Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Published:

Blow to affirmative action: Supreme Court OK's voter-approved ban for Michigan universities

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A state's voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

The 6-2 decision upheld a voter-approved change to the Michigan Constitution that forbids the state's public colleges to take race into account. That change was indeed up to the voters, the ruling said, over one justice's impassioned dissent that accused the court of simply wanting to wish away inequality.

The ruling bolsters similar voter-approved initiatives banning affirmative action in education in California and Washington state. A few other states have adopted laws or issued executive orders to bar race-conscious admissions policies.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said voters in Michigan chose to eliminate racial preferences, presumably because such a system could give rise to race-based resentment. Kennedy said nothing in the Constitution or the court's prior cases gives judges the authority to undermine the election results.

"This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it," Kennedy said.

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Analysis: Putin has few reasons to heed West's calls to defuse crisis in Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) -- Since he took over Crimea, President Vladimir Putin has seen his popularity soar and his opposition fall silent. So when the U.S. vice president told Russia to defuse tensions in Ukraine, Putin had few reasons to listen.

Emboldened by the national euphoria over the annexation of Crimea, Putin has moved against the few remaining critical voices in Russia and further neutered the news media. On Tuesday, a court cleared the way for sending his most vocal critic to prison.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was found guilty of slandering a lawmaker and fined the equivalent of $8,400. As a result, he may be jailed during a trial in a second case that starts Thursday. If found guilty, he could be sent to prison.

Navalny was nearly jailed last summer, when he was running a high-profile mayoral campaign in Moscow, but his conviction brought thousands into the streets in protest. The Kremlin evidently calculated it would be better to allow him to run for mayor, but he surprised everyone by finishing a strong second with 27 percent of the vote.

But now Putin, with his approval rating at 80 percent, no longer appears willing to tolerate any criticism.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:

1. SUPREME COURT DEALS BLOW TO AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

By a 6-2 majority, the court declares that voters in a state can outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions.

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'Piles and piles' of bodies after South Sudan slaughter; thousands streaming to UN base

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- The townsfolk believed the mosque was safe. They crammed inside as rebel forces in South Sudan took control of the town from government troops. But it wasn't safe. Robbers grabbed their cash and mobile phones. Then gunmen came and opened fire on everyone, young and old.

The U.N. says hundreds of civilians were killed in the massacre last week in Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan's oil-producing Unity state, a tragic reflection of longstanding ethnic hostilities in the world's newest country.

"Piles and piles" of bodies were left behind after the shootings, said Toby Lanzer, the top U.N. aid official in South Sudan. Many were in the mosque. Others were in the hospital. Still more littered the streets. The violence appears to have been incited in part by calls on the radio for revenge attacks, including rapes.

The attack, which targeted members of certain ethnic groups, was a disturbing echo of what happened two decades ago in another country in eastern Africa. Rwanda is marking the 20th anniversary this month of a genocide that killed an estimated 1 million people and also saw orders to kill broadcast over the radio.

Thousands of people have been killed in violence in South Sudan since December, when presidential guards splintered and fought along ethnic lines. The violence later spread across the country as soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, tried to put down a rebellion led by Riek Machar, the former vice president and an ethnic Nuer.

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Obama views landscape of sadness, pledges solidarity with families of those lost in mudslide

OSO, Wash. (AP) -- Swooping over a landscape of unspeakable sadness and death, President Barack Obama took an aerial tour Tuesday of the place where more than three dozen people perished in a mudslide last month. He pledged a nation's solidarity with those who are enduring "unimaginable pain and difficulty" in the aftermath of the destruction.

"We're going to be strong right alongside you," Obama promised the people whose lives were upended when a wall of mud and water swept away the hillside on March 22 and took with it at least 41 lives and dozens of homes.

Obama first boarded a helicopter to survey the awful scene.

Evidence of the mudslide's power was everywhere: trees ripped from the ground, a highway paved with mud and debris, a river's course altered. And in the midst of the awful tableau, an American flag flying at half-staff.

Even as the president flew overhead, the search for bodies continued below. Two people were still listed as missing.

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Ukraine's leader orders new 'anti-terror' operation; military plane reported hit by gunfire

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine's acting president ordered security forces to resume operations in the country's east on Tuesday after the bodies of two people allegedly abducted by pro-Russia insurgents were found and a military aircraft was reportedly hit by gunfire.

The developments -- just hours after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden left the Ukrainian capital -- raised fears that last week's international agreement on easing Ukraine's crisis was unraveling.

The accord calls for all sides to refrain from violence and for demonstrators to vacate public buildings. It does not specifically prohibit security operations, but Ukraine suspended its so-called "anti-terrorist operation" after it was reached.

Pro-Russia insurgents who have seized police stations and other public buildings in eastern Ukraine are defying the call to vacate, saying they were not party to the agreement by Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union.

In a statement, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said the two bodies found Tuesday in Slovyansk bore signs of torture. One of the victims was a member of the city council and a member of Turchynov's party, he said.

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Cries of anguish as parents identify children from South Korea ferry; toll reaches 135

JINDO, South Korea (AP) -- The confirmed death toll from the South Korean ferry disaster rose to 135 Wednesday, but there were many more bodies left to be retrieved as divers swam through tight, dark rooms and passageways to search for nearly 170 people still missing.

The victims are overwhelmingly students of a single high school in Ansan, near Seoul. More than three-quarters of the 323 students are dead or missing, while nearly two-thirds of the other 153 people on board the ferry Sewol when it sank one week ago survived.

As descriptions of the newly recovered bodies were read over a loudspeaker, relatives rushed over to the main notice board and peered at the details that were being added by an official.

Some relatives cried out and ran from the tent. Others stood red-eyed and shell-shocked.

The number of corpses recovered has risen sharply since the weekend, when divers battling strong currents and low visibility were finally able to enter the submerged vessel.

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Australia says search for Malaysian jet likely to use more powerful sonar to delve deeper

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet will likely soon deploy more powerful sonar equipment that can delve deeper as the current search of the most likely crash site in the Indian Ocean has failed to yield any clues, Australia's defense minister said Wednesday.

The search coordination center said Wednesday a robotic submarine, the U.S. Navy's Bluefin 21, had so far covered more than 80 percent of the 310-square-kilometer (120-square-mile) seabed search zone off the Australian west coast, creating a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor. Nothing of interest had been found.

The 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) deep search area is a circle 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide around an area where sonar equipment picked up a signal on April 8 consistent with a plane's black boxes. The black box beacons' batteries would by now be dead.

Defense Minister David Johnston said Australia was consulting with Malaysia, China and the United States on the next phase of the search for the plane that went missing March 8, which is likely to be announced next week.

Johnston said more powerful towed side-scan commercial sonar equipment would probably be deployed, similar to the remote-controlled subs that found RMS Titanic 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) under the Atlantic Ocean in 1985 and the Australian WWII wreck HMAS Sydney in the Indian Ocean off the Australian coast, north of the current search area, in 2008.

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Judge in Cole attack case orders prosecutors to share CIA secret prison details with defense

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) -- Prosecutors must turn over never-revealed details about the time a Guantanamo Bay detainee spent in secret CIA prisons after his arrest in connection with the deadly attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, according to a military judge's order released Tuesday.

The five-page order was a victory for defense lawyers representing Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of orchestrating the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden. The attack killed 17 U.S. sailors, injured 42 others and tore a massive hole into the side of the guided-missile destroyer based in Norfolk, Va.

Al-Nashiri, who was born in Saudi Arabia, has been held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2006, after being held in a series of secret CIA prisons.

A CIA inspector general's report said al-Nashiri, considered to have once been one of the most senior leaders in al-Qaida, was waterboarded under rules approved by the George W. Bush administration, although many of them have been repudiated as torture. He also was threatened with a gun and a power drill to solicit information about possible attacks against the United States, but those methods were beyond approved interrogation procedures.

Prosecutors, who can appeal the judge's ruling, had argued that information about his time spent in CIA custody was irrelevant to the case. The defense believes the case against al-Nashiri is tainted by CIA actions in the secret prisons and could be used to spare him from the death penalty.

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Investigator: IRS awarded $1 million in employee bonuses to 1,100 workers who owed back taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Internal Revenue Service has paid more than $2.8 million in bonuses to employees with recent disciplinary problems, including $1 million to workers who owed back taxes, a government investigator said Tuesday.

More than 2,800 workers got bonuses despite facing a disciplinary action in the previous year, including 1,150 who owed back taxes, said a report by J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. The bonuses were awarded from October 2010 through December 2012.

George's report said the bonus program doesn't violate federal regulations, but it's inconsistent with the IRS mission to enforce tax laws.

"These awards are designed to recognize and reward IRS employees for a job well done, and that is appropriate, because the IRS should encourage good performance," George said. "However, while not prohibited, providing awards to employees who have been disciplined for failing to pay federal taxes appears to create a conflict with the IRS's charge of ensuring the integrity of the system of tax administration."

Other examples of misconduct by workers getting bonuses included misusing government credit cards for travel, drug use, violent threats and fraudulently claiming unemployment benefits.