By Sharon Bernstein SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - California Democrats, whose supermajority in the state legislature was effectively lost after two party lawmakers were either indicted or convicted of criminal wrongdoing, proposed a sweeping package of ethics reforms on Thursday. The proposal comes against a backdrop of renewed focus on ethics in the legislature of the most populous U.S. state after California state Senator Ron Calderon was indicted on corruption charges last month, and fellow state Senator Roderick Wright was convicted of voter fraud and perjury. The criminal proceedings add to concerns that surfaced earlier this year when the California Fair Political Practices Commission sent warning letters to elected officials saying fundraising parties thrown for several lawmakers and the governor by a prominent lobbyist were in fact illegal. "The good legislative work that we do is only as good as the public's perception and trust in the legislature," Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg told a news conference, announcing the legislation.
WASHINGTON (AP) — It was supposed be a weekend getaway to Florida for President Barack Obama and his wife and daughters, an escape from the frigid weather and lingering piles of snow around Washington. But Russia's intervention in Ukraine has put Obama's plans in doubt, making it very likely the family will end up at the White House.
A top U.S. healthcare official, accused by Republicans of misleading Congress about the readiness of the Obamacare rollout, will resign from his post at the end of March, officials said on Thursday. The departure of Gary Cohen as director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) was announced within the administration on Wednesday in an email from his boss, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Cohen, a former California insurance regulator who took up his post in August 2012, has overseen regulatory implementation of the Obamacare health insurance marketplaces, a process that often drew fire from insurers and lawmakers for its slow pace and numerous revisions. Along with Tavenner and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Cohen was among top officials who assured Congress that the October 1 launch of the federal enrollment website HealthCare.gov would be successful.
By David Lawder NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell tried to bring some firepower to his tough re-election battle on Thursday, brandishing a rifle as he strode onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference. McConnell hoisted the flint-lock muzzle-loading rifle over his head at the gathering of conservative leaders and Republican Party activists and handed it to Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, a fellow Republican who has said he will retire when his term ends in January 2015 due to health reasons. "This is for you, for your distinguished service," said McConnell, 72, earning the biggest applause of his brief speech at CPAC. For McConnell, who is the sixth-longest serving current U.S. senator, wielding the rifle amounted to a nod to gun-rights conservatives at a time when he has come under fire on two fronts as he seeks another term in the November 4 elections.
The US trial of a Saudi man accused of masterminding a deadly attack on the USS Cole will begin on December 4 at Guantanamo Bay, a ruling published Thursday said. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri faces the death penalty if convicted of charges stemming from the attack on the Cole and another on the French oil tanker MV Limburg in 2002 which left one person dead. Seventeen sailors died in the suicide attack on the USS Cole in 2000 in Yemen. Oral arguments in the trial, intially set for September, have been pushed back three months, Judge James Pohl wrote in the decision posted at the military court's website.
The Dalai Lama encouraged the United States on Thursday to show self-confidence in defending democracy as top lawmakers rallied behind his calls to preserve Tibetan culture. Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, whose meeting on February 21 with President Barack Obama was angrily condemned by China, returned to Washington where -- for the first time -- he delivered the customary prayer that opens each Senate session. The Dalai Lama, who fled his Chinese-ruled homeland for India in 1959, later met congressional leaders and told them one of his main goals was "preservation of Tibetan culture." Offering advice as a "longtime friend" of the United States, the Dalai Lama said that he considered the nation to be "really a champion of democracy, freedom."
Just hours after President Barack Obama unveiled visa bans and laid the ground for sanctions against Russia, the Ukrainian diaspora made their own stand outside the White House. In a protest that was as emphatic in its condemnation of President Vladimir Putin's actions as it was as supportive of the US measures in response, American-Ukrainians appeared united -- and worried. Evgeni Kazmirhuk, 37, from Stamford, Connecticut, carried a black and white portrait of Putin, embellished with a splash of red paint as if the Russian leader had been shot in the head. Other demonstrators held banners that said "Lenin, Stalin, Putin," "No more Russian empire" and "Crimea is Ukraine," while the crowd sang the US and Ukrainian national anthems and a few miles away Congress considered its response.
The House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved US financial aid to crisis-plagued Ukraine, but the Senate is unlikely to take up the measure until at least next week. The lower chamber of Congress voted 385 to 23 in favor of the loan guarantees, the first tangible congressional response to Russia's incursion into its neighbor and former Soviet satellite. The White House and State Department have said the aid will include some $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine's government as Kiev grapples with military and political interference by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Dalai Lama on Thursday encouraged the United States to show self-confidence in defending democracy as top lawmakers rallied behind his calls to preserve Tibetan culture. Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, whose meeting on February 21 with President Barack Obama was condemned by China, returned to Washington where -- for the first time -- he delivered the customary prayer that opens each Senate session. The Dalai Lama, who fled his Chinese-ruled homeland for India in 1959, later met congressional leaders and told them one of his main goals was "preservation of Tibetan culture." Offering advice as a "longtime friend" of the United States, the Dalai Lama said that he considered the nation to be "really a champion of democracy, freedom."
Two privacy activist groups asked US regulators Thursday to put on hold the Facebook acquisition of messaging service WhatsApp to ensure against misuse of user data. An administrative complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission calls on the agency to investigate the deal and protection against "unfair and deceptive data collection practices" which could be implemented by WhatsApp after the takeover. Facebook last month unveiled the eye-popping cash-and-stock deal worth up to $19 billion for WhatsApp, which allows for free communications over mobile devices. The complaint filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Center for Digital Democracy said the deal may undermine the privacy of users by allowing Facebook access to user information, which could be used for advertising purposes.
US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Thursday that "Crimea is Ukraine", after pro-Moscow lawmakers on the tense peninsula voted to have their region become part of Russia. "Crimea is part of the Ukraine. Crimea is Ukraine. We support the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the government of Ukraine needs to be involved in any decision" on whether the peninsula would split off, he told journalists in Rome.
The US Army's top prosecutor overseeing sexual assault cases has been suspended over allegations he groped a female lawyer working for him and tried to kiss her, officers said Thursday. The suspension marks the latest embarrassing setback for the US military as it grapples with a sexual assault crisis that has sparked calls for a radical overhaul of its judicial system. The allegations were first reported by the Stars and Stripes newspaper and confirmed to AFP by military officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The allegations involve Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Morse, who supervises the army's special victim prosecutors that handle sexual assault, domestic abuse and crimes against children cases.
US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy on Thursday urged Tokyo and Seoul to patch up their troubled relations, a report said, amid simmering tensions between the Asian neighbours. Ties between the two American allies have regularly been strained by a long-standing territorial dispute over a group of tiny islands, and issues arising from Japan's colonial rule over the Korean peninsula early last century. On Saturday, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye warned Japan that it would face "isolation" if it pushed ahead with a move to revisit an apology over wartime sex slavery. "I think that the two countries really should and will take a lead in this process, and the United States, being a close ally of both of them, is happy to help in any way that we can," Kennedy said in an interview aired by Japanese broadcaster NHK, according to Kyodo News.
President Barack Obama warned Thursday that a referendum in Crimea on joining Russia would violate Ukraine's constitution and international law. The president spoke hours after the United States imposed visa bans on certain senior Russian officials and moved towards wider sanctions against individuals and entities in Moscow, to punish the Kremlin's incursion into Ukraine. "The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law," Obama told reporters at the White House. "Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine," Obama said.
US President Barack Obama on Thursday said he was powerless to stop mass expulsions of illegal immigrants, which prompted one Latino advocacy group to brand him "deporter in chief." The president said Congress was requiring him to enforce existing immigration laws while balking at passing a comprehensive bill that would offer illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. "I am constrained in terms of what I am able to do," Obama said. "The reason why these deportations are taking place is that Congress said 'you have to enforce these laws'"