Government reopens after 16-day shutdown; Obama accuses GOP of damaging economy
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In withering day-after criticism, President Barack Obama declared Thursday that the 16-day partial government shutdown was a Republican-provoked spectacle that "encouraged our enemies" around the world.
Elsewhere in Washington, and around the country, federal employees simply streamed back to their jobs. National parks reopened. The popular panda cam at the National Zoo came back online.
But there was no letup in the political fight.
Fresh from a defeat, tea party groups and their allies renewed fundraising efforts with a promise of future assaults on Obama’s health care overhaul -- and a threat of more election primaries against Republican incumbents who don’t stand with them.
Government spending was still front and center. Inside the Capitol, lawmakers charged with forging a post-shutdown deficit-cutting agreement in the next 60 days met privately. "We believe there is common ground," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Budget Committee.
In budget deal, Obama emerges stronger, but his victory comes with strings attached
WASHINGTON (AP) -- By most measures, President Barack Obama emerged far stronger than his Republican adversaries in Washington’s latest fiscal fight. He gave away virtually nothing and his hard-line tactics exposed deep divisions among Republicans and growing public frustration with the GOP.
But Obama’s victory came with strings attached. Under his watch, big swaths of the federal government were shuttered for 16 days, forcing hundreds of thousands of workers off the job and restricting many services. The nation was brought to the brink of a default for the second time in two years. And Congress’ last-minute deal generated yet another round of looming deadlines on the same issues, with no guarantee that Republican opposition to Obama’s objectives will be dampened in any way.
"What comes next is very unpredictable," said Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist. "The notion that this group of people is going to be chastened by this, while it seems obvious, is uncertain."
Indeed, there’s little consensus among Republicans about how to proceed in the aftermath of the budget crisis. Some conservatives who demanded changes to Obama’s health care law in exchange for funding the government have signaled they’re ready to dig in for another fight. Among them is Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who said Republicans may have "lost the battle but we’re going to win the war."
But other GOP lawmakers are demanding that their party make a course correction.
Iran’s internal drama in nuclear talks: Seeking common ground with critics
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- The Iranian foreign minister’s parting words in Geneva carried hopes that the U.S. and other world powers could begin closing the gap with Tehran over its nuclear program. He returns home with perhaps an even tougher challenge at finding common ground.
In a sharp counterpoint to the Western outreach by President Hassan Rouhani’s government, hard-line factions in Iran have amplified their bluster and backlash in messages that they cannot be ignored in any diplomatic moves with Washington either in the nuclear talks or beyond.
They also hold important sway over the pace and direction of Iran’s nuclear program through the Revolutionary Guard, the single most powerful institution in Iran. Without its clear backing, the West and its allies could grow increasingly skeptical over Rouhani’s ability to deliver on efforts to ease fears that Iran could be moving toward an atomic weapon or a so-called threshold state -- without an actual bomb, but with all the expertise and material in place.
"Iran’s hard-liners are the not-so-silent partners in everything that Rouhani has set in motion," said Scott Lucas, an Iranian affairs expert at Britain’s Birmingham University. "The Revolutionary Guard is never a bystander in Iran."
It’s still unclear whether the Guard would agree to potential demands such as increased U.N. monitoring at nuclear and related sites. So far, however, there have few smooth patches with Rouhani. His outreach has brought swift criticism from the Guard and its wide network, including a national paramilitary force known as the Basij.
U.S. brings new indictment in 2007 Blackwater shootings on streets of Baghdad
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department on Thursday brought fresh charges against four former Blackwater Worldwide security contractors, resurrecting an internationally charged case over a deadly 2007 shooting on the streets of Baghdad.
A new grand jury indictment charges the men in a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq and heightened diplomatic sensitivities amid an ongoing war. The men were hired to guard U.S. diplomats.
The guards are accused of opening fire in busy Nisoor Square on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen Iraqi civilians died, including women and children. Prosecutors say the heavily armed Blackwater convoy used machine guns and grenades in an unprovoked attack. Defense lawyers argue their clients are innocent men who were ambushed by Iraqi insurgents.
The guards were charged with manslaughter and weapons violations in 2008, but a federal judge the following year dismissed the case, ruling the Justice Department withheld evidence from a grand jury and violated the guards’ constitutional rights. The dismissal outraged many Iraqis, who said it showed Americans consider themselves above the law. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Baghdad in 2010, expressed his "personal regret" for the shootings.
A federal appeals court reinstated the case in 2011, saying now-retired Judge Ricardo Urbina had wrongly interpreted the law.
DNA testing suggests elusive Yeti could be a polar bear hybrid roaming the Himalayas
LONDON (AP) -- A British scientist says he may have solved the mystery of the Abominable Snowman -- the elusive ape-like creature of the Himalayas. He thinks it’s a bear.
DNA analysis conducted by Oxford University genetics professor Bryan Sykes suggests the creature, also known as the Yeti, is the descendant of an ancient polar bear.
Sykes compared DNA from hair samples taken from two Himalayan animals -- identified by local people as Yetis -- to a database of animal genomes. He found they shared a genetic fingerprint with a polar bear jawbone found in the Norwegian Arctic that is at least 40,000 years old.
Sykes said Thursday that the tests showed the creatures were not related to modern Himalayan bears but were direct descendants of the prehistoric animal.
He said, "it may be a new species, it may be a hybrid" between polar bears and brown bears.
Obama to nominate ex-Pentagon lawyer to head Homeland Security Department
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is calling back a trusted counterterrorism adviser from his first term by nominating former top Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson as secretary of homeland security.
Obama plans to announce Johnson’s nomination Friday. He must be confirmed by the Senate before taking over the post most recently held by Janet Napolitano, who stepped down in August to become president of the University of California system.
As general counsel at the Defense Department during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Johnson was an aggressive advocate on a number of complex and contentious legal issues. He oversaw the escalation of the use of unmanned drone strikes, the revamping of military commissions to try terrorism suspects rather than using civilian courts and the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay service members. He also mapped out the legal defense for the American cross-border raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
A senior Obama administration official on Thursday confirmed Johnson’s selection, first reported by The Daily Beast. The official was not authorized to speak about the nomination on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said Obama chose Johnson because of his experience as a national security leader. The official noted that Johnson oversaw the work of more than 10,000 lawyers and was responsible for reviewing every military operation approved by the president and defense secretary.
Special prosecutor could give fresh start to sex assault case that’s put focus on Mo. town
MARYVILLE, Mo. (AP) -- The case of a 14-year-old girl who says she was raped by an older boy from her Missouri high school and left passed out on her porch in freezing temperatures is expected to get a fresh start under a special prosecutor.
A special prosecutor will be able to launch his own investigation, interview witnesses and work independently from the local prosecutor who’s faced intense scrutiny for dropping felony charges in the case last year, experts said Thursday.
"The idea is really to have a third party who is removed from the process, who can bring the appearance of objectivity and neutrality," said Richard Reuben, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. "At the end of the day they would look like a prosecutor who is truly independent."
The new prosecutor’s final decision carries high stakes: It could settle the debate over whether Rice was right to drop the charges, or validate the accusers’ outrage by pushing the case toward a trial.
Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice filed a motion Thursday for a judge to appoint a special prosecutor in the case, which has gained new attention after The Kansas City Star published results of a seven-month investigation.
Prosecutor: Utah doctor charged with murder of wife told inmates he was glad she died
PROVO, Utah (AP) -- A former Utah doctor accused of hounding his wife to get a face-lift so he could kill her with a lethal combination of prescription drugs acted erratically the day she died and claimed she had wanted the surgery, prosecutors said Thursday in opening statements at the murder trial.
In addition, Martin MacNeill told fellow inmates after his arrest that his wife was a "bitch;" he was glad she was dead; and authorities couldn’t prove he killed her, prosecutor Sam Pead told jurors.
Prosecutors have said the killing was the climax of a twisted plot by MacNeill to carry on an affair with his mistress, who MacNeill invited to his wife’s funeral and asked to marry him weeks later.
The case has shocked the Mormon community of Provo, 45 miles south of Salt Lake City, and captured national attention because the defendant was a doctor.
Pead depicted a scene of bizarre behavior that began when MacNeill discovered his listless wife in a bathtub and called authorities to his house in April 2007.
Out of Africa: 1.8 M-year-old skull shows early human ancestors evolving and on the move
DMANISI, Georgia (AP) -- The discovery of a 1.8-million-year-old skull of a human ancestor buried under a medieval Georgian village provides a vivid picture of early evolution and indicates our family tree may have fewer branches than some believe, scientists say.
The fossil is the most complete pre-human skull uncovered. With other partial remains previously found at the rural site, it gives researchers the earliest evidence of human ancestors moving out of Africa and spreading north to the rest of the world, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.
The skull and other remains offer a glimpse of a population of pre-humans of various sizes living at the same time -- something that scientists had not seen before for such an ancient era. This diversity bolsters one of two competing theories about the way our early ancestors evolved, spreading out more like a tree than a bush.
Nearly all of the previous pre-human discoveries have been fragmented bones, scattered over time and locations -- like a smattering of random tweets of our evolutionary history. The findings at Dmanisi are more complete, weaving more of a short story. Before the site was found, the movement from Africa was put at about 1 million years ago.
When examined with the earlier Georgian finds, the skull "shows that this special immigration out of Africa happened much earlier than we thought and a much more primitive group did it," said study lead author David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgia National Museum. "This is important to understanding human evolution."