AP World and National News Briefs for Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Obama moves forces into Iraq to secure US interests as he weighs broader response
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 300 armed American forces are being positioned in and around Iraq to help secure U.S. assets as President Barack Obama nears a decision on an array of options for combating fast-moving Islamic insurgents, including airstrikes or a contingent of special forces.
The U.S. and Iran also held an initial discussion on how the longtime foes might cooperate to ease the threat from the al-Qaida-linked militants that have swept through Iraq. Still, the White House ruled out the possibility that Washington and Tehran might coordinate military operations in Iraq.
Obama met with his national security team Monday evening to discuss options for stopping the militants known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Officials said the president has made no final decisions on how aggressively the U.S. might get involved in Iraq, though the White House continued to emphasize that any military engagement remained contingent on the government in Baghdad making political reforms.
Still, there were unmistakable signs of Americans returning to a country from which the U.S. military fully withdrew more than two years ago. Obama notified Congress that up to 275 troops would be sent to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the American Embassy in Baghdad. The soldiers — 170 of which have already arrived in Iraq — were armed for combat, though Obama has insisted he does not intend for U.S. forces to be engaged in direct fighting.
About 100 additional forces are being put on standby, most likely in Kuwait, and could be used for airfield management, security and logistics support, officials said.
Powerful Iranian general in Iraq to help roll back Sunni militants who captured key city
BAGHDAD (AP) — In a sign of Iran's deepening involvement in the Iraqi crisis, the commander of Tehran's elite Quds Force is helping Iraq's military and Shiite militias gear up to fight the Sunni insurgents advancing across the country, officials said Monday.
Washington signaled a new willingness work with Iran to help the Iraqi government stave off the insurgency after years of trying to limit Tehran's influence in Baghdad — a dramatic shift that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago.
The United States is deploying up to 275 military troops to Iraq to protect the U.S. Embassy and other American interests and is considering sending a contingent of special forces soldiers. But the White House insisted anew the U.S. would not be sending combat troops and thrusting America into a new Iraq war.
The insurgents seized the strategic city of Tal Afar near the Syrian border Monday, part of its goal of linking areas under its control on both sides of the Iraq-Syria frontier. West of Baghdad, an army helicopter was shot down during clashes near the city of Fallujah, killing the two-man crew, security officials said.
The Quds Force commander, Iranian Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, has been consulting in Iraq on how to roll back the al-Qaida-breakaway group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, according to Iraqi security officials.
Residents in tiny northeast Nebraska town brace for cleanup after tornado devastation
PILGER, Neb. (AP) — Residents of Pilger braced for a massive cleanup after a storm with dual tornadoes tore through their tiny northeast Nebraska town, killing a 5-year-old and damaging more than half of the community's structures.
Authorities evacuated Pilger overnight but were expected to let residents return Tuesday morning to survey the damage and gather any immediate valuables. The Stanton County Sheriff's Office said residents would gather at a staging area around 7:15 a.m., where law enforcement would then escort them into town.
The National Weather Service said the two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other. Emergency crews and residents spent the evening sifting through demolished homes and businesses in the community of about 350, roughly 100 miles northwest of Omaha. At least 19 people were injured.
"More than half of the town is gone — absolutely gone," Stanton County Commissioner Jerry Weatherholt said. "The co-op is gone, the grain bins are gone, and it looks like almost every house in town has some damage. It's a complete mess."
Victims were taken to three regional hospitals, and at least one had died from unspecified injuries, hospital officials said. The Stanton County Sheriff's Office confirmed late Monday that the person killed was a 5-year-old child. It didn't specify the child's gender.
Extremist attack in Kenya leaves 9 dead in same region as previous night's slaughter
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Extremists attacked a coastal area of Kenya for the second night in a row, killing at least nine people a day after the deaths of nearly 50, an official said Tuesday.
Police spokesman Masoud Mwinyi said that al-Shabab militants attacked Majembeni village. The Somali militant group also claimed responsibility for the Sunday night attack in nearby Mpeketoni that killed 48 people.
The back-to-back attacks underscore the weak security around the Lamu area, which lies just south of the Somali border. Lamu once attracted swarms of foreign visitors but its tourist sector has been suffering in recent years because of increasing violence.
On Sunday night the gunmen went door to door demanding to know if the men inside were Muslim and if they spoke Somali. If the extremists did not like the answers, they opened fire.
The U.S. ambassador made Kenya's entire coastal region off-limits for embassy employees after the attack.
FDA preparing long-awaited plan to ask food industry to lower levels of salt in foods
WASHINGTON (AP) — Food companies and restaurants could soon face government pressure to make their foods less salty — a long-awaited federal effort to try to prevent thousands of deaths each year from heart disease and stroke.
The Food and Drug Administration is preparing to issue voluntary guidelines asking the food industry to lower sodium levels, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told The Associated Press. Hamburg said in a recent interview that the sodium is "of huge interest and concern" and she hopes the guidelines will be issued "relatively soon."
"We believe we can make a big impact working with the industry to bring sodium levels down, because the current level of consumption really is higher than it should be for health," Hamburg said.
The food industry has already made some reductions, and has prepared for government action since a 2010 Institute of Medicine report said companies had not made enough progress on making foods less salty. The IOM advised the government to establish maximum sodium levels for different foods, though the FDA said then — and maintains now — that it favors a voluntary route.
Americans eat about 1½ teaspoons of salt daily, about a third more than the government recommends for good health and enough to increase the risk of high blood pressure, strokes and other problems. Most of that sodium is hidden inside common processed foods and restaurant meals.
General Motors recalls 3.4M more cars in North America due to ignition switch problems
DETROIT (AP) — General Motors is recalling another 3 million cars because of a defect that causes a similar problem to one that led to an earlier massive recall of small cars, and is linked to 13 deaths.
The ignition switches in Chevrolet Impalas, Cadillac Devilles and five other models can slip out of the "run" position if the keychain has too much weight on it and the car is jarred, for example, by hitting a pothole. To fix the problem, GM will revise or replace the key.
Similar to the 2.6 million small cars GM began recalling in February, drivers of the newly recalled models could experience an engine stall, loss of power-assisted steering and brakes, and the air bags may not inflate in a crash. GM says the latest recall involves six injuries and no deaths, and is related to the design of the key. A mechanical defect in the switch is at the heart of the other recall.
GM is in the midst of a companywide safety review, and has now issued 44 recalls this year covering more than 20 million vehicles — nearly 18 million the U.S. The latest recall is likely to spark more questions about GM's commitment to safety when CEO Mary Barra testifies for the second time before a House panel investigating why it took GM 11 years to recall the small cars.
Barra endured some harsh questions in April, but refused to answer most pending the release of an internal investigation. GM released those results on June 5, blaming a dysfunctional corporate structure and poor decisions by some employees for the crisis. The company also announced plans to establish a fund to compensate the families of those who died, plus those injured in more than 50 crashes.
AP Exclusive: Pablo Picasso's 'The Blue Room' from 1901 reveals hidden portrait of mystery man
WASHINGTON (AP) — Scientists and art experts have found a hidden painting beneath one of Pablo Picasso's first masterpieces, "The Blue Room," using advances in infrared imagery to reveal a bow-tied man with his face resting on his hand. Now the question that conservators at The Phillips Collection in Washington hope to answer is simply: Who is he?
It's a mystery that's fueling new research about the 1901 painting created early in Picasso's career while he was working in Paris at the start of his distinctive blue period of melancholy subjects.
Curators and conservators revealed their findings for the first time to The Associated Press last week. Over the past five years, experts from The Phillips Collection, National Gallery of Art, Cornell University and Delaware's Winterthur Museum have developed a clearer image of the mystery picture under the surface. It's a portrait of an unknown man painted in a vertical composition by one of the 20th century's great artists.
"It's really one of those moments that really makes what you do special," said Patricia Favero, the conservator at The Phillips Collection who pieced together the best infrared image yet of the man's face. "The second reaction was, 'well, who is it?' We're still working on answering that question."
In 2008, improved infrared imagery revealed for the first time a man's bearded face resting on his hand with three rings on his fingers. He's dressed in a jacket and bow tie. A technical analysis confirmed the hidden portrait is a work Picasso likely painted just before "The Blue Room," curators said. After the portrait was discovered, conservators have been using other technology to scan the painting for further insights.
Charitable giving surges for colleges, hospitals; flat for churches, social service groups
NEW YORK (AP) — Wealthy donors are lavishing money on their favored charities, including universities, hospitals and arts institutions, while giving is flat to social service and church groups more dependent on financially squeezed middle-class donors, according to the latest comprehensive report on how Americans give away their money.
The Giving USA report, being released Tuesday, said Americans gave an estimated $335.17 billion to charity in 2013, up 3 percent from 2012 after adjustment for inflation.
Reflecting the nation's widening wealth gap, some sectors fared far better than others. Adjusted for inflation, giving was up 7.4 percent for education, 6.3 percent for the arts and humanities, and 4.5 percent for health organizations, while giving to religious groups declined by 1.6 percent and giving to social service groups rose by only 0.7 percent.
Experts with the Giving USA Foundation and its research partner, the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, said it was the fourth straight year of increased overall giving, and predicted that within two more years the total could match the pre-recession peak of $347.5 billion.
During and immediately after the recession, some wealthy donors shifted their giving to social service groups working to combat hunger and homelessness, according to Patrick Rooney, associate dean of the school of philanthropy. Now, many of those donors — including some making multimillion-dollar gifts — are refocusing their attention on higher education, the arts and other sectors long patronized by the affluent, he said.
John Brooks dreamed of scoring on late header and then he did for US in World Cup
NATAL, Brazil (AP) — Smiling ear to ear after winning a World Cup match with his first international goal, John Brooks had a story to share.
"I told some teammates that I dreamed that I scored in the 80th minute and we won the game," he said. "And now it was the 86th minute and we won."
One of the surprise picks by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Brooks hadn't been in the starting lineup for the Americans' World Cup opener against Ghana. But after central defender Matt Besler felt tightness in his right hamstring during the final five minutes of the first half, Klinsmann inserted the 21-year-old Brooks for the start of the second.
Just four minutes after Andre Ayew's 82nd-minute goal wiped out a lead Clint Dempsey had given the U.S. just 29 seconds in, the 6-foot-4 Brooks outjumped Ghana's John Boye to meet Graham Zusi's corner kick and bounced an 8-yard header past goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.
Overcome with emotion, Brooks ran in disbelief, slumped to the ground arms first and felt teammates pile onto him. When they finally moved off, he put both hands to his lips and blew a kiss.
Mexico City soccer league is an outlet for blind and visually impaired players
MEXICO CITY (AP) — As nations from around the globe battle in the World Cup, a more unusual soccer championship has just been decided on a hard court in Mexico's capital.
For 18 years, the men of the Ignacio Trigueros Soccer League for the Blind and Visually Impaired have spent Sundays traveling long distances from their homes to central Mexico City to play the country's most popular sport.
Each six-man team is allowed one sighted player or two visually impaired players who can use their eyes on the court. All other players wear blindfolds to make sure they are evenly matched.
Without their eyes to guide them, they rely on the sound of a special ball ricocheting off the boards that surround the court or is rolling at their feet. Risking collisions and falls, the players pass, shoot, defend and occasionally even slide tackle.
When the league started, players used a soda can filled with pebbles to make noise, said Miguel Angel Canela, who plays goalkeeper for the Italia team. Then they began putting ball bearings into store-bought soccer balls.
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