Syria agrees to allow UN investigation of last week's alleged chemical attack near Damascus
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syria agreed Sunday to a U.N. investigation into last week's alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus -- a deal a senior White House official dismissed as "too late to be credible," saying the United States has "very little doubt" President Bashar Assad's forces used such weapons.
The hardening of the U.S. position came as calls for military action grow. In a sign the U.S. may be a step closer to an armed response, naval forces have already been dispatched toward Syria's coastal waters, although President Barack Obama has cautioned against a hasty decision.
With France, Britain, Israel and some U.S. congressmen urging swift military action against Assad's regime if the use of chemical agents is confirmed, the U.N. team's conclusions could have a dramatic impact on the trajectory of the country's civil war.
The agreement struck in Damascus calls for U.N. experts already in the country to begin an investigation Monday into the suspected chemical attack on rebel-held areas in the capital's eastern suburbs.
Anti-government activists and Doctors Without Borders say that more than 300 people were killed in an artillery barrage by regime forces Wednesday that included the use of toxic gas. The government calls the allegations "absolutely baseless."
Private lobbying groups for cities, counties get public pensions in at least 20 states
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- As a lobbyist in New York's statehouse, Stephen Acquario is doing pretty well. He pulls down $204,000 a year, more than the governor makes, gets a Ford Explorer as his company car and is afforded another special perk:
Even though he's not a government employee, he is entitled to a full state pension.
He's among hundreds of lobbyists in at least 20 states who get public pensions because they represent associations of counties, cities and school boards, an Associated Press review found. Legislatures granted them access decades ago on the premise that they serve governments and the public. In many cases, such access also includes state health care benefits.
But several states have started to question whether these organizations should qualify for such benefits, since they are private entities in most respects: They face no public oversight of their activities, can pay their top executives private-sector salaries and sometimes lobby for positions in conflict with taxpayers. New Jersey and Illinois are among the states considering legislation that would end their inclusion.
"It's a question of, 'Why are we providing government pensions to these private organizations?'" said Illinois Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz.
10 Things to Know for Monday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:
1. WHO AGREES TO UN PROBE INTO CHEMICAL WEAPONS USE
Syria OKs investigation into last week's alleged toxic gas attack outside Damascus, as calls for U.S. military action grow.
2. 'WHY ARE WE PROVIDING GOVERNMENT PENSIONS TO THESE PRIVATE ORGANIZATIONS?'
An AP review finds hundreds of lobbyists in at least 20 states receive public pensions because they represent associations of counties, cities and school boards.
US overhauls process for recognizing Indian tribes, stirring concerns for new casino rush
KENT, Conn. (AP) -- His tribe once controlled huge swaths of what is now New York and Connecticut, but the shrunken reservation presided over by Alan Russell today hosts little more than four mostly dilapidated homes and a pair of rattlesnake dens.
The Schaghticoke Indian Tribe leader believes its fortunes may soon be improving. As the U.S. Interior Department overhauls its rules for recognizing American Indian tribes, a nod from the federal government appears within reach, potentially bolstering its claims to surrounding land and opening the door to a tribal-owned casino.
"It's the future generations we're fighting for," Russell said.
The rules floated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, intended to streamline the approval process, are seen by some as lowering the bar through changes such as one requiring that tribes demonstrate political continuity since 1934 and not "first contact" with European settlers. Across the country, the push is setting up battles with host communities and already recognized tribes who fear upheaval.
In Kent, a small Berkshires Mountains town with one of New England's oldest covered bridges, residents have been calling the selectman's office with their concerns. The tribe claims land including property held by the Kent School, a boarding school, and many residents put up their own money a decade ago to fight a recognition bid by another faction of the Schaghticokes.
Firefighters battling blaze near Yosemite brace for strong winds; crews protect giant sequoias
GROVELAND, Calif. (AP) -- At Ike Bunney's dude ranch near the Sierra community of Tuolumne City, all creatures have been evacuated as firefighters brace for an intense battle to keep a wildfire raging north of Yosemite National Park out of mountain communities.
"We've already evacuated the horses," said Bunney, who was keeping an eye on his Slide Mountain Guest Ranch on Sunday. "I think they're worried about the fire sparking over these hills."
As fire leapfrogs across the vast, picturesque Sierra forests, moving from one treetop to the next, residents in the fire's path are moving animals and children to safety.
The fire has moved northeast away from Groveland, where smoke gave away to blue skies Sunday. But at Tuolumne City's Black Oak Casino in Tuolumne City, the slot machines were quiet as emergency workers took over nearly all of the resort's 148 hotel rooms.
"The casino is empty," said casino employee Jessie Dean, who left her four children at relatives' homes in the Central Valley. "Technically, the casino is open, but there's nobody there."
Separate insurgent attacks in Iraq kill at least 46 people, wound dozens
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Insurgents bent on destabilizing Iraq killed at least 46 people in numerous attacks scattered around the country on Sunday, striking targets as varied as a coffee shop, a wedding party convoy and a carload of off-duty soldiers.
The attacks are part of a months-long wave of killing that is the country's worst spate of bloodshed since 2008. The violence is calling into question the security forces' ability to protect the country and raising fears that Iraq's sectarian and ethnic divisions are pushing it back toward the brink of civil war.
One of the day's boldest attacks happened near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where militants set up a fake security checkpoint, captured five soldiers and shot them dead, a police officer said. The soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes and returning to base in a taxi.
Inside Mosul, other gunmen in a speeding car shot and killed a grocer, he said, though the motive was not immediately clear. The grocer was a member of the Shabak ethnic group, which has its own distinct language and religious beliefs.
Mosul, a former insurgent stronghold, is about 360 kilometers (220 miles) northwest of Baghdad.
Desperate Calif. city looks to use 'eminent domain' to seize loans to ease homeowners burden
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- When the mayor of Richmond, Calif., and a gaggle of activists and homeowners showed up at the Wells Fargo Bank headquarters in downtown San Francisco this month, they were on a mission to speak with the bank's chief executive.
They wanted the bank to drop a lawsuit aimed at stopping Richmond's first-in-the-nation plan to use the government's constitutional power of eminent domain to "seize" hundreds of mortgages from Wells Fargo and other financial institutions.
As Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and the plan's backers approached the bank building, security guards locked the doors. After a bank official told her there would be no meeting then and that someone would call her later, she grabbed a bullhorn.
"I am absolutely not backing down," McLaughlin said, as curious tourists and lunching office workers milled about.
Wells Fargo, three other banks and even the Federal Housing Finance Agency think otherwise.
Young people seek leading roles in the 50th anniversary March on Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mary-Pat Hector of Atlanta was operating much like a 1960s civil rights activist as she laid plans for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. She was constantly on the phone as she confirmed event details, tweaked the draft of the speech she gave at Saturday's rally at the Lincoln Memorial and prepared for a presentation.
Mary-Pat is 15 years old.
Just as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery Bus Boycott at age 26, and Rep. John Lewis helped to lead freedom rides at 23, young Americans like Mary-Pat are not letting age get in the way as they seek more than a contributing role in the push for social reform.
Young people are eager to influence this year's March on Washington, says Jessica Brown, national coordinator for the Black Youth Vote coalition, which organized several youth events around Saturday's march to the Lincoln Memorial.
"Of course you have the seasoned people who are there, and they are always rightfully going to have their position," Brown said. "But you're starting to see the pickup of the youth saying, 'This is our time, this is our moment, this is the opportunity we have to show the world and the nation, that we're here and we're ready to work and organize to get things done.'"
Timberlake, 'N Sync reunion overshadow ladies of pop at MTV Video Music Awards in Brooklyn
NEW YORK (AP) -- Suddenly, the MTV Video Music Awards are all about Justin Timberlake.
Timberlake took over the awards Sunday night, wrestling the spotlight away from a rehabilitated Lady Gaga, an X-rated Miley Cyrus and a vengeful Taylor Swift with a medley of hits and the rumored reunion with former boy band mates 'N Sync.
Timberlake -- the night's top nominee with early leader Macklemore & Ryan Lewis -- also was given the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award by Jimmy Fallon.
"I don't deserve the award, but I'm not going to give it back," Timberlake said. "I'm taking this home."
Timberlake, dressed in a black suit and black hat with a red feather, powered through a breathless series of solo hits before the other four members of 'N Sync -- JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone, and Lance Bass -- joined him on stage, opening with "Bye Bye Bye."
The Bronx is churning: A-Rod vs Yankees recalls feuds of Reggie, Billy, George from 1970s
NEW YORK (AP) -- Daily threats. Blaring headlines. Charges and countercharges.
The New York Yankees have been there before.
And Alex Rodriguez vs. Pinstripes is nothing like the bad ol' days of Reggie Jackson vs. Billy Martin vs. George Steinbrenner.
"I don't even know where to start with you. It was just a different social time with my issues of speaking out," Jackson said this week. "So to pick up the phone and compare it to the Bronx Zoo where it was when I played is such a lack of understanding."
Mr. October is correct. For long-running soap opera, Rodriguez has a ways to go to match the Yankees of four decades ago, a tempest that prompted this observation from Graig Nettles: "When I was a little boy I wanted to be a ballplayer and join the circus. With the Yankees I've accomplished both."