The US space agency NASA has been warned that its mission to send humans to Mars will fail unless its revamps its methods and draws up a clear, well-planned strategy to conquer the red planet. The National Research Council said in a congressionally-mandated report that Washington should use "stepping stones" to achieve its goal of a manned flight to Mars. This could involve exploring an asteroid, building a moon outpost or building more international cooperation with countries like China. "To continue on the present course... is to invite failure, disillusionment and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something the United States does best," said the NRC's 286-page report.
(Reuters) - The Obama administration is revamping the health insurance marketplace HealthCare.gov and removing significant parts from it to ensure that glitches on the site do not return, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing presentations to health insurers and interviews with government officials and contractors. The revamp and its tight timeline are raising concerns that consumers could encounter another troubled rollout when they return to the site to choose health plans, the paper said. A system to automate payments to insurers was running behind schedule, the WSJ reported, quoting a presentation that federal officials made to health insurers. The poor performance of HealthCare.gov in October was the first in a series of setbacks that posed a political challenge for President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies.
By Marice Richter FORT WORTH Texas (Reuters) - Texas Republicans opened their convention on Thursday poised for a bruising battle on whether to push for immigration reform in a state where Hispanics could make up the majority of the population by 2030, or adopt a hardline approach on the contentious issue. The conservative Tea Party branch of the party, which is led by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and carries great weight in the state, wants to shoot down a 2012 party policy known as the “Texas Solution" that would allow undocumented workers to hold jobs that go unfilled. "This amounts to nothing more than amnesty that never ends,” said Dallas-Fort Worth-area delegate Brenda White as she passed out stickers calling for “No Texas Solution.” Supporters of the Texas Solution say common sense has to prevail or the party will find itself increasingly out of touch as its base of white voters shrinks to a minority group in 15 years if demographic trends continue. “We have to reach out to Hispanics and young people,” said George P. Bush, the Republican nominee for Texas land commissioner, told delegates.
WASHINGTON (AP) — An additional 18 veterans in the Phoenix area whose names were kept off an official electronic Veterans Affairs appointment list have died, the agency's acting secretary said Thursday — the latest revelation in a growing scandal over long patient waits for care and falsified records covering up the delays at VA hospitals and clinics nationwide.
Luxembourg's former premier Jean-Claude Juncker has told European politicians he will not "get on my knees" before Britain in his bid to become European Commission chief, the Guardian reported Friday. Britain fiercely opposes Juncker's possible appointment as president of the European Union's executive branch, claiming that voters across the continent rejected his brand of federalism during last month's elections. But the European Parliament insists that Juncker has a democratic right to the job, given that he heads the European People's party (EPP), the grouping which secured most votes in the elections.
Hillary Clinton says in her new memoir that she sought the release of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, but recognized that negotiating with his Taliban captors would be "hard to swallow" for Americans. Bergdahl was released last weekend and President Barack Obama, whom Hillary Clinton is widely assumed to want to succeed in office, has come under fire for agreeing to a prisoner exchange. The former secretary of state's long-awaited book "Hard Choices" is set for a June 10 release, but CBS News said on Thursday that it had somehow purchased a copy at a bookstore. In passages that directly relate to today's headlines, Clinton addresses the State Department's various attempts to free Bergdahl, who was released into US hands on Saturday in an exchange that saw five Taliban leaders transferred out of the Guantanamo military prison.
Hillary Clinton favored arming Syria's rebels early in that country's civil war but was overruled by President Barack Obama, the former secretary of state said in her new memoir obtained by CBS News. Clinton's long-awaited book "Hard Choices" -- seen as an unofficial start to her expected presidential run -- is set for a June 10 release, but CBS News said Thursday it purchased a copy at a bookstore. Increasingly that's how Syria appeared," she wrote. Clinton said that she returned to Washington from an overseas trip convinced that arming and training moderate Syrian rebels was the best move to turn the tide against strongman Bashar al-Assad.
Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Hamas demanded Thursday that the Palestinian Authority take employees of the disbanded Gaza government onto its payroll, after scuffles broke out at banks in the Palestinian territory. The dispute was the first hitch for a unity government sworn in on Monday under a reconciliation deal between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership to end seven years of rival administrations in the two territories. "What happened at the banks was a result of anger by employees at being discriminated against and deprived of their wages," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. Scuffles broke out at banks in Gaza City late Wednesday as angry Hamas government workers tried to stop Palestinian Authority employees withdrawing their salaries.
United Nations (United States) (AFP) - UN investigators say talk of genocide or ethnic cleaning in the Central African Republic is premature, but that evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity exists on both sides. An international commission of inquiry appointed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon in January has submitted an interim report to Security Council members, a copy of which was seen by AFP on Thursday. "Ample evidence exists to prove that individuals from both sides of the conflict perpetuated serious breaches of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity as well as war crimes," it says. "But talk of an international armed conflict, genocide or ethnic cleansing "at this point in time is premature" the report said, warning that without stronger international intervention that could change.
As controversy swirls in the United States over the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, several politicians have backtracked on their support of the soldier -- at least if you check their Twitter feeds. By Thursday, at least seven US politicians had deleted tweets praising Bergdahl amid a mounting backlash over the deal for his freedom that resulted in the release of five high-level Taliban operatives from Guantanamo Bay. The online scrubbing highlights the growing concern over the possibility that the Taliban commanders could rejoin the fight, and anger over how the government of US President Barack Obama brokered the deal. Bergdahl has also been accused by some in his own unit of being a deserter, sparking contempt.
A senior State Department official will represent the United States at Sunday's inauguration of the new Egyptian president, but in a sign of US unease, no cabinet-level ministers will attend. The US delegation to the swearing-in of president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will be led by State Department counselor Thomas Shannon, a senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry, a US official said Thursday. "The United States looks forward to working with president-elect al-Sisi in Egypt and his government to advance our strategic partnership and many shared interests," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
Policymakers in most Asian countries support a robust US role in the region even though many expect China to become the most dominant power, a survey said Thursday. An 11-nation survey of experts, who are not in government but are seen as influential, found strong backing in almost every country except China for President Barack Obama's stated policy of "pivoting" US resources toward Asia. The study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies found that elites largely expected China's clout to keep growing. But asked what would be best for their countries, wide majorities in the United States as well as its regional partners Australia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan chose continued US leadership, even if Washington's power declines in relative terms.
President Francois Hollande hosted his US counterpart Barack Obama for dinner Thursday, seeking to defend BNP Paribas bank from what France sees as disproportionate penalties that US authorities are set to impose. "The rule of law is not determined by political expediency," Obama said in the Belgian capital. "Francois Hollande brought up the BNP issue at dinner, of course with respect to the US institutions, and in detail," a French presidential source said after the dinner.
By Susan Cornwell and David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate negotiators reached a bipartisan deal on Thursday to ease healthcare delays at the Department of Veterans Affairs as the agency's acting boss revealed that 18 veterans on a secret waiting list had died while waiting for VA care in Phoenix. If passed, it would allow veterans more access to private doctors and give the VA new authority to open 26 clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and fire poor-performing staff. It was reached after rare bipartisan negotiations led by Senator John McCain, a Republican, and Bernard Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. The scandal over widespread schemes to mask the long delays prompted allegations from VA doctors in Phoenix that 40 veterans had died while waiting for appointments at VA facilities there.
German deputies probing US spying said Thursday they would seek to question fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden in Moscow within the next four weeks. The parliamentary committee aims to assess the extent of surveillance by the US National Security Agency and its partners on German citizens and politicians, and whether German intelligence aided its activities. Deputies from the panel voted to try to speak with Snowden before their next session on July 2, with a preliminary "informal" meeting in Moscow aimed at assessing how to proceed. They said they would speak with Snowden's lawyer in the coming days to determine whether the American is willing to talk to them.