTSB investigators interview
pilots of Asiana Airlines jet
that crashed in San Francisco

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (AP) -- Aviation investigators put more questions to the pilots of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 on Tuesday, trying to learn what was happening in the cockpit of the Boeing 777 as the plane made a dangerously low and slow approach before a crash-landing that killed two passengers.

Audio recordings from the accident indicate the crew did not realize they were in trouble until seconds before hitting the seawall at the end of the runway, a calamitous impact that broke off the tail and sent the fuselage bouncing and skidding across the airfield.

Investigators have a general idea of the events that preceded the crash. But they need to hear the pilots’ accounts to understand why the jetliner went down on a clear day with no sign of mechanical trouble.

Here is what is known: Seven seconds before impact, someone in the cockpit asked for more speed after apparently noticing that the jet was flying far slower than its recommended landing speed. A few seconds later, the yoke began to vibrate violently, an automatic warning telling the pilot the plane is losing lift and in imminent danger of an aerodynamic stall. One and a half seconds before impact came a command to abort the landing.

Those are the few details the National Transportation Safety Board has released so far from cockpit voice recordings, air traffic control communications and flight data collected from the smashed jet, which slammed tail-first into the waterfront tarmac Saturday.

Country star Randy Travis remains in critical condition; received treatment to stabilize heart

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Country singer Randy Travis remained in critical condition Tuesday in a Texas hospital after doctors inserted a device to stabilize his weakened heart.

Travis’ publicist, Kirt Webster, said in a news release Tuesday that the singer underwent the procedure after checking into the hospital Sunday with viral cardiomyopathy (kahr-dee-oh-my-OP-uh-thee), a heart condition caused by a virus.

Webster said the left ventricular assist device was used to stabilize Travis’s heart prior to a hospital transfer to Dallas. Travis lives about 60 miles from Dallas in Tioga.

The device used to help Travis is a small pump inserted with a catheter that assists the heart to pump blood.

Travis, 54, became ill after a virus infected his heart muscle, causing it to become weakened and enlarged so that it could not pump properly. Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure.