New York Times

10 things you need to know today: November 29, 2013

Black Friday shoppers carry discounted items from a Florida Best Buy that opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Black Friday shoppers carry discounted items from a Florida Best Buy that opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Week

HealthCare.gov braces for a key test, Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping rush, and more

1. ObamaCare website faces crucial new deadline
The Obama administration’s technology team is scrambling to complete a workaround for the ObamaCare website ahead of the self-imposed Saturday deadline to fix it. The focus is on a new mechanism called EZ App to let people enroll without calculating the precise subsidy they could receive to help cover their health insurance premiums, eliminating a major complaint since the site’s disastrous Oct. 1 launch. Administration officials say 80 percent of users will find the site faster, but some will still encounter delays. [Washington Post]
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2. China patrols its disputed defense zone with warplanes
China said Thursday that it had sent fighter jets to patrol its newly declared air defense zone over a disputed part of the East China Sea, raising the stakes in a dispute with Japan over control of a remote island chain. China’s show of force came after Japan and South Korea defied Beijing’s new claim on the area by flying surveillance aircraft through the area. The U.S. also sent military aircraft into the area this week and condemned China for demanding to be notified before any aircraft enter the zone. [Washington Post]
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3. Black Friday kicks off holiday shopping spree
American retailers officially launched the holiday shopping season with deep discounts in Black Friday sales, hoping to lure in shoppers still hurting as the economy limps through a slow recovery. Brawls broke out at several stores. A dozen major chains, including Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us, got a jump on the competition by offering savings on Thanksgiving Day. Last year Thanksgiving sales reduced the Black Friday haul by $810 million, but it was still the biggest shopping day of the year with $11.2 billion in sales. [Associated PressNew York Daily News]
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4. Karzai vows to not sign security deal if drone strikes continue
Afghan President Hamid Karzai harshly criticized the U.S. for two alleged drone strikes that reportedly killed civilians, including a 2-year-old, in southern Afghanistan. Karzai suggested that he would not sign a long-term security agreement with Washington as long as the attacks continue. Tribal leaders last week overwhelmingly approved the pact, which would let the U.S. leave behind thousands of troops to train and support Afghan forces after NATO withdraws at the end of next year. [New York Times]
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5. Thai leader rejects new elections despite protests
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Friday ruled out holding early elections following six days of protests calling for her to step down. Yingluck called for negotiations on Thursday after surviving a no-confidence vote, but protest leaders rejected her plea. At least 1,000 demonstrators forced their way into the country’s military headquarters on Friday to call for the army to back them, then left peacefully. Yingluck has vowed not to use force to quiet the protests. [BBC News]
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6. Iran clears inspectors to visit key nuclear site
The International Atomic Energy Agency announced Thursday that Iran had invited its inspectors to visit a heavy-water production facility that is part of a site where Tehran is building a new reactor. The invitation marked the first concrete step by Iran to honor its obligations under alandmark deal with world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of some of the international sanctions hobbling its economy. The reactor, if completed, would produce plutonium that could fuel a nuclear bomb. [New York Times]
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7. SpaceX aborts satellite launch
SpaceX called off the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket just before it was supposed to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Thursday. The problem was a “slower than expected thrust ramp,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said. It was the second time the launch had been delayed in three days. The private aerospace company has a contract with NASA to fly supplies to the International Space Station, but this mission will put a telecommunications satellite into orbit. SpaceX will inspect the rocket and try again in a few days. [CNN]
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8. Abenomics stops deflation in Japan
Prices in Japan rose by the most in 15 years, in what government officials said Friday was a sign Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s aggressive effort to stimulate the economy and stamp out deflation was working. Prices, not including energy and fresh food, increased by 0.3 percent in October, a little better than economists expected. The Bank of Japan’s easy money policy has weakened the yen by 15 percent against the dollar, pushing up prices for imports. Next Abe wants companies to hike wages to sustain growth. [Bloomberg]
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9. Part of comet lives through a close encounter with the sun
Scientists say a part of Comet ISON might have survived a near crash with the sun. The comet passed through the solar corona on Thursday. Karl Battams, a comet scientist for the Naval Research Laboratory, says the comet appears to have re-emerged and started to brighten, although its too early to be sure about its fate. “It’s throwing off dust and (probably) gas,” Battams says, “but we don’t know how long it can sustain that.” [CNN]
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10. Unpublished Salinger stories leaked online
Three unpublished works by the late reclusive author J.D. Salinger reportedly were leaked online this week. Scans of the works were posted after an unauthorized book was sold on eBay. It includes the short stories PaulaBirthday Boy, and The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls, which is seen as a prequel to Salinger’s best known novel, Catcher in the Rye. [Reuters]

10 things you need to know today: November 27, 2013

Two unarmed B-52 bombers flew through airspace that China recently claimed as its own.

Two unarmed B-52 bombers flew through airspace that China recently claimed as its own. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force)

The Week

The Supreme Court reviews another ObamaCare challenge, the U.S. challenges China’s claim over disputed airspace, and more

1. Justices agree to review another ObamaCare challenge
The Supreme Court is wading back into the battle over ObamaCare. The high court, which upheld the law’s individual mandate to buy insurance last year, agreed on Tuesday to review a provision requiring private companies to offer coverage of birth control and other reproductive health benefits with no co-pay. Appeals courts have sided with employers who say some treatments, such as morning-after pills designed to prevent embryos from implanting, violate their religious beliefs. [CNN]
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2. The U.S. and Japan defy China’s new airspace claims
The U.S. sent two unarmed B-52 bombers on a training mission over disputed islands in the East China Sea on Tuesday in defiance of China’s newly declared airspace defense zone. Japanese airlines also ignored Beijing’s claim to the airspace and flew through on Wednesday, without notifying Beijing. The provocative moves intensified a standoff between China and Japan over which country controls the area, and experts in U.S.-China relations said Beijing would be forced to respond if the flights continue. [Reuters]
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3. Government moves to limit non-profits’ political spending
The Obama administration is proposing new rules to curb the political activities of tax-exempt non-profit groups. The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service want to spell out more clearly what constitutes political spending — such as TV ads or get-out-the-vote drives — and put limits on how much of it non-profits can do. The move threatens to drag the IRS deeper into partisan politics, as some Republicans complain it will encourage attacks on free speech by administration opponents. [New York Times]
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4. Storm fouls up Thanksgiving plans 
The deadly and messy winter storm that is fouling up Thanksgiving travel plans on the East Coast is threatening to disrupt another holiday tradition — the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The sloppy mix of snow, rain, and winds gusting to 36 miles per hour has already forced the cancelation of hundreds of airline flights. Parade organizers say if the nasty conditions continue through Thursday they could also force the grounding of the parade’s giant flying balloons depicting Snoopy, SpongeBob, and other cartoon favorites. [Christian Science Monitor]
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5. Pope Francis attacks the “tyranny” of unchecked capitalism
Pope Francis, in a statement outlining his papacy’s mission, called unchecked capitalism a “new tyranny” plaguing the world’s poor. “We… have to say thou shalt not to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,” said the Pope, who has drawn admirers in and out of the church for his modest ways and defense of the poor. He called on world leaders to fight poverty and overhaul the global financial system to share the world’s wealth more evenly. “Money must serve,” he said, “not rule!” [Associated Press]
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6. CBS News star Lara Logan is put on leave
Lara Logan, a high-profile CBS News correspondent, has been placed on leave for using a discredited source in 60 Minutes’ October report on the Benghazi attack. Logan told an account of the attack, which left ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead, by security contractor Dylan Davies, even though he had told his employer he was not at the scene. CBS didn’t say whether Logan — or producer Max McClellan, who was also suspended — would be out, or whether she would still be paid. [USA Today]
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7. A once-distant comet zooms close to the sun
Comet ISON, which soared far out on the edge of the solar system for 4.5 billion years, will make a spectacular fly-by past the sun on Thursday. Some scientists believe the comet will burn up as it nearly grazes the sun, but they are also pretty sure that it will provide a never-before-seen glimpse of some of the building blocks that formed planets. If the comet survives, it could provide an impressive light show in the early December night sky. [New York Times]
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8. Microsoft executives debate how to block NSA spying
Microsoft is preparing a major push to better encrypt its internet traffic over growing suspicions that the National Security Agency might have hacked into its global communications networks. Microsoft was worried even before news reports in October that said the NSA had been intercepting traffic of Microsoft rivals, Google and Yahoo. Insiders say leading Microsoft executives are meeting this week to decide when and how to beef up their company’s encryption. [Washington Post]
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9. Historic book sells for a record $14.2 million
One of 11 surviving copies of the first book printed in America — the Bay Psalm Book — sold for $14.2 million at a Tuesday night auction at Sotheby’s in New York. It was the most ever paid for any book in an auction. The previous record was set in December 2010 when a buyer paid $11.5 million for John James Audubon’s Birds of America. David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of private equity firm Carlyle Group, purchased the Bay Psalm Book and plans to loan it to libraries. [Reuters]
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10. Maddux and Glavine make Hall of Fame ballot
Major League Baseball has unveiled this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, and it includes some revered pitchers, including four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux and two-time winner Tom Glavine. The nominees also include tainted heroes from baseball’s steroid scandal, including pitcher Roger Clemens and sluggers Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire. About 600 sports writers will cast votes. The inductees will be announced Jan. 8. [Associated Press]

 

Lara Logan’s Husband Was a Propagandist for the U.S. Military

Photo credit: White Deer Preserve, Getty Images

Why hasn’t CBS fired this woman?  Not because of what her husband’s job was in Iraq, but for her sloppy journalism, period.  If a similar charge of incompetence was bad enough for CBS to fire Dan Rather, then Logan should have been in CBS’ crosshairs as well.

Gawker

Everyone wants to know: Why did CBS correspondent Lara Logan trust Dylan Davies, the now-discredited security contractor, and the story he told 60 Minutesabout the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya? It’s truly mystifying—unless, that is, you know about her last significant lapse in professional judgement involving a security contractor.

Many people know that in 2008 Logan married Joseph W. Burkett, a defense contractor she met while stationed in Baghdad to cover the Iraq War for CBS News. Logan and Burkett were both married to other people when they became involved, and the story of their war-zone love affair—complete with reports of a brawl between Burkett and CNN’s Michael Ware, another rival for Logan’s affections—lit up the tabloids at the time.

What most people don’t know, however, is the nature of Burkett’s work in Iraq. He was an employee of the Lincoln Group, a now-shuttered “strategic communications and public relations firm” hired by the Department of Defense in 2005 to plant positive stories written by American soldiers in Baghdad newspapers during the Iraq War.

“He did information operations,” one former colleague of Burkett’s told Gawker. “It was really spooky stuff. We worked with one of those special spooky IO outfits that didn’t even have a unit patch.” It’s the kind of work for which a close relationship with an American network correspondent might come in handy.

And it paid handsomely. Under an “indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract,” the Pentagon promised the Lincoln Group up to $100,000,000 to assist the military’s Joint Psychological Operations with controlling local media coverage of the American occupation. The Lincoln Group later became the target of congressional and Defense Department investigators over its handling of U.S. cash and its propaganda tactics.

CBS News never saw fit to disclose that one of its star war correspondents became romantically involved with a man who was paid by the U.S. government to manipulate civilian public opinion about the disastrous war in Iraq. Nor has Burkett’s background ever been reported in much detail. Most recently The New York Times described him as a “work-at-home Congressional liaison,” without noting his employer.

Before working at The Lincoln Group, which would eventually be acquired by an Arlington firm called Strategic Social, Burkett served in the Texas Army National Guard for nine years, according to military records maintained by Nexis. (Oddly, Bill Burkett, the retired Army colonel who in 2004 supplied 60 Minutes with fabricated memos about George W. Bush’s military service, also served in the Texas Army National Guard. There’s no evidence the men are related, which would be pretty wild.)

Logan and Burkett did not respond to requests for comment. CBS declined to comment on the record.

10 things you need to know today: November 7, 2013

#TwitterIPO

#TwitterIPO (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The Week

Twitter stock goes on sale, a top HealthCare.gov official retires, and more

1. Twitter boosts its shares’ price before its IPO
Twitter priced its initial public offering of stock at $26 a share, giving the microblogging site a value of $14.4 billion. The 70 million shares begin trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. Despite years of negative cash flow, the company boosted the price at the last minute from an earlier range of $23 to $25. The deal is set to raise as much as $2.1 billion, making it the biggest tech IPO since Facebook’s last year. [Wall Street Journal]
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2. The top HealthCare.gov tech official retires
The chief information officer of the agency responsible for the botched rollout of the ObamaCare website is leaving the government at the end of next week, according to an internal memo reported Wednesday. The official, Tony Trenkle, was in charge of Deputy CIO Henry Chao, the point person on the launch of HealthCare.gov for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. CMS declined to respond to questions about whether Trenkle was forced out. [Washington Post]
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3. Swiss investigators say Arafat was probably poisoned
A Swiss forensics team found high levels of radioactive polonium in the remains of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, supporting the theory that he was poisoned, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday. Officially, the cause of death is listed as a stroke resulting from a blood disorder, but Arafat’s body was exhumed after Palestinians insisted he had been murdered. Israel said the investigation was “more soap opera than science.” [Los Angeles Times]
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4. Justices question a town board’s public prayers
The Supreme Court, wading into the controversial topic of public prayer, considered arguments Wednesday on the constitutionality of a New York town board’s practice of opening its meetings with prayers. Two people — one an atheist, the other Jewish — sued. The town said members of all faiths were welcome. A lower court ruled that since most of the prayers were Christian the practice amounted to an endorsement of a particular religion. [New York Times]
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5. Super typhoon hammers Pacific islands
With sustained winds topping out at 175 mph, super typhoon Haiyan barreled toward the Philippines early Thursday, after blowing through Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia. The storm could hit Manila, which has 12 million people, by late Friday or early Saturday. Thousands of villagers have fled their homes. Weather Channel lead meteorologist Michael Palmer said Haiyan could cause “a significant loss of life.” [USA TodayNBC News]
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6. Greek police remove occupiers from shuttered state TV station
Greek riot police raided former state broadcaster ERT’s headquarters on Thursday and removed 50 former employees who had been occupying the building since the government closed it down over wasteful spending. A replacement for ERT — Nerit — is scheduled to launch next spring. The raid prompted fresh protests outside the building by opponents of the debt-plagued government’s attempts to slash spending in exchange for a foreign bailout. [New York Times]
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7. Diplomats begin a second round of nuclear talks with Iran
The U.S. and five other world powers started two days of talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program on Thursday. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said a deal was possible “if everyone tries their best.” European diplomats said they were cautiously optimistic. The meeting, in Geneva, marks the second round of talks since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June and began pushing for better ties with the West. [ReutersBBC News]
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8. A 1980s hijacker returns from Cuba to face justice
A former Black Panther militant who hijacked a plane to Cuba in 1984 returned to the U.S. on Wednesday, seeking “closure.” William Potts, now 56, had expected the Cuban government to train him for guerrilla warfare; instead, it jailed him for 13 years for piracy. He later settled in Havana. Now he says he’s ready to face the U.S. justice system. He hopes for leniency, and plans to return to Cuba once the case is settled. [BBC News]
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9. Blockbuster is closing its stores and focusing on video streaming
The parent company of Blockbuster announced that the once dominant video rental business isshutting down its 300 remaining stores. Leaders of DISH Network, which bought Blockbuster in 2011, said the move was necessary because consumers now want to download or stream videos — not rent them on DVDs. Blockbuster will continue its Blockbuster On Demand streaming service and Blockbuster @Home on DISH. Fifty independent stores might also remain open. [CNN]
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10. George Strait takes top honors at the Country Music Awards
Country legend George Strait, who is in the middle of a farewell tour, won entertainer of the year at Wednesday night’s 47th Annual Country Music Awards in Nashville. The night’s other big winners included Taylor Swift, who won the Pinnacle award, and newcomers Florida Georgia Line, who took the prize for vocal duo of the year, and single of the year for their hit “Cruise.” [Boston Globe]

 

10 things you need to know today: November 1, 2013

A Hillary nod wouldn’t have provided enough of a poll boost to warrant ditching Joe, campaign advisors concluded. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Week

Only six people were reportedly able to enroll on HealthCare.gov during its first 24 hours, a new book says Obama considered replacing Biden, and more

1. Just six people reportedly enrolled on HealthCare.gov on first day
Documents released by the GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee say that just six people managed to enroll for insurance on HealthCare.gov in its first 24 hours online, and just 248 people had managed to by the second day. The revelation, included in notes prepared for the “war room” of an agency managing the botched rollout of the ObamaCare website, came a day after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Congress she could not provide reliable data on enrollment yet. [USA Today]
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2. Obama advisers said to have considered replacing Biden with Clinton
President Obama’s top aides secretly conducted polls and focus groups to determine whether it would be a good idea to replace Vice President Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton on the 2012 ticket, journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann say in their new book, Double Down, which is a sequel to Game Change. Then–chief of staff William Daley pushed the radical option, they say, but it was dropped because it didn’t offer Obama a big-enough boost. [The New York Times]
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3. Court revives Texas abortion restriction, for now
A federal appeals court on Thursday lifted an injunction blocking a key part of Texas’s new abortion restrictions requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The decision means that the rule can take effect immediately, leaving at least 12 of the state’s 32 clinics unable to perform abortions as soon as Friday. A lower court had blocked the restriction on Monday, calling it unconstitutional. [Associated Press]
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4. FAA eases electronics restrictions in flight
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday that it will lift restrictions on the use of electronic devices to listen to music, read, and play games, because it has determined that they are safe during all phases of flight. An advisory committee recommended the change a month ago. It probably will take effect by the end of the year, but the ban on making cellphone calls and sending texts will remain in effect. [The New York Times]
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5. Food stamp cuts take effect
On Friday, $5 billion in cuts to food stamp benefits are taking effect as a federal economic stimulus program expires. The average household benefit of about $275 will drop by $36, which amounts to 21 fewer meals a month for a family of four. A near-record 47.6 million Americans are receiving benefits, and budget hawks are trying to impose further cuts. “Our members are panicking,” says Margaret Purvis, president of Food Bank for New York City. [Time]
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6. Booker takes his seat in the Senate
Former Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker was sworn into the Senate on Thursday, continuing his rise to stardom in the Democratic Party. Booker is the first black senator from his state, and the first elected anywhere in the country since Barack Obama’s 2004 election in Illinois. Booker immediately cast his first vote — for a procedural move allowing a vote on Obama’s Federal Housing Finance Agency nominee Mel Watt. [USA Today]
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7. Israeli airstrikes target missiles on Syrian bases
Israel this week launched airstrikes on Syrian military bases — one near Damascus and another near the port city of Latakia — Obama administration officials told CNN and CBS News on Thursday. The presumed targets were missiles Israel believed could be sent to the Lebanon-based Islamist group Hezbollah, which is helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battle rebels. Israel hit missile shipments twice earlier this year. [CNNCBS News]
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8. Appeals court blocks reforms for New York’s stop-and-frisk policy
In a surprise twist to a long battle over police tactics in New York City, a federal appeals court on Thursday halted changes to the New York Police Department’s practice of stopping and frisking people on the street. Trial Judge Shira A. Scheindlin said stop and frisk violated the rights of minorities, but the appeals court said she had failed to maintain the appearance of impartiality and removed her from the case. [The New York Times]
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9. Six tech giants call for restraints on the NSA
Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL sent a letter to Senate leaders Thursday supporting a proposal to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of the phone records of millions of Americans. The bill also would create a privacy advocate within the secretive surveillance court that oversees the NSA. Long wary of Washington politics, the tech industry is getting more active as revelations on NSA snooping pile up. [The Washington Post]
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10. Toronto police dig up video of mayor allegedly smoking crack
Toronto police say they have found a video, taken in a surveillance operation targeting an alleged drug dealer, showing the city’s mayor, Rob Ford, appearing to smoke from a crack pipe. The tape’s existence was first reported in May, but police say it was deleted from a hard drive and they only recently recovered it. The news intensified calls on Ford, who has denied the tape existed, to resign, but he said Thursday he has no reason to quit. [Associated Press]

 

Obama Team Insists It Never Considered Dropping Biden For Clinton

Obama-syria--2

AP Photo / Evan Vucci

TPM LiveWire

Members of President Barack Obama’s team worked to push back against a juicy story that surfaced Thursday, insisting that Vice President Joe Biden was never seriously at risk of being shoved off the 2012 ticket and replaced by Hillary Clinton.

The detail, which will appear in the forthcoming book “Double Down” by Mark Halperin and John Heileman, was reported by the New York Times. Former White House chief of staff William Daley acknowledged that he signed off on research into the switch in late 2011, but said it was simply a case of Obama’s re-election team performing its “due dilligence.”

“I was vocal about looking into a whole bunch of things, and this was one of them,” Daley told the Times. “You have to remember, at that point the president was in awful shape, so we were like, ‘Holy Christ, what do we do?’”

Daley went even further on Friday, telling “CBS This Morning” that they never considered replacing Biden with the former secretary of state.

“Not for a moment,” Daley said, noting that there was research done on a number of different individuals and issues.

Former Obama adviser David Plouffe said on Twitter Thursday that the idea was never “entertained” by Obama or “most of us.”

 

10 things you need to know today: October 26, 2013

President Obama puts the pressure on his tech team with a deadline.

The Week

1. White House sets November deadline for ObamaCare fixes
The Obama administration on Friday announced it would have the health care exchange website fully functional for the “vast majority” of users by the end of November. The massive structural flaws with the site, Healthcare.gov, have been an embarrassment for the White House, sparking a political backlash and threatening to undermine the law should the problems take too long to fix. The uninsured have until the end of March to obtain coverage or face the individual mandate’s penalty. [Los Angeles Times]
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2. Saudi women protest driving ban
Women in Saudi Arabia will get behind the wheel on Saturday to protest the nation’s de facto prohibition on female drivers. Though there is technically no law against women driving there, the government does not issue driver’s licenses to women. The protest is the latest in a series of demonstrations aimed at drawing attention to and ultimately ending the ban. [Washington Post]
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3. New documents released in JonBenet Ramsey case
A grand jury considered indicting the parents of JonBenet Ramsey back in 1999 for the murder of the child beauty queen, according to newly released court documents. The documents, totaling just four pages, were released at the behest of a reporter and open information group. DNA testing has cleared Ramsey’s parents, and the nearly two-decade-old case remains unsolved. [CNN]
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4. FDA proposes new regulations for animal food
The Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed new rules that would for the first time regulate animal feed and pet food. The announcement comes days after the FDA announced nearly 600 pets had mysteriously died since 2007 after consuming tainted Chinese jerky treats. [New York Times]
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5. Massive earthquake strikes off Japanese coast
A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck east of the Fukushima region of Japan Friday, raising the specter of the deadly disaster that devastated the country in 2011, killing nearly 16,000 people and crippling a nuclear plant. The Japan Meteorological Agency initially issued a tsunami alert for the area, though that was later lifted, and no major damage was reported. [BBC]

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6. Study shows marijuana compounds can fight cancer
New research into the medical benefits of marijuana has found that a handful of cannabinoids can have a “profound” impact on killing and inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. The findings, published in the journal Anticancer Research, showed that six non-psychoactive ingredients in marijuana — meaning compounds other than the well-known THC — were able to reduce the viability of leukaemic cells. The study’s author, Wai Liu, said he hoped to turn his findings into medication that could be available within the next year and a half. [Seattle Post Intelligencer]
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7. Firefox releases new privacy tool
Mozilla on Friday unveiled a new privacy extension for its popular Firefox web browser that allows users to see who’s tracking their online activity. By enabling the free extension, called Lightbeam, users can see which third-party companies are tracking their movements, a service the company said it hopes will “illuminate the inner workings of the web.” [Mashable]
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8. NBA Hall of Famer Bill Sharman dies at 87
Basketball great Bill Sharman died Friday at the age of 87, one week after suffering a stroke. Sharman won four championships as a player with the Boston Celtics, and another as the coach of Los Angeles Lakers. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. [Sports Illustrated]
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9. S&P 500 closes Friday at another record high
Buoyed by strong earnings reports from both Microsoft and Amazon, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index ended Friday at an all-time high of 1,760. It was the third-straight week of gains for the index. Microsoft shares rose by 6.6 percent on the day after a better-than-expected earnings report, while shares of Amazon leapt nearly 10 percent. [Reuters]
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10. MTV pre-releases entire series via mobile app
Embracing the “binge-watching” movement, MTV on Friday released the full season of an upcoming series through a free proprietary app one week before the show is to air on television. The program, a docu-drama about a high school football team, is named, somewhat ironically, “Wait ‘Till Next Year.” [Associated Press]

Ted Cruz Gets His Health Insurance Through Goldman Sachs, His Wife Confirms

This is the guy that wants to take away the chance for millions of working Americans to have affordable health care…

The Huffington Post

The wife of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) confirmed in an interview with The New York Times what the tea party star’s opponents have insinuated gleefully for weeks: The most vocal opponent of Obamacare enjoys a high-priced health plan through investment bank Goldman Sachs.

“Ted is on my health care plan,” Heidi Nelson Cruz, who has worked in the firm’s management division for eight years, told the paper in a story published Wednesday.

Cruz’s plan through Goldman appeared to be an uncomfortable fact for the conservative senator as he lambasted the health care reform law and helped drive what would become a two-week government shutdown. In an exchange during Cruz’s 20-hour anti-Obamacare marathon on the Senate floor in September, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) tried unsuccessfully to get Cruz to admit where he gets his own coverage.

“Will the senator from Texas for the record tell us now — and those who watched this debate — whether he is protected and his family’s protected?” Durbin asked.

Cruz deflected the discussion toward an uninsured diabetic woman that Durbin had been talking about earlier.

A spokeswoman for Cruz confirmed to the Times that the senator gets his coverage through Goldman. The Wall Street bank told the paper the coverage is worth at least $20,000 a year. “The senator is on his wife’s plan, which comes at no cost to the taxpayer and reflects a personal decision about what works best for their family,” the spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, said.

As a HuffPost reader noted, it’s debatable whether such a plan comes at no cost to the taxpayer. Employer-sponsored health plans are generally tax-deductible for companies, so the Cruz family’s expensive health plan presumably reduces Goldman’s tax liability.

“Ted is very much a visionary,” Heidi Cruz Nelson told the Times. “He is very strategic, and he’s very practical, and he does what needs to be done, not what everybody wants him to do.”

In interviews with the Times, friends of Heidi Nelson Cruz described her as “less ideological” than her husband, who, recent polls have shown, is still adored by tea party adherents and loathed by liberals and many independents after the shutdown. Before her time at Goldman, she held several posts in the George W. Bush administration, including in the Treasury Department and the National Security Agency.

“Nothing in her background remotely approached Ted’s Scalia-like conservatism,” one friend said, referring to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

 

10 things you need to know today: October 22, 2013

A parent consoles his child after a shooting at a nearby school left two dead and two wounded. (David Calvert/Getty Images)

The Week

A slain Nevada teacher is hailed as a hero, Obama vows to fix health care website, and more

1. Obama vows to fix health care website
President Obama acknowledged Monday that glitches on HealthCare.gov have hampered the rollout of his signature health care law’s insurance exchanges. “No one is madder than me,” he said. Republicans have called the problems with the website evidence of basic flaws with ObamaCare, but the president urged Americans to be patient and call toll-free numbers for health insurance if they can’t enroll online. [New York Times]
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2. Nevada student reportedly kills a teacher, then himself
A 12-year-old shot and killed a math teacher with a semi-automatic pistol, and wounded two fellow students at a Nevada middle school on Monday, police said. The child with the gun then reportedly shot himself and died. Police called the teacher, identified as former Marine Michael Landsberry, a hero, saying he died trying to protect his students. “He could have ducked and hid, but he didn’t,” a relative said. “That’s not who he is.” [ReutersReno Gazette-Journal]
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3. The government releases jobs numbers delayed by the shutdown
The Labor Department is releasing the September jobs report on Tuesday after a two-week delay caused by the government shutdown, and economists expect it to show that the economy added 185,000 jobs, leaving the unemployment rate unchanged at 7.3 percent. Analysts will be watching the report closely to see if the economy gained steam in September; recent economic data have been inconclusive. (UPDATE, 8:40 a.m.: The numbers are out, and the economy added 148,000 jobs; unemployment remained basically the same at 7.2 percent.) [New York TimesMarketWatch]
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4. Human rights groups say drone strikes kill many civilians
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will officially release a report Tuesday saying thatdrone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are killing more civilians than the U.S. admits. Human Rights Watch selected six airstrikes to investigate in Yemen, and found that 57 of the 82 people killed were civilians. The United Nations estimated Friday that 2,200 people have died in drones strikes in Pakistan over the last decade. The White House declined to comment. [Washington Post]
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5. Netflix pushes ahead of HBO in U.S. customers
Netflix announced Monday evening that it reached 30 million domestic subscribers in the third quarter, putting it ahead of HBO — which had just under 29 million at last count — for the first time. A year ago, Netflix had 25 million subscribers. Its executives attributed the growth to the cable movie rental and streaming video company’s original programming, such as the Emmy-winning House of Cards and the popular Orange is the New Black. [Engadget]
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6. Christie drops his challenge to gay marriage
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) abandoned his fight against gay marriage on Monday, hours after mayors in several cities performed the state’s first same-sex weddings. New Jersey is the 14th state to permit gay marriage. Leaders of the conservative National Organization for Marriage said they were “extremely disappointed” at Christie for “throwing in the towel on marriage.” [Washington Post]
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7. Apple prepares to show off its latest iPad updates
Apple is expected to unveil new versions of its iPad tablet on Tuesday, in what is becoming a pre-holiday-shopping tradition. Tech experts anticipate an iPad Mini with the high-resolution retina display of last year’s full-size iPads. The fifth-generation iPad is expected to be getting a design makeover that will make it slimmer and a tad lighter, and both devices should have faster processors. [CNN]
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8. Suicide bomber kills six in Russia
At least six people were killed Monday when a suicide bomber attacked a bus in the Russian city of Volgograd. The bombing appeared to have been carried out by a 30-year-old woman, Naida Asiyalova, from Russia’s republic of Dagestan, in the North Caucasus, the scene of two decades of unrest. The blast came despite government efforts to eliminate terrorist threats ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi. [Ria Novosti]
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9. BART and its unions negotiate an end to rail strike
Commuter trains are scheduled to start running again Tuesday morning in and around San Francisco, after Bay Area Rapid Transit management and union leaders reached a deal to end a four-day strike. The unexpected compromise, which increases pay and ends a travel nightmare for 400,000 commuters, came hours after investigators said that an out-of-service train that struck and killed two BART workers on Saturday was driven by an “operator trainee.” [Los Angeles Times]
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10. Corey Feldman tells of child abuse in Hollywood
Former child star Corey Feldman says in his new book, Coreyography, that he and his late friend and co-star, Corey Haim, were molested by older men in Hollywood. A man convinced Haim “it was perfectly normal for older men and younger boys in the business to have sexual relations” while on the set of the 1986 film Lucas. Feldman says one of his healthiest relationships was his strictly platonic friendship with Michael Jackson. [Cinemablend]

10 things you need to know today: October 16, 2013

This is getting scary...

This is getting scary… (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Week

Senators resume debt talks after a House plan unravels, Fitch warns it could downgrade America’s credit rating, and more

1. Senators renew debt talks after House scraps vote
Senate leaders resumed their negotiations on ending the government shutdown and extending the debt limit, after House GOP leaders late Tuesday scrapped a vote on their proposal because they couldn’t muster enough conservative votes to pass it. Senate leaders are optimistic they can pass a bipartisan deal, but it will be hard to do before the government hits the debt ceiling on Thursday, raising the threat of a potentially disastrous default. [The New York Times]
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2. Fitch warns it could downgrade the government’s credit rating
Fitch Ratings warned Tuesday that it might strip the federal government of its sterling AAA credit rating because of the partisan bickering over the debt limit. Fitch said it believed that Republicans and Democrats would raise the borrowing limit in time to prevent the government from defaulting on any of its debts, but that the political brinkmanship over paying America’s bills was damaging the government’s credit worthiness. [Reuters]
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3. Talks on Iran’s nuclear program begin in Geneva
Iran presented its plan for resolving the dispute over its nuclear ambitions as two days of talks with the U.S. and other world powers got underway in Geneva on Tuesday. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a PowerPoint presentation that Iran would accept constraints to its nuclear program in exchange for the right to enrich uranium for energy purposes and the lifting of economic sanctions. In a fresh sign of progress, U.S. and Iranian officials later held a rare one-on-one meeting. [The New York Times]
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4. Two Florida girls charged in bullying case
Two girls, ages 12 and 14, were charged with felony stalking linked to the suicide of Rebecca Sedwick, 12, in September, a Florida sheriff said Tuesday. The arrests came after the elder girl posted on Facebook “Yes IK I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don’t give a (expletive)].” Rebecca jumped to her death from a cement factory tower after enduring a year of bullying over a boy she and her tormentor both dated. [CNN]
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5. Ex–San Diego mayor Filner pleads guilty
Former San Diego mayor Bob Filner pleaded guilty Tuesday to false imprisonment — a felony — and two misdemeanor charges of battery against three women. Under a plea deal, he will serve three months of home confinement but no jail time. The Democrat, who served nearly two decades in Congress, stepped down as mayor in August under a sexual harassment lawsuit settlement after 18 women accused him of unwanted advances and touching. [The Washington Post]
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6. Former Army captain receives the Medal of Honor
President Obama awarded ex–Army captain William Swenson the Medal of Honor on Tuesday for saving comrades during a battle with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan in 2009. Swenson, 34, was the second survivor of the fight to win the military’s highest honor, just the second time that has happened in 50 years. Swenson, the most decorated Army officer since Vietnam, has been unemployed since leaving the Army in 2011, and wants to re-enlist. [Time]
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7. Baggage handler charged with LAX dry ice explosions
Police arrested a baggage handler, Dicarlo Bennett, on Tuesday for allegedly planting two dry ice bombs that exploded in secure areas at Los Angeles International Airport this week. Bennett, a 28-year-old employee of ground handling company Servisair, was charged with possession of a destructive device near an aircraft, and is being held on $1 million bail. Police have said they don’t believe the minor explosions were an act of terrorism. [Associated Press]
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8. Hillary Clinton sets off fresh 2016 speculation
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set off fresh 2016 presidential speculation on Tuesday when she reportedly said at an off-the-record gathering in Georgia that she backed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden — but her potential rival in 2016, Vice President Joe Biden, didn’t. “I know she’s running for president now,” Georgia state Rep. Tom Taylor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Without turning the knife too deeply, she put it to Biden.” [Politico]
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9. Rare 18-foot oarfish carcass found in California
An instructor at the Catalina Island Marine Institute in California found a dead, 18-foot-long oarfish while snorkeling in 20 feet of water, the institute said in a news release reported by news outlets on Tuesday. The institute hailed it as a “discovery of a lifetime,” because the slender, deep-sea fish are seldom seen, dead or alive. Some think they are the real-life inspiration for sea serpent myths. It took more than 15 people to haul the beast to shore. [ABC News]
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10. Kutcher is TV’s highest-paid actor
Ashton Kutcher topped Forbes’s annual list of the best paid actors on television. The magazine estimated that Kutcher made $24 million from June 2012 to June 2013. His co-star on the popular CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Jon Cryer, came in second with $21 million. Both stand to make even more, as the show is entering syndication with no signs it will be canceled any time soon. [TodayForbes]