Thursday March 14, 2013

U.S. businesses boost restocking 1 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S.companies increased their restocking in January from December, an encouraging signal that they expect consumers will spend more this year and help the economy grow faster.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that business stockpiles grew 1 percent in January. That’s up from 0.3 percent growth in December and the biggest gain since May 2011.

Total business sales fell 0.3 percent in January after a slight 0.1 percent rise in December.

Weak growth in restocking was a key reason the economy barely grew from October through December. Since then, job growth has accelerated and wages have steadily risen. The combination could lead to greater consumer demand, prompting more business restocking and economic growth.

U.S.commander in Afghanistan encouraged by anti-Taliban uprising

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The commander of U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan says he is encouraged by an anti-Taliban uprising among villagers in an area known as the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

Army Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams said Wednesday the uprising is the first of its kind in Kandahar province. He said it began about a month ago in Panjwai (panj-way) district, west of Kandahar city.

Abrams said Afghan officials have told him that Panjwai residents have grown fed up with the Taliban, and that the uprising was triggered in part by the beating of a villager by Taliban fighters. He said another contributing factor was the arrival about six weeks ago of a new, more effective, district police chief.

Abrams said he is hopeful that the anti-Taliban sentiment will spread.

Egypt government inquiry finds police shot most of nearly 900 dead in uprising

CAIRO (AP) -- The highest-level inquiry into the deaths of nearly 900 protesters in Egypt’s uprising has concluded that police were behind nearly all the killings and used snipers on rooftops overlooking Cairo’s Tahrir Square to shoot into the huge crowds.

The report, parts of which were obtained by The Associated Press, is the most authoritative and sweeping account of the killings and determines that the deadly force used could only have been authorized by Hosni Mubarak’s security chief, with the ousted president’s full knowledge.

The report of the fact-finding commission, created by Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, could weigh heavily in the upcoming retrial of Mubarak, as well as his security chief, former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, and six top police commanders. It is likely also to fuel calls for reforming the powerful security forces and lead to prosecutions of members of the police force.

The findings were leaked at a sensitive time for the country’s police. Still hated by most Egyptians, the force is in upheaval, with segments of police on strike and its chief, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, pleading not to drag it into politics. The force is also facing a challenge from Islamist groups threatening to set up "popular committees" to fill what they call a security vacuum created by the police strike.

Part of the force also is protesting what some officers see as an attempt by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood to control the force. The Brotherhood denies the charge.

57 charged in Fla. gambling scandal tied to lieutenant governor’s resignation

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Florida’s lieutenant governor resigned and nearly 60 other people were charged in a widening scandal of a purported veterans charity that authorities said Wednesday was a $300 million front for illegal gambling.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll’s resignation came a day after she was questioned in the investigation. Her public relations firm did work for the St. Augustine-based charity Allied Veterans of the World, but she has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Authorities said the probe involved 57 arrest warrants and 54 search warrants issued at gambling operations in 23 Florida counties and five other states: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said charges, which will be formally filed next week, include racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and possession of slot machines.

"It’s callous and it’s despicable," Bondi said of the alleged scam, which she said "insults every American who ever wore a military uniform."

Senate panel criticizes military for little progress in combating sexual assault

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a stinging rebuke of the military’s efforts to curb sexual assault, members of a Senate panel hammered Defense Department officials on Wednesday for making too little progress in combating the crimes and failing to improve a military justice system that victims described as slow and uncaring.

During a two-part hearing, the panel heard harrowing testimony from several victims, who said military justice is broken and pushed for Congress to take action to stem the rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment that they said are pervasive in all the service branches.

Pentagon officials said they are taking the problem seriously. "Sexual assault in the military is not only an abhorrent crime that does enormous harm to the victim, but it is also a virulent attack on the discipline and good order on which military cohesion depends," said Robert Taylor, the Pentagon’s acting general counsel.

"The Air Force has zero tolerance for this offense," added Lt. Gen. Richard Harding, the judge advocate general of the Air Force.

But lawmakers pointed to a decision by an Air Force general to reverse a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case as evidence of how the military fails the victims who come forward to report the crimes. Under military law, a commander who convenes a court-martial is known as the convening authority and has the sole discretion to reduce or set aside guilty verdicts and sentences or to reverse a jury’s verdict.

GOP draws contrasts with Obama as he renews outreach to break budget impasse

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans drew stark contrasts with Democrats on tricky budget issues as President Barack Obama came to the Capitol on Wednesday in a stepped-up effort to improve relations with lawmakers whose votes he needs to enact his second-term agenda.

Obama held a rare meeting with House Republicans geared at thawing political gridlock, even though he conceded in an interview airing hours earlier that a political accommodation may be impossible.

"It was good. I enjoyed it. It was useful," Obama told reporters as he emerged from the roughly 90-minute meeting.

Many Republicans who long have chided Obama for failing to engage their party on the nation’s biggest problems are applauding his newfound outreach -- part of a concerted effort by the president to mend ties with Congress in hopes of reaching a grand compromise on fiscal issues.

Neither side is backing down from entrenched positions that have prevented deals in the past -- a status quo scenario that Obama acknowledged could preclude any agreement.

Detroit-area woman who shot teen grandson testifies that she loved, feared him

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- A 75-year-old woman charged with first-degree murder sobbed on the witness stand Wednesday as she told jurors how she repeatedly shot her teenage grandson after he kicked her in the abdomen and demanded money and a car to leave Michigan.

Sandra Layne described herself as an overwhelmed grandmother who took Jonathan Hoffman into her Detroit-area home after his parents divorced and moved to Arizona. She said she "adored" the 17-year-old, but their relationship changed when the teen got involved with drugs.

"Did you want to kill this young man?" defense attorney Jerome Sabbota asked.

"Of course not. I still love him," Layne replied.

She told jurors that Hoffman used drugs and spent time with friends whom she didn’t know or trust. Layne said he couldn’t control his temper if things went wrong, destroying computer equipment and kicking doors and the car dashboard.

5-organ transplant patient becomes a mom, making her 1st reported case in world

MIAMI (AP) -- Miami doctors say they believe a five-organ transplant patient is the first to deliver a baby, making her the first reported case in the world.

Fatema Al Ansari was 19 and living in Qatar when she was diagnosed with a blood clot in a major vein to the intestine. In 2007, she underwent surgery at Jackson Memorial hospital in Miami and was given a new liver, pancreas, stomach and small and large intestine. Five years later, she gave birth to a girl.

Al Ansari faced some complications during pregnancy, but her doctors say she is capable of having more children.

Al Ansari says it’s "the best feeling in the world" to be a mother. Her doctors add there are no reported cases of a five-organ transplant patient in the world giving birth.