Fitch puts U.S. ‘AAA’ credit rating under review for possible downgrade
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Fitch credit rating agency has warned that it is reviewing the U.S.government’s AAA credit rating for a possible downgrade, citing the impasse in Washington that has raised the threat of a default on the nation’s debt.
Fitch placed the U.S. credit rating on negative watch Tuesday, a step that would precede an actual downgrade. The agency said it expects to conclude its review within six months.
The announcement comes as House and Senate leaders face a Thursday deadline to raise the nation’s $16.7 trillion borrowing limit. Fitch says it expects the debt limit to be raised soon. But it adds, "the political brinkmanship and reduced financing flexibility could increase the risk of a U.S. default."
A Treasury Department spokesman said the announcement "reflects the urgency with which Congress should act to remove the threat of default hanging over the economy."
Fitch is one of the three leading U.S. credit ratings agencies, along with Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service. S&P downgraded U.S. long-term debt to "AA+" in August 2011.
Nuclear safety violations across regions point to inconsistent oversight
BOSTON (AP) -- The number of safety violations at U.S. nuclear power plants varies dramatically from region to region, pointing to inconsistent enforcement in an industry now operating mostly beyond its original 40-year licenses, according to a congressional study awaiting release.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission figures cited in the Government Accountability Office report show that while the West has the fewest reactors, it had the most lower-level violations from 2000 to 2012 -- more than 2 1/2 times the Southeast’s rate per reactor.
The Southeast, with the most reactors of the NRC’s four regions, had the fewest such violations, according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
The striking variations do not appear to reflect real differences in reactor performance. Instead, the report says, the differences suggest that regulators interpret rules and guidelines differently among regions, perhaps because lower-level violations get limited review.
The study also says that the NRC’s West region may enforce the rules more aggressively and that common corporate ownership of multiple plants may help bolster maintenance in the Southeast.
Iran says it wants to leave ‘dark path’ of isolation, presents proposals at nuke talks
GENEVA (AP) -- Declaring that Iran no longer wants to "walk in the dark" of international isolation, Iranian negotiators put forward what they called a potential breakthrough plan Tuesday at the long-stalled talks on easing fears that Tehran wants atomic arms.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said the Iranian plan’s formal name was "An End to the Unnecessary Crisis and a Beginning for Fresh Horizons." He described it as having many new ideas but added negotiators had agreed to keep the details confidential during the morning bargaining session.
"We think that the proposal we have made has the capacity to make a breakthrough," he told reporters.
Alluding to the international pressure over Iran’s nuclear program that has driven the country into near-pariah status, he said: "We no longer want to walk in the dark and uncertainty and have doubts about the future."
Iran’s version of a grand bargain is for painful international sanctions to be lifted in exchange for possible concessions it had been previously unwilling to consider, such as increased monitoring and scaling back on uranium enrichment -- a potential path to nuclear arms and the centerpiece of the impasse with the West.
Medal of Honor given to former Army captain for actions during Afghanistan firefight
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A former Army captain whose heroic actions in a deadly Afghan battle were captured on video received the nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor, from President Barack Obama at the White House Tuesday.
Obama placed the award around the neck of William D. Swenson for his actions in a lengthy battle against the Taliban in the Ganjgal valley near the Pakistan border four years ago, which claimed the lives of five Americans, 10 Afghan army troops and an interpreter.
Swenson was serving as a trainer and mentor embedded with the Afghan National Security Forces in Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan when they came under fire near dawn on Sept. 8, 2009. Obama recounted how Swenson dodged enemy fire, without a helmet, and risked his life to recover bodies and help save fellow troops. "Will Swenson was there for his brothers," Obama said.
In Fla. bullying-suicide case, sheriff arrests 2 girls after cold-hearted remark posted online
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- After 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick committed suicide last month, one of her tormenters continued to make comments about her online, even bragging about the bullying, a sheriff said Tuesday.
The especially callous remark hastened the arrest of a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old girl who were primarily responsible for bullying Rebecca, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. They were charged with stalking and released to their parents.
"’Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don’t give a ...’ and you can add the last word yourself," the sheriff said, quoting a Facebook post the older girl made Saturday.
Police in central Florida said Rebecca was tormented online and at school by as many as 15 girls before she climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and hurled herself to her death Sept. 9. She is one of at least a dozen or so suicides in the past three years that were attributed at least in part to cyberbullying.
The sheriff said they were still investigating the girls, and trying to decide whether the parents should be charged.
Purported white supremacist, son arrested on weapons charges after raid
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Two members of a notorious family that authorities say once tried to set up a whites-only nation in America were arrested this week in Arizona on federal firearms charges after a raid on a sprawling ranch where dozens of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition were seized.
Kirby Kehoe and his 37-year-old son, Cheyne, had an initial court appearance Tuesday in Flagstaff. Cheyne Kehoe’s attorney declined to discuss the case, while a lawyer for Kirby Kehoe did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Authorities received a tip that Kirby Kehoe had weapons on his 40-acre property near Ash Fork, about 140 miles north of Phoenix, said Tom Mangan, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Both men have previous felony convictions and are banned from possessing firearms.
The Kehoe family has been well-known to law enforcement since the 1990s when authorities say they provided weapons to various white supremacists who committed robberies across the Midwest. Authorities also said the family was involved in a plot to overthrow the federal government and establish the Aryan Peoples Republic in the Pacific Northwest.
Libyan al-Qaida suspect pleads not guilty to terrorism charges in N.Y.
NEW YORK (AP) -- An alleged al-Qaida member who was snatched off the streets in Libya and interrogated for a week aboard an American warship pleaded not guilty to bombing-related charges Tuesday in a case that has renewed the debate over how quickly terrorism suspects should be turned over to the U.S. courts.
Despite calls from Republicans in Congress to send him to Guantanamo Bay for indefinite interrogation, Abu Anas al-Libi became the latest alleged terrorist to face civilian prosecution in federal court in New York, the scene of several such convictions.
Al-Libi, wearing a thick gray beard, looked frail and moved slowly as he was led into the heavily guarded courtroom in handcuffs. An attorney said he had come to court from a New York hospital, where he was treated for three days for hepatitis C and swollen limbs.
The 49-year-old al-Libi was captured by American commandos during an Oct. 5 military raid in Libya and questioned for a week aboard the USS San Antonio.
He was indicted more than a decade ago in the twin 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans. If convicted, he could get life behind bars.