Kerry visits Baghdad,
urges political reform
as insurgents keep up
BAGHDAD (AP) -- America’s top diplomat said Monday that leaders of Iraq’s factions must keep their commitments to seat a new parliament next week, before a Sunni insurgency sweeps away hopes for a lasting peace.
Meeting with all factions, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had a dire message to leaders of Iraq’s bitterly divided Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political coalitions who have lived through more than three decades of dictatorship, sanctions and wars.
"This is a critical moment for Iraq’s future," Kerry said at a press conference in Baghdad. "It is a moment of decision for Iraq’s leaders and it’s a moment of great urgency."
Sunnis frustrated with being cut out of power are increasingly joining the ISIL, a bloody insurgency that has been emboldened by battlefield successes in neighboring Syria’s civil war and has made rapid and record gains in Iraq over the past two weeks.
Kerry is seeking to hold the officials to a government transition that the U.S. believes will stave off the threat of a new civil war by giving more power to Iraq’s minorities.
Obama encourages family-friendly work policies amid election year focused on women voters
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and offer paid leave for mothers of newborns.
"Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth -- now that’s a pretty low bar," Obama said at the White House Summit on Working Families. "That, we should be able to take care of."
The president is talking about paid maternity in the midst of a midterm election campaign focused on women voters, raising questions about how he would fund such a system. "If France can figure this out, we can figure this out," Obama said.
While some companies offer paid family leave to attract workers, the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act only requires that employers provide unpaid leave for medical and family reasons.
Obama praised California, Rhode Island and New Jersey for creating a state benefit. But he has not endorsed legislation that would create a similar national system funded by a payroll tax, and he pledged in his 2008 presidential campaign not to raise taxes on families making under $250,000 a year.
Racial politics churn GOP Senate primary runoff in Mississippi as Cochran seeks black support
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Race is roiling the Republican Senate runoff in Mississippi, a state with a long history of racially divided politics where the GOP is mostly white and the Democratic Party is mostly black.
National tea party groups say they are working to "ensure a free and fair election" by sending several dozen observers to precincts to watch who votes during Tuesday’s GOP contest, concerned about six-term Sen. Thad Cochran’s efforts to persuade Mississippi Democrats to cast ballots. Challenger Chris McDaniel and the tea party portray cross-party voting as dangerous and even illegal, though state law allows it.
"Thad Cochran and his establishment handlers are out trolling, begging for Democrats to cross over and vote in the Republican runoff," Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund chairwoman Jenny Beth Martin said in announcing that her group and two others have hired an attorney to watch Tuesday’s primary.
While Cochran rarely mentions race, he readily acknowledges he’s seeking support from black and white voters.
"I think it’s important for everybody to participate," he says. "Voting rights has been an issue of great importance in Mississippi. People have really contributed a lot of energy and effort to making sure the political process is open to everyone."
U.S. memo outlining legal basis for drone killings is released; document is heavily redacted
NEW YORK (AP) -- The secret U.S.government memo outlining the justification for the use of drones to kill American terror suspects abroad was released by court order Monday, yielding the most detailed, inside look yet at the legal basis for the Obama administration’s program of "targeted killings."
The 41-page memo -- whose contents had previously been summarized and released piecemeal -- was heavily redacted for national security reasons, with several entire pages and other passages whited out.
But it argues among other things that a targeted killing is permissible under a 2001 law passed by Congress soon after 9/11. That law empowered the president to use force against organizations that planned and committed the attacks.
The July 2010 memo was written by a Justice Department official who is now a federal appeals court judge. It was released after a yearlong legal battle by The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The memo specifically provided the legal justification for the September 2011 killing in Yemen of Anwar Al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader and one-time cleric at a Virginia mosque who had been born in the United States, and another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, who edited al-Qaida’s Internet magazine. An October 2011 strike also killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, al-Awlaki’s teenage son and also a U.S. citizen.
Supreme Court rebukes EPA, but mainly leaves intact program to deal with carbon emissions
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court largely left intact Monday the Obama administration’s only existing program to limit power plant and factory emissions of the gases blamed for global warming. But a divided court also rebuked environmental regulators for taking too much authority into their own hands without congressional approval.
The justices said in a 5-4 vote along ideological lines that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot apply a permitting provision of the Clean Air Act to new and expanded power plants, refineries and factories solely because they emit greenhouse gases.
The decision underscores the limits of using the Clean Air Act to deal with greenhouse gases and the administration’s inability to get climate change legislation through Congress.
"The Supreme Court put EPA on a leash but not in a noose," said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Change Law.
"It reaffirmed that EPA can regulate greenhouse gases, but it can only go so far in reinterpreting the statute," Gerrard said. "The court invalidated a small corner of a secondary program. The main event -- EPA’s proposed rules on existing power plants -- remains to be fought another day."
Separatists agree to
abide by Ukrainian government’s cease-fire; presidents trade demands
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine agreed Monday to respect a cease-fire declared by the Ukrainian president, raising hopes for an end to months of fighting that have killed hundreds and ravaged the country’s industrial heartland.
The announcement came as the Russian and U.S. presidents traded demands over the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin urged direct talks between the government and the rebels. President Barack Obama warned Putin that Moscow will face additional costs if it does not help ease the crisis.
The insurgents’ pledge to respect the cease-fire came on the first day of talks between a former Ukrainian president, the Russian ambassador, European officials and the eastern separatists who have declared independence. While the government side was nominally not represented, ex-President Leonid Kuchma attended the discussions at the request of the sitting president.
The negotiations were launched in line with President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan, which started Friday with a weeklong unilateral cease-fire in the fighting that has killed more than 350 people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.
Alexander Borodai, one of the rebel leaders who took part in Monday’s talks in Donetsk, said rebels would respect Poroshenko’s cease-fire, which lasts through 0700 GMT (2 a.m. EDT) Friday.
Chemical weapons watchdog: Syria hands over last of declared chemical weapons stockpile
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- Syria finished handing over to Western powers Monday the 1,300 tons of chemical weapons it acknowledged possessing, completing a deal reached last fall under threat of U.S. airstrikes.
The most dangerous material will be transferred to an American ship, which will move into international waters and use specialized equipment to destroy the chemicals over the next two months. Other material will be disposed of at toxic waste sites in various countries.
Questions persist over whether Syrian President Bashar Assad is hiding undeclared poison gases or attacking rebels with chlorine -- a toxic industrial gas that is not specifically classified as a chemical weapon.
But politicians and activists hailed Monday’s milestone as a victory for international diplomacy, and, at the least, a clear reduction in the amount of chemicals available for use in Syria’s bloody civil war.
The news came amid extremely high tension across the Middle East, as Israel carried out retaliatory strikes on Syria and a Syrian cabinet member warned that Sunni insurgents in Iraq have been funneling weapons to rebels in Syria.
Report: Prosecutors, police to blame for delays in Sandusky charges, but politics had no role
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A report released Monday detailing the handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case faults police and prosecutors for long delays in bringing charges but found no evidence that politics affected the investigation into the former Penn State assistant football coach.
The report, commissioned by Attorney General Kathleen Kane and written by former federal prosecutor Geoff Moulton, blamed a three-year lapse in filing charges on communication problems, an expungement of a 1998 complaint about Sandusky and a failure to take certain investigative steps early on.
"The facts show an inexcusable lack of urgency in charging and stopping a serial sexual predator," said Kane, a Democrat who had vowed to conduct a review of the investigation while running for office. "The report documents that more investigative work took place in just one month in 2011 than in all of either 2009 or 2010."
Then-Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican, was in the midst of his successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign during the Sandusky investigation.
Moulton said his review "revealed no direct evidence that electoral politics influenced any important decision made in the Sandusky investigation."
Egypt court sentences 3 Al-Jazeera journalists to 7 years each on terrorism-related charges
CAIRO (AP) -- An Egyptian court on Monday convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists and sentenced them to seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges after a trial dismissed by rights groups as a politically motivated sham. The verdict brought a landslide of international condemnation and calls for the newly elected president to intervene.
The ruling stunned the defendants and their families, many of whom had hoped their loved ones would be released because of international pressure on the case. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who a day earlier had discussed the case in a meeting with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, denounced the verdict as "chilling and draconian."
The unprecedented trial of journalists on terror charges was tied up in the government’s fierce crackdown on Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood since the ouster last year of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi by el-Sissi, then the army chief. Further fueling accusations that the trial was politically motivated is the Egyptian government’s deep enmity with the Gulf nation Qatar, which was a close ally of Morsi and which owns the Al-Jazeera network.
Prosecutors had accused the three -- Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed -- of promoting or belonging to the Brotherhood and of falsifying their coverage of protests by Morsi’s supporters to hurt Egypt’s security and make it appear the country is sliding into civil war. The government has branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
The journalists, who were detained in December, say they are being prosecuted simply for doing their job and are pawns in the political rivalry. During the 5-month trial, prosecutors presented no evidence backing the charges, at times citing random video footage found with the defendants that even the judge dismissed as irrelevant. They depicted typical activity like editing as a sign of falsification.
Children win broader access to donor lungs
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A national transplant board has permanently adopted a rule that gives sick children a better shot at donor lungs.
The vote Monday came a year after a Pennsylvania girl’s need for new lungs sparked a national debate on donor rules. The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network will now give children more consideration for adult lungs.
A federal judge had ordered the network to add 11-year-old Sarah Murnaghan, of Newtown Square, to the adult list last year as she battled end-stage cystic fibrosis.
After two transplants -- one failed -- Sarah is now breathing on her own for the first time in three years.
In a statement, her family called the lawsuit "the absolute last resort" after other appeals failed.
"We believed making lungs from donors 12 and older available to children under 12 who are good candidates to receive them was the right thing to do. We very much appreciate that the medical community (now) agrees with that," the family, including parents Janet and Francis Murnaghan, said.
The lung transplant issue only affects about 20 children a year, making it difficult to study outcomes, the network said. A dozen children have asked to be added to the adult list under a waiver this past year, but most are still matched with donor lungs from children, the transplant network said.
"Any allocation policy must weigh the unique needs and circumstances of transplant candidates with the benefit a transplant can provide them," said Dr. Stuart Sweet, secretary of the network, a private nonprofit group that manages U.S.organ allocation.
"This is a difficult balance for very young lung transplant candidates in particular," Sweet said. "The progression of their lung disease may be considerably different from other patients, even those just a few years older."
Lung transplants are not a cure for cystic fibrosis but can buy time. The typical life expectancy for cystic fibrosis patients is 37 years and continues to rise as new medical advances are developed.
The case raised questions among some health specialists and medical ethicists about how organ donation rules are developed and under what circumstances they might be disregarded.
Holidays, lost business in Brazil, other countries during the lazy days of
the World Cup
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Instead of commuting to work, Catia Santiago spent her Monday morning on the golden sands of Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, soaking up the sunshine without a pang of guilt, thanks to the World Cup.
Between Carnival celebrations and a generous smattering of Catholic observances, Brazilians enjoy an extensive calendar of public holidays. But this year, workers are seeing even more time off because of the monthlong soccer tournament.
The extra holidays are helping clear commuters from Brazil’s perennially clogged roads to make it easier for fans travel to and from the stadiums. While many workers such as the sunbathing Santiago have embraced the measure, critics contend it’s detrimental for Brazilian businesses.
Fecomercio, a Sao Paulo-based industry group representing the goods, services, and tourism sectors, forecasts that those businesses may lose up to $13.5 billion due to lost productivity and the need to pay double salaries to people who work government-declared holidays. However, Brazil’s Tourism Ministry has said the Cup itself will inject that much money into the nation’s economy, offsetting any such losses.
With Rio’s City Hall declaring full- or half-day holidays on days with matches at the city’s famed Maracana stadium, and many businesses shutting down when Brazil’s national team plays, last week there were only two regular work days in this city of 12 million. This week will be much the same.