- Associated Press - Monday, July 27, 2015

Obama, wades into 2016 campaign, calls GOP attacks on Iran deal ‘ridiculous,’ ‘sad’

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) - President Barack Obama unleashed a blistering and belittling rebuke of Republican White House hopefuls Monday, calling their attack on his landmark nuclear deal with Iran “ridiculous if it weren’t so sad.”

Standing before television cameras during a trip to Africa, Obama suggested the bellicose rhetoric from some GOP candidates was an attempt to divert attention from Donald Trump, the wealthy businessman-turned presidential contender whose popularity is confounding the Republican field.

“Maybe it gets attention and maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines, but it’s not the kind of leadership that is needed for America right now,” Obama said during a news conference in Ethiopia.

Obama’s comments marked his most direct engagement in the race to succeed him. Until now, he’s largely limited his commentary to policy differences with Republicans, often sidestepping the names of specific candidates.

But the president’s unsparing criticism Monday - targeting candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, as well as Trump - underscored his sensitivity to efforts to scuttle the Iran accord, which he hopes will be his signature foreign policy initiative. It also raised the prospect of an aggressive role for Obama in the 2016 presidential campaign.

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NSA to stop using, and will eventually destroy, the American calling records it has collected

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration has decided that the National Security Agency will soon stop examining - and will ultimately destroy - millions of American calling records it collected under a controversial program leaked by former agency contractor Edward Snowden.

When Congress passed a law in June ending the NSA’s bulk collection of American calling records after a six-month transition, officials said they weren’t sure whether they would continue to make use of the records that had already been collected, which generally go back five years. Typically, intelligence agencies are extremely reluctant to part with data they consider lawfully obtained. The program began shortly after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, but most of the records are purged every five years.

The NSA’s collection of American phone metadata has been deeply controversial ever since Snowden disclosed it to journalists in 2013. President Barack Obama sought, and Congress passed, a law ending the collection and instead allowing the NSA to request the records from phone companies as needed in terrorism investigations.

That still left the question of what to do about the records already in the database. On Monday, the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement those records would no longer be examined in terrorism investigations after Nov. 29, and would be destroyed as soon as possible.

The records can’t be purged at the moment because the NSA is being sued over them, the statement said.

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Boy Scout board approves end to blanket ban on gay adults; church-run units could maintain it

NEW YORK (AP) - The Boy Scouts of America on Monday ended its blanket ban on gay adult leaders while allowing church-sponsored Scout units to maintain the exclusion for religious reasons.

The new policy, aimed at easing a controversy that has embroiled the Boy Scouts for years, takes effect immediately. It was approved by the BSA’s National Executive Board on a 45-12 vote during a closed-to-the-media teleconference.

“For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us,” said the BSA’s president, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good.”

The stage had been set for Monday’s action on May 21, when Gates told the Scouts’ national meeting that the long-standing ban on participation by openly gay adults was no longer sustainable. He said the ban was likely to be the target of lawsuits that the Scouts likely would lose.

Two weeks ago, the new policy was approved unanimously by the BSA’s 17-member National Executive Committee. It would allow local Scout units to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation - a stance that several Scout councils have already adopted in defiance of the official national policy.

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Judge says she did not involuntarily commit gunman who attacked Louisiana movie theater

CARROLLTON, Ga. (AP) - The gunman responsible for last week’s deadly attack in a Louisiana movie theater was delivered by deputies to hospital for a mental evaluation in 2008 after his family said he was a danger to himself and others.

But the judge who ordered him detained said Monday that she did not have him involuntarily committed, which may explain why he was able to legally purchase the gun he used to kill two people and wound nine others before killing himself.

His case underscores the concerns raised in the aftermath of other mass shootings involving suspects with mental health issues - and the gaps in the system meant to “red-flag” people ill-suited to own or carry a firearm.

While an Alabama sheriff said that he denied Houser’s application for a concealed weapons’ permit in 2006, there appears to have been nothing in court filings that would raise concerns in the FBI background check system.

Contrary to legal filings by Houser’s family, Carroll County Probate Judge Betty Cason said she did not order Houser to be involuntarily committed for mental health treatment at the West Central Regional Hospital in Columbus, Georgia, which is in Muscogee County, where she lacks jurisdiction.

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Republican candidate Christie has often tapped ex-classmates for plum posts in New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has remained especially close to his high school friends.

He launched his campaign for president in his old high school gymnasium, checks in by phone and attends reunions. But he’s also made a habit of selecting old classmates for plum state positions, judgeships among them.

An Associated Press review of his senior class yearbook, state payroll records, agency websites and state press releases found that nearly a half dozen of Christie’s former high school classmates have ended up in state positions since he took office. That number increases at least to a dozen if Christie’s classmates from Seton Hall law school are counted.

The hires include a name that haunts Christie. David Wildstein is a former ally and top staffer at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He pleaded guilty to orchestrating the traffic jam scandal that has tarnished the governor’s reputation. Christie has said the two barely knew each other at Livingston, although Wildstein was the statistician on the school’s baseball team - Christie played catcher - and the two volunteered together on Tom Kean’s campaign for governor.

The pattern also provides insight into how Christie, known for his fierce loyalty to his staffers, might approach hiring if wins his longshot bid for the Republican nomination and makes it to the White House.

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Initial autopsy finds no clear cause of Brown’s death; experts say time is an enemy in case

Medical examiners performing an autopsy on Bobbi Kristina Brown said Monday their initial findings turned up no obvious cause of death, while experts said the months that have passed since Brown was found face-down in a bathtub are working against authorities now tasked with solving how she died.

The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office said in a statement Monday afternoon that it will likely be several weeks before it can rule on a manner and cause of death for the 22-year-old daughter of Whitney Houston. The agency said its initial autopsy turned up “no significant injuries” or “previously unknown medical conditions.” It said the next step is ordering lab tests and issuing subpoenas for documents - most likely Brown’s hospital records.

Experts said time is definitely an enemy in Brown’s case. Any drugs she might have taken passed from her bloodstream long ago. Physical injuries would have been healing even as Brown remained largely unresponsive. If police overlooked any physical evidence at Brown’s home after she was hospitalized Jan. 31, recovering it nearly six months later may be impossible.

Dr. Michael Baden, former medical examiner for New York City, has performed more than 20,000 autopsies during a career spanning more than 45 years. He said the first obstacle for forensic pathologists in Brown’s case will be a living body’s ability to mend itself and erase medical evidence.

“Normally, when we do autopsies, we do them in people who freshly died. Things like toxicology and injuries are clear,” said Baden, who helped investigate high-profile cases including the deaths of comedian John Belushi and civil rights worker Medgar Evers. “Because she was in the hospital for a long time, any drugs that may have been in the body will be gone after a few days. Injuries, if there were any injuries, would be changed by the length of time, the healing process.”

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AP Exclusive: AP tracks slave fishing boats to Papua New Guinea after flight from Indonesia

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - From space, the fishing boats are just little white specks floating in a vast stretch of blue water off Papua New Guinea. But zoom in and there’s the critical evidence: Two trawlers loading slave-caught seafood onto a massive refrigerated cargo ship.

The trawlers fled a slave island in Indonesia with captives of a brutal Southeast Asian trafficking ring whose catch reaches the United States. Hundreds of men were freed after they were discovered there earlier this year, but 34 boats loaded with workers left for new fishing grounds before help arrived - they remain missing.

After a four-month investigation, The Associated Press has found that at least some of them ended up in a narrow, dangerous strait nearly 1,000 miles away. The proof comes from accounts from recently returned slaves, satellite beacon tracking, government records, interviews with business insiders and fishing licenses. The location is also confirmed in images from space taken by one of the world’s highest resolution satellite cameras, upon the AP’s request.

The skippers have changed their ships’ names and flags to evade authorities, but hiding is easy in the world’s broad oceans. Traffickers operate with impunity across boundaries as fluid as the waters. Laws are few and hardly enforced. And depleted fish stocks have pushed boats farther out into seas that are seldom even glimpsed, let alone governed.

This lack of regulation means that even with the men located, bringing them to safety may prove elusive.

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After failed Boston bid, eyes turn to Los Angeles to revive hopes of another US Olympics

Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics was undercut by its own mayor, its skeptical public and, finally, leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee, who were tired of the city’s ever-changing blueprint.

Next, it may be time to see if there’s more Olympic love in Los Angeles.

After the USOC and Boston cut ties on Monday, CEO Scott Blackmun said the federation still wants to try to host the 2024 Games. The USOC has until Sept. 15 to officially name its candidate. Several Olympic leaders have quietly been pushing Los Angeles - the city that invented the modern-day template for the Olympics when it played host in 1984 - as the best possible substitute.

Approval ratings that couldn’t sneak out of the 40s were the first sign of trouble for Boston, and it became clear the bid was doomed in the 72-hour period before the USOC board met with bid leaders Monday and they jointly decided to pull the plug.

On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker stuck to his previous position: That he’d need a full report from a consulting group before he would throw his weight behind the bid. On Monday morning, Mayor Marty Walsh slapped together a news conference to announce he wouldn’t be pressured into signing the host city contract that essentially sticks the city and state with the burden of any cost overruns.

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US, Turkey agree on outlines of plan for Islamic State-free zone in northern Syria

BEIRUT (AP) - Turkey and the United States have agreed on the outlines of a plan to rout the Islamic State group from a strip of Syrian territory along the Turkish border - a plan that opens the possibility of a safe haven for tens of thousands of displaced Syrians but one that also sets up a potential conflict with U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces in the area.

The move further embroils Turkey, a key NATO ally, in Syria’s civil war, and also catapults it into a front-line position in the global war against IS.

A senior Obama administration official said Monday that U.S. discussions with Turkey about an IS-free zone focused on a 68-mile stretch still under IS control. The U.S. has been conducting airstrikes there, which will accelerate now that the U.S. can launch strikes from Turkish soil, the official said.

No agreement between Turkey and the U.S. has yet been finalized, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said that any joint military efforts with Turkey would not include the imposition of a no-fly zone. The U.S. has long rejected Turkish and other requests for a no-fly zone to halt Syrian government air raids, fearing it would draw U.S. forces further into the civil war.

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Mental health professionals respond carefully to string of mass killings by troubled gunmen

NEW YORK (AP) - One psychiatry professor calls it “the conversation we’re stuck with,” a teachable moment growing out of horror.

Each time mental illness is cited as a possible factor in a high-profile mass killing, there’s a collective sigh among mental health professionals. Even as they see an opportunity for serious discussions of problems and remedies, they also worry about setbacks to their efforts to destigmatize mental illness.

“Most people who suffer from mental illness are not violent, and most violent acts are committed by people who are not mentally ill,” said Dr. Renee Binder, president of the American Psychiatric Association.

If, hypothetically, everyone with mental illness were locked up, “you might think you were safe, but you are not,” Binder said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s latest estimate, from 2012, there were an estimated 9.6 million adults in the U.S. - 4.1 percent of the total adult population - experiencing serious mental illness over the previous year.


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