US President Barack Obama will encounter a nation mourning one of its worst maritime disasters and on edge over North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship Friday when he flies to South Korea. US intelligence agencies meanwhile are watching and waiting amid indications that North Korea could rattle the peninsula with a fourth nuclear test, in a clear challenge to Obama's strategy of cementing America's role as a Pacific power. "North Korea has engaged in provocative actions for the last several decades. US officials were puzzling over the always unpredictable Kim's next move -- wondering whether he would show his defiance with a blast during Obama's Asian tour or if activity at the North's nuclear sites was a mere propaganda move.
By Joseph Ax NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday reluctantly struck down New York's limits on donations to independent political action committees as unconstitutional, potentially ushering in a new era of "super PACs" in state campaigns. District Judge Paul Crotty said the statutes could not survive First Amendment scrutiny in light of recent landmark Supreme Court decisions that have lessened restrictions on big-money political donors. "I think there is a risk of quid pro quo corruption, but the Supreme Court has not recognized it," he said during a hearing in Manhattan federal court. "We know what the Supreme Court has held, whether we like it or not, and I'm bound to follow it." The New York laws had limited the amount of money individual donors could contribute to independent political committees, known as super PACs, that operate separately from a candidate's campaign.
A hacker who became an informant for the FBI directed hundreds of cyber attacks against the websites of foreign governments, including Brazil, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and Turkey, the New York Times reported Thursday. It was unclear whether the FBI explicitly ordered the digital attacks, but court documents and interviews suggest "that the government may have used hackers to gather intelligence overseas," the Times wrote. The figure at the center of the case is Hector Xavier Monsegur, who had become a prominent hacker with the activist group Anonymous, which has staged cyber assaults on MasterCard, PayPal and other commercial and government targets. Monsegur was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and became an informant, helping the law enforcement agency identify other members of Anonymous.
First lady Michelle Obama has switched her plans to address a high school commencement ceremony in Topeka, Kansas, in May after students protested that her presence would limit the number of family members they could invite to the ceremony. Originally, the president's wife planned to speak to a joint commencement for students from the five high schools in the city, where 60 years ago the Supreme Court overturned laws that segregated black and white students in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. But students raised concerns when they found out they would only be allowed to invite six family members to the ceremony because of space limitations. She will instead address the students a day earlier, on May 16, at a joint event called "Senior Recognition Day," an accommodation that will allow all the schools to hold individual graduation ceremonies the following day with no restrictions on the number of guests.
US Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday urged Israel and the Palestinians to make the compromises needed to forge ahead with peace talks, admitting the negotiations had reached "a difficult point." He was speaking only hours after Israel said it was pulling out of the talks, angered by a Palestinian reconciliation deal to bring together the Palestine Liberation Organization and the militant Hamas faction. We believe it is the only way to go, but right now obviously it's at a very difficult point, and the leaders themselves have to make decisions," Kerry said as he met his Norwegian counterpart Foreign Minister Borge Brende.
By Margaret Chadbourn WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate Banking Committee appears likely to back a bill to wind down government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, according to sources familiar with talks on the legislation. The committee's leaders have secured a bare majority of the votes needed to push the bill forward, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not keen for it to come up for a vote on the Senate floor ahead of congressional elections in November, these industry and Capitol Hill sources say. Congressional aides say the panel's Democratic chairman, Senator Tim Johnson, and its top Republican, Senator Mike Crapo, want at least 16 "yes" votes on the 22-member committee before going to Reid, a Democrat who has voiced opposition in the past to measures that would get rid of Fannie and Freddie. "If you want to end the government's monopoly in the housing finance system, which is what both Republicans and Democrats want to do - the environment to get it done is ripe.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama's annual question-and-answer session with the children of Executive Office employees took a serious turn Thursday when a 10-year-old girl in the front row told the first lady that her dad had been out of work for three years. Then the girl popped up to hand the first lady his resume.
The top White House national security aide Susan Rice will meet Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim when President Barack Obama's regional tour reaches Malaysia, a senior US official told AFP Thursday. Obama is set to arrive in the Malaysian capital on Saturday in what will be the first visit to the country by a sitting US president in nearly half a century. He faces a political balancing act: he will be keen not to alienate his hosts and a key Southeast Asian ally but Washington has made clear its disquiet about the revival of long term charges against Anwar and is concerned at what it sees as a deteriorating political situation. Anwar, who was convicted of sodomy in March and whose opposition is engaged in a fierce political battle with Malaysia's longtime government, had been told that Obama would not be able to see him personally.
By Susan Heavey WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Caroline Kennedy, the current U.S. ambassador to Japan, says she would support Hillary Clinton if the former secretary of state seeks the presidency in 2016, and she hopes Clinton decides to run. Kennedy and her late uncle, former Senator Ted Kennedy, endorsed President Barack Obama in 2008 rather than Clinton, a significant move in that closely contested campaign. Kennedy said in series of media interviews aired on Thursday that she hopes Clinton will seek to run as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. Kennedy told ABC News she would support Clinton's candidacy "if she runs." Speaking in a separate interview with NBC News, Kennedy said she thought Clinton would be a "great" choice, the network's correspondent Chuck Todd said.
The changes would also apply to other, previously unregulated tobacco products, including cigars, hookahs, nicotine gels, and pipe tobacco, and are aimed in large part at keeping these substances away from young people. "This proposed rule is the latest step in our efforts to make the next generation tobacco-free," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a press release announcing the reform. The proposal by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would bring these products under many of the same rules that already apply to traditional cigarettes. Companies would be barred from handing out free samples, and would be required to include health warning labels and to seek FDA approval before marketing a new product.