U.S. says it won’t let diplomatic paralysis slow action against Syria
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration said Wednesday it would take action against the Syrian government even without the backing of allies or the United Nations because diplomatic paralysis must not prevent a response to the alleged chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital last week.
New requests for the United Nations to authorize military action in Syria may have complicated the Obama administration’s plan to take retaliatory action on the purported poison gas attack east of Damascus that U.S. officials claim was carried out by President Bashar Assad’s forces.
But a State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. would respond even in the absence of U.N. backing.
"We cannot be held up in responding by Russia’s intransigence -- continued intransigence -- at the United Nations," Marie Harf said. "The situation is so serious that it demands a response."
The U.S. has not publicly presented proof that Assad’s government used deadly chemical weapons near Damascus last week. Even so, U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, have pointed a finger squarely at Assad. The administration was planning a teleconference briefing Thursday on Syria for leaders of the House and Senate and national security committees in both parties, U.S. officials and congressional aides said.
Iraq attacks kill at least 80 as government goes on ‘high alert’ over possible Syria strike
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Car bomb blasts and other explosions tore through mainly Shiite districts around Baghdad during morning rush hour Wednesday in a day of violence that killed at least 80, intensifying worries about Iraq’s ability to tame the spiraling mayhem gripping the country.
It was the latest set of large-scale sectarian attacks to hit Iraq, even as the government went on "high alert" in case a possible Western strike in neighboring Syria increases Iraq’s turmoil.
A relentless wave of killing has left thousands dead since April in the country’s worst spate of bloodshed since 2008. The surge in violence raises fears that Iraq is hurtling back toward the widespread sectarian killing that peaked in 2006 and 2007, when the country was teetering on the edge of civil war.
Most of Wednesday’s attacks happened within minutes of each other as people headed to work or were out shopping early in the day. Insurgents unleashed explosives-laden cars, suicide bombers and other bombs that targeted parking lots, outdoor markets and restaurants in predominantly Shiite areas in and around Baghdad, officials said. A military convoy was hit south of the capital.
Security forces sealed off the blast scenes as ambulances raced to pick up the wounded. The twisted wreckage of cars littered the pavement while cleaners and shop owners brushed away debris. At one restaurant, the floor was stained with blood and dishes were scattered on plastic tables.
Military jury sentences Army psychiatrist to death for 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) -- A military jury on Wednesday sentenced Maj. Nidal Hasan to death for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, handing the Army psychiatrist the ultimate punishment after a trial in which he seemed to be courting martyrdom by making almost no effort to defend himself.
The rare military death sentence came nearly four years after the attack that stunned even an Army hardened by more than a decade of constant war. Hasan walked into a medical building where soldiers were getting medical checkups, shouted "Allahu akbar" -- Arabic for "God is great!" -- and opened fire with a laser-sighted handgun. Thirteen people were killed.
Hasan, who said he acted to protect Islamic insurgents abroad from American aggression, had no visible reaction when the sentence was announced, staring first at the jury forewoman and then at the judge. Some victims’ relatives were in the courtroom but none showed any reaction, which the judge had warned against.
The American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent never denied his actions at the huge Texas Army post. In opening statements, he told jurors that evidence would show he was the shooter and described himself as a soldier who had "switched sides."
Fast-food workers to stage walkouts nationwide to demand higher pay
NEW YORK (AP) -- Fast-food customers in search of burgers and fries on Thursday might run into striking workers instead.
Organizers say thousands of fast-food workers are set to stage walkouts in dozens of cities around the country, part of a push to get chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s to pay workers higher wages.
It’s expected be the largest nationwide strike by fast-food workers, according to organizers. The biggest effort so far was over the summer when about 2,200 of the nation’s millions of fast-food workers staged a one-day strike in seven cities.
Thursday’s planned walkouts follow a series of strikes that began last November in New York City, then spread to cities including Chicago, Detroit and Seattle. Workers say they want $15 an hour, which would be about $31,000 a year for full-time employees. That’s more than double the federal minimum wage, which many fast food workers make, of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.
The move comes amid calls from the White House, some members of Congress and economists to hike the federal minimum wage, which was last raised in 2009. But most proposals seek a far more modest increase than the ones workers are asking for, with President Barack Obama wanting to boost it to $9 an hour.
National Guard launches drone to scout Yosemite-area wildfire
GROVELAND, Calif. (AP) -- Firefighters battling the giant wildfire burning in the Sierra Nevada added a California National Guard Predator drone to their arsenal Wednesday to give them real-time views of flames chewing through rugged forests in and around Yosemite National Park.
The MQ-1 unmanned aircraft being remotely piloted hundreds of miles away quickly alerted fire bosses to a new flare-up they otherwise wouldn’t have immediately seen.
"This morning it’s allowed us to see a spot fire," said Mike Wilkins, commander of forces at the Rim Fire.
The 12-day-old Rim Fire continued to grow, expanding to 292 square miles, and containment remained at 23 percent. But increasingly confident fire officials said they expect to fully surround it in three weeks, although it will burn for much longer than that.
"It’s looking better every day," said incident spokesman Glen Stratton.
A senior moment or Alzheimer’s? Scientists find new clue to how normal aging can erode memory
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Scientists have found a compelling clue in the quest to learn what causes age-related memory problems, and to one day be able to tell if those misplaced car keys are just a senior moment or an early warning of something worse.
Wednesday’s report offers evidence that age-related memory loss really is a distinct condition from pre-Alzheimer’s -- and offers a hint that what we now consider the normal forgetfulness of old age might eventually be treatable.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center examined brains, young and old ones, donated from people who died without signs of neurologic disease. They discovered that a certain gene in a specific part of the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, quits working properly in older people. It produces less of a key protein.
That section of the brain, called the dentate gyrus, has long been suspected of being especially vulnerable to aging. Importantly, it’s a different neural neighborhood than where Alzheimer’s begins to form.
But it’s circumstantial evidence that having less of that protein, named RbAp48, affects memory loss in older adults. So the researchers took a closer look at mice, which become forgetful as they age in much the same way that people do.
Residents of tiny Oklahoma town asked to not drink tap water following discovery of red worms
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Beating the late-summer heat isn’t as easy as running to the sink in one northeast Oklahoma town, as residents there are being asked not to drink tap water after red worms were found in the filtering system.
The worms -- ranging from a half-inch to an inch long -- showed up earlier this week in the drinking water supply in Colcord, a small town about 80 miles east of Tulsa.
City councilman Terry Wood said city water was turned back on Wednesday morning after workers cleaned, drained and re-cleaned the water tower. No worms were found in the tower, he said.
"We are still looking into this problem. I mean we need to get to the bottom of it and we will continue to investigate and do pretty much what we need to do to find out what happened here," Wood said.
Residents are being asked not to consume the water or use it to brush teeth or prepare food, Wood said, but it can be used for showers and other activities.