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.
The Pentagon said Thursday a concerted campaign in the US military to persuade more victims of sexual assault to come forward was beginning to show progress, as the number of reported cases jumped 50 percent last year. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the results showed victims were more confident the military would take their cases seriously but voiced concern that large numbers of male victims were still unwilling to report being sexually assaulted. The Pentagon's annual report on sexual assaults "underscores that we have a long way to go before we get close to solving this problem," Hagel told reporters. The Pentagon recorded 5,061 reports of sexual assault across the military last year, compared to 3,374 in 2012.
The United States dismissed Russia's demand that Ukraine withdraw forces from the increasingly unstable southeast of its country as "preposterous" on Thursday. Pro-Russian separatists have seized government buildings in Ukraine's eastern region and clashes have erupted alongside street protests by supporters of both sides in the dispute. Kiev's Western-backed government has accused Russia's President Vladimir Putin of fomenting the unrest, but admits its forces are powerless to halt the expanding rebellion. Ukraine responded by reintroducing conscription to beef up its out-matched army.
US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated Thursday it was time for the United States to take a "pause" in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, after months of efforts stalled last month. "We believe the best thing to do right now is pause, take a hard look at these things, and find out what is possible and what is not possible in the days ahead," Kerry told reporters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. President US Barack Obama on Friday also said there was a need to take a "pause" in talks, noting the inability of the US administration to bridge the gap between the two sides on key issues.
The United States is contending with too many global humanitarian crises at once to comprehensively fund relief efforts, the State Department told Congress Thursday, urging other nations to step up. The aid landscape this year looked particularly challenging given the emergencies in South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), where brutal rebellions and ethno-religious violence have left thousands of people dead, displaced millions and pushed countless more to the brink of famine. "Thanks to Congress, we have appropriations to do more this year, but as you know we are contending with too many humanitarian emergencies," Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard, who oversees population, refugees and migration issues, told a House hearing on the CAR. Some 2,000 people have been killed and nearly a million displaced since ethnic and religious strife swept the Central African Republic in late 2013, according to the State Department.