Bob McDonald, President Barack Obama's choice to run the Veterans Affairs Department, looked set for an easy Senate confirmation after the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee unanimously approved his nomination on Wednesday. McDonald, the former chief executive of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co, pledged to senators on Tuesday to bring corporate-style discipline, accountability and efficiency to the troubled agency, which has been rocked by healthcare waiting time scandals and accusations of mismanagement and fraud. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who is chairman of the veterans committee, said after the 14-0 vote that he expects the full Senate to confirm McDonald as secretary of the department within days.
By Douwe Miedema and Michelle Price WASHINGTON/HONG KONG (Reuters) - A member of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission will become the new head of a bank lobby group that is fighting the derivatives regulator in court over a crucial new rule curtailing Wall Street. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association said on Wednesday that Scott O'Malia, a Republican who often voted against new CFTC policy in the wake of the financial crisis, will become the trade group's next chief executive. O'Malia will start his new job as of Aug. 18, ISDA said. The news came only days after O'Malia said he planned to leave the CFTC as of Aug. 8.
By David Morgan and Aruna Viswanatha WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. judicial panels on Tuesday injected new uncertainty into the future of President Barack Obama's healthcare law, with conflicting rulings over whether the federal government can subsidize health insurance for millions of Americans. The appeals court rulings, handed down by three-judge panels in Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia, augured a possible rematch before the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 2012 narrowly upheld the Democratic president's 2010 healthcare overhaul.
The Obama administration is developing a method for religious organizations opposed to contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act to opt out of providing the coverage in their health plans without filling out a form. Under President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, known as Obamacare, employers must provide health insurance policies that cover preventive services for women, including contraception and sterilization. As a result, the Obama administration intends to augment its regulations to provide an alternative way for such religious organizations to provide notification while ensuring that enrollees in plans of such organizations receive separate coverage of contraceptive services.
President Obama on Monday bluntly accused pro-Moscow separatist fighters in Ukraine of stealing evidence and improperly removing bodies from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and pressed Russia to compel the rebels to stop blocking an international investigation.
Children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without parents are increasingly younger, according to newly released figures by the Pew Research Center. Sixteen percent of the minors who've crossed unaccompanied in fiscal year 2014, ending Sept. 30, were 12 and younger, compared with 9 percent in the...
WASHINGTON (AP) - Responding to a series of fiery train crashes, the government proposed rules Wednesday that would phase out tens of thousands of older tank cars that carry increasing quantities of crude oil and other highly flammable liquids through America's towns and cities.
Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:12:30 -0400
Boehner lauds doctor who saved lawmaker's baby
WASHINGTON (AP) - A choked-up House Speaker John Boehner (BAY'-nur) has interrupted a series of votes to praise a doctor who helped a congresswoman's infant survive a rare condition.
Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:07:59 -0400
Groups ask to move Florida election, draw new map
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A Florida judge is being asked to move this year's election dates - including postponing next month's primary - in order to draw up new congressional districts for the state.
Wed, 23 Jul 2014 15:58:31 -0400
LAS VEGAS (AP) - Vice President Joe Biden urged the NAACP on Wednesday to spread the word about what he called "a hailstorm" of measures to restrict citizens' ability to vote, trying to rally the Democratic Party's base before the midterm elections.
The UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday launched a probe into the Gaza offensive, backing calls by the Palestinians to hold Israel to account despite fierce opposition from the Jewish state. The decision came after a marathon seven-hour emergency session of the top UN human rights body, where the Israelis and the Palestinians traded accusations over war crimes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's media office slammed it as a "travesty" that ignored violations by Palestinian Hamas Islamists. "This resolution is not constructive, it is destructive," Harper said, noting it lacked "any semblance of balance" because it made no mention of Hamas' attacks.
Iraq's defence minister flew to Moscow on Wednesday to ask his counterpart for military equipment, as his forces struggle to hold off a jihadist-led Sunni militant offensive, a spokesman said. "Defence Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi left Baghdad for Moscow," Staff Lieutenant General Mohammed al-Askari told AFP. He said the minister was carrying a letter from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to Russian President Vladimir Putin "explaining the security and political situation in Iraq and the need to strengthen military cooperation".
Iraqi lawmakers on Wednesday postponed choosing a new president for their ailing country while air strikes, suicide car bombs and summary executions yielded their daily grim crop of bodies. In a sign of deepening crisis in Iraq, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Baghdad on Thursday and is likely to address the political infighting that has paralysed a country sorely in need of strong leadership. A government air raid on the jihadist-held town of Sharqat northwest of Baghdad killed at least three women and a child, a senior army official told AFP. Also in Sharqat, IS gunmen killed a woman former candidate for parliament and wounded a women's rights activist, tribal and military sources said.
Shrugging off the threat of additional Western economic sanctions, Russian officials indicated on Wednesday that the 2014 growth forecast is likely to be doubled. "We are moving at a level of about one percent annual growth in GDP ... and are likely to stay there until the end of the year" senior Kremlin advisor Andrei Belousov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. Russia's current 2014 growth forecast of 0.5 percent is set to be updated, and Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said at a separate news conference that at this point "we're talking about an increase to the forecast". The European Union and United States imposed in April only limited sanctions on Russia that target individuals and businesses.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced terrorism charges Wednesday against a 25-year-old Canadian for allegedly traveling to Syria to fight alongside Islamist fighters. The charges against Hasibullah Yusufzai, 25, are the first ever laid against a Canadian under a new law passed last year that criminalized travel abroad for the purpose of terrorist activities. "On July 17, 2014, the RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) in British Columbia charged Hasibullah Yusufzai, age 25, a resident of Burnaby, British Columbia, for leaving Canada to take part in terrorist activity," Sergeant Greg Cox said in a statement. "The accused is being sought for leaving Canada on January 21, 2014, to commit an offence for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group," he said.
Washington's top diplomat said global efforts to end 16 days of bloodshed in Gaza were progressing Wednesday as the fighting raged on and airlines kept flights suspended over rocket fears. As US and UN diplomats continued intensive diplomacy, the Islamist Hamas movement rejected any truce without the lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade on Gaza. "We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices." Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said. Hamas hailed the suspension of Tel Aviv flights by many world airlines as a "great victory."
Several thousands Wednesday held a fresh protest in Paris against the Israeli offensive in Gaza amid tight security days after similar rallies descended into violence and looting. Police said the rally gathered about 14,500 people, while organisers put the figure at 25,000. The government, which had banned the prior protests seeking to restrain what it called anti-Semitic radicals, authorised the march after its organisers gave "security guarantees", Prime Minister Manuel Valls said. The marchers, many of whom held Palestinian flags or stickers saying "Boycott Israel", shouted slogans such as "Israel killer" and "Long live Palestine, long live the resistance!".
Major airlines shunned Israel for a second day on Wednesday amid fears that rocket fire from Gaza could endanger flights into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport. In Washington, officials renewed a formal ban on American flights to Israel until 1615 GMT on Thursday, and around the world many other airlines took their own precautions. The Federal Aviation Administration issued its ban on Tuesday after a rocket fell on a neighborhood to the north of Ben Gurion, raising fears that a commercial flight could be struck.
The ex-general who lost Indonesia's presidential election to Joko Widodo will challenge the result in court, his campaign team said Wednesday, a move that could spell weeks of uncertainty for the world's third-biggest democracy. Widodo, the reform-minded governor of Jakarta seen as a break from the autocratic era of dictator Suharto, was named the winner Tuesday after results showed he resoundingly defeated Prabowo, his only challenger.
Two bombings in a key Nigerian city targeting a prominent cleric and a former head-of-state killed at least 42 people on Wednesday, in the latest violence blamed on Boko Haram Islamists. Officials ordered everyone off the streets and imposed an around-the-clock curfew to restore order in the targeted city of Kaduna, as rescue workers raced to care for the dozens of wounded. Police said the first attack was carried out by a suicide bomber on the convoy of Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, a cleric who has fiercely criticised Boko Haram's deadly five-year uprising. The blast which went off at about 12:30 pm (1130 GMT) killed at least 25 people, but Bauchi escaped unhurt, Kaduna state police chief Umar Shehu said.
The United States has failed to sufficiently adapt to new cyber-security threats, exposing itself to potential terror strikes as devastating as September 11, authors of the report on the 2001 attacks warned Wednesday. A decade later the commission's former members have released a blunt follow-up, pointing out gaps in US security that increase the risk of cyber-attacks on infrastructure, including energy, transport and finance systems, and the theft of intellectual property from the private sector. After exhaustive meetings with national security officials, "every single one of them said we're not doing what we should be doing to protect ourselves against cyber-security" threats, former 9/11 commission co-chair Tom Kean told a House homeland security panel. "We are at September 10th levels in terms of cyber preparedness," it quoted a former senior national security leader as saying.
United Nations (United States) (AFP) - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday named Danish diplomat Ellen Margrethe Loj to head the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and act as his special representative.
The cancellation of European and US flights to Israel due to rocket fire is further harming tourism in a region already paying for fierce fighting in Gaza, experts say. The US Federal Aviation Administration banned American airlines from flying to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport for at least 24 hours from Tuesday, and the European Aviation Safety Agency advised all carriers to avoid Tel Aviv "until further notice". The Israeli Airports Authority, meanwhile, announced on Wednesday it would be opening the Ovda military airport, 60 kilometres north of Israel's Red Sea resort of Eilat, as an alternative to Ben Gurion for international carriers.
Washington is still weighing Iraq's request to launch air strikes against Islamic militants, but is working to boost the Iraqi army as it battles the extremists, a top US diplomat said Wednesday. After spending billions of dollars on building up and training the Iraq military, the United States was shocked when the Iraqi army melted away in face of a sweeping offensive in June by the jihadist Islamic State (IS) and allied Sunni groups.
After months of tough negotiations, the European Commission recommended Wednesday a new energy savings target of 30 percent so as to combat climate change and ensure self-sufficiency. In January, the Commission, the European Union's executive arm, said the 28-nation bloc should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 while renewables should account for 27 percent of energy use. It decided not to set an efficiency target because of sharp differences between member states, especially as steady energy prices in recent years had reduced the incentive to make costly investments in new technology. EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger stressed both aspects as he announced the 30 percent target on Wednesday.
The Bank of England needs to start hiking record-low interest rates in the coming months, governor Mark Carney indicated on Wednesday, adding that the economy was rapidly gaining strength. Carney, speaking at a Glasgow conference before the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, said there was no "preset course" for when the central bank would start lifting borrowing costs, while any hikes would be "gradual and limited". His comments came as minutes showed that the BoE's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) were unanimous in keeping the bank's key interest rate at an all-time low of 0.50 percent earlier this month. "The UK economy has been growing rapidly," Carney said on Wednesday in Glasgow.
Britain and France are trading accusations of hypocrisy over sanctions against Russia in a row that reveals deeper European divisions on how to react to the MH17 disaster, analysts said Wednesday. The "Entente Cordiale" entered one of its less cordial phases this week, with Britain slamming France's 1.2 billion euro ($1.6 billion) warship deal with Moscow, and Paris saying London remains a haven for Russian oligarchs.
The General National Congress, which has governed violence-wracked Libya since dictator Moamer Kadhafi's overthrow, said Wednesday it will hand over legislative power to a newly elected parliament on August 4. "Monday, August 4m has been set as the date for the transfer of power... to the elected chamber," the GNC said in a statement signed by its speaker, Nuri Abu Sahmein. Under a law passed by the GNC, the new assembly is to sit in the eastern city of Benghazi, which was the bastion of the 2011 uprising but has since epitomised the lawlessness of post-Kadhafi Libya.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame named the former labour minister Anastase Murekezi as the new prime minister on Wednesday, a presidential statement said. The appointment is expected to bring in a possible cabinet reshuffle, as under Rwanda's constitution, ministers must be chosen -- or reappointed -- by the new prime minister. Murekezi, who has served as the labour minister since 2008, is the fifth prime minister since the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He replaces Pierre Habumuremyi, who had held the post since 2011.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is not ruling out any options on the shape of a Gaza ceasefire, he said on Wednesday as he intensified efforts to end the bloodshed. On his third day of shuttling between regional leaders, Kerry said he saw signs of progress on ending two weeks of fighting that has killed more than 700, mostly Palestinians. He hinted that his discussions hinged on tinkering with an Egyptian ceasefire proposal, which was earlier rejected by Hamas. "All of the issues of Gaza would be on the table," Kerry told reporters after meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who comes from the rival Fatah faction.