McLEAN, Va. (AP) — Nearly every weekend, Chris Nassetta is cooking in his family's oversized kitchen, outfitted with two commercial-grade refrigerators, three sinks and a deep fryer.
These aren't small meals. Between his wife, six daughters, friends, neighbors and relatives, there are often 40 people dining.
"I'm not a gourmet chef," Nassetta says. "I tend to cook what the kids beg for: my grandmother's old recipes of spicy red sauces, some sausage and ziti."
Most of the time, Nassetta is on the road. In his day job as CEO of Hilton hotels, he has about 732,000 guests per night to make happy.
When Nassetta took over in 2007, Hilton lagged behind other hoteliers. He had to restructure not only the operations, but the culture. "People really didn't know where we were going," he says.
Nassetta focused on lucrative international markets — at the time, only 19 percent of Hilton's new hotels were planned for overseas. He also franchised more hotels — a quick way to grow the company with minimal capital investment or risk.
Today, Hilton Worldwide is the largest hotelier in the world, by rooms, with 679,000. Of its planned hotels, 60 percent are now outside the U.S. Its initial public offering last December raised $2.35 billion, surpassing Twitter's IPO the month prior. It was the second largest IPO of the year and the biggest ever for a hotel.
Nassetta, 51, is as likely to greet you with a high five as a handshake. He gets animated about the gifts he's received from world leaders who welcomed Hilton into their country, like a zebra skin rug, swords and watches.
"I know I've got a dagger here," Nassetta says, rummaging through an office cabinet.
And he loves to chat. An interview lasts three hours, long enough to require a bathroom break — but not a pause in the conversation. Nassetta talks all the way through the washing of his hands.
"I am very long-winded," he acknowledges. "Everybody tells me that."
Hilton was once an innovator. The pina colada cocktail is said to have been invented in 1954 at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico. Hilton pioneered the idea of an airport hotel in 1959 in San Francisco. And highlighting its cultural importance, in 1975 the Muppet characters Statler and Waldorf were introduced, named after two Hilton properties in New York.
But by 2007, many of Hilton's rooms were tired looking. Private equity firm Blackstone Group purchased the company; Nassetta was brought in to turn it around.
Nassetta moved the headquarters from Beverly Hills, California to the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. There was a massive bloodletting: of the 600 headquarters employees, only 130 moved east.
"If you want to change a culture, you change 80 percent of the people," he says. "We had lost touch with the front line."
So Nassetta and his senior executives started spending one week each year working at hotels — in housekeeping, engineering and the front desk.
"Their job is harder than your job," Nassetta says. "You get in there, and you pay them the respect."
Nassetta is the fourth of six kids. His grandfather arrived in America from Italy before the Great Depression with a few dollars in his pocket and just as many words of English in his vocabulary. He was a woodworker and started his own shop in Connecticut making church pews and cabinets.
Nassetta's father applied that same entrepreneurial drive to real estate. For his six kids — three boys, three girls — there was no allowance.
"My father wanted us to be independent, do it on our own, just like he did," Nassetta recalls.
Nassetta had a newspaper delivery route then expanded it, getting other kids to do deliveries under his supervision. He also had a lawn mowing and snow plowing business.
The summer before college, he got his first formal job — an entry-level position in the Holiday Inn Capitol Hill's engineering department. Primarily, he unclogged toilets.
Nassetta grew up about 10 minutes from Hilton's current headquarters. His parents still live in the same house; he lives just a mile down the road. And the neighbors — on both sides — are his sisters and their families.
His six daughters go to the same elementary school, junior high and high school he attended. And if that weren't enough hometown connections, here's one more: Nassetta and his wife Paige met in high school and were prom dates, though it would take another 12 years until they wed. (They had dinner at Trader Vic's in the Capital Hilton before the prom.)
While some hotel companies, like Marriott International, are launching new brands targeting younger travelers Nassetta isn't convinced that is the best approach.
"I think all our hotels, in all brands, need to appeal to the millennial," he says. "Millennials grow up and their needs change. All of our brands need to be relevant to a broad array of customers."
Part of that is accepting what needs to go away.
Rolling suitcases have eliminated the need for bellmen and Nassetta questions if guests truly desire robes, slippers or nightly turndown service. Or at least are willing to pay the higher room rates they require.
"Do you get turndown service at home? If you do, let me know because I'd like to ask my family," Nassetta jokes.
He made headlines last year with a decision to eliminate traditional room service in big city hotels.
The labor costs involved with delivering food to rooms makes it a money-loser for the hotel. But guests aren't happy either with often overpriced, mediocre food. So Hilton and other hotels are testing a "grab-and-go" food outlets, particularly for breakfast.
"The customer gets a better price, better service and ultimately, in their minds, a better product," Nassetta says.
Then there is Wi-Fi. Most hotels — especially at the higher end — charge for it. Nassetta believes in three to five years a basic level of Internet access will be free across the industry, with hotels only charging for faster service.
But don't expect free bottled water soon, unless you're an elite member of the loyalty program.
"Bottled water has a cost, has an environmental impact," Nassetta says. "I don't really want to encourage it. People pay for bottled water at their house, so I'm not sure why they can't pay for it at our hotels."
ATLANTA (AP) — The last surviving member of the crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima once said he thought the bombing was necessary because it shortened the war and eliminated the need for an Allied land invasion that could have cost more lives on both sides.
But Theodore "Dutch" VanKirk also said it made him wary of war - and that he would like to see all of the world's atomic bombs abolished.
VanKirk died Monday at the retirement home where he lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia, his son Tom VanKirk said. He was 93.
Theodore VanKirk flew as navigator on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb deployed in wartime over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
The bombing hastened the end of World War II. The blast and its aftereffects killed 140,000 in Hiroshima. Three days after Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. That blast and its aftermath claimed 80,000 lives. Six days after the Nagasaki bombing, Japan surrendered.
Whether the United States should have used the atomic bomb has been debated endlessly.
"I honestly believe the use of the atomic bomb saved lives in the long run," VanKirk told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview. "There were a lot of lives saved. Most of the lives saved were Japanese."
But VanKirk said the experience of World War II also showed him "that wars don't settle anything."
"And atomic weapons don't settle anything," he said. "I personally think there shouldn't be any atomic bombs in the world — I'd like to see them all abolished.
"But if anyone has one," he added, "I want to have one more than my enemy."
VanKirk was teamed with pilot Paul Tibbets and bombardier Tom Ferebee in Tibbets' fledgling 509th Composite Bomb Group for Special Mission No. 13.
The mission went perfectly, VanKirk told the AP. He guided the bomber through the night sky, just 15 seconds behind schedule, he said. As the 9,000-pound bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" fell toward the sleeping city, he and his crewmates hoped to escape with their lives.
They didn't know whether the bomb would actually work and, if it did, whether its shockwaves would rip their plane to shreds. They counted — one thousand one, one thousand two — reaching the 43 seconds they'd been told it would take for detonation, and heard nothing.
"I think everybody in the plane concluded it was a dud. It seemed a lot longer than 43 seconds," VanKirk recalled.
Then came a bright flash. Then a shockwave. Then another shockwave.
VanKirk stayed on with the military for a year after the war ended. Then he went to school, earned degrees in chemical engineering and signed on with DuPont, where he stayed until he retired in 1985. He later moved from California to the Atlanta area to be near his daughter.
Like many World War II veterans, VanKirk didn't talk much about his service until much later in his life when he spoke to school groups, his son said.
"I didn't even find out that he was on that mission until I was 10 years old and read some old news clippings in my grandmother's attic," Tom VanKirk told the AP in a phone interview Tuesday.
Instead, he and his three siblings treasured a wonderful father, who was a great mentor and remained active and "sharp as a tack" until the end of his life.
"I know he was recognized as a war hero, but we just knew him as a great father," Tom VanKirk said.
VanKirk's military career was chronicled in a 2012 book, "My True Course," by Suzanne Dietz. VanKirk was energetic, very bright and had a terrific sense of humor, Dietz recalled Tuesday.
Interviewing VanKirk for the book, she said, "was like sitting with your father at the kitchen table listening to him tell stories."
A funeral service was scheduled for VanKirk on Aug. 5 in his hometown of Northumberland, Pennsylvania. He will be buried in Northumberland next to his wife, who died in 1975. The burial will be private.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli strikes hit a crowded shopping area in Gaza City Wednesday, hours after tank shells tore through the walls of a U.N. school crowded with war refugees in the deadliest of a series of air and artillery attacks that pushed the Palestinian death toll above 1,300 in more than three weeks of fighting.
The bloodshed came on the heels of an escalation by both sides fighting in the embattled coastal territory, further dimming prospects for a sustainable cease-fire despite international diplomatic efforts.
The attack on the U.N. school in the Jebaliya refugee camp was the second deadly strike on a U.N. compound in a week. Tank shells slammed into the compound before dawn, said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, which is sheltering more than 200,000 people displaced by the fighting at dozens of U.N. schools across Gaza.
Gaza health ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra said at least 17 people were killed and about 90 wounded in the school strike. Four of the dead were killed just outside the school compound, two in their home nearby and two in the street, after returning from pre-dawn prayers, their relatives said.
The Israeli military said it fired back after its soldiers were targeted by mortar rounds launched from the vicinity of the school.
Assad Sabah said he and his five children were huddling under desks in one of the classrooms because of the constant sound of tank fire throughout the night.
"We were scared to death," he said. "After 4:30 a.m., tanks started firing more. Three explosions shook the school."
"One classroom collapsed over the head of the people who were inside," he said.
In one classroom, the front wall was blown out, leaving debris and bloodied clothing. Another strike tore a large round hole in the ceiling of a second-floor classroom.
Hundreds of people crowded the school courtyard after the strike, some dazed, others wailing.
"Where will we go?" asked Aishe Abu Darabeh, 56. "Where will we go next? We fled and they (the Israelis) are following us."
In all, 1,359 Palestinians have been killed — 114 on Wednesday — and 7,100 wounded since the July 8 start of fighting, al-Kidra said.
The Israeli military said three of its soldiers were killed when a booby-trapped house collapsed after they identified an entrance to a tunnel inside, raising to 56 the number killed since a ground war began earlier this month. Three civilians also have been killed on the Israeli side.
The U.N. said it was the sixth school to be hit since the conflict began, and the second to cause deaths. At least 15 civilians also were killed last Thursday when the courtyard of a U.N. school in Gaza City was hit. Israel has acknowledged that troops fired a mortar shell that hit the courtyard but said aerial footage shows the yard was empty at the time and that the shell could not have killed anyone.
"I reached levels of anger and indignation about the fact that despite all the efforts that we have put in, to ensure that places like these would be respected, that people in them would be protected when they were there — that this was not the case is intolerable," said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the UNRWA commissioner general.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Wednesday's trike "outrageous" and "unjustifiable," and demanded an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.
"Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children," Ban said on his arrival in San Jose, Costa Rica. He added that "all available evidence points to Israeli artillery as the cause" and noted that Israeli military authorities had received the coordinates of the school from the United Nations 17 times, including on Tuesday night.
The White House also condemned the deadly shelling. White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan also said the U.S. is "extremely concerned" that thousands of Palestinians aren't safe in U.N.-designated shelters, despite being told by Israel's military to leave their homes. Israel has been warning civilians by phone and leaflet to leave dangerous areas ahead of strikes on militant targets.
The mortar shells were fired from a distance of some 200 meters (yards) from the school, said an Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Yomtov Tamir, a retired Israeli general, said he was not familiar with Wednesday's strike but said that even though tank fire is generally "very accurate" it can miss its target for a variety of reasons.
"One — it might have gone through a target. Two — it might be a mistake in identification, that they intended to hit something specific but that it was actually something other than what the person aiming intended," he said.
Hours later, an Israeli airstrike hit a crowded shopping area in the Shijaiyah district in Gaza City, killing at least 16 people, including local Palestinian photographer Rami Rayan, who was wearing a press vest at the time, and wounding more than 200 people, Gaza health officials said.
Al-Kidra and witnesses said the shopping area was busy because residents, and many who had taken shelter in the area from fighting elsewhere, thought a cease-fire was in place. The Palestinian Red Crescent confirmed the death toll.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the strike on the shopping area, saying it was investigating the report.
Israel had earlier announced a "humanitarian window" in certain parts of the territory. But it said it would not halt fire in other areas, including in Shijaiyah, where the strike took place. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri dismissed the cease-fire, saying it lacked any "value" because it excluded border areas from where Hamas wanted to evacuate the wounded.
"People were in the street and in the market, mostly women and kids. Suddenly more than 10 shells landed in the area, the market, in the Turkman area, and next to the gas station," said Salim Qadoum, 26, who witnessed the strike.
Blood stained the streets near the strike and limbs were strewn across the floor. Some survivors were yelling in shock. Scores of wounded were brought to Gaza City's Shifa Hospital where the emergency room quickly overflowed. Some of the wounded were treated on the blood-smeared floor.
An earlier airstrike also hit a warehouse in the Shijaiyah district, which has been frequently targeted by Israel. That caused a fire and sent a large cloud of black smoke billowing into the sky as firefighters and ambulances arrived at the scene.
Brig. Gen. Mickey Adelstein, a senior military official, said the structure was a clinic operated by the U.N. but the U.N. said it could not confirm that.
Gaza militants also fired 84 rockets at Israel Wednesday, including more than 26 after the cease-fire was announced, the military said.
Israel says its Gaza operation is meant to stop Hamas rocket and mortar fire that has reached increasingly deeper into its territory and to destroy a sophisticated network of tunnels used for attacks inside Israel. Hamas has steadfastly refused efforts to forge a truce, insisting its demands including the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade must be met first.
Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, the head of the army's southern command, said Israel was "a few days" away from destroying the 32 tunnels it has located so far. More than two-thirds of those have been demolished, according to Adelstein, the senior military official.
"Hamas could have built two hospitals, 20 schools, 20 clinics and 100 kindergartens with the amount of cement they used to build the tunnels," Turgeman said.
Gaza militants have fired more than 2,600 rockets toward Israel over the past three weeks, according to the Israeli army. Over the past 23 days, Israeli forces have hit 4,100 targets in Gaza, about one-third connected to rocket launching, a statement said.
Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Ian Deitch, Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem and Ariel David from southern Israel contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is threatening to veto a spending bill drafted by House Republicans to deal with the influx of Central American minors at the U.S. border.
The White House says the legislation does not contain enough money and would undercut due process protections for young migrants entering the U.S. illegally.
The Republican bill would provide $615 million to address the surge at the border. The amount is a fraction of the $3.7 billion sought by President Barack Obama. It also does not contain money to fight wildfires and to assist Israel, efforts supported by the White House.
The legislation includes policy changes Democrats reject.
In a statement Wednesday, the White House said the House bill would, quote, "put more arbitrary and unrealistic demands on an already broken system."
WASHINGTON (AP) — A former IRS official at the center of the agency's tea party controversy referred to some right-wing Republicans as "crazies" and more in emails released Wednesday. A key GOP lawmaker says the remarks show that Lois Lerner was biased against conservative groups and targeted them for extra scrutiny.
Lerner headed the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status. In a series of emails with an associate in November 2012, Lerner made two disparaging remarks about some members of the GOP, including one remark that was a profane characterization.
Rep. Dave Camp, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, released the emails Wednesday as part of his committee's investigation. The Michigan Republican says the emails show Lerner's "disgust with conservatives."
In one email, Lerner called some conservatives crazies. In the other, she called them "assholes." The committee redacted the wording to "_holes" in the material it released publicly, but a committee spokeswoman confirmed to the AP that the email said "assholes."
Congress and the Justice Department are investigating whether the IRS improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Camp sent copies of the emails to the Justice Department, saying they provide further proof that Lerner willfully targeted conservatives.
"This new evidence clearly demonstrates why Ms. Lerner not only targeted conservatives, but denied such groups their rights to due process and equal protection under the law," Camp said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Lerner retired from the IRS last fall. Her lawyer, William W. Taylor III, could not be reached for comment.
Lerner has emerged as a central figure in several congressional investigations into the tax agency's handling of applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups. Twice Lerner refused to answer questions at congressional hearings, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination.
In May, the House voted to hold her in contempt of Congress.
In June, the IRS told Congress that an untold number of Lerner's emails were lost when her computer hard drive crashed in 2011. Despite the lost emails, the IRS says it is providing congressional investigators with 67,000 emails to and from Lerner.
In the newly released emails, Lerner was apparently traveling in Great Britain in 2012 when she used her Blackberry to send a series of emails to a personal associate who did not work at the IRS. Camp said Lerner was using her government email account.
Lerner tells the person that she overheard some women say America was bankrupt and "going down the tubes."
"Well, you should hear the whacko wing of the GOP," replied the person, whose name was blacked out by Camp's office. "The US is through; too many foreigners sucking the teat; time to hunker down, buy ammo and food, and prepare for the end. The right wing radio shows are scary to listen to."
Lerner replies: "Great. Maybe we are through if there are that many assholes."
The other person replies: "And I'm talking about the hosts of the shows. The callers are rabid."
Lerner: "So we don't need to worry about alien teRrorists. It's our own crazies that will take us down."
"This email shows that Ms. Lerner's mistreatment of conservative groups was driven by her personal hostility toward conservatives," Camp said in the letter to Holder.
Lerner is an attorney who joined the IRS in 2001. She retired last fall, ending a 34-year career in federal government, which included work at the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.
Lerner is the IRS official who first publicly disclosed in May 2013 that agents had improperly singled out tea party and other conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt-status. At the time, Lerner said a small group of agents working in a Cincinnati office were responsible. She apologized on behalf of the IRS.
A May 2013 report by the agency's inspector general blamed mismanagement by IRS officials for the way tea party applications were handled. But the report did not provide any proof of political bias on the part of agents.
In fact, the report noted that Lerner tried to stop the targeting once she learned that tea party and other conservative groups were being improperly singled out.
Since then, Republicans in Congress have been working to prove that conservatives were targeted as part of a conspiracy to stifle groups based on their political beliefs. Congressional investigators have shown that IRS officials in Washington were closely involved in the processing of tea party applications, many of which were delayed for several years.
However, congressional investigators have produced no evidence that anyone outside the IRS — including at the White House — directed the targeting or even knew about it.
Camp said the new emails provide evidence that a key IRS official may have been motivated by politics.
Washington, D.C.– Today, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14) voted for and the House passed H.Res. 676, a resolution to authorize the Speaker of the House to take legal action against President Obama for violating the U.S. Constitution by unilaterally making laws during the implementation of Obamacare.