What’s In The News

Week in Review


Speaking from the White House, President Barack Obama said any decisions on the future of Crimea, a pro-Russian area of Ukraine, must include the country's new government.

“The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the constitution and violate international law,” the President said.

He added, “We are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.” Obama spoke hours after a March 16 date was set for a referendum on whether the region should become part of Russia.

Russian forces began moving into Crimea about around the first of March, despite President Obama’s warnings that there would be costs for such actions.

Seeking to follow through on that threat, Obama moved to enact new visa restrictions on an unspecified and unidentified number of people and entities that the U.S. accused of threatening Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial borders. The restrictions were unlikely to directly target Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The President also signed an Executive Order that will allow the U.S. to levy financial sanctions. In a statement, the White House said the penalties would target “those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Russian President Vladimir Putin is a tough but thin-skinned leader who is squandering his country’s potential. She likened his actions on the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine to those of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.

Mrs. Clinton said during her recent speech at the University of California, Los Angeles, that “all parties should avoid steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to miscalculation at this delicate time.”

Putin has said he was protecting ethnic Russians by moving troops into Crimea. However, Clinton said at a closed fund-raising luncheon in Long Beach that Hitler had maintained that he was protecting Germans when he invaded places such as Czechoslovakia and Romania.

“Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ‘30s,” she said. “Hitler kept saying, ‘They’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people.’ And that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”

Mrs. Clinton said she was not making a comparison although Russia'’ actions were “reminiscent” of claims Germany made in the 1930s, when the Nazis said they needed to protect German minorities in Poland and elsewhere in Europe.

“I just want everybody to have a little historic perspective. I am not making a comparison, certainly. But I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before,” she said. Clinton said Putin is trying to “re-Sovietize” the periphery of Russia but is actually squandering the potential of his nation and “threatening instability and even the peace of Europe.”

The Pope, in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper said no institution had moved with more “transparency and responsibility” than the Church to protect children in the wake of its sexual abuse scandals.

Victims, with one group called the assertion “disingenuous.” Since his election, Pope Francis has promoted the idea of a Church focused on the needs of the poor, winning huge popularity and raising expectations that it would soften its rules on such issues as contraception, cohabitation, sacraments for the divorced who remarry, and gay relationships.

Francis said he disliked the “mythology” of him as a man who could meet all expectations. “To depict the Pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me. The Pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person,” he said.

Francis made clear he did not envision changing the Church’s stance on such issues as the ban on artificial birth control enshrined in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life). A synod of bishops to be held in October will discuss ways of applying and explaining it better, he said, calling the encyclical “prophetic and courageous.”

Francis restated the Church’s position that marriage is between a man and woman. But indicating a small opening, he said some states wanted to “justify civil unions” of various types in order to regularize economic issues, such as property rights and health coverage.

A worldwide survey of Catholics last year showed a deep divide between Church officials and the faithful on issues of sexual morality. Last month, Pope Francis urged a gathering of cardinals to be “intelligent, courageous and loving” in a debate on family-related issues.

Asked about the sexual abuse scandal, in which many priests who molested children were moved from parish to parish instead of being dismissed, he said the Church had done much since the scandal first broke some 15 years ago and was being singled out for attack.

“On this path, the Church has done much, perhaps more than all others,” he said. “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility. No-one has done more, and yet the Church is the only one that is being attacked,” he said.

“His central claim - that no one has ‘done more’ on abuse than the Catholic Church - is disingenuous,” said the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “It would be far more accurate to say that no one has done more to deny, minimize and hide child sex crimes than the Church.”


Changes in the annual SAT test that millions of students take will do away with some vocabulary words such as “prevaricator” and “sagacious” in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.

College Board officials said the update, the first since 2005, is needed to make the exam better representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward.

The test should offer “worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles,” said College Board President David Coleman at an event in Austin, Texas.

The new exam will be rolled out in 2016, so this year’s ninth graders will be the first to take it, in their junior year. The new test will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. Scoring will return to a 1,600-point scale last used in 2004, with a separate score for the optional essay. For the first time, students will have the option of taking the test on computers.
The SAT in recent years has been overtaken by the competing ACT, which has long been considered more curriculum based. The ACT offers an optional essay and announced last year it would begin making computer-based testing available in 2015.
One of the biggest changes in the SAT is that the extra penalty for wrong answers, which discouraged guessing, will be eliminated. And some vocabulary words will be replaced with words such as “synthesis” and “empirical,” which are used more widely in classrooms and in work settings.
Each exam will include a passage drawn from “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence or from discussions they'’e inspired. Instead of testing a wide range of math concepts, the new exam will focus on a few areas, like algebra, deemed most needed for college and life afterward. A calculator will be allowed only on certain math questions, instead of on the entire math portion.
Some high school and college admissions counselors said eliminating the penalty for wrong answers and making the essay optional could make the test less stressful for some students.
Jim Rawlins, the director of admissions at the University of Oregon, said the changes appear “potentially helpful and useful,” but it will take a few years to know the impact, after the students who take the revised test go on to college.
“It’s all in the details of how it all plays out,” said Rawlins, a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The test was first used in 1926.


The Obama Administration announced a two-year extension for individual insurance policies that don’t meet requirements of the new health care law. The decision helps defuse a political problem for Democrats in tough re-election battles this fall, especially those senators who in 2010 stood with President Obama and voted to pass his health overhaul.

The extension was part of a major package of regulations that sets ground rules for 2015, the second year of government-subsidized health insurance markets under Obama's law and the first year that larger employers will face a requirement to provide coverage. The cancellation last fall of at least 4.7 million individual policies was one of the most damaging issues in the transition to a new insurance system under Obama's law.
It contradicted Obama’s promise that you can keep your insurance plan if you like it. The latest extension would be valid for policies issued up to Oct. 1, 2016. It builds on an earlier reprieve issued by the White House. Other highlights of the regulations include:
• An extra month for the 2015 open enrollment season…: It will still start Nov. 15, as originally scheduled, after the congressional midterm elections. But it will extend for an additional month, through February 15 of next year. The administration says the schedule change gives insurers, states and federal agencies more time to prepare.
This year's open enrollment started Oct. 1 and ends Mar. 31.
• New maximum out-of-pocket cost levels for 2015: Annual deductibles and copayments for plans sold on the insurance exchanges can't exceed $6,600 for individuals or $13,200 for families. While not as high as what some insurance plans charged before the law, cost sharing remains a stretch for many.
• Per-member fee paid by most major employer health plans:  The assessment for 2015 will be $44 per enrollee, according to the regulations. Revenues from the fee go to help insurers cushion the cost of covering people with serious medical problems. Under the law, insurance companies can no longer turn the sick away.
It is $63 per enrollee this year, and is scheduled to phase out after 2016. Some plans, including multi-employer arrangements administered by labor unions, will be exempt from fees in 2015 and 2016.
• The Internal Revenue Service will collect the information, because it is in charge of dispensing tax credits for individuals and small businesses to buy coverage as well as levying fines on those who fail to comply. The individual mandate is already in effect; the employer requirement begins to phase in next year.
• The new features would allow individual employees — not the business owner — to pick their coverage from a list of plans. The administration says no final decision has been made.
• The new regulations, the two-year extension on policies that were previously subject to cancellation.


Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen vowed to “do all that I can” to boost a U.S. economy where unemployment is too high and inflation is too low. “The economy continues to operate considerably short” of the central bank’s objectives of full employment and stable prices, Yellen said at a swearing-in ceremony at the central bank in Washington.
“The economy is stronger and the financial system is sounder,” added Yellen, who succeeded Ben Bernanke on Feb. 1. “We have come a long way, but we have farther to go.”
In February, she told two congressional committees that the United States appears to be clawing its way back from the 2007-2009 recessions, but the Fed is in no rush to tighten policy. San Francisco Fed chief John Williams gave a more upbeat assessment of the economy and suggested that rate hikes could come as soon as next year.

“My own view, based on my own forecast, is that it would be sometime around the middle of next year,” Williams told reporters after a speech to students at the University of Seattle. “It could be later or earlier, depending on how the economy does.”

Williams said he projects the economy to grow about 2.5 percent this year, slower than he had earlier projected because of the effects of an unusually cold weather, but fast enough to bring down the unemployment rate to 6.25 percent by year's end.

Williams was Yellen’s top researcher when she ran the San Francisco Fed before moving to Washington as Fed vice chair in 2010. Next year, he projected, 3 percent growth will likely bring unemployment down to near-normal levels of 5.5 percent by the end of 2015. Still, he said, because of the lasting damage of the financial crisis to the economy, the Fed may not raise rates all that high, at least at first.

Yellen has supported the bond-buying from its beginning, though she has also lent her weight to the decision late last year to begin paring the program back, with a view to ending it this year. The program has resulted in a Fed balance sheet of more than $4 trillion and ballooning reserves at banks, which Fisher and a few others at the Fed worry could fuel future inflation.

“The real tools that we are focusing on are how we manage the exit from the current hyper-accommodative monetary policy and how do we make sure ... that we do it in a way that doesn't allow the current very large and presently non-inflationary monetary base ... from becoming inflationary,” Fisher said following his speech.

The world’s biggest economy expanded at a decent 2.4 percent rate in the fourth quarter and has slowed this year due in part to severe weather. The U.S. unemployment rate is down from a recessionary high of 10 percent in 2009, but it remains high and jobs growth is erratic. Inflation, meanwhile, is languishing near 1 percent, about half the Fed's 2 percent target.

“Too many Americans still can’t find a job or are forced to work part time,” Yellen said. “I promise to never forget the individual lives, experiences and challenges that lie behind the statistics we use to gauge the health of the economy,” she said.

“When we make progress toward our goals, each job that is created lifts this burden for someone who is better equipped to be a good parent, to build a stronger community, and to contribute to a more prosperous nation.”


A second baby born with the AIDS virus may have had her infection put into remission and possibly cured by receiving treatment four hours after birth. The girl was born in suburban Los Angeles last April, a month after researchers announced the first case from Mississippi.

That case was a medical first that led doctors worldwide to rethink how fast and hard to treat infants born with HIV. The California doctors followed that example.

The Mississippi baby is now 3 and 1/2 years old and seems HIV-free despite no treatment for about two years. The Los Angeles baby is still getting AIDS medicines, so the status of her infection is not as clear.

A host of sophisticated tests at multiple times suggest the LA baby has completely cleared the virus, said Dr. Deborah Persaud, a Johns Hopkins University physician who led the testing. The baby's signs are different from what doctors see in patients whose infections are merely suppressed by successful treatment, she said.

“We don’t know if the baby is in remission ... but it looks like that," said Dr. Yvonne Bryson, an infectious disease specialist at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA who consulted on the girl’s care. Doctors are cautious about suggesting she has been cured, “but that’s obviously our hope,” Bryson said.

Most HIV-infected moms in the U.S. get AIDS medicines during pregnancy, which greatly cuts the chances they will pass the virus to their babies. The Mississippi baby's mom received no prenatal care and her HIV was discovered during labor. So doctors knew that infant was at high risk and started her on treatment 30 hours after birth, even before tests could determine whether she was infected.

The LA baby was born at Miller Children's Hospital Long Beach, and “we knew this mother from a previous pregnancy” and that she was not taking her HIV medicines, said Dr. Audra Deveikis, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the hospital.

The mom was given AIDS drugs during labor to try to prevent transmission of the virus, and Deveikis started the baby on them a few hours after birth. Tests later confirmed she had been infected, but does not appear to be now, nearly a year later. The baby is continuing treatment, is in foster care “and looking very healthy,” Bryson said.

The Mississippi girl was treated until she was 18 months old, when doctors lost contact with her. Ten months later when she returned, they could find no sign of infection even though the mom had stopped giving her AIDS medicines.

Bryson is one of the leaders of a federally funded study just getting underway to see if very early treatment can cure HIV infection. About 60 babies in the U.S. and other countries will get very aggressive treatment that will be discontinued if tests over a long time, possibly two years, suggest no active infection. “These kids obviously will be followed very, very closely” for signs of the virus, Persaud said.


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