Syria vows to defend itself as momentum appears to build for strike from the West
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Momentum appeared to build Tuesday for Western military action against Syria, with the U.S. and France saying they are in position for a strike, while the government in Damascus vowed to use all possible measures to repel it.
The prospect of a dramatic U.S.-led intervention into Syria’s civil war stemmed from the West’s assertion -- still not endorsed by U.N. inspectors -- that President Bashar Assad’s government was responsible for an alleged chemical attack on civilians outside Damascus on Aug. 21 that the group Doctors Without Borders says killed 355 people. Assad denies the claim.
The Arab League also threw its weight behind calls for punitive action, blaming the Syrian government for the attack and calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.
British Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament to hold an emergency vote Thursday on his country’s response. It is unlikely that any international military action would begin before then.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said U.S. military forces stand ready to strike Syria at once if President Barack Obama gives the order, and French President Francois Hollande said France was "ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents."
Fort Hood gunman rests case in trial’s penalty phase without witnesses, testimony
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) -- The Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at Fort Hood decided not to call witnesses or testify Tuesday during his trial’s penalty phase, which is his last chance to plead for his life before the jury begins deliberating whether to sentence him to death.
Maj. Nidal Hasan rested his case without submitting any evidence to counter the emotional testimony from victims’ relatives, who prosecutors hope convince jurors to hand down a rare military death sentence. The same jury convicted Hasan last week for the attack, which also wounded more than 30 people at the Texas military base.
The judge dismissed jurors after Hasan declined to put up a defense. But she then asked Hasan more than two dozen questions in rapid fire, affirming that he knew what he was doing. His answers were succinct and just as rapid.
"It is my personal decision," he said. "It is free and voluntary."
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, then read him several court opinions to back up her decision not to introduce evidence in Hasan’s favor on her own.
Experts: Sierra Nevada blaze ravaged quickly because of historic fire policies, drought
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Unnaturally long intervals between wildfires and years of drought primed the Sierra Nevada for the explosive conflagration chewing up the rugged landscape on the edge of Yosemite National Park, forestry experts say.
The fire had ravaged 282 square miles by Tuesday, the biggest in the Sierra’s recorded history and one of the largest on record in California.
Containment increased to 20 percent but some 4,500 structures remained threatened and firefighters were making stands at Tuolumne City and other mountain communities.
The blaze was just 40 acres when it was discovered near a road in Stanislaus National Forest on Aug. 17, but firefighters had no chance of stopping it in the early days.
Fueled by thick forest floor vegetation in steep river canyons, it exploded to 10,000 acres 36 hours later, then to 54,000 acres and 105,620 acres within the next two days. On its 11th day it had surpassed 179,400 acres, becoming the seventh-largest California wildfire in records dating to 1932.
Some districts quit healthier school lunch program; kids turn up noses at low-cal meals
After just one year, some schools around the country are dropping out of the healthier new federal lunch program, complaining that so many students turned up their noses at meals packed with whole grains, fruits and vegetables that the cafeterias were losing money.
Federal officials say they don’t have exact numbers but have seen isolated reports of schools cutting ties with the $11 billion National School Lunch Program, which reimburses schools for meals served and gives them access to lower-priced food.
Districts that rejected the program say the reimbursement was not enough to offset losses from students who began avoiding the lunch line and bringing food from home or, in some cases, going hungry.
"Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn’t eat," said Catlin, Ill., Superintendent Gary Lewis, whose district saw a 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch sales, translating to $30,000 lost under the program last year.
"So you sit there and watch the kids, and you know they’re hungry at the end of the day, and that led to some behavior and some lack of attentiveness."
Obama was 2 when King spoke; now regards ‘63 march as a ‘seminal event’
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Barack Obama was 2 years old and growing up in Hawaii when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Fifty years later, the nation’s first black president will stand as the most high-profile example of the racial progress King espoused, delivering remarks Wednesday at a nationwide commemoration of the 1963 demonstration for jobs, economic justice and racial equality.
Obama believes his success in attaining the nation’s highest political office is a testament to the dedication of King and others, and that he would not be the current Oval Office occupant if it were not for their willingness to persevere through repeated imprisonments, bomb threats and blasts from billy clubs and fire hoses.
"When you are talking about Dr. King’s speech at the March on Washington, you’re talking about one of the maybe five greatest speeches in American history," Obama said in a radio interview Tuesday. "And the words that he spoke at that particular moment, with so much at stake, and the way in which he captured the hopes and dreams of an entire generation I think is unmatched."
In tribute, Obama keeps a bust of King in the Oval Office and a framed copy of the program from that historic day when 250,000 people gathered for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Within five years, the man Obama would later identify as one of his idols was dead, assassinated in April 1968 outside of a motel room in Memphis, Tenn.
Newly released photos show the night Boston Marathon bombing suspect surrendered
BOSTON (AP) -- Dramatic new photos show the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, his face bloodied, climbing out of a boat in a suburban backyard as heavily armed police officers wait for him to drop to the ground.
The images were among those a state police officer provided last month to Boston Magazine, which published some then and more on Tuesday.
Sgt. Sean Murphy took photos the April night police cornered Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a dry-docked boat in Watertown, just outside Boston. He wasn’t authorized to release the photos but said he was angry about a Rolling Stone magazine cover he felt glamorized Tsarnaev.
The new photos include more shots of Tsarnaev coming out of the boat, his head bloody and a red laser trained on his head. They also show him dropping to the ground, where officers and medical personnel rushed to treat him. Other photos show tense federal, state and local police officials meeting in a command center and SWAT teams gathering in the streets earlier in the day.
The surgeon who treated Tsarnaev after his capture said he had been shot through the face and had a fractured skull, among other injuries. Tsarnaev was wounded during a confrontation with police a day after authorities released photos of him and his older brother as suspects in the deadly April 15 marathon bombing.
NOAA: Shipwreck off southern NJ coast is steamer that sank in 1860, killing 20
The hulking wreck has been a regular destination for divers but a riddle to historians: What ship came to rest in 85 feet of water 10 miles off New Jersey’s coastline?
Now, federal officials have an answer.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday that it has confirmed that the ship is the Robert J. Walker, an iron-hulled steamer doing mapping work for the U.S. Coast Survey that sank 153 years ago after a violent collision with a 250-ton schooner.
Twenty sailors aboard the Walker died, making it the worst accident in the history of the U.S. Coast Survey or its successor, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The wreck was discovered by fishermen in the 1970s but its identity was a mystery until June when a NOAA ship conducting surveys for navigation safety in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy made a positive identification. Retired NOAA Capt. Albert Theberge and Joyce Steinmetz, a Ph.D. candidate in maritime archaeology at East Carolina University, provided impetus for the project.
Calif.gov. responds to court with $315M plan to send inmates to private prisons, jails
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday responded to a federal court order to significantly reduce California’s prison population by proposing a $315 million plan to send inmates to private prisons and empty county jail cells.
The cost could reach $700 million over two years, with much of the money likely to come from a $1 billion reserve fund in the state budget.
During a news conference at the Capitol, Brown bristled at the court’s suggestion that the state could continue its early release of certain inmates to meet the federal judges’ population cap. He noted that California has already released some 46,000 inmates to comply with the court’s orders and said only the most dangerous felons remain in state prison.
Sending them to available cells in privately run prisons within California and in other states, as well as to empty jail cells, was the best way to meet the court’s mandate without endangering public safety, he said.
The court has found that lowering the inmate population is the best way to improve medical and mental health treatment within the prison system.
Obama taps former CIA deputy for intelligence panel
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House says President Barack Obama has tapped his former deputy CIA director for a review panel aimed at boosting public confidence in U.S. surveillance programs.
Michael Morrell stepped down from the CIA on Aug. 9. That’s the same day Obama announced he would create a panel to review U.S. intelligence and communications.
It’s one of the reforms Obama put forth to allay concerns over programs exposed by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
The White House says Obama and the panel met Tuesday. Obama requested an interim report within 60 days, and a final report and recommendations by mid-December.
Also on the panel are Clinton-era cybersecurity adviser Richard Clarke, University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, and former Obama officials Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire.