Friday, February 28, 2014

Published:

Russian aircraft, troop moves in Crimea prompt blunt warning from Obama: 'There will be costs'

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- Armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports in Crimea on Friday and Russian transport planes flew into the strategic region, Ukrainian officials said, an ominous sign of the Kremlin's iron hand in Ukraine. President Barack Obama bluntly warned Moscow "there will be costs" if it intervenes militarily.

The sudden arrival of men in military uniforms patrolling key strategic facilities prompted Ukraine to accuse Russia of a "military invasion and occupation" -- a claim that brought an alarming new dimension to the crisis.

In a hastily arranged statement delivered from the White House, Obama called on Russia to respect the independence and territory of Ukraine and not try to take advantage of its neighbor, which is undergoing political upheaval.

"Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing," Obama said.

Such action by Russia would not serve the interests of the Ukrainian people, Russia or Europe, Obama said, and would represent a "profound interference" in matters he said must be decided by the Ukrainian people.

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Obama warns of 'costs' for Russia in Ukraine; he's re-evaluating Russian travel plans

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. officials said Friday that President Barack Obama may scrap plans to attend an international summit in Russia this summer and could also halt discussions on deepening trade ties with Moscow, raising specific possible consequences if Russia should intervene in Ukraine. Obama himself bluntly warned of unspecified "costs" for Russia.

"Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing," Obama declared. Such action by Russia would represent a "profound interference" in matters that must be decided by the Ukrainian people, he said.

While the president spoke only of "reports" of military movements inside Ukraine, the officials said the U.S does believe that Russia is intervening.

Separately, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he would not address specific U.S. options, "but this could be a very dangerous situation if this continues in a provocative way." Asked about options in a CBS News interview, he said that "we're trying to deal with a diplomatic focus, that's the appropriate, responsible approach."

As Obama prepared to speak late Friday, a spokesman for the Ukrainian border service said eight Russian transport planes had landed with unknown cargo in Crimea. Serhiy Astakhov told The Associated Press that the Il-76 planes arrived unexpectedly and were given permission to land, one after the other, at Gvardeiskoye air base. The State Department urged U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel plans in the country because of "the potential for instability."

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Clinton documents reveal 1990s White House strategy on health care overhaul -- and Mrs. Clinton

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bill Clinton's aides revealed concern early in his presidency about the health care overhaul effort led by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and later about what they saw as a need to soften her image, according to documents released Friday. Mrs. Clinton now is a potential 2016 presidential contender

The National Archives released about 4,000 pages of previously confidential documents involving the former president's administration, providing a glimpse into the ultimately unsuccessful struggles of his health care task force, led by the first lady, and other Clinton priorities such as the U.S. economy and a major trade agreement.

Hillary Clinton's potential White House campaign has increased interest in Clinton Presidential Library documents from her husband's administration during the 1990s and her own decades in public service. A former secretary of state and New York senator, Mrs. Clinton is the leading Democratic contender to succeed President Barack Obama, though she has not said whether she will run.

Friday's documents included memos related to the former president's ill-fated health care reform proposal in 1993 and 1994, a plan that failed to win support in Congress and turned into a rallying cry for Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections. As first lady, Hillary Clinton chaired her husband's health care task force, largely meeting in secret to develop a plan to provide universal health insurance coverage.

White House aides expressed initial optimism about her ability to help craft and enact a major overhaul of U.S. health care.

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GAO report: Regional airlines having trouble finding pilots, pay could be 1 reason

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's regional airlines are having trouble hiring enough pilots, the government says, suggesting one reason may be that they simply don't pay enough.

A pool of qualified pilots is available, but it's unclear whether they are willing to work for low entry-level wages, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Friday.

One key economic indicator supports the emergence of a shortage, something regional airlines have complained of and point to as a reason for limiting service to some small communities. But two other indicators suggest the opposite is true, GAO said. Also, two studies reviewed by the GAO "point to the large number of qualified pilots that exist, but may be working abroad, in the military or in another occupation, as evidence that there is adequate supply," the report said.

The U.S. airline industry will need to hire 1,900 to 4,500 new pilots annually over the next 10 years due to an expected surge in retirements of pilots reaching age 65 and increased demand for air travel, the report said.

Eleven out of 12 regional airlines failed to meet their hiring targets for entry-level pilots last year, the report said. However, no major airlines were experiencing problems finding pilots.

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Storm spreads rain across Calif.; mud threatens homes near burn area; little effect on drought

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- California was lashed Friday by heavy rains that the parched state so desperately needs, though with the soaking came familiar problems: traffic snarls, power outages and the threat of mudslides.

Even with rainfall totals exceeding 8 inches in some Southern California mountains by afternoon, the powerful Pacific storm did not put a major dent in a drought that is among the worst in recent California history.

The first waves of the storm drenched foothill communities east of Los Angeles that just weeks ago were menaced by a wildfire -- and now faced potential mudslides. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for about 1,200 homes in the area. Small debris flows covered one street in Glendora, but no property damage occurred, police said.

Forecasters expected the storm to last through Saturday in California before trundling east into similarly rain-starved neighboring states. Phoenix was expecting its first noticeable precipitation in two months. The storm was projected to head east across the Rockies before petering out in the Northeast in several days.

The threat of mudslides will last at least through Saturday night. Tornadoes and water spouts were possible.

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NC regulators issue violations against Duke Energy for huge coal ash spill into the Dan River

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina regulators issued notice to Duke Energy on Friday that the company will be cited for violating environmental standards in connection with a massive coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge.

Two formal notices issued by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources cite Duke for separate violations of wastewater and stormwater regulations. The agency could levy fines against Duke for the violations, but the amounts have not yet been determined.

The spill began Feb. 2 when an old stormwater pipe running under a 27-acre coal ash dump at a Duke's Dan River Steam Station in Eden collapsed. It took the company nearly a week to fully plug the leak.

State environmental Sec. John Skvarla, whose agency has been widely criticized in the wake of the spill, issued a brief statement: "These are violations of state and federal law, and we are holding the utility accountable."

The violation notices were issued three days after The Associated Press filed a public records request for a copy of Duke's stormwater permit for the Dan River plant, which the company was required to have to legally discharge rainwater draining from its property into the river.

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RFK daughter acquitted of drugged driving; lawyers say prosecutors came down hard on a Kennedy

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- Kerry Kennedy was swiftly acquitted Friday of drugged driving in a case that her lawyers said would never have been brought if she were simply "Mary Housewife" rather than a member of one of America's most glamorous political families.

After four days of testimony, a six-person jury took a little over an hour to find Kennedy not guilty of driving while impaired. She was arrested in 2012 after swerving into a tractor-trailer on an interstate highway in her Lexus.

The 54-year-old human-rights advocate -- the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, niece of President John F. Kennedy and ex-wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo -- testified she mistakenly took a sleeping pill instead of her daily thyroid medication the morning of the wreck.

If convicted, she could have been sentenced to a year in jail, though that would have been unlikely for a first-time offender.

Her lawyers made sure that the jurors knew all about her famous family. But after the acquittal, they said she should have been treated like "Mary Housewife." And they accused prosecutors of giving her special treatment by refusing to drop the case.

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Group says it has new evidence in case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed for arson in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- The Innocence Project argued Friday that newly discovered documents undermine the credibility of a key witness against a Texas man executed for the deaths of his three children based in part on arson evidence that has since been deemed faulty.

The New York-based nonprofit said it has discovered a handwritten note that suggests a prosecutor gave a lesser charge to jailhouse informant Johnny Webb, who testified that Cameron Todd Willingham told Webb he killed his daughters in 1991.

That would contradict claims made at trial by Webb and prosecutor John Jackson that Webb did not receive consideration for his testimony.

"It's astonishing that 10 years after Todd Willingham was executed we are still uncovering evidence showing what a grave injustice this case represents," Barry Scheck, the Innocence Project's co-director, said in a statement.

Willingham's case has been scrutinized by advocates who argue the state may have executed a wrongfully convicted man. Fire science experts already have refuted much of the methodology used in his case.

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From Riyadh to Beirut, growing fear of blowback from militants returning home from Syria

BISARIYEH, Lebanon (AP) -- The once-tranquil, religiously mixed village of Bisariyeh is seething: Two of its young men who fought alongside the rebels in Syria recently returned home radicalized and staged suicide bombings in Lebanon.

The phenomenon is being watched anxiously across the Mideast, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where authorities are moving decisively to prevent citizens from going off to fight in Syria.

The developments illustrate how the Syrian war is sending dangerous ripples across a highly combustible region and sparking fears that jihadis will come home with dangerous ideas and turn their weapons against their own countries.

In Lebanon, where longstanding tensions between Sunnis and Shiites have been heightened by the conflict next door, the fear of blowback has very much turned into reality.

The social fabric of towns and villages across the country is being torn by conflicting loyalties and a wave of bombings carried out by Sunni extremists in retaliation for the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah's military support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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NYC coroner: Philip Seymour Hoffman died from toxic mix of drugs, including heroin, cocaine

NEW YORK (AP) -- Philip Seymour Hoffman died from taking a combination of heroin, cocaine and other drugs, the New York City medical examiner ruled Friday, a toxic mix that addiction specialists say is not uncommon in the tens of thousands of overdose deaths in the U.S. each year.

Hoffman, 46, who was found Feb. 2 with a needle in his arm on the floor of his Manhattan apartment, also had taken amphetamines and benzodiazepines, which are drugs such as Xanax and Valium that are widely prescribed for anxiety, trouble sleeping and other problems, said a spokeswoman for the medical examiner. The death was ruled accidental.

The medical examiner didn't provide the names of the drugs or the amounts found in the actor's system, making it impossible to determine which drug was the major factor, said Dr. Charles McKay, a medical toxicologist for Hartford Hospital in Connecticut and a spokesman for the American College of Medical Toxicology.

"There's a difference between a stimulant death, which would be cocaine and the amphetamines, and a narcotic death, like heroin," he said.

The first two can cause heart rhythm problems, a stroke or heart attack, whereas heroin, especially with sedatives such as benzodiazepines, can depress breathing.