The U.S. Commerce Department found no evidence to support allegations that the monthly unemployment rate was manipulated before the 2012 presidential election, according to a report issued by the agency's office of inspector general on Thursday. The department launched the probe last November after the New York Post reported that data used in the closely watched survey was faked in the final stretch of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, when the monthly unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives called the allegations "shocking" and sought documents and communications related to the collection of data for the Current Population Survey, which is used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate the unemployment rate. The Census Bureau rejected the allegations at the time and said it reported the claims to the Office of the Inspector General as soon as it learned of them.
The wife of an American serving a 15-year term in a Cuban prison demanded Thursday that President Barack Obama personally intervene for his safe return. Alan Gross, who turns 65 on Friday, was arrested in December 2009 for allegedly distributing telecommunications equipment in Cuba while he was working as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). "After years of inaction, I’m imploring President Obama to intervene personally on Alan’s behalf and bring him home to our family," Judy Gross said, in a note released by lawyers. In mid-April, Gross held an eight-day hunger strike after he learned that USAID had implemented a Twitter-like social network, ZunZuneo, in 2010 to enable Cubans to debate conditions on the island among themselves.
By Krista Hughes WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Democratic senator said on Thursday he would take the time needed to put together a bill granting the White House power to fast-track trade agreements while Republicans called for swift action. Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden, a Democrat, said he was still mulling how best to modernize fast-track rules, which many see as crucial to the United States' ability to wrap up talks on a 12-nation Pacific trade pact. Wyden, who took over in February as chairman of the committee, declined to commit to a timeline for what he has dubbed "smart-track." "We are going to move as quickly as we can to do trade right," he told reporters after a committee hearing on trade, where some Democrats pushed for rules against currency manipulation to be included in trade agreements. Republicans are generally supportive of trade deals, which have been opposed by some Democratic power bases - unions, environmentalists and consumer groups who worry about lost jobs and weaker labor and pollution laws.
If it were up to former US President George W. Bush, a third member of the Republican family dynasty -- his younger brother Jeb -- would run for the White House. Jeb Bush, the former two-term governor of Florida, has acknowledged he has not ruled out the idea of a 2016 presidential candidacy. "I hope Jeb runs," his older brother told CNN on Thursday. Indeed, 61-year-old Jeb Bush has rolled up to several political, educational and civic events across the nation in recent weeks, taking the pulse of various groups as he mulls his political future.
Even though smallpox has not infected anyone since 1977, important research on the virus is still ongoing and the world's remaining stockpiles should not be destroyed, scientists said Thursday. The appeal from a trio of researchers in the United States and Brazil came as the decision-making body of the World Health Organization is preparing to discuss the fate of smallpox research later this month. Stockpiles of the live variola virus -- which causes the illness that includes a bumpy rash and can lead to blindness or death -- are currently held at high-security labs in Russia and the United States. "Despite considerable advances," the scientists wrote in the journal PLOS Pathogens, "we argue that the research agenda with live variola virus is not yet finished and that significant gaps still remain."
A study ordered by US President Barack Obama and released Thursday concludes that analysis of "big data" can help society in many ways, from improving health care to spurring economic growth. "The big data revolution presents incredible opportunities in virtually every sector of the economy and every corner of society," said John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff who led the Big Data and Privacy Working Group. The same analytics are being used to make government more efficient and help crack down on fraud in health care.
By David Morgan WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Thursday predicted stable health insurance costs for consumers who have purchased Obamacare plans, defying critics who warn that President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law will lead to skyrocketing premiums. Just over 8 million Americans signed up for private coverage in state and federal insurance marketplaces during the law's first enrollment period through April 19, according to a new administration report released on Thursday. Outside the marketplaces, the report said, an additional 5 million people bought plans that comply with Obamacare's consumer protection and benefit standards.