CNN: Mexican court frees Arizona mom accused of drug smuggling
A Mexican court released an American woman detained over allegations she tried to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana under a bus seat. Yanira Maldonado, an Arizona resident and mother of seven, had denied the charges. She was released Thursday night after the court determined that the prosecutors did not provide evidence. Her husband, Gary Maldonado, tearfully embraced his wife after she was released. They headed back to their hometown of Goodyear, Arizona, early Friday morning. The case has sparked widespread media coverage and attention from U.S. lawmakers as family members pushed for her freedom.
CNN: Father: 'Unarmed' son 'not crazy' enough to attack FBI agent who killed him
The father of a 27-year-old man shot dead by an FBI agent said Thursday that accounts he has heard about the killing make no sense. Ibragim Todashev was fatally shot early May 22 during questioning about a 2011 triple homicide in Waltham, Massachusetts, as well as his relationship with deceased Boston Marathon bombings suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Todashev admitted to his direct role in slashing three people's throats in Waltham and said Tsarnaev was involved as well, a federal law enforcement official told CNN. It was during that interview - which took place in the kitchen of his Orlando, Florida, home - that Todashev was shot dead.
Boston Globe: Bombers could have been thwarted, Keating reports
Russian intelligence officials believe that if US authorities had acted on their detailed warnings about Tamerlan Tsarnaev wanting to join an Islamic insurgency, the Boston Marathon bombings could have been averted, US Representative William R. Keating said Thursday in Moscow after a series of meetings with senior members of the Russian Federal Security Service. Keating said the counterintelligence officials had shown him specific information that convinced them Tsarnaev “had plans to join the insurgency back in” Dagestan, a restive region in the North Caucasus mountains on Russia’s southern rim. “You can see with the level of these details that in fact if we had had better information sharing, there’s a very strong chance that things could have changed, and [the bombings] could have been avoided,” said Keating, who was in Moscow as part of a congressional delegation discussing counterterrorism cooperation.
ALSO SEE: BBC: Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev 'walking'
NYT: Colleges Show Uneven Effort to Enroll Poor
Opponents of race-based affirmative action in college admissions urge that colleges use a different tool to encourage diversity: giving a leg up to poor students. But many educators see real limits to how eager colleges are to enroll more poor students, no matter how qualified — and the reason is money. “It’s expensive,” said Donald E. Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University. “You have to go out and identify them, recruit them and get them to apply, and then it’s really expensive once they enroll because they need more financial aid.” The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon in a closely watched case over admissions at the University of Texas at Austin, and the court could outlaw any consideration of race. Opponents of affirmative action welcome that prospect, arguing that race-conscious admissions favor minority applicants who are not disadvantaged, and people on both sides of the issue contend that colleges should do more to achieve socioeconomic diversity.
Bloomberg: UnitedHealth Spurns Obama Exchanges as Rules Stall Profit
UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH) will offer coverage in just a dozen of the U.S. health-care law’s new insurance exchanges, in the latest sign big insurers see little gain from quickly plunging into the new markets. The country’s largest health insurer is taking a conservative approach to the online markets set to open in states Oct. 1, Chief Executive Officer Stephen Hemsley told investors yesterday at the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. conference in New York. The company’s plans reflect its concern that the first wave of newly insured customers under the law may be the costliest, Hemsley said. UnitedHealth will “watch and see” how the exchanges evolve and expects the first enrollees will have “a pent-up appetite” for medical care, Hemsley said. “We are approaching them with some degree of caution because of that.” The approach offers another hurdle for state and U.S. officials trying to meet the technical challenges involved in the exchanges, where millions of uninsured may seek coverage under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
NYT: For Obama’s ex-aides, it’s time to cash in on experience
Bill Burton, Stephanie Cutter, Jim Papa and Paul Tewes — work as consultants for opponents of the project, which would carry heavy crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. Another, former White House communications director Anita Dunn, counts the project’s sponsor, TransCanada, among the clients of her communications firm. Keystone XL is just one of several upcoming administration decisions providing lucrative work for former Obama advisers on issues ranging from gun control to mining to legalized gambling. Just this week, three of Obama’s top former political advisers — Robert Gibbs, Jim Messina and David Plouffe — were given five-figure checks to deliver remarks at a forum in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, which is in the midst of a campaign to burnish its image in Washington.
WSJ: Party Pushes Obama to Sharpen His Message
President Barack Obama has a policy agenda. But what he needs, some Democratic allies say, is a better story. He is on the airwaves constantly, talking about immigration, gun control, drone strikes and natural disasters. But in his many public appearances, some Democrats say, Mr. Obama needs to draw a clearer picture of the larger purpose of his second term. Earlier in the month, Democrats who worked in former President Bill Clinton's administration met privately with senior White House officials and told them Mr. Obama must employ an "über narrative" that ties together his various policies, according to people in attendance. Some have advised that he take more trips around the country—as many as three a week, if possible—in which he explicitly demonstrates the link between various policy goals and his ideas about boosting middle-class households.
NPR: Obama To Press Congress On Student Loan Rates
President Obama will surround himself with college students at the White House on Friday and warn that the cost of student loans is about to go up. Interest rates on government-backed college loans are set to double July 1 — unless Congress agrees on a fix before then. Obama has threatened to veto a House-passed bill that would let the cost of student loans go up and down with the market. If the alarm bells over rising student loan rates sound familiar, that's because we went through this very same exercise last year. Back then, the president went on a barnstorming tour of college campuses, warning that a doubling of interest rates would cost the average student borrower $1,000 for each year of college over the life of his loan. …Eventually, Congress agreed to keep rates where they were — at 3.4 percent for one more year. That year is almost up, and students again face the prospect of rates doubling to 6.8 percent July 1. Obama is urging Congress on Friday to block that increase.
Reuters: Obama seeks to limit top pay for federal contractors
The White House proposed legislation on Thursday to cap the pay of federal government contractors at no more than the U.S. president's annual salary, saying it wanted to stop "wasteful expenditure." The president makes $400,000 a year and the current cap on pay for executives at federal contractors is due to be raised in the coming weeks to about $950,000 from $763,000, the White House Office of Management and Budget said. "This wasteful expenditure of taxpayer resources must stop," OMB official Joe Jordan said. Jordan said the cap on contractor pay has climbed so steeply because it is pegged to private sector executive pay increases. The administration's proposal would allow exceptions in situations where recruitment is difficult.
CNN: House investigators questioning IRS Cincinnati workers
House investigators are interviewing two front-line Internal Revenue Service employees from the Cincinnati tax exempt office this week in Washington, and plan to interview two others next week, two congressional sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN. House investigators are hoping these IRS employees will shed light on exactly why tea party and other conservative groups were inappropriately targeted for excess scrutiny when applying for tax exempt status. The sources would not yet disclose the names of the employees, but CNN has previously reported that House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa requested transcribed interviews with four IRS employees from the Cincinnati tax exempt office: John Shafer, Gary Muthert, Elizabeth Hofacre and Joseph Herr.
Christian Science Monitor: Senator wants entire Chicago gang arrested. Would that work?
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk (R) is recommending that the next US attorney in Chicago step up federal efforts to combat street gang violence through mass arrests of the Gangster Disciples, the prevailing criminal outfit operating on Chicago streets. Senator Kirk said he wants to see all 18,000 members of the Gangster Disciples prosecuted in federal court and said he believes “it’s completely within the capability of the United States government to crush a major urban gang.” He said the effort will require $30 million in federal funding but is necessary to stop the killing of innocent bystanders like Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old Chicago girl who was killed by Gangster Disciples in January a week after after performing in a marching band at President Obama's inauguration. But others question the wisdom of Kirk's proposal, with one member of Congress calling it an “upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about.”
WaPo: Tea party groups mobilizing against Common Core education overhaul
Tea party groups over the past few weeks have suddenly and successfully pressured Republican governors to reassess their support for a rare bipartisan initiative backed by President Obama to overhaul the nation’s public schools. Activists have donned matching T-shirts and packed buses bound for state legislative hearing rooms in Harrisburg, Pa., grilled Georgia education officials at a local Republican Party breakfast and deluged Michigan lawmakers with phone calls urging opposition to the Common Core State Standards. The burst of activity marks the newest front for the tea party movement, which has lacked a cohesive goal since it coalesced in 2010 in opposition to Obama’s health-care initiative.
Politico: Rising economy shifts 2014 landscape
The 2014 midterm election is shaping up as something the United States has not seen in nearly a decade: a campaign run in a strengthening economy with deficits on the decline. No one is popping champagne corks yet, and risks remain. But the altered terrain, if it holds, could benefit Democrats and challenge Republicans whose rise to power in the House in 2010 came via a tea party movement that blasted President Barack Obama and his party for ignoring a stagnant economy and piling up an endless run of trillion dollar deficits. Times have changed since 2010. Barring a fresh crisis — and there are certainly a few that could arise — many economists expect growth to return to a fairly healthy level by next year as house prices and the stock market continue to rise and the jobless rate falls closer to its historic average of 5.8 percent.
WSJ: Romney Planning to Rejoin National Dialogue
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a conservative summit in Maryland in March, one of his few public appearances this year. Restless, a little wistful and sharply critical of President Barack Obama's second term, Mr. Romney said in an interview that he plans to re-emerge in ways that will "help shape national priorities." As a first step, the former Republican presidential nominee plans to welcome 200 friends and supporters to a three-day summit next week that he will host at a Utah mountain resort. He is considering writing a book and a series of opinion pieces, and has plans to campaign for 2014 candidates. But he is wary of overdoing it. "I'm not going to be bothering the airwaves with a constant series of speeches," he told The Wall Street Journal, speaking from his home in La Jolla, Calif.
WSJ: Rand Paul Seeks Silicon Valley Funds
Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican eying a 2016 presidential campaign, is making calls this week at Google Inc. GOOG +0.28% and other Silicon Valley companies, part of his effort to make inroads among groups not associated with the GOP. The Kentuckian is also visiting Facebook Inc. FB +5.27% and eBay Inc. EBAY +0.09% during a California fundraising swing that will tap wealthy tech donors. On Thursday, Mr. Paul held a private town hall for employees at Google's Mountain View, Calif., campus. The senator is betting his policy views—he believes decisions about gay marriage should be left to the states and is a strong supporter of civil liberties—could play well with an industry that pushes a laissez-faire approach to the Internet.
CNN: Report: Syrian forces kill American, British citizen accused of fighting alongside rebels
Syrian state-run television reported Thursday that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed three Westerners, including an American woman and a British citizen, who it claims were fighting with the rebels and were found with weapons. Syrian TV identified the woman, releasing what it claimed were images of her Michigan driver's license and U.S. passport. It also released what is said was the name and passport of a British citizen. It did not identify a third person who it claimed was a Westerner. The report said the three were ambushed in their car in the flashpoint province of Idlib in northwestern Syria, where government forces have been battling rebels for control. TV footage showed a bullet-riddled car and three bodies laid out. It also showed weapons, a computer, a hand-drawn map of a government military facility and a flag belonging to the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.
Bloomberg: Hagel Set for Vietnam Embrace as Wary Asia Eyes Rising China
When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel served in Southeast Asia as a U.S. Army sergeant, Nguyen Tan Dung fought to expel him and other American troops from Vietnam. More than four decades later Dung, 63, is his country’s prime minister. He will be among the Asian leaders seeking Hagel’s reassurance that the U.S. will maintain a strong regional military presence to counter a more assertive China. Both will speak this weekend at a gathering of top defense officials in Singapore. The U.S. is “on track” with its plans to boost security ties with Asia, Hagel, 66, told reporters on his plane en route to Singapore. “We have been undertaking more new bilateral initiatives with partners than we ever have.” Hagel must balance concerns among U.S. allies about China’s territorial ambitions against a need to cooperate with President Xi Jinping’s government in halting North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Disputes over fish, oil and gas in waters off China’s coasts risk disrupting trade among emerging Asian powers that are driving global economic growth.
Reuters: Cyber threats pose 'stealthy, insidious' danger: defense chief
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Friday that cyber threats posed a "quiet, stealthy, insidious" danger to the United States and other nations, and called for "rules of the road" to guide behavior and avoid conflict on global computer networks. Hagel said he would address cyber security in his speech on Saturday to the Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore and the issue was likely to come up in a brief meeting with Chinese delegates on the margins of the conference. "Cyber threats are real, they're terribly dangerous," Hagel told reporters on his plane en route to the gathering. "They're probably as insidious and real a threat (as there is) to the United States, as well as China, by the way, and every nation."
NYT: U.S. Combat Commanders Should Handle War Zone Investigations, Panel Says
Concerned about possible flaws in criminal proceedings against American troops accused of killing or abusing civilians in a war zone, a Defense Department panel has proposed that investigations and prosecutions of crimes be carried out by a senior commander in the theater of combat and not the branch of the armed services in which the accused serves. The panel’s study was commissioned by Pentagon leaders after the collapse of efforts to prosecute Marines involved in a 2005 massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, Iraq, which resulted in widespread outcry and raised the prospect that the system of having a service hold its own courts-martial for members accused of war crimes was broken. …Members of the panel — former officers and military justice experts — acknowledged Thursday that the proposal was already generating criticism from some senior officials concerned that each branch of the armed services should be responsible for disciplining those under its command.
CNN: State Department releases annual U.S. report on international terrorism
A country-by-country study of trends in terrorism finds unilateral and "lone wolf" threats rising alongside state-sponsored acts, according to findings released Thursday by the U.S. State Department. The 200-page study, "Country Reports on Terrorism 2012," includes a strategic assessment, a survey of counter terrorism efforts and reviews of what researchers believe are state sponsors of terrorism, terrorist safe havens, and foreign terrorist organizations. The Iranian government was cited for a "resurgence" of what the report calls "state sponsorship of terrorism" through Iran's military intelligence apparatus and support for terrorist operatives associated with Hezbollah, who carry out attacks outside Iran.
AVIATION, REGULATION and JUSTICE:
CNN: Source: Authorities question person in connection with ricin probe
Authorities are interviewing a person in Texas in connection with threatening letters sent to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that are being tested for ricin, a person with knowledge of the investigation told CNN on Thursday. Officials on Wednesday intercepted a letter addressed to the president that was similar to letters sent to Bloomberg and a gun-control group he founded. The off-site facility that screens mail addressed to the White House turned the letter over to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force for testing and investigation, U.S. Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said Thursday. The letter was addressed to Obama, the Secret Service said.
ALSO SEE: CNN: FBI looking for letter to CIA similar to others that contained ricin
CNN: Media execs tell Holder reporters need freedom to do their jobs
Justice Department officials expressed a measure of regret on Thursday that the agency went as far as it did in national security leak investigations involving close scrutiny of reporters, and expressed a commitment to review its guidelines so reporters would not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. That was a readout of a meeting on Thursday between Attorney General Eric Holder and media executives over the agency's policies, according to journalists who attended the discussion. “We expressed our concerns that reporters felt some fear for doing their jobs, that they were concerned about using their e-mail, using their office telephone and that we need to have the freedom to do their job,” Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said after the meeting concluded.
USA Today: Obama's FBI pick Comey seen as independent, principled
Nearly two years ago, when Obama administration officials were just beginning a search for a successor to FBI Director Robert Mueller, James Comey was on the short list. His broad law enforcement experience — as the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan and later as the deputy attorney general in charge of the daily operations of the sprawling Justice Department — was a biography that all but spoke for itself. But what some analysts say makes him the ideal choice now, just as the White House and Justice Department are entangled in a series of national security controversies, is an unusual brand of independence rooted in his role as a former appointee of the George W. Bush administration. With the White House and congressional Republicans engaged in near-constant political combat, Comey is viewed as the most likely candidate to bridge that discord.
ALSO SEE: NYT: Bush Terrorism Fight May Be Fodder in F.B.I. Confirmation
CNNMoney: Gov't proposes rules for self-driving cars
The federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is taking a closer look at self-driving cars. The agency released a set of proposed rules and regulations for autonomous vehicles Thursday while, at the same time, announcing plans for its own research programs looking into self-driving technology. Among the proposed rules, NHTSA recommends that states issue separate driver licenses, or at least special driver license endorsements, for those who wish to operate autonomous vehicles. These special licenses or endorsements should be given only after someone has completed a training that would cover such things as how and when to take over control of a vehicle. NHTSA also recommends that states require automakers that wish to test self-driving vehicles share information about all incidents and crashes involving their self-driving vehicles.
WSJ: Dispute Flares Inside FDA Over Safety of Popular Blood-Pressure Drugs
The top-selling class of blood-pressure drugs is under attack from an unusual source: a senior regulator at the Food and Drug Administration. Bucking his bosses, Thomas A. Marciniak is seeking stronger warnings about the drugs known as angiotensin receptor blockers, or ARBs, according to internal documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The drugs, which are taken by millions of people and generated $7.6 billion in U.S. sales in 2012, may be linked to higher cancer rates, Dr. Marciniak argues, a view shared by some outside doctors. Top FDA officials say evidence doesn't support a link. The debate over ARBs highlights the question of whether the U.S. drug-safety agency devotes enough effort to examining the safety of long-marketed blockbusters as it focuses on new drugs.
Richmond Times Dispatch: Candidates for governor trade barbs at luncheon
When it comes to transparency in politics, both candidates for governor say they have nothing to hide. But on Thursday, at a fundraiser for an organization with a mission to foster transparency and engagement in government, they accused each other of being less than clear with voters. Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli renewed his push for Democrat Terry McAuliffe to join him in 15 debates across Virginia. He also called on McAuliffe, a multimillionaire businessman, to release eight years of tax returns, as Cuccinelli did last month. McAuliffe reminded reporters afterward that Cuccinelli had failed to disclose thousands in stock holdings of troubled Henrico County-based dietary supplement maker Star Scientific, and omitted reporting thousands in gifts from its wealthy CEO, Jonnie Williams Sr. The candidates spoke in turn during the fundraiser for the Virginia Public Access Project, held at the Richmond Marriott.
Reuters: Moscow suggests missiles have yet to reach Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday Moscow was still committed to sending him advanced anti-aircraft weapons, although a source close to the Russian defense ministry said the missiles had yet to arrive. The prospect of the missiles arriving is a serious worry for Western and regional countries opposing Assad which have called on Moscow not to send them. The S-300 missiles would make it far more dangerous for Western countries to impose any future no-fly zone over Syrian air space, and could even be used to shoot down aircraft deep over the air space of neighbors like Israel or Turkey.
Jerusalem Post: Palestinians, US upset by east Jerusalem building
Israeli officials on Thursday tried to douse a diplomatic fire Channel 10 ignited with its report about two building projects in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem – of 1,100 units – that have been in the pipeline for years. These east Jerusalem housing units are a real and official destruction of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to revive the peace process, Chief PLO Negotiator Saeb Erekat said Thursday. In response, Israeli officials noted that no new approvals had been given for east Jerusalem housing and that the Palestinians understood this.
WSJ: China's Xi Comes Calling on Americas
China's new leader, Xi Jinping, kicks off his Americas visit in Trinidad and Tobago Friday, a stop that underlines China's attempt to both secure fresh energy sources and reach out to developing countries. The stop, which will be followed by others in Costa Rica and Mexico before Mr. Xi meets with U.S. President Barack Obama at the Sunnylands estate in California, could help China establish a strategic foothold in the Caribbean as U.S. aid and investment in the region wanes. In particular, Mr. Xi's three-day visit to Trinidad and Tobago is designed to help China get access to fresh supplies of liquefied natural gas just as a U.S. shale-gas boom has left gas-exporting nations in the Caribbean looking for alternative markets.
CNN: Former Mexican president pushing for pot legalization
A former Mexican president who once led a military crackdown on drug cartels now has a new pitch: creating a legal system to produce, distribute and tax marijuana. Vicente Fox is joining a group of entrepreneurs in Seattle this week to discuss that possibility, six months after voters in Washington state approved a ballot measure allowing recreational marijuana use. As president, Fox launched Operation Safe Mexico, which sent soldiers and federal police to eight cities across the country in 2005 as drug cartels expanded their reach.
Reuters Exclusive: Europe plans major scaling back of financial trading tax
European countries planning a tax on financial transactions are set to drastically scale back the levy, cutting the charge by as much as 90 percent and delaying its full roll-out for years, in what would be a major victory for banks. Such sweeping changes would blunt the impact of the tax, pushed for by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and popular with voters who blame bankers for the financial crisis. The revisions have yet to be formally proposed but were revealed to Reuters by officials working on the project.
Reuters: Roiled by mystery GMO wheat, US races to reassure buyers
U.S. officials raced to quell global alarm on Thursday over the first-ever discovery of an unapproved strain of genetically modified wheat, working to figure out how the rogue grain escaped from a field trial a decade ago. In the wake of news that a strain developed by biotech giant Monsanto Co (MON.N) had been found in an Oregon field late last month, major buyer Japan canceled plans to buy U.S. wheat while the Europe Union said it would step up testing. Worried U.S. farmers wondered if their own fields had been contaminated. Even after weeks of investigation, experts are baffled as to how the seed survived for years after Monsanto had ceased all field tests of the product. It was found in a field growing a different type of wheat than Monsanto's strain, far from areas used for field tests, according to an Oregon State University wheat researcher who tested the strain.
The Guardian: Snooper's charter is threat to internet freedom, warn web five in letter to May
The five biggest internet companies in the world, including Google and Facebook, have privately delivered a thinly veiled warning to the home secretary, Theresa May, that they will not voluntarily co-operate with the "snooper's charter". In a leaked letter to the home secretary that is also signed by Twitter, Microsoft and Yahoo!, the web's "big five" say that May's rewritten proposals to track everybody's email, internet and social media use remain "expensive to implement and highly contentious". The private letter, which has been passed to the Guardian, is part of a series of continuing confidential discussions between the industry and the Home Office.