Oversight panel: Gov’t should stop collecting phone records; program illegal, ineffective

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A government review panel warned Thursday that the National Security Agency’s daily collection of Americans’ phone records is illegal and recommended that President Barack Obama abandon the program and destroy the hundreds of millions of phone records it has already collected.

The recommendations by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board go further than Obama is willing to accept and increase pressure on Congress to make changes.

The panel’s 234-page report included dissents from two of the board’s five members -- former Bush administration national security lawyers who recommended that the government keep collecting the phone records. The board described key parts of its report to Obama this month before he announced his plans last week to change the government’s surveillance activities.

In that speech, Obama said the bulk phone collection program would continue for the time being. He directed the Justice Department and intelligence officials to find ways to end the government’s control over the phone data. He also insisting on close supervision by a secretive federal intelligence court and reducing the breadth of phone records the NSA can investigate. Phone companies have said they do not want to take responsibility for overseeing the data under standards set by the NSA.

In addition to concluding that the daily collection of phone records was illegal, the board also determined that the practice was ineffective.

Citing dangerous ‘personnel failures,’ Hagel orders full review of nuclear force

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With public trust and safety at stake, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered immediate actions Thursday to define the depth of trouble inside the nation’s nuclear force, which has been rocked by disclosures about security lapses, poor discipline, weak morale and other problems that raise questions about nuclear security.

It amounted to the most significant expression of high-level Pentagon concern about the nuclear force since 2008, when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the top uniformed and civilian officials in the Air Force following a series of mistakes that included an unauthorized flight of nuclear-armed cruise missiles across the country.

Hagel had recently said he was considering what may lay behind problems in the nuclear Air Force -- many revealed by The Associated Press-- but his chief spokesman said Thursday that the defense secretary concluded urgent remedies were needed.

"To the degree there are systemic problems in the training and professional standards of the nuclear career field, the secretary wants them solved," the spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said. "To the degree there are gaps in our understanding or implementation of those standards, he wants them closed. And to the degree leaders have failed in their duties, he wants them held to account."

Hagel summoned top military officials to a Pentagon conference, to be held within two weeks, to "raise and address" any personnel problems infesting the nuclear force, and he ordered an "action plan" be written within 60 days to explore nuclear force personnel issues, identify remedies, and put those fixes into place quickly. Hagel said he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, will host the nuclear summit.

Ukrainian opposition sees high chance of ending violence after meeting with president

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- The chances of ending the violence that has convulsed the Ukrainian capital are high, a spokeswoman for a top opposition leader said late Thursday after a meeting with the president.

Olha Lappo, a spokeswoman for Arseniy Yatsenyuk, made the statement on his Facebook page Thursday after an hours-long meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych. That came after opposition leaders gave a Thursday evening deadline to make concessions or face renewed clashes.

She did not provide details, but the assessment appeared to be the first sign of progress in resolving the two-month crisis that is threatening to spread well beyond Kiev.

However, some protesters were resistant on Thursday night. Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, one of those who met with Yanukovych, went to the site of clashes to try to persuade demonstrators to hold to an uneasy truce, but was booed and some cried "Shame!"

The demonstrators again set aflame barricades of tires that had been quenched when opposition leaders offered the deadline.

Stances harden, but both sides in Syrian conflict willing to meet separately with mediator

GENEVA (AP) -- Syria’s government said stopping terrorism -- not talking peace -- was its priority, while the Western-backed opposition said "the road to negotiations" had begun, offering a glimmer of hope Thursday for a way to halt the violence that has killed more than 130,000 people.

The two sides did not meet face-to-face, buffered by a famously patient U.N. mediator who shuttled between representatives of Syrian President Bashar Assad and members of the opposition trying to overthrow him. And they did not seem ready to do so Friday as originally scheduled.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem questioned both the point of the talks and the legitimacy of the Syrian National Coalition, which is made up largely of exiles and lacks influence with an increasingly radicalized rebellion.

Infighting among rebels in the civil war has grown so deadly -- nearly 1,400 killed in the past 20 days -- that the head of al-Qaida called on Islamic militants to stand down, playing directly into Assad’s argument that only his government is preventing Syria’s further descent into chaos.

Huckabee: Democrats seek female votes with pitch about their need for birth control

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told fellow Republicans on Thursday that rival Democrats were trying to win over female voters by promising them birth control and telling them "they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government." Huckabee made the comment as he was making a pitch that the GOP needs to broaden its appeal and end its internal divisiveness.

Huckabee, a favorite of Christian conservatives and a Fox News personality, told the Republican Party’s leaders and activists that purity tests within the party only shrink the ranks. His speech about expanding the appeal of the GOP, designed to whet the 168-member Republican National Committee’s appetite for a Huckabee 2016 campaign, won a quick rebuke from the White House over contraception.

Asked about Huckabee’s comments, press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the White House that it "sounds offensive to me and to women."

In private meetings and public speeches Huckabee has been offering a prescription for Republicans to expand their reach after losing back-to-back presidential contests. Chief among his recommendations is for the GOP to end the Republican-on-Republican fighting that has sometimes hurt his own political fortunes.

Huckabee’s take on reproductive rights highlighted one of his many hurdles in expanding his appeal beyond Christian conservatives. As part of Democrats’ national health care law, insurers have to provide access to contraception -- something Huckabee said was pandering.

In latest sign of trouble, Justin Bieber is arrested on charges of DUI, resisting arrest

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- When he debuted five years ago, Justin Bieber was a mop-haired heartthrob, clean cut and charming. But a series of troubling incidents have put his innocent image at risk, and none more so than his arrest on DUI charges Thursday.

Police say they arrested a bleary-eyed Bieber -- smelling of alcohol -- after officers saw him drag-racing before dawn on a palm-lined residential street, his yellow Lamborghini traveling at nearly twice the speed limit.

The 19-year-old singer later admitted smoking marijuana, drinking and taking a prescription medication, police say. Unlike previous dustups, this arrest has him facing potential jail time.

Bieber was charged with DUI, driving with an expired license and resisting arrest without violence. His Miami-Dade County jail mug shot showed the singer smiling in a bright red inmate jumpsuit, his hair still stylishly coiffed.

He was arrested with R&B singer Khalil Amir Sharieff, after police saw them racing two luxury vehicles down the street at 4:09 a.m., with two other vehicles apparently being used to block off the area.

Reputed mobster pleads not guilty in notorious 1978 Lufthansa heist featured in ‘Goodfellas’

NEW YORK (AP) -- More than 30 years after hooded gunmen pulled a $6 million airport heist dramatized in the hit Martin Scorsese movie "Goodfellas," an elderly reputed mobster was arrested at his New York City home on Thursday and charged in the robbery and a 1969 murder.

Vincent Asaro, 78, was named along with his son, Jerome, and three other defendants in wide-ranging indictment alleging murder, robbery, extortion, arson and other crimes from the late 1960s through last year. The Asaros, both identified as captains in the Bonanno organized crime family, pleaded not guilty through their attorneys and were ordered held without bail at a brief appearance in federal court in Brooklyn.

The elder Asaro’s attorney, Gerald McMahon, told reporters outside court that his client was framed by shady turncoat gangsters, including former Bonanno boss Joseph Massino - the highest-ranking member of the city’s five organized crime families to break the mob’s vow of silence.

Massino "is one of the worst witnesses I’ve ever seen," McMahon said. He added that Asaro had given him "marching orders" that "there will be no plea and he will walk out the door a free man."

A lawyer for Jerome Asaro declined comment.

Mich.governor seeks 50,000 work visas over 5 years to entice immigrants to bankrupt Detroit

DETROIT (AP) -- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder asked the federal government Thursday to set aside thousands of work visas for bankrupt Detroit, a bid to revive the decaying city by attracting talented immigrants who are willing to move there and stay for five years.

The Republican governor has routinely touted immigration as a powerful potential force for growing Detroit’s economy, saying immigrant entrepreneurs start many small businesses and file patents at twice the rate of U.S.-born citizens.

"Let’s send a message to the entire world: Detroit, Michigan, is open to the world," Snyder said at a news conference.

The proposal involves EB-2 visas, which are offered every year to legal immigrants who have advanced degrees or show exceptional ability in certain fields.

But the governor’s ambitious plan faces significant hurdles: The visas are not currently allocated by region or state. And the number he is seeking -- 50,000 over five years -- would be a quarter of the total EB-2 visas offered.

Another former student comes forward after California woman accuses teacher of abuse in video

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A second woman has come forward to claim that a California educator sexually abused her, saying she decided to speak out after watching a YouTube video by a woman who made similar accusations.

Police in Riverside are investigating the allegations from both women, who say former middle school teacher and administrator Andrea Cardosa abused them while they were students in Riverside County.

The second woman’s attorney said Thursday he filed claims, a precursor to lawsuits, against two school districts where Cardosa worked.

The investigation and claims come days after a video was posted on YouTube showing the first woman confronting over the phone someone who identifies herself as Cardosa. Since then, Cardosa has resigned her job as an assistant principal and the video -- which the woman sent to Cardosa’s employer -- has been viewed nearly 1 million times.

The AP has not been able to reach Cardosa. Messages left at phone numbers and email addresses linked to Cardosa have not been returned.

Virginia attorney general joins fight against his state’s gay marriage ban

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Gay marriage moved closer to gaining its first foothold in the South when Virginia’s attorney general said Thursday that the state’s ban on same-sex matrimony is unconstitutional and he will join the fight to get it struck down.

"It’s time for the commonwealth to be on the right side of history and the right side of the law," newly elected Democrat Mark R. Herring said in a state that fiercely resisted school integration and interracial marriage in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Republicans accused Herring of shirking his duty to defend the state’s laws after less than two weeks on the job, while gay rights activists exulted over the latest in a string of victories -- this one in a conservative and usually hostile region of the country.

"It’s a nice day to be an American from Virginia," Tom Shuttleworth, one of the lawyers challenging the ban, said in an email.

The move reflects the rise of a new Democratic leadership in Virginia and illustrates how rapidly the political and legal landscape on gay marriage in the U.S. is shifting.