Calls for Shinseki's ouster at VA surge after blistering hospital report; bonuses targeted
WASHINGTON (AP) — Support for embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki eroded quickly Thursday, especially among congressional Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns, even as Shinseki continued to fight for his job amid allegations of delayed medical care and misconduct at VA facilities nationwide.
Shinseki spoke privately with lawmakers and met with nearly two dozen veterans groups, assuring them that he takes the reports seriously and is moving swiftly to fix problems. On Friday, he is to address the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, outlining his plans for corrections.
A federal investigation of operations in the troubled Phoenix VA Health Care System found that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off an official waiting list. While initially focused on Phoenix, the investigation described Wednesday by the VA Department's inspector general found broad and deep-seated problems in the sprawling health care system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.
The interim report confirmed earlier allegations of excessive waiting times for care in Phoenix, with an average 115-day wait for a first appointment for those on the waiting list — nearly five times as long as the 24-day average the hospital had reported.
House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said they were reserving judgment about Shinseki. But with the situation threatening to affect congressional elections in November, the chorus of lawmakers calling for his departure grew by the hour.
Rebels shoot down Ukraine troop helicopter in another deadly loss for Kiev's military
SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) — In another devastating blow to Ukraine's armed forces, rebels shot down a troop helicopter Thursday, killing at least 12 soldiers, including a general who had served in the Soviet army and was in charge of combat training.
The loss underscored the challenge Ukrainian forces face in fighting a guerrilla-style insurgency that has proven to be an agile foe.
Ukraine, meanwhile, announced that President-elect Petro Poroshenko will be sworn in June 7, less than two weeks after his overwhelming victory in special balloting that was hoped would ease tensions in the deeply divided country. Poroshenko has promised to negotiate with representatives in rebellious eastern Ukraine but also has vowed to uproot the pro-Moscow rebels who want the region to join Russia.
The Mi-8 helicopter was downed on the outskirts of Slovyansk by rebels using a portable air defense missile, according to Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's acting president, in remarks to parliament in Kiev. Slovyansk, a city of 120,000 people, has become a focal point for the insurgency and has for weeks been encircled by Ukrainian troops.
Turchynov said the helicopter was rotating troops into a checkpoint when it came under rebel fire. Among the dead was Gen. Serhiy Kulchytskiy, who the Interfax news agency said had once served in the Soviet army and was in charge of training Ukraine's National Guard.
10 Things to Know for Friday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:
1. VA WOES TIED TO BONUS SYSTEM
Congressional critics say the system encouraged staff to fudge stats on wait times as a way to meet performance targets.
AP Source: Former Microsoft chief agrees to record $2B deal to buy LA Clippers
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shelly Sterling reached an agreement Thursday night to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion in what would be a record deal if approved by the NBA, according to an individual with knowledge of the negotiations.
The individual, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly, told The Associated Press that Ballmer and the Sterling Family Trust now have a binding agreement. The deal now must be presented to the NBA.
Shelly Sterling negotiated the sale after her husband, Donald Sterling, made racist remarks that were made public. The remarks included Sterling telling girlfriend V. Stiviano not to bring blacks to Clippers games, specifically mentioning Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. Donald Sterling must also approve the final agreement as a 50 percent owner.
Ballmer beat out bids by Guggenheim Partners and a group including former NBA All-Star Grant Hill.
On Thursday, Magic Johnson posted on his Twitter account: "Steve Ballmer owning the Clippers is a big win for the City of LA and all the people who live in the City of Angels!"
Google steps up efforts for more racial diversity; 'Miles from where we want to be'
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Google has had more trouble diversifying its workforce than its computer scientists have had writing programs that respond to search requests in the blink of an eye or designing cars that can navigate traffic without a human behind the wheel.
That seemed to be the conclusion when the Silicon Valley giant this week issued a gender and ethnic breakdown of its workforce that showed that of its 26,600 U.S. employees, 61 percent are white, 30 percent Asian, 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black. Thirty percent of its employees are women.
"Google is miles from where we want to be," said Laszlo Bock, head of personnel at Google.
Why is one of the most innovative, dynamic sectors of the U.S. economy looking like the corporate world of the past, at least when it comes to blacks, Hispanics and women?
The biggest factor is a shortage of such students majoring in computer science or other technical fields in college, according to Bock.
Plants, animals going extinct 1,000 times faster than they did before humans, new study finds
WASHINGTON (AP) — Species of plants and animals are becoming extinct at least 1,000 times faster than they did before humans arrived on the scene, and the world is on the brink of a sixth great extinction, a new study says.
The study looks at past and present rates of extinction and finds a lower rate in the past than scientists had thought. Species are now disappearing from Earth about 10 times faster than biologists had believed, said study lead author noted biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University.
"We are on the verge of the sixth extinction," Pimm said from research at the Dry Tortugas. "Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions."
The work, published Thursday by the journal Science, was hailed as a landmark study by outside experts.
Pimm's study focused on the rate, not the number, of species disappearing from Earth. It calculated a "death rate" of how many species become extinct each year out of 1 million species.
FDA requires warning labels, safety measures for indoor tanning devices linked to cancer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Tanning beds and sun lamps will carry new warnings that they should not be used by anyone under age 18, part of a government action announced Thursday aimed at reducing skin cancer linked to the radiation-emitting devices.
The Food and Drug Administration has regulated tanning machines for over 30 years, but the agency is now requiring more prominent warnings about the cancer risks of indoor tanning.
Makers of sun lamps and related devices must include a bold label, known as a black box warning stating that they should not be used by people under age 18. Additionally, manufacturers must provide more warnings about cancer risks in pamphlets, catalogues and websites that promote their products. Those materials must warn that the devices shouldn't be used by people who have had skin cancer or have a family history of the disease.
For years, medical groups have urged the U.S. government to take action on tanning beds because of rising rates of skin cancer among teenagers and 20-somethings, particularly women. Over 76,000 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are expected to be diagnosed this year, and the disease is expected to cause 9,710 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. While most cases are diagnosed in people in their 40s and 50s, the disease is linked to sun exposure at a young age. But melanoma is also the second-most common form of cancer among young adults, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
An estimated 2.3 million U.S. teenagers tan indoors each year.
In reversal, Texas attorney general says state can keep its source of execution drugs a secret
DALLAS (AP) — Texas' prison system does not have to reveal where it gets its execution drugs, the state attorney general's office said Thursday, marking a reversal by the state's top prosecutor on an issue being challenged in several death penalty states.
Under Greg Abbott, who is also the Republican nominee for governor in the nation's busiest death penalty state, the Texas Attorney General's Office had since 2010 rejected three similar attempts by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to keep secret its source of the drugs used to carry out lethal injections.
But on Thursday, Abbott's office sided with state prison officials who said their supplier would be in danger if identified, citing a "threat assessment" signed by Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw.
The assessment, a one-page letter dated March 7, said pharmacies "by design are easily accessible to the public and present a soft target to violent attacks." He added that naming a pharmacy supplying execution drugs "presents a substantial threat of physical harm ... and should be avoided to the greatest extent possible."
Abbott's decision came the same day Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said his state should consider creating its own laboratory to make execution drugs rather than relying on "uneasy cooperation" with outside suppliers. A state-operated lab would be a first, and it wasn't immediately clear if Missouri could open such a lab without approval from lawmakers.
AP-WE tv Poll: As women earn and learn more, traditional gender roles still drive dating scene
WASHINGTON (AP) — In dating, money may be the biggest taboo.
An Associated Press-WE tv poll finds that two-thirds of Americans think it's tougher to talk money with your romantic partner than it is to talk sex. Three in 10 say sex is the harder conversation.
And when people do lay out their thoughts on money and gender in the dating scene, all kinds of contradictions emerge.
Seven in 10 of those surveyed say it's unacceptable to expect a date to pay for everything. But most still say it's a man's job to pay for the first date.
Most say it's OK to ask someone out because he or she seems successful. But even more say it's unacceptable to turn down people because they haven't had much success.
Rangers eliminate Canadiens in 6 games, reach Stanley Cup finals for 1st time in 20 years
NEW YORK (AP) — Dominic Moore scored in the second period, Henrik Lundqvist bounced back from his worst performance in the playoffs and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 on Thursday night to advance to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Rangers are in the championship round for the first time since winning it all in 1994.
Lundqvist and the Rangers shook off a 7-4 road loss Tuesday night and took out the Canadiens on home ice. Lundqvist needed to make only 18 saves in his team-record tying ninth postseason shutout. He was pulled after allowing four goals in less than two periods Tuesday.
Lundqvist had been 0-5 since 2009 in non-Game 7 clinching games. He leaped several times in his crease with his hands raised as streamers were fired off from the rafters.
Montreal's Dustin Tokarski, who replaced injured No. 1 goalie Carey Price after Game 1, was solid in making 31 saves.