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Showing posts from July 11, 2014

Former IRS official sought to hide information, lawmakers assert

Congressional Republicans asserted on Wednesday that new emails show a former Internal Revenue Service official deliberately sought to hide information from Congress, opening a new chapter in a probe of IRS treatment of conservative groups. An email exchange released by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa shows the former official, Lois Lerner, asking a colleague whether communications made through an internal messaging system can be searched by Congress. Issa said the exchange, culled from documents provided to Congress last week, showed that Lerner was "leading an effort to hide information from congressional inquiries." The latest accusation prompted heated questioning of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen at a hearing and angry exchanges among a Democrat and Republicans on the panel. In the emails, Lerner says she has been telling colleagues to be cautious about what they say in emails and asks whether internal messages are subject to the same data transparen

Judge strikes down Colorado gay marriage ban, stays ruling

A state judge struck down Colorado's gay marriage ban on Wednesday, saying the prohibition violated constitutional rights, but put his ruling on hold pending appeal. It was the latest of several decisions by state and federal judges to strike down state bans on same-sex nuptials and then stay their rulings pending challenges to higher courts. Adams County District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree said in his decision that Colorado's prohibition, approved by voters in 2006, conflicted with the fundamental right to marry. "The Court rejects the State's attempt to too narrowly describe the marital right at issue to the right to marry a person of the same sex," Crabtree wrote. There are 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is now legal. Several other same-sex marriage lawsuits are moving toward the U.S. Supreme Court. Two other lawsuits, testing bans in Oklahoma and Virginia, have already been heard by appeals courts. The attorney gen

Obama rejects criticism over border crisis

President Barack Obama rejected demands from Texas Governor Rick Perry and others that he visit the border where a child migrant crisis is unfolding and said his critics should get behind his request for $3.7 billion if they want to solve the problem. "Are folks more interested in politics or are they more interested in solving the problem," Obama said he told Perry. "If they are interested in solving the problem then this can be solved. If the preference is for politics then it won’t be solved." Obama visited Texas for the first time since the influx of child migrants from Central America overwhelmed border resources. He had talks with Perry aboard his Marine One helicopter and in a group meeting with local officials that Obama called constructive. In a brief news conference after the meeting, Obama dismissed criticism from Perry, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, that he should personally visit the border region for a first-hand look. "

U.S. House Republicans seek CDC documents on anthrax scare

Congressional Republicans asked the Obama administration on Wednesday to provide documents related to last month's anthrax scare at a U.S. lab, where more than 80 people were initially feared to be exposed to the deadly pathogen. _0"> In a series of letters, top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked for the results of several Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lab inspections and audits of potential weaknesses in biosecurity protocols dating back to October 2007. "How many suspected exposures to select agents and/or toxins have been reported at CDC since October 2007? How many actual exposures have been reported," said the July 9 letter to CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden signed by three Republican panel members including Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan. The lawmakers, who also requested information from the inspector general of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said they were gathering material for a July 16 he

Christie-led U.S. governors group raises $26.6 million in second quarter

The Republican Governors Association, a group led by possible presidential hopeful Chris Christie, will announce Thursday that it raised $26.6 million in the second quarter of 2014. The large haul - the group's biggest-ever second quarter number - means that embattled New Jersey Governor Christie has maintained his fundraising prowess while facing national scrutiny for his role in the "Bridgegate" scandal. Christie has brought in $60 million since taking the helm of the group in November 2013, a signal to backers of his possible White House bid that he may be capable of raising the considerable funds required to run a national campaign despite the scandal. The group, which is dedicated to helping elect Republican governors in the 36 ongoing governors' races, will also announce it has $70.3 million cash on hand. "The RGA has never been in such a strong financial position," Christie says in the press release. Four years ago, the RGA had $40 million in c

Father of Nicole Brown Simpson dies at age 90

The father of Nicole Brown Simpson, the slain ex-wife of retired American football star O.J. Simpson, has died, a family spokeswoman said on Friday. Louis Brown Jr. died on Thursday at age 90, according to attorney Natasha Roit. Brown, who lived in Dana Point, California, had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Roit said. Along with other family members, Brown became a familiar face at the much-watched trial in 1995 when Simpson, the Hall of Fame running back, was accused of murdering his former wife and her friend Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles. Simpson was acquitted. Simpson, 66, is currently in prison on a 2008 armed robbery conviction related to a robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers at a Las Vegas hotel. A businessman, Brown founded the Nicole Brown Simpson Charitable Foundation after his daughter's death to assist victims of domestic violence, the family spokeswoman said. (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney )

Richard Mellon Scaife, conservative billionaire, dies at 82

Richard Mellon Scaife, the Pittsburgh area billionaire who helped finance the rise of the conservative movement in America in the late 20th century, died on Friday at his home, his lawyer said. The death of Scaife, 82, was reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, where he was the publisher and where he wrote in a May 18 column that he had untreatable cancer. His lawyer H. Yale Gutnick confirmed the news. “Richard Scaife was a remarkable patriot, philanthropist and conservative activist. His passing today is a great loss to America,” tweeted former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, whose own rise to power in the 1990s benefited from Scaife’s largesse. In 1998, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton was referring, in part, to Scaife, when she complained in an interview that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was trying to destroy her and her husband, President Bill Clinton. Clinton was impeached that year by the House of Representatives. He was acquitted in the Senate. At the time, the Tr

Jessica Simpson, Eric Johnson wed in Santa Barbara: People

Jessica Simpson married former NFL player Eric Johnson in southern California on Saturday, People magazine reported. _0"> Simpson, 33, and Johnson, 34, tied the knot at the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, according to the magazine which received confirmation from the couple. "We are overwhelmed with complete happiness and love having made our eternal commitment," Simpson and Johnson said in a statement to People on Saturday. The couple was joined by more than 250 guests, including Simpson's sister Ashlee Simpson and her fiancé Evan Ross, Jessica Alba and Donald Faison. The couple have two children, one-year-old Ace who served as a ring bearer and Maxwell, 2, who was a flower girl. Simpson, a pop singer and Weight Watchers spokeswoman and Johnson, a former San Francisco 49ers tight end, began dating four years ago and became engaged in November 2010. (Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Raf Simons makes Christian Dior travel through history

As Paris Haute Couture week gathered pace on its second day, Raf Simons offered a walk through history at Christian Dior, with a mix of 18th century-inspired dresses with side hoops and embroidered masculine court coats. The designer said he was searching for a modern interpretation of fashion codes from centuries past for his fifth haute couture collection since he was appointed Dior's chief designer in 2012 to replace John Galliano. The show at the Rodin museum, staged in a gigantic round room with walls decked with white orchids, opened with a series of pale silk dresses with panniers, the dramatic side hoops first introduced by the Spanish court and immortalized in the paintings of Velazquez. The collection moved on to long dark court jackets with embroidered collars resembling those worn at the court of Louis XIV. Bright stilettos brought modern flair to the looks, while handbags, one of Dior's biggest products, were notably absent. "Raf asked himself how

Harrison Ford injury to halt 'Star Wars' production for two weeks

Actor Harrison Ford is recuperating from surgery after breaking his leg, but the injury on the set of "Star Wars: Episode VII" will force a two-week hiatus in filming, the Walt Disney Studios said. _0"> News of the stoppage comes after Disney initially said filming would continue on schedule while Ford recovered. But shooting is on track to wrap up in the fall, the studio said, and the release date remains December 2015. "In August, the team will take a brief two-week hiatus while adjustments to the current production schedule are made as actor Harrison Ford recovers from a leg injury," Disney said in a statement posted on Sunday on the website Ford, 71, was injured on the set of the reboot of George Lucas' blockbuster "Star Wars" franchise last month during filming in England. The best actor Oscar-nominee for his role in "Witness" in 1986 is reprising his role as Han Solo in the film that is being directed by J.

Pharrell leaves Montreux festival fans wanting more

Pharrell Williams gave a slick concert for a pumped-up crowd at the Montreux Jazz Festival on Monday night, but some fans were less than happy when he left the famed stage after just an hour. The American R&B singer and producer, accompanied by his band, two vocalists and six female dancers, played tracks from his second album "GIRL", including "Marilyn Monroe" and "Come Get it Bae", before closing with his global viral hit "Happy." Known simply by his first name Pharrell, he repeatedly voiced support for women's rights during the concert, declaring 2014 "The Year of the Woman" when things are going to change. "My new album is an ode to women. From A to Z, I make no apologies for the way I appreciate women," he told the sold-out standing crowd who paid 135 Swiss francs ($150) per ticket. "I make no apology. I love women in every kind of way." Minutes later he played "Blurred Lines", the raunch

U.N. Women names actress Emma Watson goodwill ambassador

The United Nations' gender equality body UN Women on Tuesday appointed British actress Emma Watson, best known for her role as Hermione in the "Harry Potter" film series, as a goodwill ambassador to advocate for the empowerment of young women. _0"> "Being asked to serve as UN Women's Goodwill Ambassador is truly humbling," Watson, 24, said in a statement. "Women's rights are something so inextricably linked with who I am, so deeply personal and rooted in my life, that I can't imagine an opportunity more exciting," she said. Watson's films have grossed more than $5.4 billion worldwide over the past decade, according to the Internet Movie Database. She graduated from Brown University in May with a bachelor's degree in English literature. Other UN Women goodwill ambassadors include Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman and Thailand's Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol. (Reporting by Mirjam Donath , editing by G Crosse)

A Minute With: London's reigning queen soprano DiDonato is a kickboxer too

On stage and off, you don't want to tangle with Joyce DiDonato - American soprano extraordinaire and practiced kickboxer too. The 45-year-old diva has been leaving audiences at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden roaring for her singing and performing of the hugely demanding bel canto (beautiful singing) role of the doomed Queen Maria Stuarda - Mary Queen of Scots - in the second of Donizetti's three Tudor operas. There's hardly a more gripping and dramatic scene in opera than the one at the end of Act Two when DiDonato as Maria has a knock-down, drag-out confrontation with Queen Elizabeth I, sung by the up-and-coming Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio. They spit insults at each other, DiDonato hurls "vil bastarda" (evil bastard) at her rival and pulls the tablecloth from under Elizabeth's picnic lunch, sweeping all the food and dishes to the floor - all this in the full knowledge that it will ensure she has her head chopped off. "I feel complet

What if the market has it right?: James Saft

The past 15 years of bubbles and busts notwithstanding, sometimes it may be best to just assume financial markets have got it right. The central problem facing investors today is how to reconcile patchy and uneven growth in the economy with very full valuations for stocks and other risky assets. What has been a constant tension over the past five years, during which U.S. stocks have more than doubled, was highlighted yet again last week when decent but not outstanding U.S. jobs figures (wage growth for example was poor) prompted investors to underwrite yet another stock market run to record territory. In trying to figure out why financial markets are doing so well and risk is so well bid, there are two broad competing theories. The first explanation is that financial markets are ahead of the curve. In this reading a stronger recovery which will justify rich valuations is just around the corner. If true, companies will see revenues jump along with overall economic growth, and marg

Why most seniors can't afford to pay more for Medicare

Should seniors pay more for Medicare? Republicans think so; they have repeatedly called for replacing the current program with vouchers that would shift cost and risk to seniors. There's no doubt this is where Republicans will take us if they capture control of Congress this year, and the White House in 2016. Representative Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, advocates “premium support” reforms that would give seniors vouchers to buy private Medicare insurance policies in lieu of traditional fee-for-service Medicare. Under the latest version of Ryan's budget proposed in April, starting in 2024 seniors could opt to buy premium-supported private plans or stay in traditional Medicare. Ryan has argued that introducing competition will bring down costs over time, and capping the government's costs does sound like a tempting way to address Medicare's financial problems. Medicare's trustees project total annual spending will jump

SEC review of alternative mutual funds is imminent: official

A surge of investment in alternative mutual funds has caught the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which will launch examinations of fund companies targeting funds' leverage, liquidity and other concerns, according to an official. The series of examinations, which will likely begin this summer or fall, will also gauge funds' compliance with securities industry laws and regulations, said Norm Champ, director of the SEC's Division of Investment Management, in prepared remarks published by the agency late on Monday. Among the issues: whether funds are properly determining the value of securities they hold and disclosing risks to investors, Champ originally made the remarks at a seminar for lawyers in New York last week. Champ's remarks (available at ) include significant details about the imminent examinations, known as a "sweep," which SEC has been discussing since last year. Alternative mutual funds typically emp

Deutsche Bank says asset management unit back on track

Deutsche Bank AG said its asset and wealth management unit was back on track after two years of restructuring, and was growing quickly with new client money pouring in at an accelerating pace. _0"> Michele Faissola, who has led restructuring efforts in the underperforming division, said on Tuesday he was on track to meet a target of 1.7 billion euros ($2.3 billion) in pretax profit by 2015, more than double last year's total and more than 10 times its 2012 result. "Our ambition is to be the growth engine for the Deutsche Bank group," Faissola said, in part by winning over super-rich clients in Asia in direct competition with similarly positioned banks such as JP Morgan and Credit Suisse. New client money in the second quarter of 2014 poured into the division at the fastest pace ever, Faissola said, after some quarters in the recent past saw net outflows. The bank plans to report detailed quarterly results on July 29. "The flows are starting to kick in.

Hedge funds attract $72.2 billion in first five months of year: data

Investors poured $72.2 billion into hedge funds worldwide in the first five months of 2014, marking their strongest five-month start to a year since 2007 partly on fears of a downturn in stock and bond prices, data from a survey showed on Tuesday. Hedge funds attracted $16.9 billion in investor cash in May, down from inflows of $19.1 billion in April but enough to push the industry's assets to $2.3 trillion, or just under a six-year high, according to data from industry groups TrimTabs/BarclayHedge. Appetite for hedge funds, which use various techniques to deliver so-called "uncorrelated" returns that are independent from traditional stock and bond markets, has accelerated this year partly on caution toward highly priced stocks and bonds. "Investors in hedge funds are cautious about valuations in other markets, including stock, bond, and real estate markets," said David Santschi, chief executive officer at TrimTabs Investment Research. Fixed income hedge f

U.S. court tosses ex-broker's privacy lawsuit to clean up record

A U.S. judge threw out a lawsuit against the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) by a former broker who alleged that disclosures on the regulator's public database violated his privacy rights. The former broker, Alan Santos-Buch, sued FINRA, Wall Street's industry-funded regulator in February, alleging it continues to make details of a 1997 disciplinary case against him available on its website and in a regulatory document. That makes it difficult for him to find jobs, he alleged. Santos-Buch wanted the court to order that FINRA erase the black mark on his record. But Santos-Buch failed to raise "substantial constitutional questions" that would allow his case to proceed in federal court, according to an opinion released late Tuesday by the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Instead, Santos-Buch should have challenged FINRA's rules using another procedure available through the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, wrote Judge Shira Scheindlin. A

Wall Street watchdog launches exams into order routing practices

Wall Street's self-regulator said on Tuesday it is conducting examinations of 10 firms to ensure they are in compliance with regulations requiring that investors receive the best execution for their stock orders. _0"> The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority did not disclose which 10 firms were sent letters demanding records and other documents on their execution and order-routing practices. FINRA posted a sample letter on its website explaining its examination process. A link to the letter can be found at ( here ) Tom Gira, executive vice president of FINRA's Market Regulation Department, said the 10 firms were selected because of their order flow. "We're conducting a sweep, it's called a thematic sweep, we want to learn more about these issues," Gira said. "We wanted to ask them some questions. We're not concluding that they violated anything," he said. FINRA is now the second regulator conducting a deeper probe into how orde

China, U.S. say committed to managing differences

China and the United States need to manage their differences, the leaders of both countries said on Wednesday at the start of annual talks expected to focus on cyber-security, maritime disputes, the Chinese currency and an investment treaty. The two-day talks in Beijing, called the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, will be an opportunity for the world's two biggest economies to dial down tensions after months of bickering over a host of issues, experts have said. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew chair the U.S. delegation, with Vice Premier Wang Yang and top diplomat Yang Jiechi leading the Chinese side. President Xi Jinping said Sino-U.S. cooperation was of vital importance to the global community. "China-U.S. confrontation, to the two countries and the world, would definitely be a disaster," he told the opening ceremony at a government guesthouse in the west of the city. "We should mutually respect and treat eac

Both candidates in Indonesia election claim victory; Jokowi ahead in more counts

Both candidates claimed victory in Indonesia's presidential election on Wednesday, suggesting there could be a drawn out constitutional battle to decide who will next lead the world's third-largest democracy. Just a few hours after voting closed, Jakarta governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said he had won, based on quick counts of more than 90 percent of the votes. A victory for him would be seen as a triumph for a new breed of politician that has emerged in Southeast Asia's biggest economy, and increase the promise of desperately needed reform in government. But ex-general Prabowo Subianto, the rival candidate viewed as representative of the old guard that flourished under decades of autocratic rule, said other, unnamed, quick counts of votes favoured him. Jokowi, on other hand, named tallies by six pollsters, most regarded as reliable and independent. The included three respected, non-partisan agencies - CSIS, Kompas and Saifulmujani - which provided accurate tal

Emirates finalizes $56 billion order for 150 Boeing 777X planes

Dubai airline Emirates [EMIRA.UL] finalized a $56 billion order to buy 150 Boeing ( id="symbol_BA.N_0"> BA.N ) 777X jets on Wednesday, firming up a commitment made last year, just weeks after scrapping an order with rival planemaker Airbus ( id="symbol_AIR.PA AIR.PA ). _0"> The deal includes purchase rights for an additional 50 airplanes which, if exercised, could increase the value to about $75 billion at list prices, Boeing said in a statement. _1"> "With the order for 150 777Xs, Emirates now has 208 Boeing 777s pending delivery, creating and securing jobs across the supply chain," Emirates president Tim Clark said. The agreement comes days before the Farnborough International Airshow, traditionally an event at which billions of dollars of new plane orders are announced. It follows the surprise cancellation in June of a $16-billion order by Emirates to buy 70 of Airbus' A350 aircraft, which delivered a blow to the European planema

Scoping the new subprime as watchdogs cry 'bubble'

As global watchdogs warn that euphoric financial markets are divorced from economic reality and acting out some reprise of the credit bubble and bust of the past decade, fears of another subprime timebomb are inevitable. But even if you believe another crisis is brewing, it's most likely not where it was last time. At least not in U.S. securitised mortgages - the heart of systemic blowout that nearly brought down the global banking system in 2008. A mix of tighter regulation, stricter underwriting standards and the lowest new mortgage applications in almost 20 years means sales of private U.S. mortgage-backed securities have dwindled to just $600 million (350 million pounds) so far this year - a mere sliver of the record $726 billion of new bonds in 2005. For what it's worth, new U.S. bonds backed by subprime mortgages chave all but vanished. Bonds backed by subprime U.S. auto-loans have taken up some of the running, but not on anything like the same scale. Yet in its la

Russia gives green light for next U.S. ambassador

Russia has given the green light for career diplomat John Tefft to be appointed U.S. ambassador to Moscow, an aide to President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday. _0"> Russian officials say privately that Tefft, a former ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania, is not entirely to Moscow's liking, but his candidacy has been approved following calls by Putin for better relations with the United States. Ties are at a low point, particularly because of the crisis in Ukraine. The previous ambassador, Michael McFaul, left Russia in February after two years marked by controversy and tension. Confirming that Russia had approved Tefft's candidacy, Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters: "The agreement is done. This is a high-ranking diplomat." "I will leave without comment how he acted in Georgia and Ukraine. Everybody knows that well. But it is also a fact that he has very good professional preparation, he has worked in Russia and k

Fugitive Snowden asks to extend stay in Russia: lawyer

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has asked Moscow to extend his asylum in Russia, his lawyer said on Wednesday. _0"> Russia granted Snowden a one-year visa in August 2013 despite the United States wanting Moscow to send him home to face criminal charges, including espionage, for disclosing secret U.S Internet and telephone surveillance programs. "We have carried out the procedure of getting temporary asylum. It expires on July 31," Interfax news agency quoted Snowden's Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, as saying. "Correspondingly, we have filed documents to extend his stay on the territory of Russia." Kucherena could not immediately be reached for comment independently and the Russian Federal Migration Service declined comment. Another lawyer for Snowden, whose precise whereabouts are a secret, said last month he expected Russia to extend the American's asylum beyond July. President Vladimir Putin's refusal to return

Ukraine readies plan to take back lost territory, rebels defiant

Ukrainian government forces on Wednesday warned separatists in the eastern town of Donetsk that a plan was now in place to take back the territory they occupy, but defiant rebels reported a steady flow of new recruits who were ready to fight. The Ukrainian military pushed the rebels out of their best-fortified stronghold in the town of Slaviansk on Saturday, but they have regrouped for a stand in Donetsk, a city of nearly a million people. Rebels also still control strategic buildings in Luhansk near the Russian border. Separatists said on Tuesday that Igor Strelkov, a Russian military officer from Moscow who until the weekend led rebels in Slaviansk, had assumed command of the "defense of Donetsk". President Petro Poroshenko has ruled out using air strikes and artillery that might endanger civilians and said on Tuesday night: "There will be no street fighting in Donetsk." But the government says it has a plan to retake Donetsk and Luhansk and deliver a "

Fifty-three blindfolded bodies found in Iraq as political leaders bicker

Iraqi security forces found 53 corpses, blindfolded and handcuffed, south of Baghdad on Wednesday as Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders traded accusations over an Islamist insurgency raging in the country's Sunni provinces. Officials said dozens of bodies were discovered near the mainly Shi'ite Muslim village of Khamissiya, with bullets to the chest and head, the latest mass killing since Sunni insurgents swept through northern Iraq. "Fifty-three unidentified corpses were found, all of them blindfolded and handcuffed," Sadeq Madloul, governor of the mainly Shi'ite southern province of Babil, told reporters. He said the victims appeared to have been killed overnight after being brought by car to an area near the main highway running from Baghdad to the southern provinces, about 25 km (15 miles) southeast of the city of Hilla. The identity and sectarian affiliation of the dead people was not immediately clear, he said. Sunni militants have been carrying out att

Anger mounts as Germany unearths second U.S. spy suspect

German politicians reacted angrily on Wednesday to news of a suspected U.S. spy in the defense ministry, which came days after the arrest of a German foreign intelligence agency worker as a suspected CIA informant. After the federal prosecutors said authorities had conducted searches in connection with a second spying case, Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partners said Washington should remove any U.S. embassy staff involved and cease spying on its ally. Security sources told Reuters the latest suspect to face investigation was from the military and worked in the Defence Ministry in Berlin, but no arrest appeared to have been made. Other sources close to the investigation said the suspect was a German Foreign Ministry official on assignment at the Defence Ministry. The Defence Ministry confirmed its premises had been searched but gave no other details. "It is not yet clear what is behind this," Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the Berliner Zeitung new