House OKs bill for improving drug safety
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House easily approved bipartisan legislation Saturday aimed at improving the safety of drugs produced by compounding pharmacies that mix customized pharmaceuticals.
The measure, approved on a voice vote, comes almost a year after a meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people and sickened hundreds more was traced to a compounding company in Framingham, Mass. Inspectors later found unsanitary conditions at the New England Compounding Center, which has since closed.
The measure, aimed at improving how drugs are tracked from production until they are purchased at a drug store, would clarify what sponsors said was confusion over the Food and Drug Administration’s authority over compounded drugs. It would also require the agency to coordinate its oversight of compounded-drug safety with states.
Compounders could voluntarily register as outsourcing facilities, which would bring them under FDA authority. Registering will let the agency identify who these companies are and what they produce, and allow the FDA to receive reports about any problems.
Companies that remain traditional pharmacies would continue to be overseen mostly by state pharmacy boards.
Blackout preceded firefighter deaths
PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — Shortly before 19 elite firefighters perished in a raging Arizona wildfire, commanders thought the crew was in a safe place. No one had heard from the Granite Mountain Hotshots for 33 minutes. The crew didn’t contact commanders, and commanders didn’t radio them.
Then it was too late.
A three-month investigation into the June 30 deaths released Saturday did not determine if the tragedy was avoidable, while outlining a series of missteps by the crew and commanders and revealing the more than half-hour of radio silence that occurred just before the firefighters were overwhelmed by flames.
It’s not certain why the crew left what was believed to be a safe spot on a ridge that the fire had previously burned and, apparently seeking another safe location, unknowingly walked to their deaths in a basin thick with dry brush. At the time they died, an airtanker was circling overhead, confused about their location.
“There is much that cannot be known about the crew’s decisions and actions” because of the gap in communications, the report concluded.
Senate ready to reject House delay
WASHINGTON (AP) — The political and economic stakes mounting with each tick of the clock, the White House and congressional Democrats say a House-approved delay in President Barack Obama’s health care law does nothing but push Washington to the brink of the first government shutdown in 17 years.
Neither side showed signs of surrender early Sunday after the Republican-led House added a one-year delay in implementing health-care reform to legislation that would avert a shuttering of federal offices on Tuesday. The near party-line vote was 231-192, shifting the focus to the Democratic-run Senate less than 48 hours before government funds run dry.
Democrats said delaying the health care law would sink the bill. They also opposed a second provision the House added by 248-174: A repeal of a tax on many medical devices that helps finance the 2010 health care overhaul.
Republicans said the health care law, often called “Obamacare,” was costing jobs and pushing up costs. Americans dislike “this crazy, delusional idea that nationalized, centralized planning will work,” said Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.
Obama has said he won’t let the law — his chief domestic achievement — be gutted. Democrats said Republicans were obsessed with attacking the measure, aimed at providing health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, and the president.
Inside Kenya mall, terrorists bowed
The turbaned gunmen who infiltrated Nairobi’s Westgate mall arrived with a set of religious trivia questions: As terrified civilians hid in toilet stalls, behind mannequins, in ventilation shafts and underneath food court tables, the assailants began a high-stakes game of 20 Questions to separate Muslims from those they consider infidels.
A 14-year-old boy saved himself by jumping off the mall’s roof, after learning from friends inside that they were quizzed on names of the Prophet Muhammad’s relatives. A Jewish man scribbled a Quranic scripture on his hand to memorize, after hearing the terrorists were asking captives to recite specific verses. Numerous survivors described how the attackers from al-Shabab, a Somali cell which recently joined al-Qaida, shot people who failed to provide the correct answers.
Their chilling accounts, combined with internal al-Shabab documents discovered earlier this year by The Associated Press, mark the final notch in a transformation within the global terror network, which began to rethink its approach after its setbacks in Iraq. Al-Qaida has since realized that the indiscriminate killing of Muslims is a strategic liability, and hopes instead to create a schism between Muslims and everyone else, whom they consider “kuffar,” or apostates.
“What this shows is al-Qaida’s acknowledgment that the huge masses of Muslims they have killed is an enormous PR problem within the audience they are trying to reach,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization. “This is a problem they had documented and noticed going back to at least Iraq. And now we see al-Qaida groups are really taking efforts to address it.”
Iraq says West should take Iran seriously
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Iraq’s foreign minister said Saturday that the new Iranian government led by President Hassan Rouhani offers “the best chance after 34 years of animosity” to improve relations with the United States and should be taken seriously.
Hoshyar Zebari also told The Associated Press in an interview that he is working behind the scenes to try to unite disparate Syrian opposition groups ahead of a November peace conference and to promote a thaw in Tehran’s relations with the United States.
Zebari said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked Iraq at their meeting Saturday to press the opposition to come with one delegation and one position. The U.N. chief also told him he heard no opposition to Iran, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, participating in the upcoming Geneva peace conference.
“Before he would hear outright rejection,” Zebari said. “This time, everybody was quiet. Nobody objected.”
Iraq is in a unique position in the Middle East. Its Shiite-dominated government has comfortable ties to Shiite Iran — an important ally of Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime. And according to Zebari, Iraq also has good relations with both sides in the Syrian conflict. It also has strong ties to Washington following the 10-year, American-led war that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
Iranians largely welcome US outreach
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Smiling and waving flags, Iranians from across the political spectrum welcomed President Hassan Rouhani home Saturday with cheers for his historic phone conversation with his American counterpart. But pockets of anger over the new contact between the two enemy nations signaled challenges ahead.
Hard-liners opposed to any improved contact with Washington made their objections clear as several dozen protesters chanting “Death to America” tried to block his motorcade in Tehran. The semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that at least one demonstrator hurled a shoe — a common gesture of contempt in the Middle East — in Rouhani’s direction. Other reports said eggs were thrown at his car.
“Dialogue with Satan is not ‘hope and prudence,’” some chanted, using the Rouhani’s campaign from the June presidential election.
Rouhani supporters, meanwhile, greeted him with placards thanking him for seeking peace instead of confrontation. One banner read: “Yes to peace, no to war.”
Hagel discusses extending control
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Amid escalating threats from North Korea, U.S. and South Korean defense officials will meet over the next few days and discuss whether to extend America’s wartime control over the South’s armed forces, 60 years after a truce ended the Korean War.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel flew to Seoul on Sunday, and said there will be conversations about the possible extension of the 2015 deadline, but likely no decisions will be made.
“We’re constantly re-evaluating each of our roles,” Hagel told reporters traveling with him. “That does not at all subtract from, or in any way weaken, our commitment — the United States’ commitment — to the treaty obligations that we have and continue to have with the South Koreans.”
U.S. officials have acknowledged that the South Koreans have informally expressed an interested in delaying the deadline when Seoul is supposed to assume wartime control of the forces that would defend the country in the event of an attack by North Korea.
The target date initially was in 2012, and was pushed back to 2015.
Amid Putin’s harsh crackdown, Sochi’s gay scene thrives ahead of Winter Olympics
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A man named Ravil catapults onto the dance floor and starts stomping out the lezginka, the arrogant rooster strut of the Chechen national dance.
Ravil’s spontaneous performance is made even more unusual by the fact he’s in one of the two gay clubs in Sochi, the southern Russian town that will host the Winter Olympics amid Vladimir Putin’s harsh crackdown on gays. The morality campaign — centered on a law banning homosexual “propaganda” — has threatened to overshadow the games as it provokes an international outcry.
Paradoxically, Sochi is a far cry from the conservative lifestyle that the president is trying to promote.
At club Mayak, for example, the dancers are as diverse as the city itself: a Muslim who is a former market butcher, an Armenian who owns a strip club in a nearby town, a Ukrainian who loves to sing like Whitney Houston and dress like Adele.
And the men behind Mayak are hopeful that Sochi can remain the exception to the rule as its entrepreneurial, anything-goes crowd prepares to welcome the world. “This is a resort town,” says Andrei Tenichev, the owner. “We have a saying: Money doesn’t smell of anything.”
New taxes meant to alleviate Puerto Rico economic crisis hits lower, middle class
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Sweat gathered on the back of Gilberto Olivo’s shirt as he tried to divert attention from his resume at a recent job fair in the working-class town of Catano.
Once a chemical engineer who held managerial positions in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Olivo became unemployed five years ago. Talking to a recruiter, the 64-year-old knew his once proud career might make him overqualified for jobs available now that could help him pay his mortgage, his daughter’s college tuition and other costs.
“I’ll do anything,” Olivo said in all seriousness. “I’ll clean floors, I’ll wash dishes, I’ll be an errand boy.”
Olivo’s predicament has become disturbingly common for many beleaguered lower- and middle-class residents of this U.S. territory, where energy, food and other costs were already much higher than those in the U.S. mainland. Now, the island’s cost of living is hitting unsustainable levels for people such as Olivo as the government passes a flurry of new taxes and increases in water and sewer rates that are adding hundreds of dollars more onto monthly budgets.
Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has said the island needs the new revenue to close a budget deficit and improve the near-junk status of its general obligation bonds while it hobbles through its seventh straight year of recession. But critics say the new measures are hurting potential economic recovery by squeezing Puerto Ricans who were already barely making ends meet.
Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys among performers at NYC concert highlighting worldwide poverty
NEW YORK (AP) — Stevie Wonder gave an electrifying performance at New York’s Central Park in front of thousands of fans and several world leaders Saturday, singing his hits and calling for an end to poverty worldwide at the Global Citizen Festival.
Bono gave a funky, rousing introduction to Wonder, who headlined the second annual concert. Wonder wowed audience members, who danced and sang along to songs including “Superstition” and “Isn’t She Lovely.”
“This is a global celebration,” Wonder yelled to the crowd. “We will end extreme world poverty in our lifetime.”
Wonder has been a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a special focus on disabilities since 2009. Messengers have recognized talents in the arts, academia and sports and help bring attention to U.N. work.
The Global Citizen Festival coincides with the U.N. General Assembly. Fans earned free tickets for helping spread the word or volunteering to help end world poverty. World leaders who attended included Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.