- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

Kerry calls for ‘genuine democracy’ as Stars and Stripes is raised over US Embassy in Cuba

HAVANA (AP) - Jubilant crowds waved American flags and chanted “Long live the United States!” as the Stars and Stripes rose over the newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Cuba on Friday after a half-century of often-hostile relations. Secretary of State John Kerry celebrated the day but also made an extraordinary, nationally broadcast call for democratic change on the island.

Hundreds of Cubans mixed with American tourists outside the former U.S. Interests Section, newly emblazoned with the letters “Embassy of the United States of America.” They cheered as Kerry spoke, the United States Army Brass Quintet played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and U.S. Marines raised the flag alongside the building overlooking the famous Malecon seaside promenade.

Meeting more than 54 years after the severing of diplomatic relations, Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez set an early September date for the start of talks on full normalization of a relationship so long frozen in enmity.

Not all the talk was as warm as the sunny summer day. Kerry and Rodriguez said their nations would continue to disagree over issues such as democracy and human rights. But they also said they hoped to make progress on issues ranging from maritime security and public health to the billions of dollars in dueling claims over confiscation of U.S. property and the U.S. economic embargo on the island.

It seemed that virtually all of Cuba was glued to television or listening by cellphone as Kerry directly addressed the island’s people on political reform. That’s a subject that has remained off-limits in Cuba even as the single-party government has implemented a series of economic reforms and re-established diplomatic ties with the U.S.


AP EXCLUSIVE: Officials say the top secret emails on Clinton’s server weren’t very sensitive

WASHINGTON (AP) - Neither of the two emails sent to Hillary Rodham Clinton now labeled by intelligence agencies as “top secret” contained information that would jump out to experts as particularly sensitive, according to several government officials.

One included a discussion of a U.S. drone strike, part of a covert program that is widely known and discussed. A second conversation could have improperly referred to highly classified material, but it also could have reflected information collected independently, U.S. officials who have reviewed the correspondence told The Associated Press.

Still, it’s looking increasingly likely the issue of whether Clinton mishandled classified information on her home-brew email server will have significant political implications in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Clinton, who has been seen from the outset as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, agreed this week to turn over to the FBI the private server she used as secretary of state. And Republicans in Congress have seized on the involvement of federal law enforcement in the matter as a sign she was negligent in handling the nation’s secrets.

On Monday, the inspector general for the 17 spy agencies that make up what is known as the intelligence community told Congress that two of 40 emails, in a random sample of 30,000 messages that Clinton gave the State Department for review, contained information deemed “Top Secret,” one of the government’s highest levels of classification.


Greece’s euro partners approve billions in new loans to help rebuild its shattered economy

BRUSSELS (AP) - Finance ministers of the 19-nation euro single currency group on Friday approved the first 26 billion euros ($29 billion) of a vast new bailout package to help rebuild Greece’s shattered economy.

The approval came after Greece’s parliament passed a slew of painful reforms and spending cuts after a marathon overnight session that divided the governing party, raising the specter of early elections.

“Of course there were differences but we have managed to solve the last issues,” Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Djisselbloem told reporters in Brussels. “All the intense work of the past week has paid off.”

Ten billion euros will be available to recapitalize Greece banks, while a second slice of 16 billion euros will be paid in installments, starting with 13 billion euros by Aug. 20 when Greece must make a new debt payment to the European Central Bank.

“On this basis, Greece is and will irreversibly remain a member of the Euro area,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker after the deal was sealed.


US attorney: Evidence disputes allegations baby stolen from St. Louis hospital 50 years ago

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Recently discovered medical files further dispute a St. Louis woman’s allegations that her baby was stolen from a hospital here five decades ago and a federal investigation into the case has now been closed.

U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said during a news conference Friday that the medical records show Melanie Diane Gilmore, who was named Diane Jackson at birth, was born at a different hospital than the one the mother claimed.

Adoption and child welfare records previously obtained by The Associated Press also say Gilmore was born at City Hospital No. 1, and abandoned there.

That contradicts the story of Gilmore’s mother, Zella Jackson Price, who alleged that Gilmore was stolen at birth from another St Louis hospital, Homer G. Phillips, after she was told the child had died.

“We can now say with complete confidence that there is no truth to that allegation and our investigation is now closed,” Callahan said.


Losing to the sea: 10 years after Katrina, Louisiana’s fishing towns melting into the water

DELACROIX, La. (AP) - Rocky Morales is watching his small Louisiana town of Delacroix slowly melt into the water. The woods where he played hide-and-seek as a boy are gone. It’s all water and mud back there now. So, too, is the nearby marsh where townsfolk once trapped for muskrat, otter and mink.

Many of the fishermen who once lived here - his friends and relatives - have disappeared as well, fleeing behind the levees protecting New Orleans out of fear one more hurricane will send the rest of Delacroix into the sea.

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast - killing more than 1,830 people and causing more than $150 billion in damage in the nation’s costliest disaster - New Orleans has been fortified by a new $14.5 billion flood protection system. But outside the iconic city, efforts have lagged to protect small towns and villages losing land every year to erosion. And as that land buffer disappears, New Orleans itself becomes more vulnerable.

In the past century, more than 1,880 square miles of Louisiana land has turned into open water - an area nearly the size of Delaware. And the loss continues, with an average 17 square miles disappearing annually, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Cemeteries are disappearing into the Gulf. Entire barrier island chains, Andrew Jackson-era brick forts, Jean Lafitte’s pirate colony, lighthouses, bridges, roads, schools and entire towns have been washed away.


Witnesses say Islamic State leader raped American hostage Kayla Mueller, who was later killed

WASHINGTON (AP) - American hostage Kayla Mueller was repeatedly forced to have sex with Abu Bakr Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, U.S. intelligence officials told her family in June.

“They told us that he married her, and we all understand what that means,” Carl Mueller, Kayla’s father, told The Associated Press on Friday, which would have been his daughter’s 27th birthday. Her death was reported in February.

Her mother, Marsha Mueller, added, “Kayla did not marry this man. He took her to his room and he abused her and she came back crying.”

The news is but the latest in a litany of horrors perpetrated by the Islamic State group, which has beheaded, burned and crucified male captives while passing around women as sex slaves.

Mueller was held for a time by Islamic State financier Abu Sayyaf and his wife, known as Umm Sayyaf. Al-Baghdadi took Mueller as a “wife,” repeatedly raping her when he visited, according to a Yazidi teenager who was held with Mueller and escaped in October 2014.


Prison slaying casts pall on California’s effort to reduce decades-long solitary confinement

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California’s efforts to ease its famously harsh use of solitary confinement are clashing with a bloody reality after an inmate who spent decades alone in a tiny cell was sent back to the general population and killed by fellow inmates within days.

Hugo “Yogi” Pinell’s repeated assaults on guards landed him in solitary confinement beginning in the early 1970s, making him one of the longest-serving solitary confinement inmates in the nation, said Keramet Reiter, a University of California, Irvine, professor of criminology who studies the issue.

His involvement in a bloody 1971 San Quentin escape attempt that left six dead, including three guards, also helped spur the creation of super-maximum prisons like Pelican Bay State Prison, designed to isolate the most incorrigible and dangerous criminals and gang leaders, Reiter said.

More recently, the 45 years Pinell spent in segregation helped drive the national debate over the isolation of prisoners. The issue recently drew criticism from both President Barack Obama and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Pinell’s life behind bars traced the rise of extreme isolation as a prison-management tool from its start to its recent decline, she said.


UN rights experts to Iran: Immediately release US reporter; verdict could come next week

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - U.N. human rights experts on Friday called on Iran to immediately release a Washington Post reporter who has been detained for more than a year on charges including espionage and distributing propaganda against the Islamic Republic. A verdict on Jason Rezaian’s case could come as early as next week.

The statement says the detention and closed-door trial violate the Iranian-American reporter’s rights and serve to intimidate other journalists in Iran. It says his solitary confinement and full-day interrogation sessions “caused significant physical and psychological strain.”

The statement was issued by the special rapporteurs for freedom of expression and for human rights in Iran and by the head of the working group on arbitrary detention.

Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said the statement “comes at a critical moment” and upholds the newspaper’s stance that Iran’s conduct in the case has been illegal. He called the trial a “sham.”

Both the newspaper and Rezaian’s family have said they believe the reporter is a victim of the hostility between Iran and the United States that dates back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.


Safety inspection finds no major problems with Ohio roller coast that fatally struck man

SANDUSKY, Ohio (AP) - A safety inspection found no major problems with a roller coaster that struck and killed a man who entered a restricted area to look for a lost cellphone at Ohio’s Cedar Point amusement park, a spokesman said Friday.

Police say 45-year-old James A. Young had just finished riding the Raptor on Thursday and jumped over a fence to retrieve something he dropped during the 57 mph ride. The Erie County coroner says it was his cellphone.

Sandusky police said Young was struck by the ride or someone on it. No one else was hurt.

Phil Long, an assistant chief with the Sandusky police, said Friday that the department had received at least a few calls from people who might have witnessed what happened or had information about it. Long said an initial police report wasn’t available for release.

The ride was examined overnight by state safety officials and found to be in safe working order, so it resumed operating Friday, park spokesman Bryan Edwards said. He wouldn’t comment on whether officials are considering any changes to the Raptor or the area around it.


Red Sox manager John Farrell has ‘highly curable’ cancer; taking leave to deal with lymphoma

BOSTON (AP) - Fighting back tears, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell said Friday that he had a “highly curable” form of cancer and has taken a medical leave for the rest of the season to deal with lymphoma.

The 53-year-old Farrell said bench coach Torey Lovullo will run the team in his absence. Farrell said he planned on being back with the team for spring training.

Farrell said the cancer of the lymphatic system was discovered when he had hernia surgery in Detroit earlier this week.

“I know we usually start out with the injury report. I’ll start out with myself on this one. Monday’s surgery for the hernia revealed that I have lymphoma,” he said before Friday night’s game at Fenway Park against Seattle.

“Thankfully, it was detected in the hernia surgery. I can honestly tell you I’m extremely fortunate that it was found. Treatment will begin in the coming days,” he said.

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