Defiant IRS head says no apology for lost emails; GOP’s Ryan says ‘nobody believes’ his story

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defiant before skeptical Republicans, the head of the IRS refused to apologize Friday for lost emails that might shed light on the tax agency’s targeting of tea party and other groups before the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Instead, Commissioner John Koskinen accused the chairman of a powerful House committee of misleading the public by making false statements based on incomplete information.

The contentious back-and-forth didn’t end there. Later in the hearing, Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate two years ago, told Koskinen bluntly that "nobody believes you."

"I have a long career. That’s the first time anybody has said they do not believe me," said Koskinen, who came out of retirement in December to take over the IRS. Previously, he served in other positions under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The hearing showed that emotions are running hotter than ever in the dispute over the IRS and political fundraising.

Iraqis join what UN says is largest worldwide displaced population since WWII

TAZA KHORMATO, Iraq (AP) -- In a battered car loaded with blankets and clothes, Hassan Abbas left with his mother from a dusty town in northern Iraq, fleeing this week’s violence and joining what the United Nations says is the largest worldwide population of displaced people since World War II.


Advertisement

The U.N. refugee agency’s latest annual report, released Friday, found more than 50 million people worldwide were displaced at the end of last year, reflecting an ever-expanding web of international conflicts.

Last year’s increase in displaced people was the largest in at least two decades, driven mainly by the civil war in Syria, which has claimed an estimated 160,000 lives and forced 9 million people to flee their homes. Now Iraq is adding to that tide.

"I am going to sell this phone so we have money," Abbas said at a checkpoint outside the town of Taza Khormato, near the city of Kirkuk, where he will move in with relatives, and where 20 people will share a single home.

He and his 50-year-old mother, Shukriya, decided to leave the town after fighters from the al-Qaida breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant shelled and burned down the neighboring village of Basheer.

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric increases pressure on al-Maliki with call for broad government

BAGHDAD (AP) -- The most respected voice for Iraq’s Shiite majority on Friday joined calls for the country’s prime minister to form an inclusive government or step aside, a day after President Barack Obama challenged Nouri al-Maliki to create a leadership representative of all Iraqis.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s thinly veiled reproach was the most influential to place blame on the Shiite prime minister for the nation’s spiraling crisis.

The focus on the need to replace al-Maliki comes as Iraq faces its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. Over the past two weeks, Iraq has lost a big chunk of the north to the al-Qaida-inspired Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose lightning offensive led to the capture of Mosul, the nation’s second-largest city.

The gravity of the crisis has forced the usually reclusive al-Sistani, who normally stays above the political fray, to wade into politics, and his comments, delivered through a representative, could ultimately seal al-Maliki’s fate.

Calling for a dialogue between the political coalitions that won seats in the April 30 parliamentary election, al-Sistani said it was imperative that they form "an effective government that enjoys broad national support, avoids past mistakes and opens new horizons toward a better future for all Iraqis."

Obama moves to expand gov’t benefits for gay couples in states without same-sex marriage

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A year after the Supreme Court struck down a law barring federal recognition of gay marriages, the Obama administration granted an array of new benefits Friday to same-sex couples, including those who live in states where gay marriage is against the law.

The new measures range from Social Security and veterans benefits to work leave for caring for sick spouses. They are part of President Barack Obama’s efforts to expand whatever protections he can offer to gays and lesbians even though more than half of the states don’t recognize gay marriage. That effort has been confounded by laws that say some benefits should be conferred only to couples whose marriages are recognized by the states where they live, rather than the states where they were married.

Aiming to circumvent that issue, the Veterans Affairs Department will start letting gay people who tell the government they are married to a veteran to be buried alongside them in a national cemetery, drawing on the VA’s authority to waive the usual marriage requirement.

In a similar move, the Social Security Administration will start processing some survivor and death benefits for those in same-sex relationships who live in states that don’t recognize gay marriage. Nineteen states plus the District of Columbia currently recognize gay marriage, although court challenges to gay marriage bans are pending in many states.

For Tim Fagen of Fort Collins, Colorado, the implications could be profound. A retired electrical engineer, Fagen receives higher Social Security payments than his 79-year partner, Ken Hoole. The two will celebrate their 47th anniversary in August but until now would have been prevented from accessing each other’s benefits.

Ukraine’s president orders 1-week unilateral cease-fire; Kremlin dismisses peace plan

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine’s president ordered his forces to cease fire Friday and halt military operations for a week against pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east -- the first step in a peace plan he hopes will end the fighting that has killed hundreds.

The Kremlin dismissed the plan, saying it sounded like an ultimatum and lacked any firm offer to open talks with insurgents.

Petro Poroshenko, making his first trip to the east as Ukraine’s president, said that the cease-fire will run until the morning of June 27 and that his troops reserve the right to fire back if separatists attack them or civilians.

"The Ukrainian army is ceasing fire," he said in a statement. "But this does not mean that we will not resist. In case of aggression toward our troops, we will do everything to defend the territory of our state."

Separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have declared independence from his government in Kiev, occupied public buildings and fought with heavy weapons against Ukrainian troops.

VA: 80% of senior executives got bonuses; congressman says system ‘failing’ vets

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nearly 80 percent of senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs got performance bonuses last year despite widespread treatment delays and preventable deaths at VA hospitals and clinics, a top official said Friday.

More than 350 VA executives were paid a total of $2.7 million in bonuses last year, said Gina Farrisee, assistant VA secretary for human resources and administration. That amount is down from about $3.4 million in bonuses paid in 2012, Farrisee said.

The totals do not include tens of millions of dollars in bonuses awarded to doctors, dentists and other medical providers throughout the VA’s nearly 900 hospitals and clinics.

Workers at the Phoenix VA Health Care System -- where officials have confirmed dozens of patients died while awaiting treatment -- received about $3.9 million in bonuses last year, newly released records show. The merit-based bonuses were doled out to about 650 employees, including doctors, nurses, administrators, secretaries and cleaning staff.

Farrisee defended the bonus system, telling the House Veterans Affairs Committee that the VA needs to pay bonuses to keep executives who are paid up to $181,000 per year.

DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek, inventor of body army component Kevlar, dies at 90

DOVER, Del. (AP) -- Police Lt. David Spicer took four .45-caliber slugs to the chest and arms at point-blank range and lived to tell about it. Like thousands of other police officers and soldiers shot in the line of duty, he owes his life to a woman in Delaware by the name of Stephanie Kwolek.

Kwolek, who died Wednesday at 90, was a DuPont Co. chemist who in 1965 invented Kevlar, the lightweight, stronger-than-steel fiber used in bulletproof vests and other body armor around the world.

A pioneer as a woman in a heavily male field, Kwolek made the breakthrough while working on specialty fibers at a DuPont laboratory in Wilmington. At the time, DuPont was looking for strong, lightweight fibers that could replace steel in automobile tires and improve fuel economy.

"I knew that I had made a discovery," Kwolek said in an interview several years ago that was included in the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s "Women in Chemistry" series. "I didn’t shout ‘Eureka,’ but I was very excited, as was the whole laboratory excited, and management was excited because we were looking for something new, something different, and this was it."

Spicer was wearing a Kevlar vest when he was shot by a drug suspect in 2001. Two rounds shattered his left arm, ripping open an artery. A third was deflected by his badge. The last one hit his nametag, bending it into a horseshoe shape, before burrowing into his vest, leaving a 10-inch tear.

Review confirms study that was basis for Japan’s landmark ‘93 apology for wartime sex slavery

TOKYO (AP) -- The study that led Japan to apologize in 1993 for forcing Asian women into wartime prostitution was confirmed as valid by a parliament-appointed panel Friday after South Korea and China slammed the review as an attempt to discredit historical evidence of such abuses.

Officials said Japan stood by its earlier pledge not to change the landmark apology.

"We concluded that the content of the study was valid," said lawyer Keiichi Tadaki, who headed the five-member panel that reviewed about 250 sets of documents used for the government study that was the basis of the 1993 apology.

The new investigation focused on how the study, which included interviews with 16 former Korean victims, was conducted, not evaluation of its historical findings. But any discussion of bitter World War II history is sensitive, especially when Japan’s relations with its two closest neighbors are soured by territorial disputes.

The panel started its study in April after Nobuo Ishihara, a top bureaucrat who helped in the 1993 study questioned the authenticity of the interviews, while suggesting Seoul possibly pressured Tokyo into acknowledging the women were coerced. Ishihara spoke at parliament as a witness for a nationalist lawmaker who demanded the review.