- Associated Press - Friday, December 5, 2014

New York police complain of being demonized, say chokehold victim complicit in his own death

NEW YORK (AP) - Eric Garner was overweight and in poor health. He was a nuisance to shop owners who complained about him selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. When police came to arrest him, he resisted. And if he could repeatedly say, “I can’t breathe,” it means he could breathe.

Rank-and-file New York City police officers and their supporters have been making such arguments even before a grand jury decided against charges in Garner’s death, saying the possibility that he contributed to his own demise has been drowned out in the furor over race and law enforcement.

Officers say the outcry has left them feeling betrayed and demonized by everyone from the president and the mayor to throngs of protesters who scream at them on the street.

“Police officers feel like they are being thrown under the bus,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the police union.

The grand jury this week cleared a white patrolman, Daniel Pantaleo, who was caught on video applying what appeared to be an illegal chokehold on the black man. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the case underscores the NYPD’s need to improve relations with minorities.


‘There’s your new spacecraft, America:’ NASA’s Orion splashes down after great 1st test flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - NASA’s newest space vehicle, Orion, accomplished its first test flight with precision and pizazz Friday, shooting more than 3,600 miles out from Earth for a hyperfast, hot return not seen since the Apollo moon shots.

For a space agency still feeling the loss of its shuttles, the four-hour voyage opened a new era of human space exploration, with Mars as the plum. It even brought some rocket engineers to tears.

“There’s your new spacecraft, America,” Mission Control’s Rob Navias said as the unmanned Orion capsule came in for a Pacific splashdown after two orbits of Earth.

NASA is counting on future Orions to carry astronauts out into the solar system, to Mars and beyond.

The next Orion flight, also unmanned, is four years off, and crewed flights at least seven years away given present budget constraints. But the Orion team - spread across the country and out in the ocean, is hoping Friday’s triumphant splashdown will pick up the momentum.


China’s ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang formally arrested, expelled from Communist Party

BEIJING (AP) - Chinese authorities arrested the once-feared ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang and launched a criminal investigation Saturday on charges ranging from adultery and bribery to leaking state secrets, after expelling him from the Communist Party overnight.

The developments, announced shortly after midnight, pave the way for a trial of the most senior figure so far to be ensnared in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crackdown and appear to seal the downfall of a formerly powerful politician once considered a potent rival for Xi.

The square-jawed, granite-faced Zhou, 72, is the highest-level official to be prosecuted since the 1981 treason trial of Mao Zedong’s wife and other members of the “Gang of Four” who persecuted political opponents during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

He had been under investigation for “severe disciplinary violations” - a phrase is usually used to describe corruption - since July and presumably had been detained by party investigators months earlier. He had not been seen publicly since October 2013.

“He abused his power to help relatives, mistresses and friends make huge profits from operating businesses, resulting in serious losses of state-owned assets,” the official Xinhua News Agency said.


Los Angeles police say detectives meeting with possible victim of Cosby sexual assault

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A Los Angeles police spokeswoman says detectives are meeting with a woman who is a possible victim of sexual assault by comedian Bill Cosby.

Officer Jane Kim says detectives were meeting with the woman Friday but could not release any additional details. Police Chief Charlie Beck on Thursday had called on anyone who believed they were victims of sexual abuse by Cosby to come forward, regardless of whether their claims were too old to be prosecuted.

An email message sent to Cosby’s attorney Martin Singer was not immediately returned.

Cosby was sued Tuesday by Judy Huth, who claims the comedian forced her to perform a sex act on him with her hand in a bedroom of the Playboy Mansion around 1974 when she was 15 years old. Cosby’s attorneys denied her claims in a court filing Thursday.


500,000 flee as typhoon nears eastern Philippines; erratic path puts Manila on alert

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Half a million Filipinos fled their homes as differing forecasts about the path of a dangerously erratic typhoon - one predicting it will graze the capital, Manila - prompted a wide swath of the country to prepare for a weekend of destructive winds and rain.

Typhoon Hagupit -Filipino for “smash” - was expected to hit the central Philippines late Saturday, lashing parts of a region that was devastated by last year’s Typhoon Haiyan and left more than 7,300 people dead and missing. The typhoon regained strength Saturday but forecasters said it will begin rapidly weakening as it approaches land.

“I’m scared,” said Haiyan survivor Jojo Moro. “I’m praying to God not to let another disaster strike us again. We haven’t recovered from the first.”

The 42-year-old businessman, who lost his wife, daughter and mother last year in Tacloban city, said he stocked up on sardines, instant noodles, eggs and water.

Dozens of domestic flights were canceled and inter-island ferry services were suspended. About half a million people have been evacuated in Leyte and Samar provinces, including Tacloban, this time with little prompting from the government, said Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman.


Obama shakes up Pentagon leadership with Carter nomination, but policy changes less likely

WASHINGTON (AP) - The nomination of policy wonk Ashton Carter to lead the Defense Department marks the most significant change to President Barack Obama’s beleaguered national security team in nearly two years. But there is little indication the shake-up portends a broader shift in administration policy - nor is it clear that Carter can break into the president’s tight inner circle.

Obama announced Carter’s nomination at the White House Friday, praising the Pentagon veteran as an innovator and reformer who can quickly step back into an administration grappling with security challenges in the Mideast, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

“When we talked about this job, we talked about how we’re going to have to make smart choices precisely because there are so many challenges out there,” Obama said.

The nomination of Carter, a physicist who has served two Democratic presidents at the Pentagon, was welcomed by some Republicans as well as Democrats, and he is expected to be easily confirmed by the new GOP-controlled Senate. Still, Republicans are eager to use his hearings as a new chance to challenge Obama.

“Ashton Carter has the knowledge and capability to serve as secretary of defense during these difficult times,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “I expect he will face tough questions at his confirmation hearing about President Obama’s failing national security policy, but I expect he will be confirmed.”


Greece outraged by British Museum’s loan of Parthenon sculpture to Russia’s Hermitage Museum

LONDON (AP) - One of the British Museum’s much-disputed Parthenon Marbles was unveiled Friday after being sent in secret to Russia - a surprise move that outraged Greece, which has long demanded the return of the artifacts.

The loan of the piece, an elegant depiction of the Greek river god Ilissos, was the first time in two centuries that any of the contested sculptures has left Britain - and raised questions of timing amid growing tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine and other disputes.

Greece reacted with fury.

“Greeks identify with our history and culture! Which cannot be sliced up, loaned or given away!” Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras fumed in a sharply worded statement punctuated with exclamation points. He described the British Museum’s move as a provocation.

The museum announced the loan only after the sculpture - a headless Ilissos reclining amid exquisitely carved drapery evoking river water - had been spirited to Russia’s Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It will be on display Saturday through Jan. 18 as part of a major exhibition to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the museum, Russia’s most renowned.


House Republicans make final push to give some schools a break from healthier meals

WASHINGTON (AP) - House Republicans are making a final push this month to give schools a temporary break from healthier school meal standards.

The school meal rules, phased in since 2012 and championed by first lady Michelle Obama, require more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the lunch line. The standards also limit sodium, sugar and fat.

Some school nutrition directors have lobbied for a break, saying the rules have proven to be costly and restrictive. House Republicans have said they are an overreach, and have pushed a one-year waiver that would allow schools to opt out of the standards if they lost money on meal programs over a six-month period.

The waiver language stalled this summer after the first lady lobbied aggressively against it and the White House issued a veto threat. The food and farm spending bill that contained the provision was pulled from the House floor, a move House Republicans attributed to scheduling issues.

But the waiver has new life this month as lawmakers are expected to pass a catchall spending bill to keep government programs running. Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the school meal spending, has been pushing to include the waiver in the wide-ranging bill.


Kenya police brutality turns beat cops into killers; deaths spread fear and may fan terror

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - Kenyan officers are killing unarmed terror suspects, shakedown victims and even children - spreading fear, breeding corruption and complicating efforts to deal with terrorism, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Although death squads have long been known to operate in Kenya, a dozen interviews with victims, police, lawyers, activists and analysts suggest a big share of the violence is also being carried out by ordinary beat cops. Evidence examined by AP suggests they are almost never punished.

“The broader picture here is one of utter impunity,” said Leslie Leftow, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. “My fear is that the pattern of extrajudicial killings will only worsen.”

Concerns about impunity were also raised when the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor in The Hague on Friday dropped all “crimes against humanity” charges against Kenya’s president for lack of evidence. That case was linked to violence after the 2007 elections.

In its investigation of killings by police, the AP spoke to six family members of victims who say their relations either disappeared or were found dead after being taken into police custody. One human rights lawyer said officers shot a 14-year-old during a botched raid and tried to dump her body in a forest. Two survivors of a May 13 police shooting in Nairobi told AP an officer killed their friend after failing to extort a bribe.


Rolling Stone casts doubt on U.Va. student’s account of being gang-raped at fraternity party

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Rolling Stone cast doubt Friday on its story of a young woman who said she was gang-raped at a fraternity party at the University of Virginia, saying it has since learned of “discrepancies” in her account.

“Our trust in her was misplaced,” the magazine’s editor, Will Dana, wrote in a signed apology.

The backpedaling dispirited advocates for rape victims who said they are concerned it could lead to a setback in efforts to combat sexual assaults both at U.Va. and college campuses elsewhere.

The lengthy article published last month focused on a woman it identified only as “Jackie,” using her case as an example of what it called a culture of sexual violence hiding in plain sight at U.Va.

Rolling Stone said that because Jackie’s story was sensitive, the magazine honored her request not to contact the men who she claimed organized and participated in the attack. That prompted criticism from other news organizations.

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