Obama selects former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald to head Veterans Affairs
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama plans to nominate former Proctor & Gamble executive Robert McDonald as the next Veterans Affairs secretary, as the White House seeks to shore up an agency beset by treatment delays and struggling to deal with an influx of new veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An administration official said Obama would announce McDonald’s appointment Monday. If confirmed by the Senate, McDonald would succeed Eric Shinseki, the retired four-star general who resigned last month as the scope of the issues at veterans’ hospitals became apparent.
In tapping McDonald for the post, Obama is signaling his desire to install a VA chief with broad management experience. McDonald also has a military background, graduating near the top of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and serving as a captain in the Army, primarily in the 82nd Airborne Division.
The administration official insisted on anonymity in order to confirm McDonald’s appointment before the president’s announcement.
The VA operates the the largest integrated health care system in the country, with more than 300,000 fulltime employees and nearly 9 million veterans enrolled for care. But the agency has come under intense scrutiny in recent months amid reports of patients dying while waiting for appointments and of treatment delays in VA facilities nationwide.
Criminal case of Benghazi suspect unfolds in nation’s capital against political backdrop
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The first prosecution arising from the Benghazi attacks is playing out in the federal courthouse blocks from both the White House and Capitol Hill, an appropriate setting for a case that has drawn stark lines between President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress.
The criminal proceedings could provide new insights into the 2012 attacks that killed four Americans and will serve as the latest test of the U.S. legal system’s ability to handle terrorism suspects captured overseas.
Unfolding during an election year, the case against alleged mastermind Ahmed Abu Khattala could help shape the legacies of Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, and spill over into the potential 2016 presidential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Untangling the law from the politics may prove especially challenging for the public, given how prominent the attacks on the diplomatic compound in the eastern Libyan city have become in U.S. political discourse.
"What’s going to matter to the public more than anything else is the result, and I think it’s going to only diffuse some of the ongoing Benghazi conspiracy theories if the Obama administration is going to be able to successfully obtain a conviction in this case," said American University law professor Stephen Vladeck, a national security law expert.
Ukraine’s president talks with Putin, Merkel, Hollande ahead of deadline on peace plan
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tried to keep his peace plan to settle the conflict with pro-Russian separatists on track in a four-way phone call Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of France and Germany.
The two-hour conversation came ahead of a Monday deadline that European Union leaders set for Russia and the separatists to take steps to ease the violence, warning that otherwise they were ready "at any time" to impose further punitive measures.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande encouraged the Ukrainian and Russian presidents to work on meeting the EU conditions, Hollande’s office said in a statement. The EU’s demands included the return of three border checkpoints to Ukrainian control, verification of the cease-fire by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and talks to put Poroshenko’s peace plan in place.
The call was the latest in a series of discussions the four leaders have held in recent weeks in an effort to stop the fighting that has killed more than 400 people since April. A cease-fire in place since June 20 has been shaky, with each side accusing the other of numerous violations.
A statement issued by Poroshenko’s office said he underlined Ukraine’s willingness to maintain the cease-fire at least until Monday evening, but expressed concern about the situation, noting what he said were multiple violations of the truce by separatist fighters. He called on Putin to strengthen border controls from the Russian side to stop what Ukraine says is the flow of weapons, fighters and mercenaries.
5 detained in India after at least 26 die in building collapses; dozens trapped
NEW DELHI (AP) -- Police in southern India detained five construction company officials Sunday as rescuers using gas cutters and shovels searched for dozens of workers believed buried in the rubble of a building that collapsed during monsoon rains. It was one of two weekend building collapses that killed at least 26 people.
Nearly 90 contract workers were believed to have been in the basement of the 11-story structure to collect their wages when it collapsed Saturday on the outskirts of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state.
Police said eight died on the spot and another seven succumbed to injuries in a hospital. Another 20 people have been pulled out alive.
J. Jayalalitha, the state’s top elected official, visited the site on Sunday and said another 40 people may still be trapped under the debris, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
Rescuers could hear feeble voices in the debris, said T.S. Sridhar, the disaster management agency commissioner. Officials used gas cutters, iron rods and shovels after cranes lifted concrete blocks to get to the survivors.
Gay pride parades step off across United States, part of celebrations planned around world
NEW YORK (AP) -- Gay pride parades stepped off around the nation on Sunday, in cities large and small, with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their supporters celebrating a year of same-sex marriage victories.
New York’s Fifth Avenue became one giant rainbow as thousands of participants waved multicolored flags while making their way down the street. Politicians including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo were among those walking along a lavender line painted on the avenue from midtown Manhattan to the West Village.
The parade marked the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the 1969 uprising against police raids that were a catalyst for the gay rights movement. The parade route passes The Stonewall Inn, the site of the riots.
In Chicago, as many as 1 million people were expected to pack the streets of the city’s North Side for the first gay pride parade since Illinois legalized gay marriage last month.
Charlie Gurion, who with David Wilk in February became the first couple in Cook County to get a same-sex marriage license, said there was a different feel to the parade this year.
Meshach Taylor, who starred in sitcoms ‘Designing Women’ and ‘Dave’s World,’ dies at 67
Meshach Taylor, who played a lovable ex-convict surrounded by boisterous Southern belles on the sitcom "Designing Women" and appeared in numerous other TV and film roles, died of cancer at age 67, his agent said Sunday.
Taylor died Saturday at his home near Los Angeles, according to agent Dede Binder.
Taylor got an Emmy nod for his portrayal of Anthony Bouvier on "Designing Women" from 1986 to 1993. Then he costarred for four seasons on another successful comedy, "Dave’s World," as the best friend of a newspaper humor columnist played by the series’ star, Harry Anderson.
Other series included the cult favorite "Buffalo Bill" and the popular Nickelodeon comedy "Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide."
Taylor’s movie roles included a flamboyant window dresser in the 1987 comedy-romance "Mannequin" as well as "Damien: Omen II."
Border Patrol, overwhelmed in Texas, turns to agents in quiet areas for help using webcams
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The downcast faces on computer screens are 1,500 miles away at a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas: a 20-year old Honduran woman arrested rafting across the Rio Grande and a 23-year-old man caught under similar circumstances.
Four agents wearing headsets reel through a list of personal questions, spending up to an hour on each adult and even longer on children. On an average day, hundreds of migrants are questioned on camera by agents in San Diego and other stations on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The long-distance interviews -- introduced last year in El Paso, Texas, and extended to California -- are a response to the dramatic increase of Central Americans crossing the border in Texas that also has flooded immigration facilities with hundreds of women and children. The Border Patrol does not have the staff to process all the immigrants crossing in the Rio Grande Valley, but faraway colleagues have time to spare.
The remote video processing reveals a perpetual predicament that has long bedeviled the Border Patrol. Many agents wind up stationed in places where crossing activity is slowest because the Border Patrol struggles to keep up with constantly shifting migration patterns.
One example of the staffing mismatch: the roughly 2,500 agents in the San Diego sector arrested 97 immigrants illegally crossing the border on June 14, according to an internal document reviewed by The Associated Press. On the same day, the roughly 3,200 agents in the Rio Grande Valley made 1,422 arrests.