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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Boston Marathon bomber says he's sorry for the first time

Boston Marathon bomber says he's sorry for the first time 

AP Photo
In this courtroom sketch, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, right, stands before U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. as he addresses the court during his sentencing, Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in federal court in Boston. Tsarnaev apologized to the victims and their loved ones for the first time Wednesday just before the judge formally sentenced him to death.

BOSTON (AP) -- Moments before a judge sentenced him to death, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev broke more than two years of silence Wednesday and apologized to the victims and their loved ones for the first time. "I pray for your relief, for your healing," he said.

"I am sorry for the lives that I've taken, for the suffering that I've caused you, for the damage that I've done - irreparable damage," the 21-year-old former college student, speaking haltingly in his Russian accent, said after rising to his feet in the hushed federal courtroom.

After Tsarnaev said his piece, U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. quoted Shakespeare's line "The evil that men do lives after them. The good is often interred with their bones."

"So it will be for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev," the judge said, telling Tsarnaev that no one will remember that his teachers were fond of him, that his friends found him fun to be with or that he showed compassion to disabled people.

"What will be remembered is that you murdered and maimed innocent people and that you did it willfully and intentionally," O'Toole said.

Tsarnaev looked down and rubbed his hands together as the judge pronounced his fate: execution, the punishment decided on by the jury last month for the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260.

The apology came after Tsarnaev listened impassively for about three hours as a procession of 24 victims and survivors lashed out at him for his "cowardly" and "disgusting" acts and urged him to show some remorse at long last.

Tsarnaev assured the victims he was paying attention.

"All those who got up on that witness stand and that podium relayed to us, to me - I was listening - the suffering that was and the hardship that still is, with strength and with patience and with dignity," he said.

The outcome of the proceedings was never in doubt: The judge was required under law to impose the jury's death sentence for the April 15, 2013, attack that authorities said was retaliation for U.S. wars in Muslim lands.

The only real suspense was whether Tsarnaev would say anything when offered the chance to speak. And if so, would he show remorse? Or would he make a political statement and seek to justify the attack?

During his trial, he showed a trace of emotion only once, when he cried while his aunt was on the stand. And the only evidence of any remorse came from Sister Helen Prejean, the "Dead Man Walking" death penalty opponent, who quoted him as saying of the victims: "No one deserves to suffer like they did."

His apology was a five-minute address peppered with religious references and praise of Allah. He asked that Allah have mercy upon him and his dead brother and partner in crime, Tamerlan, but he made no mention of the motive for the bombing.

He paused several times as if struggling to maintain his composure. He faced the judge while speaking but addressed himself to the victims.

Tsarnaev admitted he carried out the bombing - "If there's any lingering doubt about that, let there be no more" - and added: "I did do it along with my brother."

Outside court, some bombing survivors said they doubted Tsarnaev's sincerity.
"It really does not change anything for me," Scott Weisberg said.

But another survivor, Henry Borgard, said: "I was actually really happy that he made the statement. I have forgiven him. I have come to a place of peace and I genuinely hope that he does as well."

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said Tsarnaev left important things unsaid: "He didn't renounce terrorism. He didn't renounce violent extremism."

Tsarnaev will probably be sent to the death row unit at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed. It could take years or even decades for his appeals to work their way through the courts.

In May, the jury condemned the former college student to die for joining his older brother in setting off the two pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line and in killing an MIT police officer as they fled. Tamerlan, 26, was killed during the getaway.

At his sentencing, a somber-looking Tsarnaev, wearing a dark sport jacket with a collared shirt and no tie, sat between his lawyers, his chair turned toward the lectern from which the victims spoke. He picked at his beard and gazed downward most of the time, only occasionally looking at the victims.

"He can't possibly have had a soul to do such a horrible thing," said Karen Rand McWatters, who lost a leg in the attack and whose best friend, 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, was killed.

Campbell's mother, Patricia Campbell, looked across the room at Tsarnaev, seated about 20 feet away, and spoke directly to him.

"What you did to my daughter is disgusting," she said. "I don't know what to say to you. I think the jury did the right thing."

Rebekah Gregory, a Texas woman who lost a leg in the bombing, defiantly told Tsarnaev she is not his victim.

"While your intention was to destroy America, what you have really accomplished is actually quite the opposite - you've unified us," she said, staring directly at Tsarnaev as he looked down.

"We are Boston strong, we are America strong, and choosing to mess with us was a terrible idea. So how's that for your VICTIM impact statement?"

Bill Richard, whose 8-year-old son Martin was the youngest person killed in the bombing, noted that his family would have preferred that Tsarnaev receive a life sentence so that he could contemplate his crimes.
Richard said his family has chosen love, kindness and peace, adding: "That is what makes us different than him."


2nd prison employee arrested after inmates' brazen escape

2nd prison employee arrested after inmates' brazen escape 

AP Photo
This photo provided by the New York State Police shows Gene Palmer on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. The maximum-security prison guard is believed to have delivered tools inside frozen meat to two inmates before they escaped was arrested on Wednesday, authorities said.

BELLMONT, N.Y. (AP) -- A maximum-security prison guard believed to have delivered tools inside frozen meat to two inmates before they escaped was arrested on Wednesday, authorities said.

Gene Palmer appeared before a judge in Plattsburgh on Wednesday night to face charges of promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct. He was held on $25,000 bail pending arraignment Thursday. Defense lawyer Andrew Brockway said he will plead not guilty.

Palmer worked at the Clinton County Correctional Facility in upstate Dannemora, where inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt were reported missing on June 6.

Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss. Authorities say the inmates cut through the steel wall at the back of their cells, crawled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe and then sliced through the chain and lock on a manhole cover outside the prison.

Prison employee Joyce Mitchell also has been charged with helping them escape. Mitchell, a prison tailor shop instructor, has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Mitchell told investigators she smuggled hacksaw blades, a screwdriver and other tools into the prison by placing them in frozen hamburger meat. He said she then placed the meat in a refrigerator in the tailor shop where she worked and Palmer took the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section where inmates are allowed to cook their own meals. The district attorney said the guard didn't know the tools were inside the meat.

Palmer had been placed on leave on Tuesday. At the time, his attorney told Plattsburgh television station WPTZ he was completely forthcoming during several hours of questioning on Saturday.

"I can 100 percent confirm that he did not know they were planning on breaking out of the prison," Brockway said.

Searchers hunting for the escaped killers Wednesday were contending with steep slopes, thick woods, sticky bogs, biting bugs and the possibility that the pair on the lam from prison for 19 days is armed.

Police said they remain almost 100 percent certain that Sweat and Matt spent time recently at a hunting camp about 20 miles west of the correctional facility near Owls Head. A hunter said he saw a figure bolting from the cabin on Saturday morning. But after days of intense searching with dogs and helicopters, police still had no substantiated sightings of Sweat and Matt.

The 75 square miles searchers focused on is on the northern edge of the sprawling Adirondack Park and includes woods so thick that visibility is only a few feet in some sections, authorities said. The woods also are dotted with hundreds of seasonal and hunting camps.

State police Maj. Charles Guess said Wednesday that authorities don't have confirmed evidence that a shotgun was stolen from the hunting cabin near Owls Head, but they've always assumed the escapees were armed. Weapons and ammunition are typically stored in camps, but not everyone keeps an inventory of their firearms, he said.

"Just about every cabin or outbuilding in the North Country has one or more shotguns or weapons, and we have since day one operated under the belief that these men are armed," Guess said. "They are extremely dangerous, they're cunning. Why wouldn't they try to arm themselves immediately upon escape?"

Guess said it was possible the pair left the area, but promised that the more than 1,000 officers involved would keep up the relentless search until the killers are captured.

"We don't want them to have a restful, peaceful night putting their head on any pillow," he said.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Obama says US racism 'not cured,' makes point with epithet

Obama says US racism 'not cured,' makes point with epithet 
 

AP Photo
President Barack Obama steps from Marine One in Pasadena, Calif., Friday, June 19, 2015, en route to tape a podcast interview with comedian Marc Maron.
  
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama says the history of slavery and segregation is "still part of our DNA" in the United States, even if racial epithets no longer show up in polite conversation. He uttered the N-word in making his point.

In an interview, Obama talked about the debates over race and guns that have erupted after the arrest of a white man in the racially motivated shooting deaths of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina.

"Racism, we are not cured of it," Obama said. "And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior."

Obama's remarks came during an interview out Monday with comedian Marc Maron for his popular podcast, where coarse language is often part of the discussion. The president uttering a racial slur aloud stirred controversy, especially on social media, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said later Monday that wasn't surprising.

Obama didn't plan in advance to use the word to be provocative, Earnest said, but was simply making a point during a casual, free-flowing interview. He said he didn't recall ever hearing the president say the racial slur aloud before, but noted that it did appear in his book, "Dreams from My Father."

The White House on Monday said Obama, would travel to Charleston on Friday to deliver the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the Emanuel AME Church and one of the victims of last week's shooting. First lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also plan to attend. The Obamas knew the slain pastor, who also was a state senator and an early Obama supporter in the 2008 presidential campaign.

In the interview, Obama said while attitudes about race have improved significantly since he was born to a white mother and black father, the "legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, that casts a long shadow and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on."

Obama also expressed frustration that "the grip of the NRA on Congress is extremely strong" and prevented gun control from advancing in Congress after 20 children and six educators were massacred in a Connecticut elementary school in 2012.

"I will tell you, right after Sandy Hook, Newtown, when 20 6-year-olds are gunned down, and Congress literally does nothing - yes, that's the closest I came to feeling disgusted," he said. "I was pretty disgusted."

He said it's important to respect that hunting and sportsmanship are important to a lot of gun-owning Americans. "The question is just is there a way of accommodating that legitimate set of traditions with some common-sense stuff that prevents a 21-year-old who is angry about something or confused about something, or is racist, or is deranged from going into a gun store and suddenly is packing, and can do enormous harm," Obama said in a reference to suspect Dylann Storm Roof, whose purported 2,500-word hate-filled manifesto talked about white supremacy. Roof faces nine counts of murder in connection with Wednesday's shooting.

Obama sat for the interview Friday in Maron's Los Angeles garage studio - close to where the president attended Occidental College - and seemed to marvel at the absurdity of it. "If I thought to myself that when I was in college that I'd be in a garage a couple miles away from where I was living, doing an interview as president, with a comedian ... it's not possible to imagine," he said. But he said he did the interview because he wants to reach a nontraditional audience and "break out of these old patterns that our politics has fallen into" where "it's not this battle in a steel cage between one side and another."

With the campaign to replace him heating up, Obama said he thinks he would be a better candidate if he were running again, because although he's slowed down a little bit, "I know what I'm doing and I'm fearless."

"I've screwed up. I've been in the barrel tumbling down Niagara Falls. And I emerged and I lived. And that's always such a liberating feeling," he said.

Latest on church shooting: Lawmaker backs Miss. flag change

Latest on church shooting: Lawmaker backs Miss. flag change 

AP Photo
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, center, calls for legislators to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds during a news conference in the South Carolina State House in Columbia, S.C., Monday, June 22, 2015. Those surrounding her as she spoke included state legislators of both parties.
 
A top Mississippi lawmaker says the Confederate battle emblem is offensive and needs to be removed from the state flag.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday that remembering our past is important, "but that does not mean we must let it define us."

"As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag," Gunn, a leader in his local Baptist church, said in a statement.

Mississippi voters decided by a 2-to-1 margin in 2001 to keep the state flag used since 1894. One of its corners has a Confederate battle emblem.
---
7:50 p.m.

A bust Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and an early leader in the Ku Klux Klan, still sits in an alcove outside the Senate chambers at the Tennessee statehouse.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers called for the bust to be removed Monday, days after nine people were gunned down in a historic black church in South Carolina. The shooting prompted calls from the governor and other leaders for the flag to be removed from the Statehouse there.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee, says the government should not promote "symbols of hate" and called for both to be removed.

Even though Forrest, a Tennessee native, was a Klan leader, the bust is inscribed with only "Confederate States Army." It has been at the Capitol for decades.
---
7 p.m.

The chairman of the Republican National Committee joined Gov. Nikki Haley in calling for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of South Carolina's Statehouse.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus was among roughly 30 people of both parties standing behind Haley on Monday.

In the wake of the massacre in Charleston, Republican presidential hopefuls have been about the flag. South Carolina holds the South's first presidential primary. Asked whether Haley's decision makes it easier for GOP candidates, Priebus said, "It's not about Republican candidates because on the stage there was a group of bipartisan people."

On whether candidates talked to Haley, he said: "I don't know who was talking to who, but I can assure you there has been plenty of conversation going on for many days."
---
6:40 p.m.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spent several hours on the phone with the head of the state's law enforcement agency in the hours after Wednesday's shooting that killed nine in a Charleston church.

Haley's office released her schedule for last week, which included six calls to State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel from 10:25 p.m. Wednesday to 2:45 a.m. Thursday. She then traveled to Charleston to meet with law enforcement and was at the news conference when they announced the arrest of the suspect late that morning.

After the first call from Keel, the Republican governor called the minority leader, and the majority leader in the Senate. Democratic state Sen. Clementa Pinckney was pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church and one of nine people killed during Bible study in the church basement around 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Haley also spoke to President Barack Obama on Thursday and with Pinckney's widow on Friday, according to her schedule.
---
6:20 p.m.

Mississippi officials are divided over whether to erase the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, even as South Carolina leaders are pushing to remove a free-standing battle flag that flies outside the state Capitol there.

Mississippi voters decided by a 2-to-1 margin in 2001 to keep the state flag that has been used since 1894. It features the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner: a blue X emblazoned with 13 white stars, set against a red field.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday that he doesn't believe legislators "will act to supersede the will of the people on this issue."

Democratic Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, says the Confederate emblem is a "symbol of hatred" that's often associated with racial violence.
---
6 p.m.

South Carolina House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford says he's confident after talking to members of both parties that the Confederate flag will be taken down from the Statehouse grounds within the next two months.

The Democrat made his comments Monday as members of his party and the GOP called on the flag to be removed, just days after police said a gunman opened fire inside a black church and killed nine people.

"A lot of people understand this is a moment we have to respond to," said Rep. Rick Quinn, a Republican and former House majority leader who said he will vote to take it down.
The biggest questions remaining may be how and when legislators take it up.
---
5 p.m.

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has said that it's time to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds - and that if South Carolina legislators don't deal with the issue themselves as part of their special session focused on budget in the coming weeks, she's prepared to call them back for another special session.

Haley said Monday at a news conference that she's indicated her plan to the GOP-led House and Senate.
According to the terms of a 15-year-old deal that brought the flag from atop the Statehouse to a position outside to a monument for Confederate soldiers, moving the banner will require a two-thirds supermajority in both houses.

Haley reversed her position on the flag after a young white man who embraced it as a symbol of white supremacy was charged with murder in the deaths of nine black church members in Charleston.
Those surrounding her as she spoke included state legislators of both parties.
---
4:55 p.m.
Moments after the South Carolina governor's statement, fellow Republicans echoed her call for the Confederate flag to come down, from the head of the Republican Party to the top GOP lawmaker in the U.S. Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement: "The Confederate Battle Flag means different things to different people, but the fact that it continues to be a painful reminder of racial oppression to many suggests to me at least that it's time to move beyond it, and that the time for a state to fly it has long since passed. There should be no confusion in anyone's mind that as a people we're united in our determination to put that part of our history behind us."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said "this flag has become too divisive and too hurtful for too many of our fellow Americans."
The remarks on the flag come after a young white man who embraced it as a symbol of white supremacy 

was charged with murder in the deaths of nine black church members in Charleston.
---
4:35 p.m.

The White House says President Barack Obama will travel to Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday to memorialize the victims of a shooting at a historic black church.

Obama will deliver the eulogy at the funeral services of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the Emanuel AME church where the shooting that killed nine people occurred.

Obama and first lady Michelle got to know the slain pastor, who also was state senator, during the 2008 presidential campaign. The first lady and Vice President Joe Biden will also attend the funeral.
 
Pinckney was an early Obama supporter.

Last week, Obama said the shootings show the need for a national reckoning on gun violence.

---
4:30 p.m.

Gov. Nikki Haley has said the Confederate flag should be removed from the Statehouse grounds, but she also says the symbol will always remain a part of South Carolina.

Haley said Monday at a news conference that whether the flag is at the Statehouse or in a museum, it will always be part of the soil of South Carolina.

She says some people see the flag as a memorial and a way to honor ancestors. She says that's not hate or racism.

The divisive symbol has flown in front of the state Capitol for 15 years after being moved from atop the Statehouse dome. Haley says its removal may sadden some in the state, but the time has come to take it down.

Haley reversed her position on the flag after a young white man who embraced it as a symbol of white supremacy was charged with murder in the deaths of nine black church members.

She says that man has a sick, twisted view of the flag.
---
4:25 p.m.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley says the Confederate flag should be removed from the Statehouse grounds, reversing her position on the divisive symbol.

The Republican's about-face Monday comes after a young white man who embraced the flag as a symbol of white supremacy was charged with murder in the deaths of nine black church members. The flag has flown in front of the state Capitol for 15 years after being moved from atop the Statehouse dome.

Haley was surrounded by Republicans and Democrats alike and received a loud applause and cheering when she made her announcement.

Haley said: "One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come."

The suspect in the church shootings, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was photographed earlier holding Confederate flags. Police say he made racial insults at the church members during the shooting.

Supporters of the flag say it is a memorial to fallen Confederate soldiers, but opponents say it's a symbol of hate put atop the Statehouse dome to protest the civil rights movement.
---
3:10 p.m.

A person familiar with Republican Sen. Tim Scott's decision says he is calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds.

Scott, of South Carolina, is the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction. He joins a growing number of calls for the flag to come down after a gunman opened fire in a historic black church, killing nine people.

The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Police say a young white man is responsible for the racially motivated attack at the church in Charleston.
---
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Charleston contributed to this report.
2:45 p.m.

A person familiar with his decision says Sen. Lindsey Graham will call for the Confederate flag flying on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds to come down.

The person says Graham will do so later Monday afternoon. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity so as not to preclude Graham's announcement.

Some Charleston, South Carolina-area political and religious leaders have asked state lawmakers to remove the flag from South Carolina's capital grounds in the wake of last week's slaying of nine black people during a Bible study.

A white man, Dylann Roof, has been charged in the deaths.
Graham said this past weekend he was open to revisiting the decision to use the flag, but said on CNN, it "is a part of who we are."
---

Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.
2 p.m.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans says it plans to vigorously fight any effort to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of South Carolina's Statehouse.

The group says it was horrified at last week's shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, allegedly by a white man who was photographed several times holding the Confederate flag and with other symbols of white supremacy.

In a statement, the group says there is "absolutely no link" between the massacre and the banner.

Leland Summers, South Carolina commander of the group, says the group is about heritage and history, not hate. He offered condolences to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and says now is not the time to make political points.

Summers said the Sons of Confederate Veterans have 30,000 members nationwide that will fight any attempt to move the flag.
---
1:40 p.m.

The White House says President Barack Obama believes the Confederate flag should no longer be flown in 
Charleston, South Carolina, or elsewhere, but doesn't have authority over that decision.

Spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama has maintained for years that the Confederate flag "should be taken down and placed in a museum where it belongs," but recognizes it's an issue for individual states.

Some Charleston-area political and religious leaders are calling on state lawmakers to remove the flag from South Carolina's capital grounds after a white man killed nine black people during a Bible study last week.
Earnest says it's very clear what Obama thinks would be the appropriate action.
---
12:30 p.m.

A group of Charleston-area political and religious leaders are calling on state lawmakers to vote this week 
to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina's capital grounds.

Officials including Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and Democratic state Sen. Marlon Kimpson in North Charleston on Monday called on legislators to stay in session and vote as early as Tuesday to take down the flag from its place in front of the statehouse in Columbia.

The Rev. Nelson B Rivers III of the National Action Network said the flag should be removed before the body of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney lies in state at the Statehouse on Wednesday. Pinckney and eight other church members were shot to death last week as they attended Bible study at Emanuel African 
Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston.

Kimpson says he's informed state Senate leaders that there is a "growing chorus" of members interested in 
taking up a debate while lawmakers are in session to discuss the budget.
---
12:05 p.m.

South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas says moving the state forward from last week's shooting deaths at a historic black church in Charleston requires swiftly resolving the Confederate flag issue.

Lucas did not specify what he believes that resolution should be or how legislators could take it up.

The Legislature's regular session ended June 4. Legislators are expected to return later this week in a short, limited session to pass a budget compromise. Both chambers would have to give two-thirds approval just to take up anything new.

"The intense and difficult debate that took place in 2000 over the Confederate soldier flag was ultimately resolved by compromise. Wednesday's unspeakable tragedy has reignited a discussion on this sensitive issue," Lucas said in a statement.

South Carolina was the last state to fly the Confederate battle flag from its Statehouse dome until the 2000 compromise put a square version of the flag - the South Carolina Infantry Battle Flag - on a 30-foot flagpole at the Confederate Soldier Monument directly in front of the Statehouse, along one of Columbia's busiest streets.

Dylann Roof, who is white, has been charged in the deaths of the nine people in Charleston.
Gov. Nikki Haley has scheduled a news conference for later Monday. Her office has given no indication of what she will say.
---
10:45 a.m.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley says he has been overwhelmed but not surprised at the outpouring of donations for a fund he helped set up for the families of the victims of the Charleston shooting.

Riley said donations poured in to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund and the Reverend Pinckney fund. City officials are still trying to figure out how much money the funds had Monday morning.

"I've got $110,000 in checks in my pocket. It's wonderful," Riley said.

The fund was set up after authorities say a white gunman opened fire on a black church in a racially motivated attack, killing nine people, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

Riley says even in the darkest hours, as details started to come out about the shooting, he knew Charleston would show love instead of hate.

People can donate on the city's website: http://www.charleston-sc.gov

 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

For cigarette smuggler, a perilous life under Islamic State

For cigarette smuggler, a perilous life under Islamic State

AP Photo
In this Monday, May 18, 2015 photo, Falah Abdullah Jamil poses for a portrait in Eski Mosul, northern Iraq. He was held as a prisoner by the Islamic State group for selling cigarettes - which are banned by the militants - and was tortured while in jail. When they found the contraband in his trunk, he said, "I swear, it's out of hunger," pleading with the IS fighters. He told them he was the only breadwinner for his extended family and was helping his neighbors as well.
  
ESKI MOSUL, Iraq (AP) -- It was a heart-racing moment. The cigarette smuggler was stuck in line at a checkpoint as, up ahead, Islamic State militants were searching cars. He was running a big risk: The militants have banned smoking and lighting up is punishable with a fine or broken finger. Selling cigarettes can be a death sentence.

Falah Abdullah Jamil, 30, relied on his quick wits and silver tongue.

When the fighters came to his vehicle at the checkpoint leading to his home village of Eski Mosul in northern Iraq, they asked what he had in his trunk.

"Nothing," he lied.

They popped open the trunk and found the 125 cartons of cigarettes he'd brought from Rabia, a town near the border with Syria.

"I swear, it's out of hunger," he said he pleaded with the men. The father of six told them he was the only 
breadwinner for his extended family and was helping his neighbors as well.

The fighters took him to the checkpoint commander, who warned Jamil he'd go to prison and his car would be confiscated. Jamil promised never to do it again. "Just let me go this time for the sake of my children," he said. "If I don't have money, what can I do? Should I steal? If I steal, you'll cut off my hand."

In an interview with The Associated Press in May, Jamil sat in his modest living room, describing how he survived nearly seven months of IS rule before the extremist group was run from town by Kurdish fighters.

The checkpoint commander ordered his subordinates out of the room, Jamil recalled. Once they were alone, he made his offer: "I will let you go if you give me cigarettes." Jamil asked him what brand. "Anything, just give me two cartons," the commander replied.

The commander "said he hadn't had a smoke for three days so when he saw the cigarettes, he was very happy," Jamil said with a laugh.

Iraqi civilians living under IS rule in Mosul, the group's biggest stronghold, told the AP that the militants actually control the cigarette black market, banning smoking in public while privately controlling the sale of cigarettes at an inflated price. They spoke anonymously for fear of retribution.

Saad Eidou, 25, a displaced Iraqi from the town of Sinjar near the Syrian border, said that like everyone else, militants smoke in private. The cigarettes come in through Syria, where movement in and out of Turkey and non-IS areas is easier.

"They brought in cigarettes from Syria, where you probably won't pay more than 250 dinars ($0.20) for a pack, but they were selling it here for 1,000 dinars ($0.80)," said Bilal Abdullah, another resident of Eski Mosul. With IS gone, he took deep draws from a cigarette in public as he spoke.

In another incident, Jamil said, he was accused of selling cigarettes by a member of the Hisba, the vice patrol that ruthlessly enforces the group's regulations. Jamil denied it profusely: "I told him, yes, I used to, but I stopped selling. I told him no one sells anymore since you have forbidden it."

The Hisba official asked if any cigarettes were in Jamil's house. Jamil said no.

"He said, `I will go and inspect your house, and if I find one pack of cigarettes I will execute you.'"

Jamil's bluff had just gotten more dangerous. He had 1,600 cartons of cigarettes hidden at home, he said with a wicked smile.

But he stuck by his story. "I told him, `Go ahead, I haven't got anything."

Apparently convinced, the Hisba official had him sign a document vowing to never sell cigarettes or risk execution.

"I signed it - but I sold again. I didn't stop," Jamil said. "We had no flour, no rice, no food. I have children, and it was winter and was cold and there was no oil, no gas. ... We were living a hellish tragedy."


White gunman caught in killing of 9 in historic black church

White gunman caught in killing of 9 in historic black church 
 

AP Photo
Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Sheby Police Department in Shelby, N.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof is a suspect in the shooting of several people Wednesday night at the historic The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
  
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- A white man who joined a prayer meeting inside a historic black church and then fatally shot nine people was captured without resistance Thursday after an all-night manhunt, Charleston's police chief said.

Dylann Storm Roof, 21, spent nearly an hour inside the church Wednesday night before killing six women and three men, including the pastor, Chief Greg Mullen said. A citizen spotted his car in Shelby, North Carolina, nearly four hours away.

The chief wouldn't discuss a motive. Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. called it "pure, pure concentrated evil." Stunned community leaders and politicians condemned the attack on The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Justice Department has begun a hate crime investigation.

President Barack Obama, who personally knew the slain pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, said these shootings have to stop.

"At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," Obama said.

Pinckney, 41, was a married father of two who spent 19 years in the South Carolina legislature. He became the youngest member of the House when he was first elected as a Democrat at 23.

"He had a core not many of us have," said Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who sat beside Pinckney in the Senate. "I think of the irony that the most gentle of the 46 of us - the best of the 46 of us in this chamber - is the one who lost his life."

The other victims were identified as Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; and DePayne Doctor, 49.

The shootings took out the heart of a community - civic leaders including three pastors, a regional library manager, a college enrollment counselor, and a high school track coach - and left the historic church with just one living minister.

"Immediately, my heart started to sink, because I knew that this was going to mean a forever impact on many, many people," Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said.

Wooten said autopsies would be conducted over the next several days and did not have specific information on how many times the victims were shot or the locations of their injuries.

Roof waived extradition from North Carolina Thursday and was taken to a waiting police car wearing a bulletproof vest, with shackles on his feet and his hands cuffed behind his back. Roof also waived his right to counsel, meaning he will either represent himself or hire his own lawyer.

Roof's childhood friend, Joseph Meek Jr., alerted the FBI after recognizing him in a surveillance camera image. They recognized the stained sweatshirt he had been wearing while playing Xbox videogames in their home.

"I don't know what was going through his head," said Meek's mother, Kimberly Konzny. "He was a really sweet kid. He was quiet. He only had a few friends."

But Roof had been to jail: court records show a pending felony drug case and a past misdemeanor trespassing charge. And he proudly displayed the flags of defeated white-ruled regimes, posing with a Confederate flags plate on his car and wearing a jacket with stitched-on flag patches from Rhodesia, which is now black-led Zimbabwe, and apartheid-era South Africa.

Meek said they had been best friends in middle school, then lost touch for years until Roof reappeared a few weeks ago.

"All the sudden out of the blue, he started talking about race. He started talking about Trayvon Martin," Meek told The Associated Press Thursday after he was questioned by authorities.

"He said blacks were taking over the world. Someone needed to do something about it for the white race. He said he wanted segregation between whites and blacks. I said, `that's not the way it should be.' But he kept talking about it."

Roof wasn't known to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, and it's not clear whether he had any connection to the 16 white supremacist organizations operating in South Carolina, but he appears to be a "disaffected white supremacist," based on his Facebook page, said the center's president, Richard Cohen.

Charleston authorities put out photos of the suspect from the church's surveillance camera early Thursday. Later that morning, authorities west of Charlotte, North Carolina, got a report of a sighting of the suspect's car headed west, said Jeff Ledford, the police chief in Shelby, North Carolina. Officers pulled over the driver and arrested Roof just before 11 a.m., about 14 hours after the attack.

A gun was found in the car, Mullen said.

The shooting evoked painful memories of other attacks. Black churches were bombed in the 1960s when they served as organizing hubs for the Civil Rights movement, and burned by arsons across the South in the 1990s. Others survived shooting sprees.

This particular congregation, which formed in 1816, has its own grim history: A founder, Denmark Vesey, was hanged after trying to organize a slave revolt in 1822, and white landowners burned the church in revenge, leaving parishioners to worship underground until after the Civil War.

This shooting "should be a warning to us all that we do have a problem in our society," said state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat whose district includes the church. "There's a race problem in our country. 

There's a gun problem in our country. We need to act on them quickly."

"Of all cities, in Charleston, to have a horrible hateful person go into the church and kill people there to pray and worship with each other is something that is beyond any comprehension and is not explained," Riley said. 

"We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family."
NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said "there is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people."

A few bouquets of flowers tied to a police barricade outside the church formed a small but growing memorial.

"Today I feel like it's 9-11 again," Bob Dyer, who works in the area, said after leaving an arrangement of yellow flowers wrapped in plastic. "I'm in shock."

The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighboring North Charleston, which increased racial tensions. The officer awaits trial for murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina to pass a law, co-sponsored by Pinckney, to equip police statewide with body cameras.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Thousands of Syrians flee into Turkey amid intense fighting

Thousands of Syrians flee into Turkey amid intense fighting 

AP Photo
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, a masked gunman, believed to be an Islamic State militant runs, as he gives orders to Syrian refugees waiting on the Syrian side of the border in order to cross, to return back to the city of Tal Abyad, Syria, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Several militants pushed the refugees back towards the city but later the refugees massed again near the border fence in hope to flee intense fighting between Syrian Kurds and militants from the Islamic State group in nearby towns and villages. The mass displacement of Syrians came as Kurdish fighters announced they are making headway toward Tal Abyad, the stronghold of the extremist group near the Turkish border.

AKCAKALE, Turkey (AP) -- Thousands of Syrians cut through a border fence and crossed over into Turkey on Sunday, fleeing intense fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and jihadis.

The flow of refugees came as Syrian Kurdish fighters closed in on the outskirts of a strategic Islamic State-held town on the Turkish border, Kurdish officials and an activist group said, potentially cutting off a key supply line for the extremists' nearby de facto capital.

Taking Tal Abyad, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, would deprive the militant group of a direct route to bring in new foreign militants or supplies. The Kurdish advance, coming under the cover of intense U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in the area, would also link their two fronts and put even more pressure on Raqqa.

In this Turkish border village, the refugees took by surprise the Turkish troops stationed there, who were overwhelmed by the large number of people crowding the crossing. Thousands of people had been gathering for more than a day on the Syrian side of the Akcakale border crossing before they broke through Sunday afternoon.

People threw their belongings over the fence while others passed infants into Turkey over barbed wires before following through a several-meter wide opening in the border fence.

Turkish troops later brought in reinforcements and gathered up the refugees on the Turkish side of the border, preventing them from going deeper into Turkey.

Earlier Sunday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus speaking on the refugee situation at the crossing between in Tal Abyad and Akcakale, claimed that those refugees were not fleeing fighting between Kurds and the Islamic State group, but were rather trying to escape to Turkey in case their villages are hit by U.S.-led coalition bombings.

He said Turkey was providing humanitarian aid to them on the other side of the border while taking in anyone who is sick or injured. Kurtulmus said Turkey has taken in more than 2 million refugees since 2011.

"We are of the opinion that there isn't a humanitarian tragedy there," Kurtulmus told CNN-Turk television in an interview. "Our priority is for them to remain within their border. We will continue to provide humanitarian aid to them"

Hours after Kurtulmus spoke, Turkey reversed its decision and opened the border to allow more of the refugees in, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. It said however that this time, Islamic State group militants at the border prevented them from crossing into Turkey.

It put the number of people who were waiting to cross at around 2,500. Around 13,400 Syrians have fled to Turkey since June 1, the agency said.

On Sunday, Kurdish official Idriss Naasan said that Islamic State fighters have fled from Suluk, a few kilometers (miles) southwest of Tal Abyad, and that Kurds now hold the town. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said Islamic State fighters had withdrawn. The Observatory said the Kurds are about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Tal Abyad.

The Observatory reported later that Kurdish fighters captured more villages near Tal Abyad on Sunday adding that jihadis blew up to bridges southeast and southwest of the town to prevent them from pushing forward.

"It's only a matter of time before this area is liberated," Naasan told The Associated Press by telephone from northern Syria, saying the Kurds surround Tal Abyad from the east, west and south. The Turkish border - and the soldiers there - now hem the extremists in from the north.

However, Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Observatory, said Islamic State fighters still control the road linking the Turkish border with Raqqa.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. deputy special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State group, told NBC's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday that Kurdish fighters and other units in Syria are scoring major territorial gains against the Islamic state group. Using an alternative acronym for the group, McGurk said the Kurdish fighters are "really giving a beating to ISIS and they're very close to cutting off the main supply route that ISIS has into its capital of Raqqa."

Since the beginning of May, members of the main Syrian Kurdish force, the People's Protection Units, or YPG, have taken more than 200 small Kurdish and Christian towns in northeastern Syria, as well as strategic mountains seized earlier by the Islamic State group.

They have pushed into Raqqa province, a stronghold of the Islamic State group. Along the way, they have picked up ammunition, weapons and vehicles left behind by the jihadis, almost mirroring the way the extremists overran Iraqi positions last year in their sweep across a third of that country.

The Islamic State group has declared areas of Syria and Iraq it holds as part of its self-declared caliphate, demanding the loyalty of the world's Muslims. Their gruesome propaganda videos of mass killings have drawn in foreign fighters, many coming in over the border from Turkey.

Even if the Kurds cut off Tal Abyad from Raqqa, the Islamic State group could bring in fighters across the border in Syria's Aleppo province, where they still hold ground. However, that would be an indirect route that could expose them to other fighting amid the long Syrian civil war against President Bashar Assad.

In Syria, a country now split mostly between Islamic militants and forces loyal to Assad, the U.S. has found a reliable partner in the YPG, the country's strongest Kurdish militia. They are moderate, mostly secular fighters, driven by revolutionary fervor and a desire to eventually have a nation of their own carved out in the region.

U.S. airstrikes continued Sunday in the area, as an Associated Press journalist on the Turkish side of the border from Tal Abyad saw one strike east of the town.

Nasser Haj Mansour, a defense official in Syria's Kurdish region, said YPG officials are coordinating with the U.S.-led coalition regarding a possible attack on Tal Abyad. He added that the aerial coverage prevented the Islamic State group from bringing reinforcements to the area.

Friday, June 12, 2015

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Pope creates tribunal for bishop negligence in abuse cases

Pope creates tribunal for bishop negligence in abuse cases 
 

AP Photo
Pope Francis exchanges his skull cap with one donated to him as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 10, 2015.
   
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis took the biggest step yet to crack down on bishops who cover up for priests who rape and molest children, creating a new tribunal section inside the Vatican to hear cases of bishops accused of failing to protect their flock.

The initiative, announced Wednesday, has significant legal and theological implications, since bishops have long been considered masters of their dioceses and largely unaccountable when they bungle their job, with the Vatican stepping in only in cases of gross negligence.

That reluctance to intervene has prompted years of criticism from abuse victims, advocacy groups and others that the Vatican had failed to punish or forcibly remove bishops who moved predator priests from parish to parish, where they could rape again, rather than report them to police or remove them from ministry.

The Vatican said Francis had approved proposals made by his sexual abuse advisory board, which includes survivors of abuse as well as experts in child protection policies, that call for a new mechanism by which the Vatican can receive and examine complaints of "abuse of office" by bishops, and bring them to trial in a Vatican tribunal.

A special new judicial section, with permanent staff, will be created inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "to judge bishops with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors," a Vatican statement said.

Details must still be worked out, including possible punishments and the statute of limitations to determine whether old cases of negligence by bishops dating back 20 or 30 years can now be heard.

The congregation currently reviews all cases of priests who have abused minors and the statute of limitations is 20 years, though the congregation can waive that limit.

"Really pleased the Holy Father has approved our proposal," commission member Marie Collins, herself a survivor of abuse, told The Associated Press in an email.

The main U.S. victims group SNAP was more cautious, noting that there are bishops currently in office who have delayed reporting abuse and yet no punishment has ever been meted out.

"In the face of this widespread denial, timidity and inaction, let's be prudent, stay vigilant and withhold judgment until we see if and how this panel might act," said SNAP's David Clohessy.

The sex abuse scandal exploded decades ago in the U.S., Ireland, Australia, and elsewhere in large part because bishops and heads of religious orders moved pedophile priests around or sent them off for therapy, rather than report the crimes to police and conduct church trials as canon law requires. Their aim was to prevent scandal and hold onto their priests at almost any cost.

In 2001, the Vatican required all bishops and religious superiors to send abuse cases to Rome in a bid to crack down on the abusers. Thousands of priests were sanctioned and hundreds defrocked, but the bosses who enabled them to continue abusing were never punished.

The Vatican had long argued that the pope had little power to sanction bishops when they botched cases of abuse, citing the decentralized structure of the church and the theological concept of a bishop's relationship to Rome. That argument served the Vatican well in the face of U.S. lawsuits seeking to hold the pope ultimately responsible for abusive priests, with the Holy See insisting that the pope doesn't exercise enough control over bishops to be held responsible when they covered up for priests who rape children.

A new tribunal that could enable the pope to essentially fire bishops, and not just passively accept their resignations, would seem to undercut the Vatican's argument of a hands-off pope as far as bishop accountability is concerned.

In April, Francis accepted the resignation of U.S. bishop Robert Finn, who had been convicted in a U.S. court of failing to report a suspected child abuser. It was a sign Francis was cracking down on bishops, but that was a resignation that Finn offered, not a forcible removal.

The Vatican's initiative comes as U.S. prosecutors are seeking to hold the church hierarchy responsible for failing to protect children from harm. In recent charges brought against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, prosecutors said church leaders "turned a blind eye" to repeated reports of inappropriate behavior by a priest who was later convicted of molesting two boys. The archdiocese is facing a fine of a few thousand dollars if convicted. No individuals were named.

The Vatican said Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the head of Francis' sex abuse advisory commission, presented the tribunal proposals to Francis' cardinal advisers this week and they were unanimously approved. Francis also approved them and authorized funding for full-time personnel to staff the new office, the Vatican said.

The announcement came as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was holding its mid-year meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, and quickly became a topic of discussion among participants, who included Archbishop John Nienstedt, head of the recently charged Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, said U.S. bishops were not alerted ahead of time about the announcement, and learned of the plan from news reports. He said the new tribunal would bring welcome clarity to any Vatican review of bishops' actions.

"This new board ... provides a structure in which to address issues that may arise involving questionable behavior or inappropriate responsibility regarding the reporting of child abuse by a bishop," said Coyne, who was spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston from 2002-2005 when the U.S. clergy sex abuse crisis erupted there then spread nationwide and beyond.

Terrence McKiernan, president of the online resource BishopAccountability.org, said the new tribunal was "a promising step" and that it was particularly significant that the Vatican was allocating senior staff and funds to it. But he said there were already several well-known cases of active bishops and cardinals who failed in their duty to protect children.

"This system will be coping with the complex interactions of enabling and offending that we see in cases involving bishops," he said in a statement. "Priests abuse children and so do bishops - bishops who offend are inevitably enablers, and the commission's plan must confront that sad fact."

Canon law already does provide sanctions for bishops who are negligent in their duties, but the Vatican was never known to have meted out punishment for a bishop who covered up for an abuser.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that with the new proposals there is now a specific, defined process by which the Vatican can do so.


Friday, June 5, 2015

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

On the Spot Praying Hands

How do justices weigh loss of health insurance for millions?

How do justices weigh loss of health insurance for millions? 

AP Photo
FILE - In this March 4, 2015 file photo, demonstrators chant during health care rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court could wipe away health insurance for millions of Americans when it resolves the latest high court fight over President Barack Obama's health overhaul. But would the court take away a benefit from so many people, and should the justices even consider the consequences?
  
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court could wipe away health insurance for millions of Americans when it resolves the latest fight over President Barack Obama's health overhaul. But would the court take away a benefit from so many people? Should the justices even consider such consequences?

By month's end, the court is expected to decide a challenge to the way subsidies, in the form of tax credits, are given to people who get their insurance through the Affordable Care Act. The legal issue is whether Congress authorized payments regardless of where people live, or only to residents of states that established their own insurance exchanges.

The distinction is potentially momentous, since more than two-thirds of the states did not set up their own exchanges. In those states, people rely on the federal healthcare.gov site to sign up for insurance. The financial benefits are substantial, covering nearly three-fourths of insurance premiums on average.

If the court rules that the subsidies can't be given to people who enrolled on the federal site, 7 million to 9 million Americans would quickly lose their insurance, said Nicholas Bagley, a health law expert at the University of Michigan and a supporter of the law known as "Obamacare."

"The consequences of a government defeat here are so extraordinary and sweeping," he said.

Since the New Deal, the Supreme Court has almost always upheld major new government programs and legislation as allowable under the Constitution. That was the case with Social Security in the 1930s, the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and, most recently, the health care law in 2012.

"After Social Security gets upheld in 1937 against various constitutional challenges, it then becomes an issue for the voters, but not a second-round judicial question for the court," said John Q. Barrett, a law professor at St. John's University in New York.

But the health law is different. It remains a bitter partisan fight, continuing to play out in the courts after efforts to replace Obama in the White House and repeal the law in Congress failed.

The current dispute turns not on some great constitutional question but a matter of statutory interpretation - or what the words of the law mean. This case comes down to the meaning of four words - "established by the state" - in a law of more than 900 pages.

One school of thought holds that the court should look only at what Congress actually wrote into the law, not what it might have intended.

"When the court is interpreting a text like it's doing in this case, then it really is not in the business of looking at consequences," said Ronald Cass, the former dean of the Boston University law school. "If you have a result that seems to be a bad one, that's for the political branches to say, not for the court to say."

The idea that Congress never would have created a system that was essentially designed to fail, by making health insurance unaffordable to so many people the law presumably was intended to help, is irrelevant, Cass said.

On the court itself, Justice Antonin Scalia is the most voluble proponent of the view that it's not his job to correct Congress' bad work. "Garbage in, garbage out," he has said.

Justice Stephen Breyer, on the other hand, has said Scalia's approach is too limiting because a law's words sometimes are not clear enough to resolve a case, especially when read in isolation. Context matters, and the real-world consequences of a law are part of that context, Breyer has said.

Another factor that may be at work is the effect a decision could have on the court's reputation, said Thomas Keck, a political science professor at Syracuse University.

That kind of institutional concern seemed to affect Chief Justice John Roberts' decision to cast the deciding vote to uphold the health law in 2012, Keck said. Had that case gone the other way, it would have "pulled the court even further into political conflict," he said. In that scenario, five Republican-appointed justices would have struck down the Democratic president's signature domestic achievement during his re-election campaign.

The unrelenting lawsuits from Republican opponents should put the court on notice that its reputation could be at stake again in a political fight, Keck said.

No one knows how these considerations are weighing on the justices in the back-and-forth of majority and dissenting opinions now making their way around the courthouse. But there are few comparable examples in recent history where the court has taken away a benefit from so many people.

Fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court confronted a case involving what Justice Sandra Day O'Connor called "perhaps the single most significant threat to public health in the United States."

The issue was whether the Food and Drug Administration had the authority to regulate cigarettes as a means to reduce tobacco use among children, as the Clinton administration asserted in regulations it issued in the mid-1990s.

Tobacco companies said the regulations exceeded the FDA's power. The court divided sharply, 5 to 4, and O'Connor wrote the majority opinion agreeing with the companies. Despite the seriousness of the problem, she wrote, Congress never granted the FDA the power the administration claimed.

Nine years and two presidents later, Congress gave FDA the explicit authority the court said was missing in 2000.

The analogy is imprecise, but the case and its consequences pose similar questions, Bagley said.

"Do you draw from that story that the democratic process worked," Bagley asked, "or that we could have saved a lot of lives in the meantime if the court had allowed the rule to go into effect?"

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Washington removes Cuba from US list of terrorism sponsors

Washington removes Cuba from US list of terrorism sponsors
 

AP Photo
This coastal view of Havana, Cuba shows the United States Interests Section diplomatic mission, the third tall building from the right, on Sunday, May 24, 2015. On Friday, May 29 the Obama administration formally removed Cuba from a U.S. terrorism blacklist as part of the process of normalizing relations between the Cold War foes.
  
HAVANA (AP) -- The Obama administration formally removed Cuba from the U.S. terrorism blacklist Friday, a decision hailed in Cuba as the healing of a decades-old wound and an important step toward normalizing relations between the Cold War foes.

Secretary of State John Kerry signed off on rescinding Cuba's "state sponsor of terrorism" designation exactly 45 days after the Obama administration informed Congress of its intent to do so on April 14. Lawmakers had that amount of time to weigh in and try to block the move, but did not do so.

"The 45-day congressional pre-notification period has expired, and the secretary of state has made the final decision to rescind Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, effective today, May 29, 2015," the State Department said in a statement.

"While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba's policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a state sponsor of terrorism designation," the statement said.

The step comes as officials from the two countries continue to hash out details for restoring full diplomatic relations, including opening embassies in Washington and Havana and returning ambassadors to the two countries for the first time since the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with the island in January 1961. The removal of Cuba from the terrorism list had been a key Cuban demand.

The Cold War-era designation was levied mainly for Cuba's support of leftist guerrillas around the world and isolated the communist island from much of the world financial system because banks fear repercussions from doing business with designated countries. Even Cuba's Interests Section in Washington lost its bank in the United States, forcing it to deal in cash until it found a new banker this month.

Banks continue to take a cautious tone about doing business with Cuba since U.S. laws still make the island off limits for U.S. businesses. Leaders of the Republicans-controlled House have shown zero interest in repealing the laws from the 1990s that codified the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba.

"Taking Cuba off the terrorism list is one step toward normalization, but for doing business down there, we have a long way to go," said Rob Rowe, vice president and associate chief council at the American Bankers Association.

In a blog post, the White House called the decision on the terrorism list another step toward improving relations with Cuba.

"For 55 years, we tried using isolation to bring about change in Cuba," it said. "But by isolating Cuba from the United States, we isolated the United States from the Cuban people and, increasingly, the rest of the world."

The terrorism list was a particularly charged issue for Cuba because of the U.S. history of supporting exile groups responsible for attacks on the island, including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger flight from Barbados that killed 73 people aboard. The attack was linked to Cuban exiles with ties to U.S.-backed anti-Castro groups and both men accused of masterminding the crime took shelter in Florida, where one, Luis Posada Carriles, currently lives.

"I think this could be a positive act that adds to hope and understanding and can help the negotiations between Cuba and the United States," said director Juan Carlos Cremata, who lost his father in the 1976 bombing.

"It's a list we never should have been on," said Ileana Alfonso, who also lost her father in the attack.  

Top U.S. Republicans criticized the move, with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio saying the Obama administration had "handed the Castro regime a significant political win in return for nothing."

"The communist dictatorship has offered no assurances it will address its long record of repression and human rights at home," Boehner said in a statement.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the decision was a mistake and called it "further evidence that President Obama seems more interested in capitulating to our adversaries than in confronting them."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, praised the move, saying it is a "critical step forward in creating new opportunities for American businesses and entrepreneurs, and in strengthening family ties."

U.S. and Cuban officials have said the two sides are close to resolving the final issues needed for restoring diplomatic relations, but the most recent round of talks ended May 22 with no announcement of an agreement.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that "there continue to be issues that need to be worked out." He said important progress had been made, but would not give a time frame for an announcement. "That's obviously among the next milestones," he said.

Washington and Havana are wrangling over U.S. demands that its diplomats be able to travel throughout Cuba and meet with dissidents without restrictions. The Cubans are wary of activity they see as destabilizing to their government.

Both the U.S. and Cuba say reopening embassies would be a first step in a larger process of normalizing relations. That effort would still have to tackle bigger questions such as the trade embargo as well as the future of the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay and Cuba's democracy record.

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