EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 15, 2013

Around the World and Nation


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — US: $10M rewards for info on Benghazi suspects offered

WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department said Friday that it has been quietly offering rewards since January of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of any person involved in last year’s attack on a US diplomatic compound in Libya. The announcement ends weeks of Obama administration silence on questions about whether it was using all available means to catch the attackers.

In a letter sent to lawmakers on Friday, the department said the rewards were not publicized on its “Rewards for Justice” website as is normally done because of security issues around the ongoing investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the mission in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

“Due to security issues and sensitivities surrounding the investigation, the event-specific reward offer has not been publicly advertised on the RFJ website,” the department said in a statement. “RFJ tools can be utilized in a variety of ways, without publicizing them on the website.”

A State Department official familiar with the letter sent to Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, by Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield acknowledged that it’s unusual not to publicize offers of rewards, but said investigators have other ways of making sure the information is known “as needed.” In the course of the probe, investigators have made it known to individuals that cash is available for those coming forward with actionable information.

The official said the rewards have been in place since Jan. 7, while Hillary Rodham Clinton was still secretary of state. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the private correspondence and spoke on condition of anonymity.

House OKs bill allowing coverage short of standards

WASHINGTON (AP) — Brushing aside a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House voted by a healthy bipartisan majority Friday to weaken a core component of “Obamacare” and permit the sale of individual health coverage that falls short of requirements in the law.

In all, 39 Democrats broke ranks and supported the legislation, a total that underscored the growing importance of the issue in the weeks since millions of cancellation notices went out to consumers covered by plans deemed inadequate under government rules.

The final vote was 261-157 as lawmakers clashed over an issue likely to be at the heart of next year’s midterm elections. The measure faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where Democrats seeking re-election in 2014 are leading a move for generally similar legislation.

“For the last six weeks the White House stood idly by ignoring the pleas of millions,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and lead sponsor of the legislation.

“Our straightforward, one-page bill says, if you like your current coverage, you should be able to keep it. The president should heed his own advice and work with us, the Congress, as the founders intended, not around the legislative process.”

US officials: Nuke deal would offer Iran only minor relief

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iran would get only minor relief from economic sanctions under an international proposal to prevent it from producing nuclear weapons, two Obama administration officials said Friday, seeking to calm concerns in Israel and on Capitol Hill that the U.S. and its allies are giving away too much to Tehran.

While playing down the sanctions relief being discussed, the administration was hoping it would be enough to finalize an initial agreement with Iran next week in Geneva.

Last week’s negotiations failed to reach an agreement between Iran and six world powers — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — that would resolve a decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. The countries worry that Tehran is trying to assemble an atomic weapons arsenal. Iran insists it has a right to pursue a nuclear program solely for peaceful energy production and medical research

Obama administration officials are optimistic that an initial deal with Iran can be reached during the next round of talks, although tough issues remain unresolved. The initial deal, designed to stop the Iranian nuclear program from advancing and roll it back in key areas, would be the first step toward negotiating a comprehensive agreement. The initial agreement would include stepped-up monitoring and verification aimed at preventing Iran from doing anything in secret.

One official familiar with the negotiations said the sanctions relief being offered to Iran was “way south” of “wildly exaggerated” estimates that have been reported, which have ranged from $15 billion to $50 billion.

China will ease 1-child policy

BEIJING (AP) — China’s leaders announced Friday the first significant easing of its one-child policy in nearly 30 years and moved to abolish its labor camp system — addressing deeply unpopular programs at a time when the Communist Party feels increasingly alienated from the public.

Beijing also pledged to open state-dominated industries wider to private competition and ease limits on foreign investment in e-commerce and other businesses in a sweeping reform plan aimed at rejuvenating a slowing economy.

The extent of the long-debated changes to the family planning rules and the labor camp system surprised some analysts. They were contained in a policy document issued after a four-day meeting of party leaders one year after Xi Jinping took the country’s helm.

“It shows the extent to which Xi is leading the agenda. It shows this generation of leaders is able to make decisions,” said Dali Yang, a China expert at the University of Chicago. “This is someone who’s much more decisive, who has the power, and who has been able to maneuver to make the decisions.”

Far from sweeping away all family planning rules, the party is now providing a new, limited exemption: It said families in which at least one parent was an only child would be allowed to have a second child. Previously, both parents had to be an only child to qualify for this exemption. Rural couples also are allowed two children if their first-born child is a girl, an exemption allowed in 1984 as part of the last substantive changes to the policy.

Toronto city council strips Mayor Rob Ford of some of his powers amid widening drug scandal

TORONTO (AP) — Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vowed Friday to take City Council to court after it voted overwhelmingly to strip him of some of his powers over his admitted drug use, public drinking and increasingly erratic behavior.

Then, in a flash of remorse, the 44-year-old Ford declared: “If I would have had a mayor conducting themselves the way I have, I would have done exactly the same thing.”

The motion, approved in a 39-3 vote, suspends Ford’s authority to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and his executive committee, which runs the budget process. The council also voted to give the deputy mayor authority to handle any civic emergency. The effort is to continue Monday when the council moves to strip the mayor of most of his remaining powers.

The votes capped another frenzied week of twists and turns in a scandal that has consumed Canada’s largest city and financial capital for months.

Newly released court documents show the mayor became the subject of a police investigation after news reports surfaced in May that he had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine. In interviews with police, former staffers accused the mayor of frequently drinking, driving while intoxicated and making sexual advances toward a female staffer.

Thousands cheer on 5-year-old leukemia patient who becomes ‘Batkid’ for day in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Dressed in a black Batman costume, his fists clenched as he took on foe after foe around San Francisco, a 5-year-old boy who has battled leukemia for years fulfilled his wish Friday to be his favorite superhero.

In the process, Miles Scott became a darling of social media and attracted thousands of fans around the country, including the White House.

“When you have an illness, it’s very important to know you have a support system,” said Gina Futrell, 51, who was among a large crowd gathered at Union Square for a chance to see the Batkid during his day of capers. Futrell has multiple sclerosis. “I have an extremely strong support system, and I hope he does too. He’s such a little hero.”

Batkid was called into service by San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr to help fight crime. He rescued a woman from cable car tracks in Nob Hill and captured the Riddler in the act of robbing a downtown bank. He even rescued the San Francisco Giants mascot — Lou Seal — who was kidnapped by the Penguin.

Miles, who is now in remission, was able to fulfill his wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the city.

California teacher accused of feeding semen to students pleads no contest to lewd act charges

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A once-respected former teacher accused of committing lewd acts on children in what authorities said he called “tasting games” pleaded no contest Friday as victims’ family members tearfully told him he had ruined their lives.

Mark Berndt entered the legal equivalent of guilty pleas to 23 counts of committing lewd acts on children. Under a plea deal, the former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles was immediately sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Superior Court Judge George Lomeli said it was the equivalent of a life sentence for the 62-year-old defendant.

Prosecutors have said in Berndt’s “tasting games” he fed students his semen on cookies and by spoon, sometimes blindfolding and photographing them.

Before the sentencing, a parade of sobbing mothers denounced Berndt, saying he had ruined their lives and the lives of their daughters.

Homeowner charged with murder in Detroit-area porch shooting that killed 19-year-old woman

DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) — A suburban Detroit homeowner was charged Friday with second-degree murder in the death of a 19-year-old woman who was shot in the face while on his front porch nearly two weeks ago.

Theodore P. Wafer, 54, of Dearborn Heights, also faces a manslaughter charge in the death of Renisha McBride, who was killed in the early-morning hours on Nov. 2, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said.

Police say McBride, a former high school cheerleader, was shot a couple hours after being involved in a nearby car accident. Family members say she likely approached Wafer’s home for help.

The shooting has drawn attention from civil rights groups who called for a thorough investigation and believe race was a factor in the shooting — McBride was black; prosecutors said Wafer is white. Some have drawn comparisons between this case and that of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Florida boy shot in 2012 by a suspicious neighbor.

But Worthy insisted Friday that race wasn’t relevant in her decision to file charges and wouldn’t compare the case to Martin’s death.