What’s in the News

Week in Review

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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