Whats In the News

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The European Space Agency’s Philae lander has sent back the first ever image from the surface of a comet. The picture shows the cracked, bumpy surface in monochrome. Comets are often described as “dirty snowballs,” irregular blocks of ice covered with dust and rocks, but no human craft has ever reached the surface of one before.
Scientists established communications with Philae after an anxious overnight wait while its mothership Rosetta, which relays the signals to Earth, dipped below the comet’s horizon. Magnetic field data from Philae’s ROMAP instrument analyzed overnight revealed three ‘landings.’
The first was almost exactly on the expected arrival time of 15:33 GMT. But the anchoring harpoons did not fire and Philae rebounded.
In the weak gravity of the comet it took about 2 hours for the lander to return to the surface. It touched down for a second time, then bounced again before finally coming to rest. ESA scientists described the lander as “stable” despite concerns following the initial touchdown.
The first image from the surface is a mosaic of two images taken by the lander’s CIVA (the Comet Infrared and Visible Analyser) camera. It shows one of Philae’s landing legs and the craggy surface. ESA had been expecting a view of the horizon so the scientists believe the craft is not on a flat surface.
“We are definitely not in the open,” said Fred Jansen, ESA Rosetta mission manager.
This presents a danger to the mission which has an initial battery life of about 60 hours. After that it must switch to rechargeable batteries and rely on solar illumination to keep it powered so if it is stuck in a trench it may not be able to receive sunlight.
Four other pictures from CIVA have been downlinked. They will form the first 360° panorama of the surface. ESA official said that there may be no horizon visible. Engineers are currently investigating the best way to pinpoint the location of Philae.
They are planning to use the radar instrument Consert (Comet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission), on both Rosetta and Philae, to triangulate the position.
During the decent, Concert showed that the lander was just 50 meters adrift from the targeted landing spot. ESA had planned for an error of up to 500 metres. Science data is flowing in, although the communications link between Philae and Rosetta remains intermittent at times.“We have telemetry and massive data already. This is a success,” said Jansen.
Rosetta mission aims to unlock the mysteries of comets, made from ancient material that predates the birth of the solar system. In the data Rosetta and Philae collect, researchers hope to learn more of how the solar system formed and how comets carried water and complex organics to the planets, preparing the stage for life on Earth.
The feat marks a profound success for Esa, which launched the Rosetta spacecraft more than 10 years ago from its Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. Since blasting off in March 2004, Rosetta and Philae have travelled more than 6bn kilometres to catch up with the comet, which orbits the sun at speeds up to 135,000km/h. “We are the first to do this, and that will stay forever,” said Jean Jacques Dordain, director general of ESA.
A vicious, hate-filled letter written by the FBI and sent to American civil rights champion Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been made public in full for the first time. The single-paged anonymous letter was sent to King in 1964, calling him a "complete fraud and a great liability," an "evil, abnormal beast," and threatening to expose his marital infidelities in an apparent bid to make him commit suicide.
The New York Times published the note almost in its entirety, blanking out a woman's name. The letter highlights the hostile attitude the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was at the time run by J Edgar Hoover, had toward King and the civil rights movement.
According to the Times, it was written by one of Hoover's deputies, William Sullivan, and was apparently sent along with an audio recording containing evidence of King's extramarital affairs. "Listen to yourself you filthy, abnormal animal," the letter reads.
"You have been on the record -- all your adulterous acts, your sexual orgies extending far into the past. This one is but a tiny sample."
When King received the letter, he told friends that someone wanted him to kill himself, the Times reported. The letter goes on to tell King: "There is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is" -- an apparent exhortation for him to kill himself.
The letter was crafted to make it appear it came from someone within the civil rights movement, making a reference to "us Negroes." "You could not believe in God and act as you do," the letter states. "Clearly you don't believe in any personal moral principles."
Hoover believed King was being influenced by communists, and King accused the FBI of failures in stopping violence against blacks in the segregated Deep South.
In 1963, King famously made his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington during an enormous rally in the nation's capital. The march helped set the stage for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed major forms of racial discrimination, followed a year later by the Voting Rights Act, designed to guarantee the franchise for all black US citizens. King was gunned down by a sniper in 1968.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted on a bill to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014, a congressional aide said after lawmakers prepared to debate the controversial project. The legislation, expected to pass the Republican-led chamber, would approve the pipeline that would run from Canada south to the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
U.S. President Barack Obama has not said whether he would sign any bill on the pipeline into law, and U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said that she has no commitment from Obama that he would do so.
If he vetoes it, Congress could then move to override him but the pipeline project needs presidential approval because it crosses an international border.
Obama's Administration has been weighing for six years whether to approve the project, which also faces a court challenge in Nebraska over the pipeline's route. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said senior administration officials had a "dim view" of previous proposals and had recommended that the president veto them.
Environmentalists, an important Democratic constituency, have argued against encouraging Canada's extraction of a crude oil that is seen as particularly polluting and will worsen global climate change problems.

Conservatives, and even some Democrats and labor unions, have been heavily pressing the project as a way to create jobs and boost U.S. energy independence. The rapid push for legislation follows the sweep by Republicans in the midterm congressional election.
The legacy of Imam Wallace Deem Mohammed business initiative is fueling the pursuit of business growth among his followers who want “business growth” and among those who supported him. Several business owners have maintained a weekly discussion to analyze what can be done to energize business investment and consumer support.
The group is not seeking a “hand out” but strongly believes that a “hand up” would greatly improve the quality life for everyone. The group said the form of the business initiative is diverse; however, the desired outcome is a united business environment which meets the needs of their community and provides individual and community wealth.

Several business people are engaged in international trade; others are providing an array products and services at the local level throughout America. The investors in these economic endeavors believe that the economic strength of their community have yet to be realized.
They also believe that with the support and push of the community they can bring the consumer what they desire most: a good value for their money, jobs and an improved community life.

For such a noble pursuit to be realized it must be institutionalized in the fabric of the community life. It must become an expectation that replaces hope.


The Obama Administration tried to assure skeptical members of the U.S. Senate that its efforts to combat Ebola were showing progress and urged lawmakers to approve $6.2 billion in new emergency funds to contain the deadly virus.
"We believe we have the right strategy in place, both at home and abroad," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
She said a $1 billion-plus U.S. response in West Africa has already begun to show "fragile and fluid" progress to contain infection and assured senators that "we are confident that we can limit the number of cases in the United States.
The Administration's funding request, which includes $1.2 billion to protect Americans from Ebola at home, won support from Democrats, while Republicans claimed that the public and state governments had lost confidence in federal authorities after a series of missteps by U.S. health officials.
"What we have witnessed these past few months from various agencies has been confusing and at times contradictory," said Senator Richard Shelby, the committee's top Republican.
The hearing began just after the World Health Organization announced the death toll from the largest ever Ebola outbreak had topped 5,000 cases, nearly all in West Africa. The deadly virus has now infected more than 14,000 people.
In the United States, Ebola has spawned a debate over preparedness, including whether to restrict the movements of people returning from the West Africa hot zone. Thomas Eric Duncan of Liberia, the first Ebola case on U.S. soil, died last month in a Dallas hospital while two of his nurses became infected.
The nurses both survived, as did Dr. Craig Spencer, who returned to New York City from treating Ebola patients in Guinea before developing symptoms. He has since been declared Ebola free.
Thousands of nurses across the United States also staged protest rallies and strikes over what they say is insufficient protection for health workers dealing with patients possibly stricken with Ebola.
The committee's Democratic chair, Senator Barbara Mikulski, asked Burwell if she was confident doctors and nurses have been given adequate protection.
"That is what we are working to do," Burwell said, adding a quarter-million health workers have participated in federally sponsored Ebola events.

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American fighter jets carried out a series of airstrikes in northwestern Syria that sought to kill leaders of a Qaeda-linked militant cell that is plotting attacks on the West, American officials said.
American intelligence assessments call the group Khorasan and say it could pose a more immediate threat to the United States and Europe than the Islamic State.
A United States-led coalition has frequently bombed the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but had not targeted Khorasan since hitting its bases with a barrage of cruise missiles at the start of its campaign in Syria on Sept. 23.
Of greatest interest to the United States government is Muhsin al-Fadhli, a Kuwaiti who is said to have founded Khorasan in Syria and was a senior Qaeda operative close to Osama bin Laden.
After the strikes in September, American officials expressed optimism that the missile barrage had killed at least some of Khorasan’s leaders, including Mr. Fadhli.
Some jihadist sympathizers hailed him on social media as a “martyr.” As intelligence analysts reviewed field reports and intercepted communications, they concluded that the senior members of the group had survived.
“The Khorasan group, we still believe, remains a dangerous entity, that they still have desires and designs to attack Western targets,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters.
In a statement,  the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, said that initial reports indicated that the strikes had succeeded in “destroying or severely damaging several Khorasan group vehicles and buildings assessed to be meeting and staging areas, I.E.D.-making facilities and training facilities.”
Many in the Syrian opposition have expressed skepticism about the existence of the Khorasan group, saying that the United States had created it to justify strikes on Islamist rebels. Some also defend the Nusra Front, calling it a loyal ally in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad.
Fiscal and economic policy is now center stage as a result of Republican electoral victories, with both President Barack Obama and the new congressional leadership expressing hope that deals can be reached to simplify the tax code, promote trade and eliminate the budget deficit.
The president and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the presumptive next majority leader, immediately pointed to tax reform, international trade and budget policy as potential common ground for a divided government.
Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republicans’ last vice-presidential nominee, will seek the House Ways and Means Committee chairmanship to pursue a broad overhaul of the tax code.
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Representative Tom Price of Georgia are expected to take over their chambers’ budget committees. Both are considering turning to a parliamentary procedure called reconciliation to cut costs of entitlement programs like Medicare and to ease passage of a simplified tax code.
“Budgets matter,” said Mr. Price, who is currently the Budget Committee vice chairman, below Mr. Ryan. “The role of the federal government to get our fiscal house in order is important.”
Republicans, now in control of both chambers in Congress, want to show themselves to be a governing party ahead of the 2016 presidential campaigns. Mr. McConnell said he had spoken with President Obama on advancing free trade agreements.
He also acknowledged the fact that the United States now has the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. “He’s interested in that, and we are too,” Mr. McConnell said of the president. “Those are two serious areas of potential agreement.” Mr. Obama, just a few hours later, said, “Let’s get started on those things where we agree.”
The election of Republican governors in closely contested races in Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Maine and Kansas dims the chances of Medicaid expansion in those states. Advocates hoping for Democratic victories in those states were disappointed.
“No one would say it was a good night for the prospects of Medicaid expansion,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University.
Alker said the playing field for Medicaid expansion didn’t shift dramatically. “The debate continues to be within the Republican party – with more pragmatic Republicans saying yes and ideologues driving the opposition. So what happens next is a good test case to see how Republicans will resolve these internal tensions.”
Even if Democrats had been victorious in governor races, they still faced a long shot getting Medicaid expansion through Republican-controlled legislatures. The one exception was Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage, who was re-elected, has five times vetoed efforts by his state’s Democratic-controlled legislature to expand the program.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has supported Medicaid expansion, but has done little to persuade state lawmakers to extend the program to 850,000 residents.
If Democratic challenger Charlie Crist had won, he would have faced strong opposition in the Republican-dominated state House, said Sean Foreman, associate professor of political science at Barry University in Miami Shores. “Scott’s victory means Medicaid expansion is dead the next four years,” he said.
The future of Arkansas’ “private option” Medicaid expansion could be in trouble with the election of Republican Asa Hutchinson as governor and GOP gains in the state House and Senate. Hutchinson replaces Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who had championed the state’s expansion plan and who was barred by term limits from running.
Hutchinson has not taken a position on the program, saying he will assess its costs and benefits to “determine whether the program should be terminated or continued.” Arkansas’ expansion is vulnerable because by law, the legislature must reauthorize it every year with a 75 percent majority.
Since the Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion an optional part of the Affordable Care Act, 27 states and Washington, D.C. have extended the program to individuals with incomes under $16,100. While most of those states expanded eligibility at the beginning of 2014, Michigan and New Hampshire came on later this year and Pennsylvania’s expansion will start in January.
Nationally, Medicaid enrollment has increased by more than 8 million people since last October and has been seen as the biggest factor in reducing the number of uninsured Americans by about 25 percent this year.
State lawmakers have sometimes blocked Medicaid expansion even with a supportive executive. In 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe had campaigned on expanding Medicaid, but after he was elected Virginia governor he was unable to persuade state lawmakers who demanded the program be reformed first.
Caroline Pearson, vice president of consulting firm Avalere Health, said expansion advocates will turn their attention to Utah, whose Republican governor hopes to take a plan to the GOP-controlled legislature, and Wyoming, where Gov. Matt Mead, also a Republican, has expressed interest in widening eligibility for Medicaid. Indiana is also negotiating with the Obama administration to expand Medicaid.
Pearson argued that Arkansas lawmakers are unlikely to unravel that state’s Medicaid expansion, which has helped more than 60,000 gain coverage. “It is incredibly difficult to take benefits away from state residents once they have been granted,” she said.
Sara Rosenbaum, professor of health policy at George Washington University, said it’s hard to tell how big an impact the election will have. “One possibility is that now that a bitterly contested election is over, the governors may be open to discussion,” she said.

Alarmed by a report a decade ago that one of its airbags had ruptured and spewed metal debris at a driver in Alabama, the Japanese manufacturer Takata secretly conducted tests on 50 airbags it retrieved from scrapyards, according to two former employees involved in the tests, one of whom was a senior member of its testing lab.
The steel inflaters in two of the airbags cracked during the tests, a condition that can lead to rupture, the former employees said. The result was so startling that engineers began designing possible fixes in preparation for a recall, the former employees said.

But instead of alerting federal safety regulators to the possible danger, Takata executives discounted the results, and ordered the lab technicians to delete the testing data from their computers and dispose of the airbag inflaters in the trash, they said.
The secret tests, which have not been previously disclosed, were undertaken after normal work hours and on weekends and holidays during summer 2004 at Takata’s American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., the former employees said.
That was four years before Takata, in regulatory filings, says that it first tested the problematic airbags. The results from the later tests led to the first recall over airbag rupture risks in November 2008.
Today, 11 automakers have recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide because of the rupture risks. Four deaths have been tied to the defect, which can cause the airbag’s steel canister to crack and explode into pieces when the device deploys in a crash.
The airbags are inflated by means of a propellant, based on a common compound used in fertilizer that is encased in the canister which together is known as the inflater.
Complaints received by regulators about various automakers blame Takata airbags for at least 139 injuries, including 37 people who reported airbags that ruptured or spewed metal or chemicals. Takata is one of the world’s largest suppliers of airbags, accounting for about one-fifth of the global market.

Honda spokesman, Chris Martin, said in a statement, “This is a serious allegation about actions taken by Takata. It is our intention to determine whether anyone at Honda has any evidence that these claims are credible.”
Separately, materials reviewed by The New York Times cast doubt on Takata’s claims to federal regulators that it had resolved manufacturing and quality control problems with its airbag propellant in the early 2000s.
But as recently as April 2009, Takata engineers scrambled to repair a flaw in a machine at another factory in Monclova, Mexico, that made the airbag propellant more volatile, according to materials from a company presentation given that year.
More than 600 American service members since 2003 have reported to military medical staff members that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq. But the Pentagon failed to recognize the scope of the reported cases or offer adequate tracking and treatment to those who may have been injured, defense officials say.
The Pentagon’s disclosure abruptly changed the scale and potential costs of the United States’ encounters with abandoned chemical weapons during the occupation of Iraq, episodes the military had for more than a decade kept from view.
This became public after an investigation by The New York Times revealed that while troops did not find any active weapons of mass destruction program, they did encounter degraded chemical weapons from the 1980s that had been hidden in caches or used in makeshift bombs.
American Security, called the Pentagon’s failure to organize and follow up on the information “a stunning oversight.” Paul Reickhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the military must restore trust by sharing information.
“We need total transparency and absolute candor,” Mr. Reickhoff said, and noted the military’s poor record in releasing information about its use in Vietnam of Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant linked to an array of health problems, and in sharing data about troops’ presumed chemical exposures and other medical and environmental risks during and soon after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

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Sweden’s government officially recognized the state of Palestine, becoming the first major European country to do so, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told parliament in his inaugural address in October that his Social Democrat government would deliver on a manifesto promise to recognize a Palestinian state, drawing criticism from Israel and the United States.
“Today's recognition is a contribution to a better future for a region that has for too long been characterized by frozen negotiations, destruction and frustration,” Wallstrom wrote. “Some will state this decision comes too soon. I am afraid, rather, that it is too late.”
Palestinians seek statehood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital. They have sought to sidestep stalled peace talks by lobbying foreign powers to recognize their sovereignty claim.
Wallstrom said Sweden’s move aimed at supporting moderate Palestinians and making their status more equal with that of Israel in peace negotiations, as well as giving hope to young people on both sides.
The U.N. General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the state of Palestine in 2012, but the European Union and most EU countries have yet to give official recognition.
“EU members confirmed in 2009 their readiness to recognize the state of Palestine when it was appropriate,” Wallstrom said. “We are now ready to take the lead. We hope this can show the way for others.”
Wallstrom said despite the fact that Palestinian authorities did not have full control of their land and the country did not have fixed borders, Palestine fulfilled the criteria in international law for recognition.
“Together with other European countries, as well as the United States and other regional and international organizations, the government will now work to support renewed negotiations to reach a final agreement,” Wallstrom said.
The sometimes acrimonious relationship between the Obama Administration and the current Israeli government was exposed when an anonymous U.S. official was quoted using a barnyard epithet to describe Israel’s leader.
Both the White House and the State Department said it was inappropriate to denigrate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and emphasized the “unbreakable bond” between the two nations.
The slur was used by an unidentified U.S. official in an interview with the Atlantic magazine about strains between the United States and Israel over the building of settlements in the West Bank and negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickens---,” the official said. The crude word was used to describe what the official characterized as Netanyahu’s lack of political courage in reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s only interest, the official told the Atlantic, is in “protecting himself from political defeat. .?.?. He’s got no guts.” Netanyahu treated the name-calling as a badge of honor.
“Our supreme interests, chiefly the security and unity of Jerusalem, are not the main concern of those anonymous officials who attack us and me personally, as the assault on me comes only because I defend the state of Israel,” he said.
Relations between President Obama and Netanyahu have been strained for some time, U.S. and Israeli officials have said. The announcement of a new round of settlement construction has added to the strain.The U.S. government issued a sharp condemnation of new building in Palestinian neighborhoods, saying it undermines Israel’s stated interest in achieving peace with the Palestinians.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in January called Secretary of State John F. Kerry “obsessive and messianic.” When Yaalon came to Washington earlier this month, he reportedly was denied meetings with Vice President Biden, Kerry and national security adviser Susan E. Rice, though he did meet with his counterpart, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.
A federal grand jury will meet in Orlando to hear testimony about whether Trayvon Martin's civil rights were violated when Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot him in the chest, according to court paperwork.
A U.S. Department of Justice attorney from Washington, D.C., Mark Blumberg, has issued at least one subpoena in the case. Blumberg would not comment on the grand jury session, but the federal panel is to meet at the federal courts building in downtown Orlando to hear evidence in the case.
It’s not clear how many witnesses have been ordered to appear, but at least one, Frank Taaffe, Zimmerman's former friend and longtime defender, has been. Following Zimmerman’s acquittal on a murder charge, Taaffe has reversed his position and now says that he believes Zimmerman was motivated by race the night he followed then shot Martin in 2012.
Taaffe cites a phone conversation he had with Zimmerman in the days following the shooting but before Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
When originally interviewed by federal investigators in the weeks following the shooting, Taaffe did not tell them about the phone call, he says, but earlier this year he did in interviews with Blumberg and FBI Agent John Weyrauch at the FBI office in Maitland FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier described the investigation as ongoing and said agents were "still talking to people." George Zimmerman would not comment.

President Barack Obama is about to do what no president has done in the past 50 years: Have two terrible midterm elections in a row.
Based on early projections Obama is likely to have the worst midterm numbers of any two-term president going back to Democrat Harry S. Truman. Truman lost a total of 83 House seats during his two midterms (55 seats in 1946 and 28 seats in 1950), while Republican Dwight Eisenhower lost a combined 66 House seats in the 1954 and 1958 midterms.

Obama had one midterm where his party lost 63 House seats, and Democrats are expected to lose another 5 to possibly 12 House seats (or more), taking the sitting president's total midterm House loses to the 68 seat to 75 seat range. Most recent presidents have one disastrous midterm and another midterm that was not terrible.
The GOP lost 30 House seats in George W. Bush's second midterm, but gained 8 seats in his first midterm for a net loss of 22 seats. The party lost 26 seats in Ronald Reagan's first midterm, but a mere 5 seats in his second midterm for a net loss of 31 seats.
Democrats in 1994, lost 54 seats in Bill Clinton's first midterm, but the party gained 5 House seats in 1998, Clinton's for a net Clinton loss of 49 House seats.

Democrats lost 6 Senate seats in 2012 and may lose from 5 to 10 seats in this midterm election. That would add up to Obama midterm Senate losses of from 11 seats to as many as 16 seats. Democrats will likely not exceed the number of Senate losses they incurred during the two Truman midterms, in 1946 and 1950, when the party lost a remarkable net of 17 seats.
Are the Democrats’ losses due to the increasingly partisan nature of our elections and the makeup of the past two Senate classes, or is the president at least partially to blame: because he failed to successfully moved to the political center?

The Obama Administration released new rules intended to hold “career colleges” accountable for the future well-being of their students.
Known as “ regulations, the framework intends to hold certain career-oriented programs at nonprofit, for-profit, public and private institutions accountable for whether their students find jobs and earn a living wage after graduating.
The rules have a long history of legal complications and heavy opposition from the for-profit college sector, which will be the hardest hit by their requirements. But a key measure in draft regulations cohort student loan default rates for different programs – has disappeared from the final draft, largely after community colleges lobbied against the requirement, which they said would unfairly punish their programs.
“Career colleges must be a steppingstone to the middle class. But too many hardworking students find themselves buried in debt with little to show for it. That is simply unacceptable,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.
“These regulations are a necessary step to ensure that colleges accepting federal funds protect students, cut costs and improve outcomes. We will continue to take action as needed.”
Microsoft announced a long-expected wearable that will plug into a new Microsoft Health fitness tracking service.
Microsoft Band, as the product is known, will be available at Microsoft’s physical and online stores. The device is designed to last 48 hours on a single charge and to be worn all day to track both sleep and exercise as well as receive smartphone notifications.
The band has 10 sensors to track the usual things like heart rate as well as more novel detectors, including a UV sensor for sun exposure and a galvanic skin response measurement which can help identify stress.
The Microsoft Health cloud-based service will be able to analyze data gathered from either Microsoft’s band as well as data from other devices, including rival smartphones and fitness bands.
A companion app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone offers a deeper look at the data gathered by the band.
Microsoft says the new service can plug into HealthVault, which is more focused on medical records than personal fitness data. Microsoft is not alone in this technology, with Apple having its HealthKit initiative and Google having its Google Fit effort. Samsung also announced a similar effort to Microsoft’s earlier this year.
Microsoft is leaning on the fact that it works with all the major mobile ecosystems as a key selling point. “We are as open as you get,” Matt Barlow, GM, new devices marketing.
“We are iOS we are Android and we are windows phone.”
With Windows Phone you also get voice access to Microsoft’s Cortana assistant, but otherwise Band works similarly across platforms, Barlow said. The company also notes that–if customers want to – Microsoft Health can combine work and personal data and gather insights such as how a big meeting with the boss affects that night’s sleep. Other features include access to Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as weather and stock data.
Microsoft hopes the features will grow over time. It is working with a bunch of partners, including fitness tracking app makers MapMyFitness and RunKeeper, hardware maker Jawbone and Starbucks, with the last one allowing users to pay for their coffee using only a gift card barcode on the watch.

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The White House, Republicans and Democrats coalesced behind President Barack Obama's call to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants.
“We ought to give the president what he's asking for," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, although he added that many Republicans believe the Democratic commander in chief's strategy is too tepid to crush militants who have overrun parts of Iraq and Syria and beheaded two American journalists.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he expected legislation ratifying Obama's request to clear Congress by in mid September when lawmakers hope to wrap up their work and go home to campaign for re-election.
Congress' two other top officials, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi also said Obama would get the support he seeks.

Congress is in the midst of a two-week, late-summer session that had been set to focus on domestic issues, principally legislation to extend routine government funding beyond the end of the Sept. 30 budget year. That agenda changed when Obama delivered a prime-time speech seeking “additional authorities and resources to train and equip” rebels.
The forces are simultaneously trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad and defeat militants seeking to create an Islamist caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.
The White House and many lawmakers say deployment of U.S. troops to train and equip Syrian rebels would require additional congressional approval. On the morning after Obama's speech, the administration deployed officials to brief lawmakers, including Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry are expected to testify at public hearings in advance of any votes in Congress. "We do not want to go home without voting on some measure that goes toward destroying and defeating ISIS wherever it exists," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
Reid accused Republicans of taking cheap political shots at the president, and said, "This is a time for the rhetoric of campaign commercials to go away."
At the same time, candidates seeking re-election will be required to vote on the president's request, and challengers will be on the spot to state their positions. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a frequent critic of Obama, said Congress will work quickly on the White House's immediate request.
Beyond that, he said Congress must consider "what this multiyear campaign will mean for the overall defense program" – from U.S. nuclear forces on land, sea and air, to a need to "retain dominance" in the Pacific.
Boehner, the leader of the Republican-controlled House, said it could take years to train and equip rebel forces, yet “ISIL's momentum and territorial gains must be halted and reversed immediately.”
He added, “An F-16 (warplane) is not a strategy, and airstrikes alone will not accomplish what we're trying to accomplish. And the president's made clear that he doesn’t want U.S. boots on the ground. Well, somebody's boots have to be on the ground.”
In a lengthy verdict phase of Oscar Pistorius' trial, the judge said he can't be found guilty of murder but that he was negligent in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Judge Thokozile Masipa said she felt the double-amputee Olympian acted negligently when he fatally shot Steenkamp through a toilet door in his home in the predawn hours.
In a moment of high-drama, she then stopped reading out her judgment in the six-month-long trial and adjourned. A formal judgment in the case that has riveted much of South Africa and the world is expected within days.
If Pistorius is acquitted of murder, he could still be sent to jail for years if convicted of culpable homicide. While the judge did not announce a verdict, she said the prosecution had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius committed premeditated murder.
She also ruled out a lesser murder charge, but said Pistorius may be vulnerable to being convicted of culpable homicide: “a negligent killing.”
“I am of the view that the accused acted too hastily and with excessive force,” Masipa said of Pistorius actions. Pistorius has acknowledged firing four shots through a toilet door in his home, hitting Steenkamp in the head, arm and hip area and killing her.
He says he mistook her for an intruder. The prosecution alleges the athlete intentionally killed his girlfriend.
Culpable homicide normally carries a five-year jail sentence in South Africa when a firearm is used, but it can be changed by a judge depending on the specific circumstances of the killing.
“Culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” the judge said. Masipa said there were "just not enough facts" to support the finding of premeditated murder in Steenkamp's fatal shooting.
Masipa described Pistorius as a "very poor witness" who had lost his composure on the stand and was at times "evasive," but she emphasized that did not mean he was guilty of murder.
Liberia's capital needs hundreds more beds to treat Ebola patients in isolation units, officials said, adding that their country is at war with the virus that has killed thousands in West Africa.
Liberia is the country hardest hit in an outbreak that is believed to have infected more than 4,200 people in West Africa. Treatment centers in Liberia fill up as soon as they're opened, and the World Health Organization has warned that there could be thousands of new infections there in the coming weeks.
The Monrovia area alone needs 1,000 beds to handle Ebola patients, Information Minister Lewis Brown told reporters. That’s consistent with a World Health Organization estimate from earlier this week. The U.N. health agency said the county where Monrovia is located has only 240 beds, with 260 more on the way.
The tremendous fear surrounding the disease and the extreme measures used to contain it – like the cordoning off of entire towns for days – has led to sharp criticism of Liberia's government and even calls for the president to step down. But Brown urged Liberians to unite, warning that if they didn't, “this virus will consume all of us.”
“We are at war with an enemy that we don’t see,” Finance Minister Amara Konneh told reporters, echoing Brown's warning. “And we have to win the war.”
But he said Liberia would be dependent on international assistance to do so. The U.N. has said at least $600 million is needed to fight Ebola in West Africa, and already several pledges have come in.
The United States has spent $100 million so far, with more promised, and Britain has given $40 million. More than 2,200 deaths have been attributed to Ebola in this outbreak, which has also touched Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal.

A small but growing percentage of seniors struggle to pay back education debt. Tens of thousands are seeing their Social Security benefits offset when they cannot make payments.
Among Americans ages 65 to 74, 4 percent in 2010 carried federal student loan debt, up from 1 percent six years earlier, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
For all seniors, the collective amount of student loan debt grew from about $2.8 billion in 2005 to about $18.2 billion in 2013.
“Some may think of student loan debt as just a young person's problem,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, said in a statement. “Well, as it turns out, that's increasingly not the case.”
The GAO found that about 80 percent of the student loan debt by seniors was for their own education while the rest was taken out for their children. It said federal data showed that seniors were more likely to default on loans for themselves compared with those they took out for their children.
It’s unclear when the loans originated, although the GAO noted that the time period to pay back such debt can range from a decade to 25 years. That means some older Americans could have taken out the loans when they were younger or later in life, such as workers who enrolled in college after a layoff in the midst of the economic downturn.
The number of older Americans who had their Social Security benefits offset to pay student loan debt increased about fivefold, from 31,000 to 155,000, from 2002 to 2013. About a quarter of loans held by seniors ages 65 to 74 were in default. The government can use a variety of tools to recoup student loans, such as docking wages or taking tax refund dollars.
“As the baby boomers continue to move into retirement, the number of older Americans with defaulted loans will only continue to increase,” the GAO said. “This creates the potential for an unpleasant surprise for some, as their benefits are offset and they face the possibility of a less secure retirement.”

The US Air Force told a sergeant he will have to leave the military unless he agrees to take an oath with the phrase “so help me God,” officials said.
In the latest religious controversy to roil the air force, the atheist airman last month was denied his request to re-enlist because of his refusal to swear to God – and he is now poised to take the military to court, his lawyer said.
“We have not received word from the Air Force regarding our letter. It has not indicated a willingness to settle out of court,” said Monica Miller, an attorney for the American Humanist Association, which has taken up the service member's case.
With the deadline for re-enlisting expiring in November, the technical sergeant at Creech Air Force base in Nevada will be forced to sue the government in a federal court, Miller told AFP.
In the past, an airman could opt for an alternative phrase and omit the words "so help me God," but the US Air Force changed its policy in October 2013. The other branches of the American military do not require the reference to God and make the phrase optional.
“This is the only branch to my knowledge that's actually requiring everyone in all instances to use the religious language,” Miller said.
The requirement violates the US Constitution, which bars religious tests to hold office or other positions, Miller said of the case. “The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” she said.
The sergeant's service expires in November and he has until then to re-enlist and take the oath, said US Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. In the meantime, “a written legal opinion is being requested” from the Pentagon’s top lawyer, she said.
The mourners filled an enormous church to remember Michael Brown – recalling him as a “gentle giant,” aspiring rapper and recent high school graduate on his way to a technical college. But the funeral that unfolded was about much more than the Black 18-year-old who lay in the closed casket after being shot to death by a White police officer.
The emotional service sought to consecrate Brown's death as another in the long history of the civil rights movement and implored black Americans to change their protest chants into legislation and law.
“Show up at the voting booths. Let your voices be heard, and let everyone know that we have had enough of all of this,” said Eric Davis, one of Brown's cousins.
The Rev. Al Sharpton called for a movement to clean up police forces and the communities they serve. “We’re not anti-police. We respect police. But those police that are wrong need to be dealt with just like those in our community that are wrong need to be dealt with,” Sharpton said.
More than 4,500 mourners filled Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis for the service. The crowd included the parents of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old African American fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, along with a cousin of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old murdered by several White men while visiting Mississippi in 1955.
Till's killing galvanized the Civil Rights movement, although no one was ever convicted of his murder.
Also in attendance were several White House aides, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, moviemaker Spike Lee, entertainer Sean Combs and some children of the Rev. Martin Luther King.The Rev. Charles Ewing, the uncle who delivered the eulogy, said Brown "prophetically spoke his demise." And now his blood is "crying from the ground. Crying for vengeance. Crying for justice."
Brown, who was to be buried in a St. Louis cemetery, was unarmed when he was killed. A grand jury is considering evidence in the case, and a federal investigation is also underway.

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NATO leaders are asking themselves whether the alliance has a role in containing the militant threat in the Middle East, as heads of state attend a summit focused on the crisis in Ukraine and next steps in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron declared that their nations would “not be cowed” by extremists from the Islamic State group who have claimed responsibility for killing two American journalists. They also challenged NATO to not turn inward in the face of the threat.

“Those who want to adopt an isolationist approach misunderstand the nature of security in the 21st Century,” Obama and Cameron wrote in a joint editorial in the Times of London. “Developments in other parts of the world, particularly in Iraq and Syria, threaten our security at home.”
Obama, Cameron and dozens of other NATO leaders met in Wales for the two-day summit. Leaders there also planned to commit to a more rapid response force on its eastern flank, which would aim to serve as a deterrent to Russian aggression.
At the summit, the American and British leaders were expected to seek support for an international response to confronting the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he believes the broader international community “has an obligation to stop the Islamic State from advancing further,” but noted that the alliance hasn't received any request for help.

“I’m sure that if the Iraqi government were to forward a request for NATO assistance, that would be considered seriously by NATO allies,” Rasmussen said.

Obama also planned to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East that's caught in the crossfire of the region's instability. The Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility for murdering two American journalists, releasing gruesome videos of their beheadings.

Both the U.S. and Britain are deeply concerned about the potential threat to their homelands that could come from the foreign fighters who have joined the violent Islamic State group. Cameron proposed new laws that would give police the power to seize the passports of Britons suspected of having traveled abroad to fight with terrorist groups.

The U.S. began launching airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq in August, and both the U.S. and Britain have been making humanitarian aid drops to besieged minority groups there. Cameron said that he hadn't ruled out joining the U.S. in airstrikes, but added that the priority was to support those already fighting the militants on the ground.

“We need to show real resolve and determination, we need to use every power and everything in our armory with our allies – with those on the ground – to make sure we do everything we can to squeeze this dreadful organization out of existence," Cameron told the British network ITV.

Also facing Obama is a decision about whether to expand U.S. military action against the extremists to Syria. While Obama has said he's considering that step, he has suggested in recent days that it's not imminent. U.S. officials say Obama is reluctant to delve into Syria's quagmire on his own.

He’s expected to use some of his discussions in Wales to try to build a coalition that could join him in confronting the Islamic State through a combination of military might, diplomatic pressure and economic penalties.

Obama and Cameron visited a local school, where they greeted students learning about NATO. Later, the two met with their counterparts from France, Germany and Italy to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. The new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also joined the discussion.

Ukraine and Russia have been locked in a standoff for months, with pro-Moscow forces stirring instability in eastern Ukrainian cities. On the eve of the NATO summit, Russia and Ukraine said they were working on a deal to halt the fighting, but Western leaders expressed skepticism – noting it wasn't the first attempt to end the deadly conflict.

A centerpiece of the NATO summit was to be the announcement of the rapid response force. Officials said the alliance could position at least 4,000 forces and military equipment in the Baltics and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

“We must use our military to ensure a persistent presence in Eastern Europe, making clear to Russia that we will always uphold our Article 5 commitments to collective self-defense,” Obama and Cameron wrote.

Under Article 5 of the NATO charter, an attack on one member state is viewed on an attack on the whole alliance. Obama reiterated his support for that principle during a visit to Estonia, one of the newer NATO members set on edge by Russia's provocations.

In the cities and towns across the desert plains of northeast Syria, the Islamic State has injected itself into nearly every aspect of daily life. The group famous for its beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions provides electricity and water, pays salaries, controls traffic, and runs nearly everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques.

While its merciless battlefield tactics and its imposition of its austere vision of Islamic law have won the group headlines, residents say much of its power lies in its efficient and often deeply pragmatic ability to govern. Syria's eastern province of Raqqa  held up as an example of life under the Islamic “caliphate” they hope will one day stretch from China to Europe.

In the provincial capital, a city that was home to about a quarter of a million people before Syria's three-year-old war began; the group leaves almost no institution or public service outside of its control.

“Let us be honest, they are doing massive institutional work. It is impressive,” one activist from Raqqa who now lives in a border town in Turkey told Reuters. In interviews conducted remotely, residents, Islamic State fighters and even activists opposed to the group described how it had built up a structure similar to a modern government in less than a year under its chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The group’s progress has alarmed regional and Western powers –  last month U.S. President Barack Obama called it a “cancer” that must be erased from the Middle East as U.S. warplanes bombarded its positions in Iraq.

But Islamic State has embedded itself so thoroughly into the fabric of life in places like Raqqa that it will be all but impossible for U.S. aircraft - let alone Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish troops - to uproot them through force alone.

Although pragmatism has been a key to the group’s success, ideology is also vital to the group's rule. By declaring the caliphate and setting up a “state,” Baghdadi aimed to attract foreign jihadis and experts from abroad. Supporters say thousands have responded.

At the same time, wealthy Islamists from across the world have sent money to Raqqa to support the caliphate, jihadis say.

According to sources in Raqqa, the group maintains three weapons factories mainly designed to develop missiles. Foreign scientists – including Muslims from China, fighters claim – are kept in a private location with bodyguards. "Scientists and men with degrees are joining the State,” said one Arab jihadi.

The group has also invested heavily in the next generation by inducting children into their ideology. Primary, secondary and university programs now include more about Islam. The group also accepts women who want to fight - they are trained about “the real Islam” and the reasons for fighting.

Islamic education groups are held in mosques for newly arrived fighters, who, according to militants in Raqqa, have flocked to Islamic State-controlled territory in even greater numbers since Baghdadi declared the “caliphate.”

"Every three days we receive at least 1,000 fighters. The guest houses are flooding with mujahideen. We are running out of places to receive them,” the Arab jihadi said.

The Justice Department will open a broad civil rights investigation into police practices in Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager last month and set off days of racially charged unrest.
The inquiry is in addition to the F.B.I. civil rights investigation that is looking specifically into the shooting of the teenager, Michael Brown, on Aug. 9. The new investigation is expected to be announced soon, according to two federal government officials who were briefed on the plans.
The broader Justice Department inquiry will cover whether the police in Ferguson have a history of discrimination or misuse of force beyond the Brown case, but the Justice Department has not ruled out expanding it to other St. Louis County departments, one of the federal officials said. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been formally announced.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his aides first discussed such an investigation weeks ago, immediately after the death of Mr. Brown, 18, when reports surfaced that the Ferguson police force had previously been accused of abuse.
Ferguson’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, said in an interview on that he would welcome the investigation. “We’ve been doing everything we can to become a professional police department and a professional city,” he said.
“We have no intentional policies or procedures which discriminated or violated civil rights. But if we have anything there which may unintentionally do that, we need to know about it.”
Chief Jackson said he met with Justice Department officials and discussed the broader investigation. “Obviously, we have gaps. And any help we can get to help fill those gaps and to make ourselves stronger, we welcome,” he said.
The population in Ferguson, a city of about 20,000 people just north of St. Louis, is about two-thirds African-American. The city’s Police Department has 53 officers, four of whom are black.
Adolphus M. Pruitt II, president of the N.A.A.C.P. chapter in the city of St. Louis, said the investigation should be “just a start.” He said black leaders had long complained about what he described as racial profiling, harassment and improper stops of black residents by white officers from suburban St. Louis police departments.
“They’re doing what we asked for,” Mr. Pruitt said of the Justice Department’s inquiry. “We’re hoping that it brings some resolution to any number of complaints we have in front of the Justice Department about various police departments in St. Louis County.”

In the Ferguson case, the Justice Department will conduct what it calls a “pattern or practice” investigation, with officials looking for evidence that the police have repeatedly violated residents’ civil rights. Such inquiries have been one of the Justice Department’s preferred tactics in addressing accusations of police misconduct.
Under Mr. Holder, the Justice Department has opened 20 such civil rights inquiries into police departments nationwide, more than twice the number opened in the five years before he took office.
The inquiries can lead to agreements that give the Justice Department oversight of the police departments. The Justice Department has said it is currently enforcing 13 such agreements, the largest number in its history.
Michael Brown, 17, was shot six times after Officer Darren Wilson, 28, stopped him for “walking down the street blocking traffic,” as Chief Jackson put it.
Mr. Brown fell on his stomach, his arms at his sides and his head bloody. His body was left on the street for hours. Officer Wilson, who was placed on administrative leave, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Mr. Holder has personally assured Mr. Brown’s family that the federal investigation will be thorough and independent. Civil rights investigations into police shootings are difficult: Courts have given the police wide latitude to use deadly force when they feel threatened.
To bring charges, prosecutors must show that Officer Wilson intended to violate Mr. Brown’s civil rights when he opened fire and that he did so willfully – meaning he knew it was wrong but fired anyway.
One incident that caught the attention of the federal authorities after the Brown shooting was a 2009 case in which an African-American man said that officers beat him and then charged him with damaging government property – by getting his blood on their uniforms.
Missouri N.A.A.C.P. leaders lodged another Justice Department complaint against the St. Louis County Police Department last year, accusing its officers of engaging in widespread racial profiling in an attempt to crack down on crime in and around the South County Center, a shopping mall.
Mr. Pruitt said one of the incidents referred to in the complaint involved two White officers who arrested 145 Black men and women in a 30-day period in the mall area for outstanding warrants. “We determined that the stops were not legitimate stops,” Mr. Pruitt said.
“They stopped them because they were Black. The question is, how many Blacks did they have to go through to find 145 with warrants?”
North Carolina’s longest-serving death row inmate and his younger half brother walked out as free men three decades after they were convicted of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl who DNA evidence shows may have been killed by another man.

Henry McCollum, 50, hugged his weeping parents at the gates of Central Prison in Raleigh, a day after a judge ordered his release, citing the new evidence in the 1983 slaying of Sabrina Buie.

His half brother, 46-year-old Leon Brown, was later freed from Maury Correctional Institution near Greenville, where he had been serving a life sentence.

“I knew one day I was going to be blessed to get out of prison, I just didn't know when that time was going to be,” McCollum said.

“I just thank God that I am out of this place. There's not anger in my heart. I forgive those people and stuff. But I don't like what they done to me and my brother because they took 30 years away from me for no reason. But I don't hate them. I don't hate them one bit.”

Brown declined to be interviewed following his release, saying through his attorney he was too overwhelmed. He hugged his sister outside the prison before asking to go for a cheeseburger and milkshake.

If not for a series of lawsuits that has blocked any executions in North Carolina since 2006, McCollum would have likely been put to death years ago. He often lay awake at night in his solitary cell, thinking of the needle.

“I'd toss and turn at night, trying to sleep,” he said. “Cause I thought ... these people was going to kill me.”

Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser overturned the convictions. He said another man’s DNA being found on a cigarette butt left near the body of the slain girl contradicted the case put forth by prosecutors.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife were convicted of using his office to promote a dietary supplement in exchange for gifts in a public corruption case that derailed his political career and a rising Republican star.

A federal jury in Richmond convicted Bob McDonnell of 11 of the 13 counts he faced; Maureen McDonnell was convicted of nine of the 13 counts she had faced. Both bowed their heads and wept as a chorus of "guilty" kept coming from the court clerk.

The couple left the courtroom separately and remained apart. Bob McDonnell left first and walked into a witness waiting room; Maureen McDonnell came out later, hugging one of her daughters while weeping loudly. She went into a separate waiting room.

The couple was charged with doing favors for a wealthy vitamin executive in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans. They also were charged with submitting fraudulent bank loan applications, and Maureen McDonnell was charged with one count of obstruction.

The former governor testified in his own defense, insisting that he provided nothing more than routine political courtesies to former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. Maureen McDonnell did not testify. His testimony and that of others exposed embarrassing details about Maureen McDonnell's erratic behavior and the couple's marital woes as the defense suggested they could not have conspired because they were barely speaking.

Williams testified under immunity that he spent freely on the McDonnells in order to secure their help promoting his supposed cure-all, the tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.

Among the gifts were nearly $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories for Maureen McDonnell, a $6,500 Rolex watch for her husband, $15,000 in catering for one of their daughter's wedding, free vacations and golf outings. Williams also provided three loans totaling $120,000.

As the gifts were being given, the McDonnells attended various Anatabloc promotional events and hosted a luncheon at the governor's mansion that the company billed as a product launch.

Williams also was allowed to invite several of his associates to a reception for Virginia health care leaders at the mansion, and McDonnell arranged meetings for him with two state health officials as he was taking preliminary steps to seek state-backed research on Anatabloc. No applications for research grants were ever submitted.

Prosecutors claimed that the McDonnells turned to Williams because they were grappling with credit card debt that once topped $90,000 and annual operating shortfalls of $40,000 to $60,000 on family-owned vacation rental properties. Two of the loans totaling $70,000 were intended for the two Virginia Beach rent houses.

Williams said he wrote the first $50,000 check to Maureen McDonnell after she complained about their money troubles and said she could help his company because of her background selling nutritional supplements.

Defense attorneys said Maureen McDonnell had a “crush” on Williams, who preyed on her vulnerability. Several witnesses described their relationship as inappropriate and flirtatious. None suggested it was physical, and Williams testified that it was not. He said his relationship with both McDonnells was all about boosting his business.

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As fighters for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continue to seize territory, the group has quietly built an effective management structure of mostly middle-aged Iraqis overseeing departments of finance, arms, local governance, military operations and recruitment.
At the top of the organization is the self-declared leader of all Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a radical chief executive officer  who handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago.
He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.
They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.
The training and field experience of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes:
Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.
But President Barack Obama, who has long been reluctant to plunge the U.S. military into Syria, said confronting the “Islamic State” (ISIS) would require more than just American action. He called for a regional strategy that could bring in other nations and focus on political as well as military options.
In blunt terms, the President said it was time for Middle Eastern nations to “stop being ambivalent” about the aims of extremist groups like this. “They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,” President Obama said, alluding to the group's announcement that it had killed American journalist James Foley.
The militants also have threatened to kill other U.S. hostages in Syria. The President said he was dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East soon to discuss the matter with regional partners. Obama will also meet with world leaders in Europe next week during a NATO summit.
The heightened threat from ISIS comes at a time of instability elsewhere in the world that has challenged Obama's desire to keep the U.S. out of military conflicts.
Russia has escalated its threatening moves in Ukraine, with Ukrainian officials accusing Russia of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops.
Despite the increased tensions, Obama ruled out any military options in Ukraine and proposed no shift in an American-led strategy that has yet to convince Moscow to halt operations against its far weaker neighbor.

Gov. Jay Nixon nominated a former St. Louis police chief to become the state’s top law enforcement official – and the only African American in his cabinet – in the wake of racially charged unrest in nearby Ferguson.
The nomination of Daniel Isom II to become the director of the state’s Department of Public Safety came the same day that a police command center in Ferguson was dismantled and the National Guard completed its withdrawal.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the county police will remain in charge of policing the city of 21,000 that became the site of violent clashes between the police and protesters after Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, who was black and unarmed, two and a half weeks ago.
If Dr. Isom is confirmed by the State Senate, he will oversee the Highway Patrol, the National Guard, the Office of Homeland Security, Emergency Management and other agencies operating in the state.
He would replace Jerry Lee, who is retiring. “Dr. Isom has experience and training in law enforcement that are almost unmatched, including as a top-level manager and as a front-line officer in one of the state’s largest police forces,” Mr. Nixon said in a statement.
The governor has faced harsh criticism from blacks for his response to the shooting and the street violence. Critics said he was late to intervene as the police retaliated against protesters with tear gas and an array of military gear that was widely denounced as provocative. He was also criticized for imposing a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew for two nights and calling in the National Guard.
“Over the years, I don’t think any of the white political leadership has been very sensitive to the African-American community,” said State Representative Tommie Pierson, a Democrat who represents St. Louis and is black.
“Unfortunately, it takes something like this to draw attention to that fact,” he added, referring to the unrest in Ferguson. “This draws attention to that and makes them do just what Governor Nixon is doing.” But Mr. Pierson said that Dr. Isom was well qualified for the job.
When President Obama summoned his closest advisers to the Oval Office a year ago this week to tell them he was holding off on a missile strike against Syria, one of his arguments was that if he acted without Congress, he might not get congressional backing for military intervention the next time he needed it.
“He can’t make these decisions divorced from the American public and from Congress,” a senior aide said at the time. “Who knows what we’re going to face in the next three and a half years in the Middle East?”
Now, Mr. Obama knows what he is facing – rampaging Sunni militants who beheaded an American and have declared an Islamic caliphate across a swath of Iraq and Syria. But as the president considers airstrikes in Syria against the group, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, seeking a congressional imprimatur remains a politically tricky undertaking.
“For the White House, the bottom line is tailoring legal authority to match the policy objectives it shares with Congress and our allies,” said Harold H. Koh, a professor of international law at Yale. “The problem is those policy objectives vary from place to place.”
Mr. Koh, who as the State Department’s legal adviser in 2011 defended the White House decision to bypass Congress before the bombing campaign in Libya, said the case for military action against ISIS in Iraq was fairly straightforward. In addition to the threat the militants pose to Americans, they could destroy Iraq’s effort to form a viable government, which is a major diplomatic priority of the United States.
In Syria, the United States has called for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, yet targeting ISIS there could help Mr. Assad since he is also at war with the group. The White House has said little publicly about its plans. It justifies the airstrikes Mr. Obama has already ordered in Iraq under his “constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as commander in chief.”
Bypassing Congress would be difficult to justify, given the fervent case Mr. Obama made for consulting lawmakers last September.
After laying out the moral and legal reasons for striking Mr. Assad, who American officials say gassed his own people, Mr. Obama said, “I’m also mindful that I’m the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”
Images of the American journalist James Foley with a hooded ISIS fighter holding a knife to his throat have brought home the threat to the United States in a way that images of Syrians gasping from sarin gas attacks, however harrowing, did not.
Can a sports team ever have too much talent? The actions of the National Football League, Premier League and National Basketball Association teams could reasonably lead a person to assume that the answer is no.
But a new study of hundreds of games in several professional sports leagues suggests that, in fact, talent does have a tipping point, beyond which too many great players become detrimental to a team’s success, a finding with broad implications for coaches at all levels of play, as well as fans and athletes.
For the new study, which  was published this month in Psychological, researchers with the Instead business school in Fontainebleau, France; Columbia University in New York City; and other institutions first set out to determine just how important most of us consider talent to be.
They gave 35 casual soccer fans the opportunity to assemble a national-caliber team, choosing from imaginary players ranked as good or great. After choosing their starting 11 players, the volunteers were asked to rate how they thought their team would perform in a tournament.
The volunteers choosing the highest number of top rated players, for their squads, often filling all 11 positions with greats subsequently rated their chances of winning a tournament higher than did people who had sprinkled in a few merely good players.
The results show, the authors write that “people believe that more top talent increases a team’s performance, “and” that the effect of talent would never turn negative
But is that belief justified? To find out, the researchers next turned to real-world data about pro sports, beginning with numbers from FIFA, the international soccer governing body, in part because the study’s lead author, Roderick Swaab, a professor of organizational behavior, is also a soccer fan.
To broaden and solidify their findings, the researchers repeated the experiment as closely as possible with data from the N.B.A. and Major League Baseball.
The results were most notable for how they differed among sports. In soccer and basketball, the researchers found, adding superstars was productive – up to a point. But once a team consisted of more than about two-thirds superstars, its performance would begin to suffer, with fewer wins than would be expected, given the caliber of its talent.
But in baseball, the data showed, team performance did not decline, no matter how many stars were clustered on a roster. Cumulatively, the findings suggest that in sports requiring teamwork and coordination, you can have too much talent.
Basketball and soccer require player interdependence, communication and ego sublimation, which are not skills at which all stars excel, Dr. Swaab said. Baseball, on the other hand, is essentially “an individual sport” in a team setting, he said, allowing multiple superstars to coexist successfully on a roster.
The message, Dr. Swaab said, is to bear in mind that interpersonal dynamics should be considered alongside athletes’ abilities when building a sports team. Coaches might want to “invest more in training to formalize roles, ranks and responsibilities” among their players, so superstars understand that they, too, must pass as well as receive the ball.
EBOLA: “It’s frightening that a single event could catalyze a whole outbreak, but that’s what it looks like happened,” said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a renowned virus hunter at Columbia University, who called the study “a really nice piece of work.”
The scientists not only found that all 78 had virus traceable to funeral guests, but showed that the West African Ebola strain was quite different from the strain circulating thousands of miles away in central Africa, and that the two probably diverged as far back as 2004.
“No one knows where it’s been during that time,” said Dr. Pardis C. Sabeti, a Harvard geneticist and study co-author.
It might, she added, have circulated in some combination of bats, apes or other forest animals, “or it could have been circulating in humans for ten years with little or no notice.”
That information is important, experts said, because all the diagnostic tests now in use, as well as experimental drugs and vaccines under consideration, are based on the central African strain and might not work well on this new outbreak. For example, a diagnostic test in use now might not give a clear positive if a victim had a low viral load early in an infection.
The study also found that the 78 victims had two variants of the West African strain. The healer may have been infected with two variants from two of her patients, said Stephen K. Gire, another co-author from Dr. Sabeti’s lab. Or someone else at the funeral could have been infectious.
The work had a sobering footnote: Before it could be published, five of its co-authors had died of Ebola. They included Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, Sierra Leone’s leading hemorrhagic fever expert, and four other staff members at the Kenema hospital.
By midsummer, so many hospital staff and patients had died that it was considered a death trap and partly vacated. Since that note was written, Dr. Sabeti said, a sixth co-author, also at the hospital, died of a stroke.
Dozens of people attended the healer’s funeral, said Robert F. Garry Jr., a Tulane University hemorrhagic fever expert whose teams searched for attendees and persuaded 40 of them to give samples. Fourteen — all women — were infected, Dr. Sabeti said, although the DNA in two samples was too degraded to sequence.
Because the hospital is still overwhelmed and now overseen by the World Health Organization, Dr. Sabeti said, she has received no samples since June. To help researchers working on drugs or vaccines, she has been posting sequences as soon as she has them, rather than waiting until academic journals publish her papers.
“It doesn’t take a village to fight this,” she said. “It takes a planet.”

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An estimated 750 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its operation to counter rocket strikes from Hamas. At least 15 people were killed after Israeli forces struck a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians in northern Gaza, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Another 200 people were wounded in the attack.

Nearly 750 Palestinians and at least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting, which intensified in mid July when Israel launched a ground operation to destroy tunnels used by Hamas to deploy rockets into Israel. Palestinians claim the tunnels bring in much needed supplies – food and medical supplies.

The international community has struggled to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, even as the United Nations has condemned both sides in the conflict.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said there was a “strong possibility” that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza while also condemning the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed “outrage and regret” after rockets were found to have been stored inside a UN building in Gaza. More than 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza since the fighting, many of whom have taken shelter in UN buildings, the UN has said.


When President Obama issues executive orders on immigration in coming weeks, pro-reform activists are expecting something dramatic: temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for perhaps several million undocumented immigrants.

If the activists are right, the sweeping move would upend a contentious policy fight and carry broad political consequences.

The activists met privately with the President and his aides June 30 at the White House, and say in that meeting Obama suggested he will act before the November midterm elections.

They hope his decision will offer relief to a significant percentage of the estimated 11.7 million estimated undocumented immigrants in the U.S. “He seems resolute that he’s going to go big and go soon,” says Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice.

Exactly what Obama plans to do is a closely held secret. But following the meeting with the activists, Obama declared his intention to use his executive authority to reform parts of a broken immigration system that has cleaved families and hobbled the economy.

After being informed by Speaker John Boehner that the Republican-controlled House would not vote on a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration law this year, the President announced that he was preparing “to do what Congress refuses to do, and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

The recent meeting “was really the first time we had heard from the administration that they are looking at” expanding a program to provide temporary relief from deportations and work authorization for undocumented immigrants, says Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

Obama has a broad menu of options at his disposal, but there are two major sets of changes he can order. The first is to provide affirmative relief from deportation to one or more groups of people. Under this mechanism, individuals identified as “low-priority” threats can come forward to seek temporary protection from deportation and work authorization.

In 2012, the administration created a program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that allowed eligible young unauthorized immigrants to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit.

The most aggressive option in this category would be expanding deferred action to anyone who could have gained legal status under the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in June 2013. According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, the Senate bill would have covered up to 8 million undocumented immigrants.

It is unlikely that Obama goes that far. But “You can get to big numbers very quickly,” says Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.

One plausible option would be to expand DACA to include some family members of those already eligible. Says a Congressional aide: “While there are several options to provide temporary deportation relief, we expect an expansion of the DACA program to other groups of individuals to be the most clear opportunity.”

According to the CBO, there are an estimated 4.7 million undocumented parents with a minor child living in the U.S., and 3.8 million whose children are citizens. Around 1.5 million undocumented immigrants are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful resident, but have been unable to gain legal status themselves.

Obama could also decide to grant protections for specific employment categories, such as the 1 million or so undocumented immigrants working in the agricultural sector, or to ease the visa restrictions hindering the recruitment of high-skilled foreign workers to Silicon Valley. Either move would please centrist and conservative business lobbies, which have joined with the left to press for comprehensive reform, and might help temper the blowback.

The second bucket of changes Obama is considering is more modest enforcement reforms. Jeh Johnson, Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, is deep into a review of the administration’s enforcement practices, and it is likely Obama will order some changes to immigration enforcement priorities.

Until now, Obama has frustrated immigration-reform activists by insisting he has little latitude to fix a broken system on his own. Any relief the President provides would be temporary; it’s up to Congress to find a permanent solution by rewriting the law. But legal experts say Obama does have the authority to take the kinds of executive action he is reported to be considering.

Even if Obama is on firm footing from a legal standpoint, he would likely damage vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states, including several whose re-election could determine control of the Senate. Despite the short-term political consequences, in the long run a bold stroke could help cement the Democratic Party’s ties with the vital and fast-growing Hispanic voting bloc.

And it would be a legacy for Obama. In the case of immigration, he has the capacity to ease the pain felt by millions with the stroke of a pen.

“There are two ways this could go,” says Fitz of the Center for American Progress. Obama will be remembered as either “the deporter-in-chief, or the great emancipator. Those are the two potential legacies.”


In a partisan vote of 7-4, the House Rules Committee approved the legislation, setting health care up for consideration by the full House.
The legislation already has spawned a bitter debate between Republicans and Democrats less than four months before elections that will determine the political control of Congress next year. The lawsuit, if approved by the full House, would focus on Obama's actions in implementing his landmark healthcare law known as "Obamacare."
Republicans claim that he went beyond his legal authority and bypassed Congress when he delayed some of the law's healthcare coverage mandates and granted various waivers. Republicans have been trying to repeal the healthcare law since its enactment in 2010.


The National Bureau of Economic Research found Walmart store managers make an average salary of $92,462 per year. The authors of the new working paper used data from career site Glassdoor and the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey to analyze and compare average salaries of employees at some of the U.S.’s largest retail chains including Walmart, Costco, Whole Foods, and Starbucks.

According to the analysis, Walmart store managers are among the highest paid in the Nation, with Costco leading the pack with average manager salaries of $109,000. At Starbucks and Whole Foods, store managers bring home on average $44,632 and $75,775, respectively.

However, while store manager pay ranks high, according to NBER, Walmart cashiers earn about $8.48/hour and are paid less than their counterparts at the other chains.

At Starbucks, “baristas” make $8.80 an hour, on average, while those at Whole Foods and Costco make $10.31 and $11.59. Cashiers at three out of four of the retailers make less than the average national hourly cashier rate of $11.22/hour.

The paper also shows a significant gender gap, even among cashiers. While high school educated women in retail make 25 percent less than their male counterparts, women cashiers make 17% less. Among those with some college education, women make 20% and 21% less than men when they have a high school education and some college, respectively.

The more chronic medical conditions you have, the shorter your life will be, say researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In the study, published in the journal Medical Care, the team found that nearly four in five Americans over the age of 67 have multiple chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Obesity may be driving much of this trend, and may be responsible for slowing recent gains in life expectancy. Life expectancy has been growing at about .1 years per year in the U.S. (that’s slower than rates in other developed countries).

The study used the Medicare 5 percent sample, a nationally representative group of 1.4 million Medicare beneficiaries, which included data on 21 chronic conditions. On average, life expectancy decreased by 1.8 years with each additional chronic condition among older Americans.

“When you’re getting sicker and sicker, the body’s ability to handle illness deteriorates and that compounds,” says senior study author Gerard Anderson, a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins. “Once you have multiple conditions, your life expectancy becomes much shorter.”

For example, he says, a 75-year-old woman with no chronic medical conditions would likely live to at least 92 years old, or another 17.3 years.

However, a 75-year-old woman with five chronic conditions will likely only live another 12 more years, and a woman of the same age with 10 chronic conditions would only live to about 80 years old.

According to the data, women fare better than men and white people live longer than black people even with the burden of additional health conditions.

The type of chronic disease older people develop also seems to affect their life expectancy. A 67-year-old diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will only live an additional 12 years, while someone with a heart condition can expect another 21.2 years.

But once people develop more than one chronic condition, the specific illnesses no longer matter. “There are interaction effects among the diseases that result in decreases in life expectancy. Any condition on its own has a particular effect,” says lead study author Eva DuGoff.

“When you have heart disease plus cancer, that has a particular affect, and then those start to accumulate.”

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President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron gave Moscow a month to meet their conditions in Ukraine or face further sanctions. The action was spelled out following a Group of Seven world leader summit that excluded Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The U.S. and Europe also have imposed economic sanctions in response. Cameron said Putin must meet three conditions: Recognize Petro Poroshenko’s election as the new leader in Ukraine, stop arms from crossing the border and cease support for pro-Russian separatist groups concentrated in eastern Ukraine.
“If these things don’t happen, then sectoral sanctions will follow,” Cameron said. “The next month will be vital in judging if President Putin has taken these steps. And that is what I will urge President Putin to do.”
President Obama said the G-7 leaders unanimously agree with the steps Cameron outlined. “If Mr. Putin takes those steps, then it is possible for us to begin to rebuild trust between Russia and its neighbors and Europe,” he said.
“We will have a chance to see what Mr. Putin does over the next two, three, four weeks. And if he remains on the current course, then we’ve already indicated the kinds of actions that we’re prepared to take.”
Mr. Obama acknowledged that so-called sectoral sanctions, which would hit key sectors of Russia’s economy, could have a bigger impact across Europe because of economic ties to Russia. He said he didn’t necessarily expect all European countries to agree on them.
But he said, “It’s important to take individual countries’ sensitivities in mind and make sure that everybody is ponying up…. My hope is that we don’t have to exercise them because Mr. Putin’s made some better decisions.”
The President’s foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes later said it wasn’t certain that sectoral sanctions would be the punishment of choice.  “We’ll be calibrating those based on what the situation is and ... sectoral sanctions are in the tool kit,” Rhodes said.
President Obama was not meeting with Mr. Putin one-on-one, but said they may have an opportunity to speak when both attend events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy.
“There is a path on which Russia has the capacity to engage directly with President Poroshenko now. He should take it,” Obama said would be his message to Putin.
“If he does not, if he continues a strategy of undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine, then we have no choice but to respond.” President Obama said he thought the fact Putin didn't immediately denounce the outcome of Ukraine's election last month offers the hope he’s moving in a different direction. "But I think we have to see what he does and not what he says," he added.

President Barack Obama said he will make “no apologies” for trading five Taliban militants for captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
The exchange for Bergdahl – who was held captive for five years – has been criticized by lawmakers saying the move amounts to negotiating with terrorists and others furious that Congress was not notified.
Speaking in Brussels, Mr. Obama acknowledged that he is “never surprised” by controversies whipped up in Washington. He defended the decision by saying, “We saw an opportunity and we seized it” – noting that prisoner exchanges are not unique to his Administration.
“I make absolutely no apologies for making sure we get back a young man to his parents,” he told the press. “This is somebody’s child.”
The President mentioned the letters he gets from parents asking that he makes sure their children going off to war are taken care of, saying that “as commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids.”
White House officials have said one of the reasons Congress was not consulted is because Bergdahl’s health was deteriorating. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told BBC news that “it was our judgment, based on the information that we had, that his life, his health were in peril.”
On the same day that Google, Facebook and other tech companies urged stricter reforms to the National Security Agency’s surveillance policy, members of the Senate debated whether a bill passed by the House went too far or not far enough in protecting the privacy of Americans.
“The NSA has shown time and time again that it will seize on any wiggle room, and there is plenty of that in this bill,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said at a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing.
Most of the debate centered on whether language modified by the House defeated one of the major goals announced by President Barack Obama in the spring: to limit the bulk collection of data by the National Security Agency.
The USA Freedom Act passed by the House left the “specific selection terms” – which define exactly what kind of information the NSA can request – too vague and broad for some people and too restrictive for others.
“There is nothing in this bill that would prohibit Verizon or Gmail or the state of Georgia from being used as a specific selection term,” said Harley Geiger, senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy advocacy group.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and ranking member Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., listened intently during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee.
Geiger and other privacy advocates want to limit those terms to specific people, phones or physical locations. White House officials, however, argued that strict definitions could limit law enforcement if they were searching for something without the benefit of specific names or telephone numbers, like all purchases of a chemical in a certain area.
Some of the speakers had some choice words for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who recently told "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams that he was trained as a spy and worked for the United States at high levels. Snowden kick-started the privacy debate by leaking thousands of classified documents last summer.
Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Republican) referred to those leaks as “Snowden’s treasonous exposures.’ He said, “My phone data is in there with everybody else. I’m not worried because I’m not talking to terrorists, and hopefully I’m not talking to anybody who is talking to terrorists."
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling agreed to sign off on selling the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion, according to his attorney.
Sterling “has made an agreement with the NBA to resolve all their differences” and as co-owner has given his consent to a deal that was negotiated by his wife, Shelly Sterling, to sell the team, said Atty. Maxwell Blecher.
Donald Sterling sued the NBA in federal court alleging the NBA violated his constitutional rights by relying on information from an “illegal” recording that publicized racist remarks he made to a girlfriend. It also says the league committed a breach of contract by fining Sterling $2.5 million and that it violated antitrust laws by trying to force a sale.
Blecher said the suit will be dismissed. NBA owners must approve the sale. Blecher’s co-counsel, Bobby Samini, says the vote by league owners is expected to take place in mid-July.

Hepatitis C is a virus or infection that causes liver disease. It is spread through the blood of someone infected with hepatitis C and can cause life-long health problems, including some as severe as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Many people do not experience any symptoms of hepatitis C until long after the disease has progressed. Even without symptoms, liver damage can and often does occur.
Treatment options for hepatitis C (HCV) have rapidly changed in the past several months and will continue to change in coming years as new medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At the same time, updated treatment guidelines have been published to keep up with the new medications.
Dr. Donald Jensen is a liver specialist at the University of Chicago, and co-chair of the panel of experts that recently published the new HCV treatment guidelines.
Dr. Jensen said, “I think hepatitis C has been a concern, really, since it was first discovered back in 1989. I think what’s made it of more interest recently is perhaps that so many people have been infected with hepatitis C, and presumably infected for many years, and that a large group of these infected individuals happen to be baby boomers.
“Those born between 1945 and 1965 represent about 75 percent of all the people in the United States who carry the hepatitis C virus. Somewhere between 3.9 and 5.2 million people in the U.S. are infected with hepatitis.
“So I think it’s become more apparent recently because, in part, therapies have gotten better and in part because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that fewer than 50 percent of people with hepatitis C have actually been diagnosed or know that they have the infection.
“Of those, very few have been treated for their infection. Therapies are getting better so this is a great time to find those individuals who have hepatitis C and aren’t aware of it and get them in for treatment.”
Since 1992, the treatment for hepatitis C has involved interferon, which is an injectable medicine that has a lot of side effects and has to be given once a week. At best, it has a success rate of between 50 and 70 percent.
But last December, the FDA – for the first time – approved a medicine called sofosbuvir (Sovaldi), which is a pill medicine that can be given with another oral medicine called Ribavirin, for 12 weeks without interferon.
It has cure rates in excess of 90 percent for one strain of hepatitis C called genotype 2.  Sofor the first time, there is FDA-approved therapy without interferon for at least one strain of hepatitis C. Another strain, genotype 3, also was treated with that same combination Sovaldi plus Ribavirin, although for 24 weeks.
Not quite the same 90 percent cure rate, but very good cure rates around 70 percent. For the first time, there are therapies that are easily tolerated, have very good efficacy and don’t have the side effects of interferon.
For genotype 1, the FDA also approved Sovaldi plus another medicine called someprefir, but the FDA is recommending that those medications still be used with interferon. Although the therapy and success rate have improved, interferon is still part of the treatment. And that’s likely to change within the next year.
What does it mean to be cured of hepatitis C? It means the virus is gone. The data for cure comes from studies over the last 10 or 20 years for hepatitis C. The current terminology is SVR – sustained viral response – and sustained viral response means that if we test a patient’s blood three months or six months after they stop therapy, the virus is no longer detectable in their blood. And that is considered a success.
The biggest challenge right now is the cost.  Twelve weeks of Sovaldi costs $84,000, about $1,000 a pill. And a lot of questions have been raised in the press about the cost of these medications such as: Will insurers pay for this? Will Medicare pay for it? Will public aid pay for this?
That said, there is less monitoring, fewer side effects and the treatment is of shorter duration. So although previous therapy cost less than that $84,000, when you added up the total cost of the older therapies, in terms of blood transfusions, hospitalizations and office visits, it turned out that the older therapy actually cost about $189,000 for every patient cured.

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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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By Nusayba Hammad, Communications Director, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (nusayba@uscpr.org) WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an act unprecedented in recent history, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand...