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Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - Updated: 9:08 AM

Senate braces for filibuster showdown as 2-party talks falter and anger festers over nominees

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators prepared for a potentially rancorous day Tuesday — even by recent standards of partisan unpleasantness — as Democratic leaders threatened to change filibuster rules to stop Republicans from blocking White House nominees for top executive jobs.

Several Senate votes were scheduled to test whether Republicans will allow simple-majority confirmations of a handful of long-stalled nominations. Some senators held out hopes for a breakthrough early Tuesday after one didn’t come in a rare, three-hour private meeting of nearly all 100 senators Monday night.

If neither side retreats, the two parties could be on a collision course, with potentially big ramifications for politics and policymaking for years to come.

Standing alone, the rules change that Majority Leader Harry Reid proposes is limited. It would end the ability of 41 senators, in the 100-person chamber, to block action on White House nominations other than judges. The out-of-power party still could use filibuster threats to block legislation and judicial nominees, who seek lifetime appointments.

But critics say Reid’s plan would likely prompt Republicans to retaliate by doing even more to reduce the minority party’s rights when the GOP regains control of the Senate. That could happen as early 18 months from now, after the 2014 elections.

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Capture of top leader of Mexico’s brutal Zetas drug cartel unlikely to quell violence

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The capture of the notoriously brutal Zetas leader Miguel Angel Trevino Morales is a serious blow to Mexico’s most feared drug cartel but experts cautioned that taking down the group’s command structure is unlikely to diminish violence in the border states where it dominates through terror.

Trevino Morales, 40, was captured before dawn Monday by Mexican Marines who intercepted a pickup truck with $2 million in cash on a dirt road in the countryside outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo, which has long served as the Zetas’ base of operations. The truck was halted by a Marine helicopter and Trevino Morales was taken into custody along with a bodyguard and an accountant and eight guns, government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez told reporters.

It was the first major blow against an organized crime leader by a Mexican administration struggling to drive down persistently high levels of violence. Experts on the Zetas said that the arrest, at least the eighth capture or killing of a high-ranking Zeta since 2011, could leave behind a series of cells scattered across northern Mexico without a central command but with the same appetite for kidnapping, extortion and other crimes against innocent people.

“It’s another link in the destruction of the Zetas as a coherent, identifiable organization,” said Alejandro Hope, a former member of Mexico’s domestic intelligence service. “There will still be people who call themselves Zetas, bands of individuals who maintain the same modus operandi. There will be fights over illegal networks.”

The Zetas remain active in Nuevo Laredo, the nearby border state of Coahuila, the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, parts of north central Mexico and Central America, although Trevino Morales’ arrest means the gang has become “a franchise operation not a vertical organization,” said George Grayson, an expert on the Zetas and professor of government at the College of William & Mary.

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Obama seeks to inject calm into Martin case that inflamed passions, including his own

WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Barack Obama first addressed the death of Trayvon Martin last year, he did so passionately, declaring that if he had a son, he would look like the slain 17-year-old. His powerful and personal commentary marked a rare public reflection on race from the nation’s first black president.

But now, with the man who fatally shot Martin acquitted and the burden of any future charges squarely on his own administration, Obama is seeking to inject calm into a case that has inflamed passions, including his own. In a brief statement, the president called Martin’s killing a “tragedy” but implored the public to respect a Florida jury’s decision to clear George Zimmerman, the man charged in the teen’s death.

“I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher,” Obama said Sunday. “But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”

The president’s restrained response underscores the complicated calculus for the White House as it grapples with the fallout from the racially charged case. Obama faces inevitable questions about the verdict, given his previous statements on the matter and his own race. But as the head of a government considering levying federal charges against Zimmerman, he must also avoid the appearance of influencing an ongoing Justice Department investigation.

“Barack Obama is a lawyer and I think his legal sense is that he should do nothing that would interrupt or disrupt any future matters involving George Zimmerman,” said Charles Ogletree, a law professor at Harvard University and longtime friend of the president.

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California Zimmerman protesters block freeway, raid Wal-Mart; more than a dozen arrested in LA

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Protesters ran through Los Angeles streets Monday night, breaking windows, attacking people on sidewalks and at one point raiding a Wal-Mart store, while others blocked a major freeway in the San Francisco Bay Area in the third night of demonstrations in California over George Zimmerman’s Florida acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Thirteen people were arrested after multiple acts of vandalism and several assaults in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw District, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Police Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference.

Garcetti and Beck didn’t elaborate on the assaults or any injuries, but at least one man could be seen in the street with a head injury.

More than 300 officers were called to the scene and were at first slow to directly engage protesters in an attempt to allow a peaceful end to the demonstration, Beck said. But the chief said police would take a much stricter posture in the coming nights.

“This will not be allowed to continue,” Beck said.

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At least 7 killed in overnight clashes in Egypt between Morsi supporters and police

CAIRO (AP) — A senior Health Ministry official says clashes overnight between police and supporters of Egypt’s ousted president have left at least seven people dead.

Khaled el-Khateib also says 261 people were injured in the violence that broke out late Monday and carried on into the early morning hours of Tuesday in four different locations in the capital, Cairo.

Thousands of supporters of Mohammed Morsi, who was overthrown by the military, were protesting to press their demands that Morsi be reinstated as president.

Egypt’s military deposed Morsi on July 3 after days of mass street protests calling for him to step down.

The ousted president’s supporters say he was ousted by a military coup that overturned democratic rule.

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South Korea says North Korea behind cyberattack last month on government, media websites

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean investigators say North Korea carried out cyberattacks on the websites of South Korean media companies and the president and prime minister’s offices last month.

The attacks came on the June 25th Korean War anniversary.

South Korea’s ministry of science on Tuesday said it was blaming North Korea based on analysis of codes, Internet addresses and personal computers used to launch the attacks.

The government-led team of investigators said the online assaults were planned for several months. The attackers hacked file-sharing websites in South Korea to find security weaknesses.

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DIGITS: Keep a budget? Count yourself among the 32 percent who track their spending

It was an oft-invoked image on last year’s campaign trail: The typical American couple, sitting around the kitchen table making a budget to ensure their bills were paid and spending hadn’t gotten out of control. Candidates of both parties decried the federal government for failing to complete this most basic of financial tasks, citing a growing national debt and wide deficit as evidence of fiscal irresponsibility.

Turns out, most Americans don’t do it either.

A poll from Gallup shows that 32 percent of Americans put together a budget each month to track income and expenditures, and just 30 percent have a long-term financial plan laying out savings and investment goals.

Those with higher incomes or college degrees were a bit more likely to say they regularly put together a budget, though less than half in those groups said they keep close tabs on their financial life. Only about a quarter with a high school diploma or less say they do.

And, as rare as they suggest budgeting may be, the results of the poll could even look a little better than reality. People want to be seen as good citizens, so when they’re asked by a pollster whether they do things that are generally seen as positive, good-person activities, they fudge a little. Pollsters call this “social desirability bias,” and a great example of it is voting. Without fail, more people tell pollsters that they turn out to vote than actually do.

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Report: Ariz. wildfire that killed 19 firefighters was quick, erratic; resources were limited

PHOENIX (AP) — A new report shows an Arizona wildfire that began with a lightning strike and caused little immediate concern because of its remote location and small size quickly grew into an inferno, leading officials to rapidly order more resources in the hours before the flames killed 19 members of an elite Hotshot crew.

The report from the Arizona State Forestry Division provides precise detail about the response to the fire that began June 28 outside the small town of Yarnell, including the unpredictable weather around the blaze and the exact times in which it escalated and key resources were deployed.

The report doesn’t address the question of why the fire crew was still on the mountain above the town more than an hour after the winds shifted about 180 degrees and brought the fire back toward them. It also wasn’t immediately clear whether the Hotshots were warned of the erratically changing weather before they were forced to take shelter and were killed.

The report describes how the fire worsened hour by hour — causing flames up to 20 feet high — as managers called in inmate and Hotshot firefighting crews and air support.

After the blaze was ignited about 60 miles northwest of Phoenix, an aerial unit assessed it. The unit found the fire to be “less than one acre, in a large boulder field,” with little smoke and no structures at immediate risk.

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Court: Public should see legal fight over government’s collection of user data from Yahoo

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Yahoo has won a court fight that could help the public learn more about the government’s efforts to obtain data from Internet users.

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews government requests to spy on individuals, ruled Monday that information should be made public about a 2008 case that ordered Yahoo Inc. to turn over customer data.

The order requires the government to review which portions of the opinion, briefs and arguments can be declassified and report back to the court by July 29.

The government sought the information from Yahoo under the National Security Agency’s PRISM data-gathering program. Details of the secret program were disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who has fled the U.S.

The program came to light in early June after The Washington Post and Guardian newspapers published documents provided by Snowden. It allows the NSA to reach into the data streams of U.S. companies such as Yahoo, Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and others, and grab emails, video chats, pictures and more. U.S. officials have said the program is narrowly focused on foreign targets, and technology companies say they turn over information only if required by court order.

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Jodi Arias back in court for death penalty argument as prosecutors ponder another trial

PHOENIX (AP) — As she awaits a decision by prosecutors on the future of her murder case, Jodi Arias and her attorneys are returning to court Tuesday to ask the judge to throw out the jury’s finding that made her eligible for the death penalty.

Arias was convicted of first-degree murder May 8 in the stabbing and shooting death of Travis Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home. About two weeks later, the same jury failed to reach a unanimous decision on whether to sentence Arias to life in prison or death.

Her case is now in limbo as prosecutors decide whether to put on another penalty phase with a new jury in pursuit of the death penalty — or simply take the death penalty off the table, a move that would either see Arias spend the rest of her life behind bars or be eligible for release after 25 years. That decision would be up to the judge.

The oral arguments Tuesday focus on a determination by the Arias jury that she killed her one-time lover in an “especially cruel” manner. The determination meant that Arias was eligible for the death penalty.

Arias’ attorneys argue that the definition of “especially cruel” is too vague for jurors with no legal experience to determine what makes one killing more cruel or heinous than another. Their June motion appears to challenge a landmark 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found a defendant has the right to have a jury, rather than a judge, decide on the existence of an aggravating factor that makes the defendant eligible for capital punishment.

     

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