Messages for ‘Cuban Twitter’ program overtly political, despite U.S. claims
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Draft messages produced for a Twitter-like network that the U.S.government secretly built in Cuba were overtly political and poked fun at the Castro brothers, documents obtained by The Associated Press show. The messages conflict with claims by the Obama administration that the program had no U.S.-generated political content and was never intended to stir unrest on the island.
Disclosure of the messages, as described in internal documents, came as the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development told Congress in sometimes- confrontational testimony Tuesday that his agency’s program was "absolutely not" covert and was simply meant to increase the flow of information.
An AP investigation last week found that the program, known as ZunZuneo, evaded Cuba’s Internet restrictions by creating a text-messaging service that could be used to organize political demonstrations. It drew tens of thousands of subscribers who were unaware it was backed by the U.S.government.
At an oversight hearing Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah that the program was "cockamamie" and not adequately described to Congress.
USAID, known worldwide for its humanitarian work, has repeatedly maintained it did not send out political messages under the project. Leahy asked Shah whether the project’s goal was to "influence political conditions abroad by gathering information about Cuban cellphone users" or "to encourage popular opposition to the Cuban government."
Ship frantically trying to pick up underwater ‘pings’ again in search for Malaysian jet
PERTH, Australia (AP) -- Search crews in the Indian Ocean failed to pick up more of the faint underwater sounds that may have been from the missing Malaysian jetliner’s black boxes whose batteries are at the end of their life.
The signals first heard late Saturday and early Sunday had sparked hopes of a breakthrough in the search for Flight 370, but Angus Houston, the retired Australian air chief marshal leading the search far off western Australia, said listening equipment on the Ocean Shield ship has picked up no trace of the sounds since then.
Finding the sound again is crucial to narrowing the search area so a submarine can be deployed to chart a potential debris field on the seafloor. If the autonomous sub was used now with the sparse data collected so far, covering all the potential places from which the pings might have come would take many days.
"It’s literally crawling at the bottom of the ocean so it’s going to take a long, long time," Houston said.
The locator beacons on the black boxes have a battery life of only about a month -- and Tuesday marked exactly one month since the plane vanished. Once the beacons blink off, locating the black boxes in such deep water would be an immensely difficult, if not impossible, task.
Lawsuit: Nursing home resident subjected to unwanted performance by male stripper
WEST BABYLON, N.Y. (AP) -- An 85-year-old nursing home patient was the victim of "disgraceful sexual perversion" when a male stripper gyrated in front of her against her will at the suburban New York facility, an attorney for the woman’s family said Tuesday.
John Ray, the attorney for Bernice Youngblood and her family, displayed a picture of a man in white briefs dancing in front of the woman at East Neck Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in September 2012.
The photo, which Ray said Youngblood’s son found during a visit to his mother, shows the woman putting money into the dancer’s waistband.
Ray said Youngblood had been urged to participate and did so against her will. The family has filed suit against the nursing home seeking unspecified damages.
Ray said Youngblood, who herself had worked as a health aide for the elderly, had her dignity taken away when "nursing home employees subjected her to this disgraceful sexual perversion."
U.S. will cut Air Force and Navy nukes, including 50 land-based missiles
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. will keep its current force of 450 land-based nuclear missiles but remove 50 from their launch silos as part of a plan to bring the U.S. into compliance with a 2011 U.S.-Russia arms control treaty, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The resulting launch-ready total of 400 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles would be the lowest deployed ICBM total since the early 1960s.
The decisions come after a strong push by members of Congress from the states that host missile bases -- North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana -- to not eliminate any of the silos from which the missiles would be launched. Fifty silos will be kept in "warm" status -- empty of missiles but capable of returning to active use.
Sen. John Tester, a Montana Democrat, called the Pentagon’s announcement "a big win for our nation’s security and for Malmstrom Air Force Base," home of the 341st Missile Wing with 150 Minuteman 3 missiles.
"ICBMs are the most cost-effective nuclear deterrent, and keeping silos warm is a smart decision and the kind of common sense Montanans expect from their leaders," Tester said.
Pork prices expected to rise after virus
new to U.S. kills millions of baby pigs
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- A virus never before seen in the U.S. has killed millions of baby pigs in less than a year, and with little known about how it spreads or how to stop it, it’s threatening pork production and pushing up prices by 10 percent or more.
Scientists think porcine epidemic diarrhea, which does not infect humans or other animals, came from China, but they don’t know how it got into the country or spread to 27 states since last May. The federal government is looking into how such viruses might spread, while the pork industry, wary of future outbreaks, has committed $1.7 million to research the disease.
The U.S. is both a top producer and exporter of pork, but production could decline about 7 percent this year compared to last -- the biggest drop in more than 30 years, according to a recent report from Rabobank, which focuses on the food, beverage and agribusiness industries.
Already, prices have shot up: A pound of bacon averaged $5.46 in February, 13 percent more than a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ham and chops have gone up too, although not as much.
Farmer and longtime veterinarian Craig Rowles did all he could to prevent PED from spreading to his farm in Iowa, the nation’s top pork producer and the state hardest hit by the disease. He trained workers to spot symptoms, had them shower and change clothing before entering barns and limited deliveries and visitors.
After 25 years in prison, man exonerated of murder
NEW YORK (AP) -- From the day of his 1989 arrest in a deadly New York City shooting, Jonathan Fleming said he had been more than 1,000 miles away, on a vacation at Disney World. Despite having documents to back him up, he was convicted of murder.
Prosecutors now agree with him, and Fleming left a Brooklyn court as a free man Tuesday after spending nearly a quarter-century behind bars.
Fleming, now 51, tearfully hugging his lawyers as relatives cheered, "Thank you, God!" after a judge dismissed the case. A key eyewitness had recanted, newly found witnesses implicated someone else and prosecutors’ review of their own files turned up documents supporting Fleming’s alibi.
"After 25 years, come hug your mother," Patricia Fleming said, and her only child did.
"I feel wonderful," he said afterward. "I’ve always had faith. I knew that this day would come someday."
Irish president praises ‘closeness and warmth’ with Britain during 1st state visit by Ireland
LONDON (AP) -- Amid regal pomp at Queen Elizabeth II’s Windsor Castle home, the Irish president and the British monarch have begun Ireland’s first state visit to Britain with expressions of mutual affection and respect -- and a shared determination to consign national hatreds to a sorrow-tinged past.
President Michael D. Higgins, Ireland’s elfin head of state, was guest of honor at a royal banquet that brought together former enemies in Northern Ireland and leading politicians and celebrities of Britain and Ireland, including Judi Dench and Daniel Day-Lewis. Gathered together on one massive 160-seat table, they heard the queen and Higgins pledge to lead their nations into a new era of friendship.
Higgins’ trip -- on his country’s first state visit to Britain since Ireland won independence nearly a century ago -- underscores how much the success of Northern Ireland peacemaking has transformed wider relations between the two longtime adversaries.
It comes three years after the queen, defying threats from IRA splinter groups still seeking to wreck the peace, made her own inaugural visit to the Republic of Ireland, where a British monarch last visited in 1911, when all of Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom.
As she toasted the health of the Irish nation, Elizabeth said she had loved her Irish visit and found it "even more pleasing since then that we, the Irish and British, are becoming good and dependable neighbors and better friends, finally shedding our inhibitions about seeing the best in each other."
Ukraine tries to quell pro-Moscow uprisings; U.S. accuses Russia of fomenting unrest
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukrainian authorities moved to quell pro-Moscow uprisings along the Russian border with mixed results Tuesday, retaking one occupied regional headquarters and watching protesters consolidate their hold on another.
In a third city, Luhansk, Ukraine’s Security Service said separatists armed with explosives and other weapons were holding 60 people hostage inside the agency’s local headquarters.
Those occupying the building issued a video statement saying they want a referendum on the region’s status and warning that any attempt to storm the place would be met with armed force.
In the video, posted by Ukrainian media, a masked man identified the occupiers as Ukrainian veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan and said that if authorities try to retake the building, "Welcome to hell, then!"
The Ukrainian government and the U.S. have accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest as a pretext for another Russian military incursion like the takeover of Crimea last month. Up to 40,000 Russian troops are massed along the Ukrainian border, according to NATO.
California bill seeking to end orca shows at SeaWorld stalls; panel says more study needed
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A California bill that sought to end killer whale shows at SeaWorld in San Diego and phase out their captivity was put on hold Tuesday, dousing an escalating fight between animal activists and supporters of the major tourist attraction.
The bill’s author, Democrat Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, agreed during the bill’s first hearing before the water, parks and wildlife committee to revisit his proposal after further study. As a result, AB2140 is dead for this year, and the soonest lawmakers could vote on the proposal would be mid-2015 following additional hearings.
"It’s unfortunate that much of the conversation has been fueled ... by fear and invective and misinformation," Bloom said. "It’s clear that many committee members are simply unprepared to make a decision on the bill."
Bloom was inspired by the 2013 documentary "Blackfish" in which filmmakers argue that captivity and mistreatment of orcas make the animals aggressive and have led to attacks on trainers. It examined the events leading to the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in SeaWorld Orlando when the whale Tilikum pulled her underwater.
The bill would have banned the import, export and breeding of orcas while requiring SeaWorld San Diego to move its 10 killer whales out of tanks and into larger sea pens.
Oscar Pistorius wails, weeps while testifying on fatal shooting at South African murder trial
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- A subdued Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday described dinner at home, chatting and looking at cell phone photos with Reeva Steenkamp on the last night of her life. Then he erupted in anguished howls and heaving sobs while testifying at his murder trial about the moments when he says he realized he shot his girlfriend through a closed toilet door.
The shocking spectacle of what appeared to be a tormented man highlighted the drama of Pistorius’ inspirational rise and sudden fall. The South African double-amputee runner captured the world’s attention when he successfully fought for permission to run in the 2012 Olympics on his carbon-fiber prostheses. The very next year, he was facing charges for killing the woman he said he loved.
The court in Pretoria, the South African capital, adjourned because of the star athlete’s breakdown, ending a day in which Pistorius spoke of the loving aspects of his relationship with Steenkamp in testimony designed to counter a prosecution picture of him as temperamental and overbearing, and then outlined his version of the final hours before the shooting.
"I sat over Reeva and I cried," Pistorius said, telling how he broke open the stall door in his bathroom in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013 to discover his bloodied girlfriend slumped in the cubicle. "I don’t know how long I was there for."
Pistorius has said in statements that he shot Steenkamp after mistaking her for an intruder in his bathroom. Tuesday marked the first time he has spoken publicly about the details of the fatal shooting. Prosecutors call Pistorius’ story an intricate lie and maintain he intentionally killed his 29-year-old girlfriend, a model and reality TV show star, after an argument.