Wednesday July 31, 2013

Preliminaries over, Israelis, Palestinians to meet
again within 2 weeks
aiming for peace deal

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pressing ahead in a new U.S.-backed push for Middle East peace, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed Tuesday to meet again within two weeks to start substantive talks in hopes of reaching a long-elusive settlement within nine months.

Speaking after the two sides wrapped up an initial two days of talks at the State Department and visited President Barack Obama at the White House, Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel and the Palestinians were committed to sustained and serious negotiations on the "core issues" that divide them. The next round will take place in either Israel or the Palestinian territories before mid-August, he said.

Kerry said he was aware of the deep doubts surrounding the new peace effort and acknowledged that the road would be difficult. Yet, he said, "While I understand the skepticism, I don’t share it. And I don’t think we have time for it."

All issues, including contentious disputes over the status of the territories and Jerusalem, are "on the table for negotiation, and they are on the table with one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict," Kerry said.

The U.S. had already said the negotiations would continue for at least nine months -- roughly until the end of April 2014 -- but that had not been set as a timeframe for reaching a deal.


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Kerry and both sides agreed that neither would walk away from the talks or take actions that could disrupt them for that period, two senior U.S. officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss diplomatic talks.

Pentagon: Afghan forces will need ‘substantial’ foreign help after U.S.combat ends in 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon said Tuesday it is offering no "zero option" for the number of troops that would remain in Afghanistan after the U.S.combat mission ends in December 2014. It said in a report to Congress that "substantial" long-term military support will be needed to ensure that Afghans can hold off the Taliban insurgency.

The White House has not ruled out leaving no troops behind after 2014, although officials say the most likely option is a residual training force of roughly 9,000.

In its twice-a-year report to Congress on war progress, the Pentagon said Afghanistan’s military is growing stronger but will require a lot more training, advising and foreign financial aid after the American and NATO combat mission ends.

The Pentagon’s assessment was an implicit rejection of the "zero option." Zero is considered an unlikely choice by President Barack Obama, not least because his administration has pledged to stand with the Afghans for the long term. But Obama has grown frustrated in his dealings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Peter Lavoy, the Pentagon’s top Afghan policy official, told a news conference that a number of post-2014 options have been developed, taking into account the Afghans’ need for additional training and advising, as well as what the Pentagon views as a longer-term requirement for U.S. counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.

CBO: Obama administration delay of health law’s employer requirement
will cost gov’t $10B

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration’s surprise decision to delay a key requirement of the health care law for employers will cost the government $10 billion, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday.

While that’s a big number, the report from the official budget scorekeeper for Congress put the administration’s recent move within a wider perspective: It adds up to an increase of less than 1 percent in the 10-year cost of the law.

Earlier this month, the White House announced earlier that it would delay a health law requirement for employers with 50 or more workers to offer affordable coverage, or face fines. Instead of going into effect next year, the provision was put off to 2015. A major concession to business groups, the delay took administration allies and adversaries by surprise.

Republican critics seized on the delay as evidence that the law is not working, and spent over an hour in coordinated speeches in the Senate attacking it as a threat to the economy.

Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida have all signed a letter opposing any must-pass spending bill at the end of the budget year in September that includes funding for the health care law, and used their remarks to appeal to the public to swing behind them.

San Diego City Council votes to sue mayor over costs of sexual harassment lawsuit

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to sue Mayor Bob Filner over any costs the city must pay from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by his former communications director, dealing another setback to the leader of the nation’s eighth-largest city amid mounting calls that he resign.

The Council voted unanimously to ask that a court require the mayor to pay the city for any damages and attorney fees if the city is found liable. The decision behind closed doors came hours before the Council was to consider a request by the mayor’s attorney to have the city pay his legal expenses.

"This is part of due process," said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. "If Bob Filner engaged in unlawful conduct and the city is held liable, he will have to reimburse us every penny the city pays and its attorney fees."

Irene McCormack Jackson sued the mayor and the city July 22, alleging the mayor asked her to work without panties, demanded kisses, told her he wanted to see her naked and dragged her in a headlock while whispering in her ear. Since then, six other women have offered detailed accounts of Filner’s advances, including touching and forcible kisses.

Seven of nine City Council members have urged the city’s first Democratic leader in 20 years to resign, ensuring stiff opposition to paying his legal expenses even before Filner’s attorney asked that the city pay his bills.

EU’s top diplomat says jailed Morsi is ‘well,’
but no breakthrough in resolving Egypt crisis

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s military gave the ousted president his first contact with the outside world since removing him from office, allowing Europe’s top diplomat Tuesday to meet with Mohammed Morsi in his secret detention. She emerged from her two-hour talks with him urging all sides to move on toward a peaceful transition.

Despite the military’s gesture, two days of efforts by the EU’s Catherine Ashton to find a solution to Egypt’s crisis hit a brick wall. Some voices in the military-backed government, including Vice President Mohammed ElBaradei, have arisen hoping to avert a security crackdown on Morsi’s supporters, but neither side has budged in their positions, which leave no visible room for compromise.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and his Islamist allies say the only solution is for Egypt’s first freely elected president to be restored to office, and they have vowed to continue their street rallies until that happens. Tuesday evening, they held new marches in Cairo outside the military intelligence offices, and in other cities around the country.

The military and interim government, in turn, have rejected releasing Morsi or other detained Brotherhood leaders, a step the Europeans have called for and that Islamists have said could improve the atmosphere. Instead, they appear determined to prosecute detained Brotherhood members for crimes purportedly committed during Morsi’s presidency and for violence after his fall.

Looming over the deadlock is the possibility of security forces acting to clear the main pro-Morsi sit-in in Cairo, where a crowd of his supporters have been camped out for nearly a month -- a move that would almost certainly bring bloodshed.

WikiLeaks brands Manning verdict ‘extremism,’ others have mixed response

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange branded Pfc. Bradley Manning’s espionage conviction Tuesday an episode of "national security extremism" while other supporters expressed relief that he was acquitted of the most serious charge. Among Manning’s critics, House intelligence officials said justice was served.

From the courtroom to world capitals, people absorbed the meaning of a verdict that cleared the soldier of a charge of aiding the enemy, which would have carried a potential life sentence, but convicted him on other counts that, together, could also mean a life behind bars. Manning faces up to 136 years in prison if given maximum penalties in a sentencing hearing that starts Wednesday.

In Washington, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence Committee joined in a statement declaring "justice has been served today."

"Manning harmed our national security, violated the public’s trust, and now stands convicted of multiple serious crimes," said Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence committee, and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat.

Assange, whose website served as the conduit for exposing Manning’s spilled U.S. secrets to the world, saw nothing to cheer in the mixed verdict.

Appeals judges: NYC’s
ban on big, sugary
drinks at restaurants
is unconstitutional

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York City’s crackdown on big, sugary sodas is staying on ice.

A mid-level state appeals court ruled Tuesday that the city’s Board of Health exceeded its legal authority when it voted last year to put a 16-ounce size limit on high-calorie soft drinks served in restaurants, theaters, stadiums, sidewalk food carts and many other places.

In a unanimous opinion, a four-judge panel of the state Supreme Court Appellate Division said that while the board has the power to ban "inherently harmful" foodstuffs from being served to the public, sweetened beverages don’t fall into that category. Soda consumption is not necessarily harmful when done in moderation, the court wrote, and therefore "cannot be classified as a health hazard per se."

The panel didn’t address whether the size limit would have infringed on personal liberties, but said that in adopting it, the health board improperly assumed broad lawmaking powers given only to legislative bodies, like the City Council.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the driving force behind the regulation, promised a quick appeal.

’Private Benjamin,’ ‘Pippi Longstocking’ actress Eileen Brennan dies at 80

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Eileen Brennan, who went from musical comedy on Broadway to wringing laughs out of memorable characters in such films as "Private Benjamin" and "Clue," has died. She was 80.

Brennan’s managers, Jessica Moresco and Al Onorato, said she died Sunday at home in Burbank after a battle with bladder cancer.

"Our family is so grateful for the outpouring of love and respect for Eileen," her family said in a statement. "She was funny and caring and truly one of a kind. Her strength and love will never be forgotten."

Brennan got her first big role on the New York stage in "Little Mary Sunshine," a musical comedy that won her the 1960 Obie award for best actress. Along with her "excellent singing voice," her performance was "radiant and comic," said a New York Times review.

But it was a series of sharp-tongued roles that won her fans on television and in movies, including gruff Army Capt. Doreen Lewis in 1980’s "Private Benjamin," aloof Mrs. Peacock in 1985’s "Clue" and mean orphanage superintendent Miss Bannister in 1988’s "The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking."