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- Eyeing the next frontier, Miami law firms ramp up Cuba strategy
By David Adams MIAMI (Reuters) - The Florida Bar is sending its first ever delegation of lawyers to Cuba this week to explore emerging new business opportunities as prospects heat up for closer political and commercial relations between the United States and the Communist-run island. Some big law firms with Miami offices, often staffed by Cuban-American exiles, are already beefing up their Cuba-related practices in response to queries from U.S. companies on issues ranging from telecommunications to banking, amid signs the longstanding U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is eroding. Pedro Freyre, a Cuban-born attorney who heads the international practice at Akerman, said his phones started ringing within minutes of the December announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro that they had agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties severed some 54 years ago, and to work toward normalizing relations.
- Illinois Democrats offer FY 2016 budget with cuts, revenue Democrats in the Illinois state legislature will move ahead with their own fiscal 2016 budget that includes spending cuts as well as new revenue that will be "responsive to the needs of the people in the state," House Speaker Michael Madigan said on Monday. "We're willing to work with the governor to find the money to pay for it," Madigan, a Democrat, told reporters in the state capitol in Springfield. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner proposed a $32 billion budget in February that included no new revenue, relying instead on $6.6 billion in spending cuts with a third coming from his plan to freeze worker pensions and move retirement benefits earned in the future into a less-generous program.
- Fate of U.S. domestic surveillance program uncertain after Senate vote
By Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate blocked a measure to extend spy agencies' bulk collection of Americans' telephone records early on Saturday, leaving the fate of the program uncertain days before its June 1 expiration. By a vote of 54-45, the Senate failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance a bill that would have extended for two months provisions of the "USA Patriot Act" that allow the collection of vast amounts of telephone "metadata." The data collection program, in which the National Security Agency sweeps up vast amounts of Americans' telephone records and business information, was exposed two years ago by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is now a fugitive in Russia. The vote against the extension came after the Senate narrowly blocked the "USA Freedom Act," a bill that would end the bulk telephone data collection and replace it with a more targeted program.
- U.S. Republicans navigate the new politics of energy abundance
By James Oliphant OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (Reuters) - U.S. Republicans have had to watch from the sidelines as the Obama White House has taken political credit for America's unexpected energy boom and tumbling gas prices. Now it has left their presidential candidates scrambling for a way to reclaim leadership on an issue the party once seemed to own. "We've got an abundance of supply," Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said this week in Oklahoma at a gathering of putative Republican candidates for next year's presidential election.
- America's crumbling infrastructure America’s infrastructure could be reaching a breaking point. Literally. When it comes to our transportation infrastructure — that’s railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads — the United States has gotten way off track.
- Robert Gates: Boy Scouts’ ban on gay adult leaders not sustainable The Boy Scouts of America must reverse its longstanding policy of excluding gay adult leaders or risk unfavorable legal decisions that could doom the historic organization, president Robert Gates warned his group’s national leadership Thursday.
- Can Iraq be saved? After capturing the capital city of major Iraqi region, ISIS is claiming one of its biggest victories. According to local officials, Islamic State militants likely killed up to 500 people in the city of Ramadi, and forced 8,000 to flee from their homes.
- Lindsey Graham: ‘I am running because the world is falling apart’ Lindsey Graham says he is running for president. While the Republican senator will make his official announcement June 1 in his hometown of Central, S.C., he made his intentions clear during an interview on “CBS This Morning” Monday.
- Benghazi controversy explained It’s been nearly three years since the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and the events of that night still remain a political controversy. The eighth investigation into the tragedy is currently under way.
- Bowe Bergdahl Charged With Desertion, Could Face Life
American soldier and former Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl has been charged with desertion over his disappearance from an Afghan outpost in 2009 and could face life in confinement, the Army announced today. As part of the deal, the Taliban five were relocated to Qatar. After Bergdahl's dramatic return to the U.S., the Army launched an investigation into whether the soldier willfully left his post in Afghanistan before he was taken by the Taliban in 2009, as some Afghan war veterans alleged.
- Lawmakers to Question Top Officials about Controversial Visa Program for Wealthy Foreigners
Republicans in Congress voiced strong objections Tuesday in response to a scathing Homeland Security investigation that found a senior official appeared to give special treatment to politically-connected applicants when he ran a little-known federal program that offers visas to those who invest $500,000 in a job-creating business. U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the committee chairman, said he viewed the findings of the Homeland Security Inspector General “extremely concerning” and said he will hold hearings Thursday to determine if further investigation is needed. The Inspector General’s investigation focused on the leadership of Alejandro Mayorkas, who served as director of the immigration program known as EB-5, an obscure but increasingly popular method for obtaining highly-sought-after American Green Cards. In late 2013, Mayorkas was promoted by President Obama to Deputy Secretary of the department over objections from Republicans who had already begun to hear rumblings of problems with his handling of the immigration program.
- Bowe Bergdahl Charged With Desertion, Lawyer Says
- Peeking into healthy brains to see if Alzheimer's is brewing
- GOP likely to feel the heat if court decision guts Obamacare
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Supreme Court ruling due in a few weeks could wipe out health insurance for millions of people covered by President Barack Obama's health care law. But it's Republicans — not White House officials — who have been talking about damage control.
- Biden tries to smooth over anger sparked by Carter's comment
WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden is reassuring Iraq's government of U.S. support in the fight against the Islamic State group, telephoning Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with thanks for "the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces" one day after Defense Secretary Ash Carter questioned the Iraqi military commitment.
- Vermont's Sanders to kick off 2016 bid from Clinton's left
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — For a vocal group of liberals who aren't satisfied with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vermont's self-described "democratic socialist" senator isn't the candidate they want. But Bernie Sanders is the candidate they're about to get.
- Across nation, veterans' sacrifices honored in many ways
- Meet the 'dark money' phantom An Ohio lawyer at the nexus of a nonprofit network is a secret weapon for conservatives
- Obamacare exchanges help, but confused consumers are still spending too much Commentary: consumers pleased with Obamacare coverage, but choices still daunting
- Liberal operatives paid big bucks by embattled pro-Clinton super PAC Pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC Priorities USA Action now facing fire for disappointing fundraising totals
- S.African GDP growth slows to 1.3% in first quarter
Pretoria (AFP) - South Africa's gross domestic product slowed to a disappointing 1.3 percent in the first months of 2015, official data showed Tuesday, as rolling power cuts dampened manufacturing output.
- Washington Post reporter stands trial in Iran for spying
Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian went on trial behind closed doors in Iran Tuesday on charges of spying, a case that has clouded a rapprochement with the United States. Rezaian's wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who is also a journalist, appeared in court alongside her husband and a female press photographer, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported. The trial is being held in Branch 15 of the Tehran revolutionary court, which usually presides over political cases or those related to national security.
- Amazon says has begun declaring sales in UK, Germany, Spain, Italy
Online retail giant Amazon said it has started declaring sales made in major European markets in the respective countries instead of Luxembourg, meaning it will pay taxes on the sales in the nations. Amazon's tax agreement in Luxembourg, under which it recorded European sales and paid taxes on them in the tiny country instead of at the source, had attracted howls of criticism that the giant was trying to evade taxes, and had sparked an EU probe. "More than two years ago we began the process of establishing local country branches of Amazon EU Sarl, our primary retail operating company in Europe," the company said in a statement.
- Africa seeks super banker to manage new economic frontier
Eight candidates are vying to become the next head of the strategic African Development Bank as the continent is undergoing an economic transformation. With 80 ADB shareholders -- 54 African states and 26 non-African countries -- set to vote on Thursday, it is difficult to predict who will succeed Rwandan Donald Kaberuka, bank chief for two consecutive terms since 2005. The new super banker will take over an ADB seeking to diversify beyond its traditional role as a development bank, which lends money for major projects -- a total of $6.8 billion for 317 operations in 2013.
- US warplanes scrambled after bogus jetliner threats
US warplanes were scrambled to escort an Air France passenger jet flying from Paris to New York, following one of several threats against commercial aircraft that proved to be unfounded. Flight AF022 landed at JFK airport without incident after being escorted to land by two F-15 fighter jets ordered to accompany the aircraft as a precaution by NORAD, the joint US-Canadian monitoring force. The FBI said the plane was searched upon landing and the threat had turned out to be false.
- Iraq rebuts US criticism of security forces
Iraq on Monday rejected accusations by the US defence chief that its security forces dodged battle in Ramadi and lack the will to fight the Islamic State group. Pentagon chief Ashton Carter argued that the May 17 fall of Ramadi, the worst defeat Baghdad has suffered in almost a year, could have been avoided. Washington has been one of Baghdad's key partners in the war to reclaim the ground lost to IS last year and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi expressed disbelief at Carter's stinging comments.
- Murray overcomes tricky conditions in opening win
Andy Murray had to get to grips with tricky conditions as he advanced to the second round of the French Open on Monday, beating Argentina's Facundo Arguello in straight sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 on Court Philippe Chatrier. The Scottish world number three continued his impeccable recent form on clay by overcoming Arguello, a lucky loser from the qualifying competition, to make it 11 wins in a row on clay. "That court in particular, Philippe Chatrier, is very slow, extremely slow.
- Greek budget proposals insufficient: IMF's Blanchard
The budget reforms that Greece has proposed to its international creditors are not enough to ensure a surplus this year, the International Monetary Fund's chief economist Olivier Blanchard told French financial newspaper Les Echos on Monday. Greece's radical-left government has been locked in tortuous negotiations with its creditors -- the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank -- for the past four months in a bid to unlock 7.2 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in bailout cash. Greece was supposed to have a three percent budget surplus this year, but that now looks out of reach, Blanchard said.
- Biden tries to smooth Iraq ties after Pentagon outburst
US Vice President Joe Biden on Monday sought to end an embarrassing rift between Washington and Baghdad after Pentagon boss Ash Carter blamed Iraqi forces for the fall of Ramadi. Biden "recognized the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past eighteen months in Ramadi and elsewhere," the White House said.
- Iran to scrap monthly petrol subsidy
Iran will scrap a petrol allowance from midnight on Tuesday as part of a 2010 plan to phase out subsidies on energy products and boost the economy, media reported. Motorists will no longer to be entitled to buy 60 litres of petrol monthly at a reduced price of 7,000 rials (about 24 US cents) a litre, media reported. The reports said a litre of standard petrol will retail at 10,000 rials (around 34 US cents) and super will cost 12,000 rials.
- Tennis - No Union Jack for Britain's Slovenian recruit
- Aljaz Bedene lost on his Grand Slam debut as a British player Monday and admitted he will not be tempted into making brash demonstrations of his new-found loyalties. The 25-year-old became a British citizen in March after completing the required five-year residency in the country. "Well, I was wearing Union Jack bandanas back in 2012 and '13, but only in practice," he said.
- Obama praises 'fallen heroes,' touts end of Mid East wars
US President Barack Obama paid a Memorial Day tribute to America's "fallen heroes" Monday, stressing the heavy burden of perennial wars and underscoring his decision to pull troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Echoing Abraham Lincoln's praise for those who offered the "last full measure of devotion," Obama praised "everyday heroes" who died in the "mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of the Middle East" and in countless other conflagrations. While looking to the past, Obama's address was tinged by war politics that have pervaded Washington for a generation and which are still alive today.
- Africa's economy to strengthen in 2015 despite Ebola, oil price
Africa's overall economy should advance in 2015, expanding by 4.5 percent, showing resilience despite weak commodity prices and the devastating Ebola epidemic, an annual report published Monday said. "Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) growth is expected to strengthen to 4.5 percent in 2015 and 5.0 percent in 2016 after subdued expansion in 2013 (of 3.5 percent) and 2014 (3.9 percent)," said the report, co-authored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the African Development Bank and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The continent has so far been "relatively resilient to the sharp fall in international commodity prices," said the report, such as crude prices which dropped more than 50 percent between June and January.
- UN chief seeks 'global action' on climate change this year
UN chief Ban Ki-Moon on Monday called for "global action" this year to limit climate change as international weather experts began a quadrennial congress in Geneva. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) meeting comes ahead of a key conference in Paris at the end of the year which will be the first attempt to clinch a planet-wide deal on global warming since the near-disastrous 2009 UN summit in Copenhagen.
- US says Iraqi forces lack will to fight IS
Washington on Sunday accused Iraqi forces of lacking the will to fight the Islamic State group, which scored a resounding victory a week earlier with the capture of Ramadi. The jihadists had appeared on the back foot in Iraq in recent months but twin offensives on Ramadi and on the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra have swung the momentum. On Sunday, a monitoring group reported at least 217 people were executed in and around Palmyra in the last nine days.
- Iraqi forces 'failed to fight' in Ramadi: Pentagon chief
Pentagon chief Ashton Carter said Sunday that Iraqi forces "failed to fight" in Ramadi, which has fallen to Islamic State militants, adding the troops lacked the will to defend themselves. Carter said the city fell to the militants because Iraqi forces -- despite strength in numbers -- were not mentally ready for battle. "What apparently happened was the Iraqi forces showed no will to fight.
- US cop acquitted in shooting death of unarmed black couple
A white Cleveland police officer who climbed onto the hood of a car and fired dozens of rounds at an unarmed black couple in 2012 was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter. Six officers have been charged. Cleveland patrolman Michael Brelo, 31, was one of 13 officers who opened fire on Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams during a police chase on November 29, 2012.
- US 'deeply troubled' by Russia's NGO law
The United States said it was "deeply troubled" after Russian President Vladimir Putin officially enacted a controversial law banning what Moscow deems to be "undesirable" non-governmental organizations. Under the highly controversial law, passed by the Russian parliament this week, authorities can ban foreign NGOs and go after their employees, who risk up to six years in prison or being barred from the country. The move has been widely condemned by human rights groups, and critics have said that the vague wording of the law could also allow officials to target foreign businesses working in Russia.
- 'Kingdom of Enclava' picks new spot on Croatia-Serbia border
The world's youngest micronation, the self-proclaimed "Kingdom of Enclava", on Saturday announced it would settle on a new spot along the Croatian-Serbian border after learning that its initial chosen location was in fact on Slovenian territory. "We cease all activities related to the establishment of the new state on a strip of land on the Croatia–Slovenia border," Piotr Wawrzynkiewicz, one of the founders of Enclava, said in a statement sent to AFP. Instead, the kingdom will now be located on a portion of unclaimed land along the Danube river "near the Free Republic of Liberland (on the Croatia-Serbia border)," he added.