- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

Exit poll projects a surprisingly strong showing for Conservative Party in UK election

LONDON (AP) - An exit poll projected a surprisingly strong showing for Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party in Britain’s election Thursday, suggesting it is within touching distance of forming a new government.

The opposition Labour Party fared worse than expected, the exit poll suggested, and Cameron’s coalition partner, the Liberal Democrat Party, was expected to lose most of its seats.

The biggest surge was for the separatist Scottish National Party, which was expected to take all but one of the seats in Scotland.

The survey was conducted by pollsters GfK and Ipsos MORI for Britain’s broadcasters and released as polling stations closed at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT). The first results from around the country were due before midnight.

The exit poll projected that the Conservatives would get 316 seats - up from 302 and far more than had been predicted - and Labour 239 - down from 256. The Liberal Democrats would shrink from 56 seats to 10, and the Scottish National Party would grow from six to 58.


The Latest: UK exit poll shows Conservatives winning most seats, big disappointment for Labour

LONDON (AP) - 10:35 p.m. (2135 GMT, 5:35 p.m. EDT)

If the exit poll in Britain’s election is borne out, the result will be a big disappointment for the opposition Labour Party, which had expected to better the 256 seats it had held before the election.

The exit poll predicts that Labour will get just 239 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. It expects the ruling Conservatives to get the most seats - 316 - and possibly form the next British government.

Most observers felt Labour leader Ed MiIiband ran a solid campaign, but his party was all but wiped out in Scotland by the rise of the Scottish National Party, which favors independence for Scotland.

The Conservatives also campaigned hard on a message that Labour’s left-of-center economic policies would mean instability for Britain.


The least bad system? Israel and the UK have different systems, share messy outcomes

JERUSALEM (AP) - If the polls are to be believed, Thursday’s British election may produce a “hung parliament,” where no political party holds an absolute majority. That’s cause for angst in a place where tradition, fair play and a system that inflates majorities have generally sorted out who is the next prime minister by last call at the pub.

To help navigate the awkwardness, Britons need look no further than to Israel, a former colony where fractured politics, post-election horse-trading and permanent campaigning have become the norm, and where a similar conundrum was just resolved. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exhausted the full six weeks allotted by law in forming a majority coalition that was announced around midnight, as Britons were themselves preparing to go to the polls.

In Britain, no obvious coalition may assert itself. The Conservatives do not want to partner with the nationalist United Kingdom Independence Party; Labour would prefer to avoid dependence on the Scottish National Party; and no one seems to know where the Liberal Democrats belong.

That could leave the outcome uncertain in a pivotal vote that could decide whether Scotland stays in the United Kingdom and whether the United Kingdom stays in the European Union. It’s an unusually dramatic situation for modern Britain, which has lately been mostly stable and at peace. But high stakes are the norm in Israel, which still lacks permanent borders and agonizes over religion and even the definition of a Jew.

Perhaps, like Israel, the British will find that it is oddly easier to never quite decide.


FBI director says agency sent out bulletin about gunman to local police before Texas attack

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal investigators learned several hours before a provocative cartoon contest in Texas that a man under investigation for extremist activities might show up and alerted local authorities there, but had no indication that he planned to attack the event, FBI Director James Comey said Thursday.

The information about Elton Simpson was developed about three hours before the contest, which the FBI had already identified as a potential target for violence because it involved cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Simpson and his roommate, both from Phoenix, opened fire outside the Garland, Texas, cultural center but were shot dead before they were able to kill anyone.

Simpson, previously convicted as part of a terrorism-related investigation, had come under new federal scrutiny in recent months related to alarming online statements about the Islamic State. When the FBI learned that he could be heading toward the event, the agency sent an intelligence bulletin to police in Garland, including a picture and other information, “even though we didn’t have reason to believe that he was going to attack the event. In fact, we didn’t have reason to believe that he had left Phoenix.”

Comey, making his first public comments on the Sunday shooting, did not disclose steps that he said the FBI could have taken to prevent the attack and said those questions were still being evaluated.

“What I’ve seen so far looks like we did it the way we were supposed to do it,” Comey said.


Senate passes bipartisan bill to give Congress chance to review, reject Iran nuclear deal

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate muscled its way into President Barack Obama’s talks to curb Iran’s nuclear program, overwhelmingly backing legislation Thursday that would let Congress review and possibly reject any final deal with Tehran.

The vote was 98-1 for the bipartisan bill that would give Congress a say on what could be a historic accord that the United States and five other nations are trying to finalize with Iran. Under the agreement, Iran would roll back its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling economy penalties.

The lone “no” vote came from freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who wants the administration to submit any agreement to the Senate as a treaty. Under the Constitution, that would require approval of two-thirds of the Senate.

The House is expected to vote next week on the measure.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement moments after the vote that the “goal is to stop a bad agreement that could pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, set off a regional nuclear arms race, and strengthen and legitimize the government of Iran.”


Florida congressman flipped shares in IPO despite US law generally prohibiting participation

WASHINGTON (AP) - A multimillionaire, first-term Florida congressman flipped shares in a solar company the same day he acquired them in an initial public offering, despite a federal law that generally prohibits members of Congress from participating in IPOs.

Republican Rep. Curt Clawson, who gave the tea party’s response to the president’s State of the Union address earlier this year, earned less than $700 profit on the sale of less than $15,000 in shares of SolarEdge Technologies Inc. of Fremont, California, according to financial records and Clawson’s spokesman, David James.

And James says the trade on March 26 was lawful. “We feel like every requirement of the law was met,” he said Thursday.

Despite the small stakes, however, the trade may test a provision of a 2012 law, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act. Known as the Stock Act, it was intended to prevent members of Congress and legislative employees from using inside information or profiting in unseemly ways. One provision bans lawmakers and staff members from buying stock during initial offerings unless the same opportunity is “available to members of the public generally.”

The House Ethics Committee has twice formally reminded lawmakers that the general public is rarely allowed to participate in IPOs, and it advises members of Congress to ask its advice in advance to determine whether such a purchase by them would be permissible.


US appeals court rules NSA’s bulk collection of phone records is illegal, asks Congress to act

NEW YORK (AP) - The unprecedented and unwarranted bulk collection of the entire U.S. population’s phone records by the government is illegal because it wasn’t authorized by Congress, a federal appeals court said Thursday as it asked legislators to balance national security and privacy interests.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan permitted the National Security Agency program to continue temporarily as it exists, but it all but pleaded for Congress to better define where boundaries exist or risk “invasions of privacy unimaginable in the past.”

The appeals court said if the government is correct in its legal arguments, it could also justify storing in bulk metadata associated with Americans’ financial records, medical records and electronic communications, including email and social media information.

An opinion written by Circuit Judge Gerald Lynch said Congress could “profoundly alter the legal landscape” after debate.

“Congress cannot reasonably be said to have ratified a program of which many members of Congress - and all members of the public - were not aware,” it said.


Saudi Arabia says it’s ready to begin a 5-day cease-fire in Yemen if rebels also halt fighting

SANAA, Yemen (AP) - Saudi Arabia said Thursday it is prepared to begin a five-day, renewable cease-fire in Yemen so that humanitarian aid can reach millions of civilians caught up in the conflict that has killed more than 1,400 people.

The badly needed reprieve was announced in Riyadh by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Saudi foreign minister. It is dependent on whether Yemen’s Iranian-backed Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies also agree to halt fighting.

Hamed al-Bokheiti, a spokesman for the Houthi movement in the capital of Sanaa, was dismissive of the news of the cease-fire. “What cease-fire are we talking about? Airstrikes are continuing unabated,” he told The Associated Press by telephone.

News of the conditional cease-fire after weeks of airstrikes came as forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized president battled the Houthis and their allies.

Military and security officials said the rebel forces advanced on the suburb of Dar Saad north of the strategic port of Aden on the Arabian Sea, while fighting intensified in nearby Abyan, Shabwa and Taiz provinces.


Prosecution of Colorado theater shooter alternates facts and emotion to keep jurors’ attention

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) - A clear pattern is emerging in the murder trial of Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes.

Prosecutors are weaving dry facts into a powerful story, by alternating technical testimony with the graphic and emotional recollections of survivors.

“You’ve got a lot of scientific stuff, a lot of police action, things that can be very technical,” said Karen Steinhauser, a Denver defense attorney and former prosecutor. “What prosecutors are trying to do is make sure the emotional piece is played all the way through.”

Experts say this storytelling strategy could pay off months from now, when jurors finally begin deliberating. The prosecution wants them to believe two things: That Holmes was sane when he killed 12 people and injured 70 at a Batman premiere, and that the pain and suffering he caused requires a guilty verdict.

The defense hopes jurors will focus instead on Holmes’ mental state, and come away believing he was a schizophrenic in the grips of a psychotic episode so intense that he couldn’t tell right from wrong.


FDA investigations show listeria found in Blue Bell ice cream plants as far back as 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) - Blue Bell ice cream had evidence of listeria bacteria in its Oklahoma manufacturing plant as far back as March 2013, a government investigation found. The Texas-based company continued to ship ice cream produced in that plant after what the Food and Drug Administration says was inadequate cleaning.

Three listeria deaths in Kansas are now linked to the ice cream, along with seven illnesses in Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona. Blue Bell Creameries recalled all of its products last month, following several smaller recalls.

The FDA on Thursday released results of its investigations into Blue Bell’s plants in Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama after a Freedom of Information request by The Associated Press. The most extensive violations were found in Oklahoma, where the FDA listed 17 separate positive tests for listeria on equipment from March 2013 through February 2015.

The FDA would not say who conducted the tests, but it noted that Blue Bell sent “presumptive positive” listeria samples to a third party for confirmation on at least two occasions in 2014. The auditors re-tested the samples and came back with the same results.

Blue Bell continued to have presumptive positive listeria results in the Oklahoma plant even after the daily cleaning and sanitizing treatments of equipment and facilities, the FDA wrote Blue Bell in the report.

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