By Nidal Almughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) – Israel struck militants in Gaza and Palestinians fired rockets back on Friday following deadly gun attacks along the desert border with Egypt that have raised tensions between Israel and the new rulers in Cairo.
Egypt formally protested and demanded Israel investigate the deaths of three of its security men, who, it said, where killed when Israeli forces hunted for the gunmen behind Thursday’s roadside ambushes. In all, more than 20 people have been killed.
Eight Israelis perished in the assault along the Egyptian border, and at least seven of the attackers also died as Israeli forces tracked them down along the largely open frontier with Egypt.
Israel swiftly pinned the blame on a Palestinian group that is independent of the Hamas Islamist movement which governs Gaza, and struck back with two days of air strikes killing 10 militants and two civilians, children aged 2 and 13.
An airstrike killed the faction’s leadership on Thursday and there were numerous other strikes throughout Friday. Huge crowds gathered for the funerals, chanting anti-Israeli slogans and vowing revenge.
Israel, stunned by an assault along a long quiet border, threatened further attacks.
“We have a policy of exacting a very heavy price of anyone who attacks us and this policy is being implemented,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday while visiting wounded compatriots in hospital.
Hamas Islamists in control of Gaza also cautioned they would respond. “We will not allow the enemy to escalate its aggression without getting punished,” the group’s armed wing said.
Militants in the tiny coastal Gaza enclave fired 22 rockets at southern Israeli cities on Friday, the Israeli military said. Two rockets targeting the city of Ashdod hit a synagogue and a school, injuring two people, one of them seriously.
Israel struck back by launching more than a dozen aerial attacks, the latest of them killing two gunmen in the central Gaza Strip after darkness fell, Palestinian medics said.
DISAGREEMENTS IN NEW YORK
Israel said Thursday’s attackers had slipped out of Gaza and into Egypt’s Sinai desert, and then headed south before infiltrating Israel close to the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
Israeli forces had been on high alert for a possible attack and was swift to blame the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) armed faction. [nL5E7JI43Z] The group denied involvement in Thursday’s ambushes, but did claim responsibility for some of Friday’s rocket fire.
The PRC said its commander, Kamal al-Nairab, his deputy, Immad Hammad, and three other members were killed in Thursday’s air strike on a home in Rafah, by the Gaza border with Egypt.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council met to consider a U.S.-drafted statement condemning the attack on the Israelis, but Lebanon, the sole Arab member, prevented agreement after insisting that the 15-nation body also condemn the Israeli strikes in Gaza, U.N. diplomats said.
U.S. envoy Rosemary DiCarlo described the failure of the council to speak on the issue “regrettable.”
Israeli leaders accused Egypt’s new military leaders of losing their grip on the Sinai peninsula. Cairo rejected the charge, but Israel fears its once sleepy southern flank is rapidly becoming a major security threat.
“We would hope that yesterday’s terrorist attack on the border would serve as an impetus for the Egyptian side to more effectively exercise their sovereignty in Sinai,” said a senior Israeli official, who declined to be named.
Cairo rejected the charge and voiced anger at the death of an army officer and two security officials on their side of the border on Thursday, although it was not clear how they died. Witnesses said those who attacked the Israelis had disguised themselves as Egyptian security forces.
“Egypt has filed an official protest to Israel over the incidents at the border yesterday and demands an urgent investigation over the reasons and circumstances surrounding the death of three of Egypt’s forces,” an army official in Cairo said.
On Friday evening, about 100 protesters gathered at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, tearing down the metal barriers at the entrance to the building.
“I call on all Egyptians to protest until the Israeli ambassador is kicked out of the country,” said one of the demonstrators, Essam Hafiz.
The Israeli military said there was an exchange of fire between its troops and the militants along the border on Thursday night. “The IDF (army) will investigate the matter thoroughly and update the Egyptians,” it said in a statement.
The sparsely populated Sinai forms a huge desert buffer zone between Egypt and Israel, who sealed an historic peace treaty in 1979 after fighting two wars in less than a decade.
Israel enjoyed good relations with U.S.-backed former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but following his downfall in February, Israeli officials have regularly voiced concern about a security vacuum along their joint border.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the “brutal and cowardly attacks” on the Israelis near Eilat. She said the violence “only underscores our strong concerns about the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula.”
(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem and Marwa Awad in Cairo; Editing by Rosalind Russell)
Source: Reuters US Online Report Top News
Law enforcement, military workers targeted by fake White House holiday e-mail
It looked like an innocent e-mail Christmas card from the White House.
But the holiday greeting that surfaced just before Christmas was a ruse by cybercriminals to steal documents and other data from law enforcement, military and government workers — particularly those involved in computer crime investigations.
Analysts who have studied the malicious software said Tuesday that hackers were able to use the e-mail to collect sensitive law enforcement data. But so far there has been no evidence that any classified information was compromised.
The targeted e-mail attack comes as the federal government is desperately trying to beef up its cybersecurity after the release of thousands of State Department cables and military documents by the WikiLeaks website. Federal authorities want to improve technology systems and crack down on employees to prevent the theft or loss of classified and sensitive information.
The red holiday e-mail card, with its brightly decorated Christmas tree, prompted recipients to click on a link, which would then download the ZueS malware — a well-known malicious code that is often used to steal passwords and other online credentials, primarily to poach Internet banking information. The malware was created several years ago and is widely available for criminals to acquire and adapt. It has been used to steal millions of dollars.
In this case, however, the code downloaded a second payload that is designed to steal documents from the recipient’s computer, accessing Microsoft Word and Excel files.
Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence for Atlanta-based SecureWorks, a computer security consulting company, said the attack was somewhat small and targeted to a limited number of groups with law enforcement, military and government affiliations.
It was small enough, he said, to suggest that is was sent out manually and not by a large network of infected computers. He said it was not large enough to be picked up by cybersecurity spam traps or sensors.
Alex Cox, principle research analyst for NetWitness, a cybersecurity firm in northern Virginia, said the e-mail was sent out just a day or so before Christmas, delivered by a control server in Belarus. He and Jackson said they believe this ZueS version was created by the same people who launched a similar but much larger attack last February.
Cox, who discovered the ZueS-infected malware last year when it infected at least 74,000 computers, said it’s hard to determine how many people were affected or how many documents were stolen in this latest attack.
Jackson said at the hackers stole at least several gigabytes of data.
Analysts learned of the e-mail attack last week and have spoken with federal authorities about it.
Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said officials are aware of the ZueS e-mail and are monitoring it along with other similar malware attacks that have been tracked for some time.
Cox and Jackson would not disclose details on who was attacked or what documents may have been compromised but agreed that the hackers probably were after the documents, rather than any banking or financial passwords.
One theory, said Jackson, is that the hackers were looking for information about law enforcement cases and investigative techniques related to cybercrime so that they could sell it to other criminals.
The e-mail attack, however, underscores the continuing vulnerability of government workers and their computer systems to versions of the ZueS malware. Hackers can easily tweak the code each time so that it does not trigger antivirus software.
“Criminals have found that if they change the files in small ways it can slip past antivirus software,” said Jackson.
While ZueS-related attacks are fairly common, this latest one stood out because of the use of the White House connection to lure recipients in and the targeted way it went after law enforcement, analysts said.
One U.S. official said that the code was rather poorly written. The hackers could only get easily accessible documents and not those filed deep within layers of folders on the hard drive, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations.
Source: AP News
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Online pundits are trying to interpret Sarah Palin’s stance on “don’t ask, don’t tell” after she echoed an Internet post by a conservative lesbian commentator who slammed the opposition to the policy’s repeal.
Tammy Bruce wrote Monday on Twitter that “this hypocrisy is just truly too much. Enuf already — the more someone complains about the homos the more we should look under their bed.”
Palin’s retweet of the post raised questions about her own stance on the military’s policy, which was repealed by Congress late last year. The former 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee hasn’t spoken about the policy except to say last February that she was surprised at President Barack Obama’s support for a repeal because it was not a priority at the time.
Palin representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday, but Politico said the retweet is a hint that Palin supports the repeal. Gawker said Palin is not “in the context of her party, rabidly homophobic,” then wondered if perhaps she didn’t understand the tweet or pushed the wrong button.
And the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart said Palin might really support the repeal, but he added “it’s easy to support something that has already happened and costs you little to speak about.” Capehart noted, however, that Palin was silent in November after her 16-year-old daughter Willow used a gay slur against a Facebook user who criticized her mother’s documentary series “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”
Bruce also tweeted Monday she’s been focused on economic issues and was being quiet about “don’t ask, don’t tell” because “that’s not our most important issue.”
On her website, she said the tweets were prompted by recently publicized videos made by Navy Capt. Owen Honors that included gay slurs and homoerotic shower scenes. The videos had been shown aboard the USS Enterprise several years ago, when Honors was the aircraft carrier’s second-in-command.
Honors was removed Tuesday as commander of the Enterprise in what the Navy called a “profound lack of good judgment and professionalism.”
“At the very least I do think it’s fair to say anyone, regardless of their position on DADT, would indeed find the situation on the Enterprise rankly hypocritical,” Bruce wrote. “My tweet was also a condemnation of DADT as an attempt to continue to marginalize gays and lesbians in the military and beyond.”
Bruce said she was getting numerous e-mails asking her to interpret the meaning of Palin’s retweet. She said she hadn’t spoken with Palin about the issue but has met her and spoken with her on a few occasions.
The retweet by a potential 2012 presidential contender was a condemnation of the “social ostracizing” of gay people, as far as Bruce is concerned.
“Some have suggested this ‘completely changes the 2012 election,’” Bruce wrote. “Not really — perhaps for some who believed the (lame stream media) and Gay Gestapo lie that Sarah Palin was somehow a bigot or homophobe, I hope this does cause some to take a second look at Palin, away from the left’s predictable ‘She’s a Hater!!’ meme.”
Bruce’s website describes her as a radio talk show host, New York Times best-selling author, blogger, Fox News political contributor and contributor at The Guardian newspaper.
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Police say Pakistani provincial governor killed by his own guard in Islamabad market
The governor of Pakistan’s powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, apparently because he had spoken out against the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, officials said.
The killing of Salman Taseer was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, and it rattled a country already dealing with crises ranging from a potential collapse of the government to Islamist militancy.
The suspected killer was taken into custody, and there were conflicting reports as to whether he was wounded.
Taseer was a member of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and a close associate of President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower. The governor was vocal on a range of subjects, and frequently used Twitter to get across his views.
In recent days, as the People’s Party has faced the loss of its coalition partners, the 56-year-old Taseer has insisted that the government will survive. But it was his stance against the blasphemy laws that apparently led to his killing.
Interior Minister Rahman Malik told reporters that the suspect in the case had surrendered to police and told them he killed Taseer because “the governor described the blasphemy laws as a black law.”
“He was the most courageous voice after Benazir Bhutto on the rights of women and religious minorities,” said a crying Farahnaz Ispahani, an aide to Zardari and friend of Taseer. “God, we will miss him.”
Pakistan’s blasphemy law has come under greater scrutiny in recent days after a Christian woman was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Under pressure from Islamist parties, the People’s Party said recently it would not pursue changes to the law, which has long vexed human rights activists.
Police official Mohammad Iftikhar said Taseer was gunned down after he reached Khosar Market, a shopping center in Islamabad popular with Westerners and wealthy Pakistanis. Five other people were wounded as other security personnel responded to the attack.
Another police official, Hasan Iqbal, said a pair of witnesses told the police that as the governor was leaving his vehicle, a man from his security squad fired two shots at him. Taseer then fell, while other police officials fired on the attacker.
Taseer was believed to be meeting someone for a meal, Malik said. Other members of his security detail were being questioned, Malik said.
The security for Taseer was provided by the Punjab government.
“We will see whether it was an individual act or someone had asked him” to do it, Malik said of the attacker.
Bullet casings and blood covered much of the scene at the market, and police quickly cordoned off the area.
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Death ruled a homicide
The body of a military expert who served in three Republican administrations was found dumped in a landfill over the holiday weekend, and investigators said Monday they do not know who might have killed him.
John Wheeler III, 66, was last seen Dec. 28 on an Amtrak train from Washington to Wilmington. His body was found three days later, on New Year’s Eve, as a garbage truck emptied its contents at the Cherry Island landfill. His death has been ruled a homicide.
Wheeler, who served in Vietnam, helped lead efforts to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington.
The former Army officer lived in New Castle and worked as a consultant for The Mitre Corporation, a nonprofit based in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va., that operates federally funded research and development centers.
Police have determined that all the stops made Friday by the garbage truck before it arrived at the landfill involved large commercial disposal bins in Newark, several miles from Wheeler’s home.
“He was just not the sort of person who would wind up in a landfill,” said Bayard Marin, an attorney who was representing Wheeler in a dispute over a couple’s plans to build a new home in the historic district of Old New Castle where the victim lived.
Wheeler, the son of a decorated Army officer, was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. He retired from the military in 1971.
Wheeler served as a special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force under President George W. Bush, and in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He also was the first chief executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
As the first chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Wheeler led the multimillion-dollar fundraising effort to create the memorial on Washington’s National Mall.
Fund founder and president Jan Scruggs said Wheeler dedicated himself to ensuring that service members were given the respect they deserve.
“I know how passionate he was about honoring all who serve their nation, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Scruggs said in a statement released Monday.
In a forward for the book, “Reflections On The Wall: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” Wheeler wrote that the beauty of the wall photos in the book comes from the black granite’s reflective quality.
“Before construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, those of us working on the project knew the wall would be shiny and reflective,” he wrote. “But no one anticipated the sharp, true, and expansive mirror quality of the wall. The high polish of the black granite surface reflects blue sky, green trees, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Dome, the Lincoln Memorial, and the expressive faces of visitors who approach the Wall.”
Wheeler’s military career included serving in the office of the secretary of defense and writing a manual on the effectiveness of biological and chemical weapons, which recommended that the United States not use biological weapons.
“He was a very humble kind of guy, actually,” Marin said. “He was never the kind of person who would talk about all the wonderful things he did in his life.”
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The natural gas boom gripping parts of the U.S. has a nasty byproduct: wastewater so salty, and so polluted with metals like barium and strontium, that most states require drillers to get rid of the stuff by injecting it down shafts thousands of feet deep.
Not in Pennsylvania, one of the states at the center of the gas rush.
There, the liquid that gushes from gas wells is only partially treated for substances that could be environmentally harmful, then dumped into rivers and streams from which communities get their drinking water.
In the two years since the frenzy of activity began in the vast underground rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale, Pennsylvania has been the only state allowing waterways to serve as the primary disposal place for the huge amounts of wastewater produced by a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
State regulators, initially caught flat-footed, tightened the rules this year for any new water treatment plants but allowed any existing operations to continue discharging water into rivers.
At least 3.6 million barrels of the waste were sent to treatment plants that empty into rivers during the 12 months ending June 30, according to state records. That is enough to cover a square mile with more than 8 1/2 inches of brine.
Researchers are still trying to figure out whether Pennsylvania’s river discharges, at their current levels, are dangerous to humans or wildlife. Several studies are under way, some under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Agency.
State officials, energy companies and the operators of treatment plants insist that with the right safeguards in place, the practice poses little or no risk to the environment or to the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on those rivers for drinking water.
But an Associated Press review found that Pennsylvania’s efforts to minimize, control and track wastewater discharges from the Marcellus Shale have sometimes failed.
_ Of the roughly 6 million barrels of well liquids produced in a 12-month period examined by The AP, the state couldn’t account for the disposal method for 1.28 million barrels, about a fifth of the total, because of a weakness in its reporting system and incomplete filings by some energy companies.
_ Some public water utilities that sit downstream from big gas wastewater treatment plants have struggled to stay under the federal maximum for contaminants known as trihalomethanes, which can cause cancer if swallowed over a long period.
_ Regulations that should have kept drilling wastewater out of the important Delaware River Basin, the water supply for 15 million people in four states, were circumvented for many months.
In 2009 and part of 2010, energy company Cabot Oil & Gas trucked more than 44,000 barrels of well wastewater to a treatment facility in Hatfield Township, a Philadelphia suburb. Those liquids ultimately were discharged into a creek that provides drinking water to 17 municipalities with more than 300,000 residents. Cabot acknowledged it should not have happened.
People in those communities had been told repeatedly that the watershed was free of gas waste.
“This is an outrage,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental group. “This is indicative of the lack of adequate oversight.”
The situation in Pennsylvania is being watched carefully by regulators in other states, some of which have begun allowing some river discharges. New York also sits over the Marcellus Shale, but Gov. David Paterson has slapped a moratorium on high-volume fracking while environmental regulations are drafted.
Industry representatives insist that the wastewater from fracking has not caused serious harm anywhere in Pennsylvania, in part because it is safely diluted in the state’s big rivers. But most of the largest drillers say they are taking action and abolishing river discharges anyway.
Cabot, which produced nearly 370,000 barrels of waste in the period examined by the AP, said that since the spring it has been reusing 100 percent of its well water in new drilling operations, rather than trucking it to treatment plants.
“Cabot wants to ensure that everything we are doing is environmentally sound,” said spokesman George Stark. “It makes environmental sense and economic sense to do it.”
All 10 of the biggest drillers in the state say they have either eliminated river discharges in the past few months, or reduced them to a small fraction of what they were a year ago. Together, those companies accounted for 80 percent of the wastewater produced in the state.
The biggest driller, Atlas Resources, which produced nearly 2.3 million barrels of wastewater in the review period, said it is now recycling all water produced by wells in their first 30 days of operation, when the flowback is heaviest. The rest is still sent to treatment plants, but “our ultimate goal is to have zero surface discharge of any of the water,” said spokesman Jeff Kupfer.
How much wastewater is still being discharged into rivers is unclear. Records verifying industry claims of a major drop-off will not be available until midwinter.
Natural gas drilling has taken off in several states in recent years because of fracking and horizontal drilling, techniques that allow the unlocking of more methane than ever before.
Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand deep into the rock, shattering the shale and releasing the gas trapped inside. When the gas comes to the surface, some of the water comes back, too, along with underground brine that exists naturally.
It can be several times saltier than sea water and tainted with fracking chemicals, some of which can be carcinogenic if swallowed at high enough levels over time.
The water is also often laden with barium, which is found in underground ore deposits and can cause high blood pressure, and radium, a naturally occurring radioactive substance.
In other places where fracking has ignited a gas bonanza, like the Barnett Shale field in Texas, the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana, and deposits in West Virginia, New Mexico and Oklahoma, the dominant disposal method for drilling wastewater is to send it back down into the ground via injection wells.
In some arid states, wastewater is also treated in evaporation pits. Water is essentially baked off by the sun, leaving a salty sludge that is disposed of in wells or landfills.
Operators of the treatment plants handling the bulk of the Pennsylvania waste say they can remove most of the toxic substances without much trouble, including radium and barium, before putting the water back into rivers.
“In some respects, its better than what’s already in the river,” said Al Lander, president of Tunnelton Liquids, a treatment plant that discharges water into western Pennsylvania’s Conemaugh River.
The one thing that can’t be removed easily, except at great expense, he said, is the dissolved solids and chlorides that make the fluids so salty.
Those substances usually don’t pose a risk to humans in low levels, said Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia, but large amounts can give drinking water a foul taste, leave a film on dishes and give people diarrhea. Those problems have been reported from time to time in some places.
Those salts can also trigger other problems.
The municipal authority that provides drinking water to Beaver Falls, 27 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, began flunking tests for trihalomethanes regularly last year, around the time that a facility 18 miles upstream, Advanced Waste Services, became Pennsylvania’s dominant gas wastewater treatment plant.
Trihalomethanes are not found in drilling wastewater, but there can be a link. The wastewater often contains bromide, which reacts with the chlorine used to purify drinking water. That creates trihalomethanes.
The EPA says people who drink water with elevated levels of trihalomethanes for many years have an increased risk of cancer and could also develop liver, kidney or central nervous system problems.
Pennsylvania’s multitude of acid-leaching, abandoned coal mines and other industrial sources are also a major source of the high salt levels that lead to the problem.
Beaver Falls plant manager Jim Riggio said he doesn’t know what is keeping his system off-kilter, but a chemical analysis suggested it was linked to the hundreds of thousands of barrels of partially treated gas well brine that now flow past his intakes every year.
“It all goes back to frackwater,” he said.
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GOP House to vote to repeal health care overhaul before Obama’s State of the Union
Eager to show who’s now in charge, the House’s new Republican majority plans to vote to repeal President Barack Obama’s landmark health care overhaul before he even shows up in their chamber to give his State of the Union address.
Though full repeal is a longshot — the House vote would be just the first, easiest step — they’ll follow up with dozens of attempts to hack away at what they derisively call “Obamacare.”
The strategy is not risk-free for the Republicans, who won’t have a replacement plan of their own ready by the time of the repeal vote. But they say there’s no time to lose.
Senate Democratic leaders are sending their own “you-don’t-scare-me” message. In a letter Monday to House Speaker-to-be John Boehner, they served notice that they’ll block any repeal, arguing it would kill popular provisions such as improved prescription coverage for Medicare.
All the while, the Obama administration intends to keep putting into place the law’s framework for covering more than 30 million uninsured people. Ultimately, Obama still has his veto pen, and Republicans aren’t anywhere close to the two-thirds majorities they would need to override.
Most likely, both parties will carry the main issues of the health care debate into the 2012 presidential election, when Obama is expected to seek a second term and House and Senate control will be up for grabs again.
“It’s not going to be easy; it’s going to be a long, hard slog,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, an early leader in the repeal drive. The quick thumbs-down vote by the House will have “tremendous utility and value,” King said, but it may take electing a Republican president in Obama’s place to accomplish the overall goal.
“Repeal and replace” worked as a campaign slogan to motivate voters concerned about the growing reach of government under Obama. But a single-minded focus on repeal could backfire as a Republican governing strategy. Polls show that some parts of the law are popular, and many Americans would have wanted even bigger changes.
Look for Republicans to try to deny money for the government to carry out the law. They’ll also attempt to strip out sections of it, such as a new long-term care program. And they’ll move to strengthen restrictions on funding for abortions.
It’s far from clear that they’ll be able to prevail in those efforts either. There’s talk that an effort to deny funding could even escalate to the point of a possible government shutdown, and no one seems eager for that.
“I don’t think the health issues will cause anything dire in the way of a government shutdown,” said economist Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute think tank. “There are other things on the agenda besides health care, namely broader budget issues that have to be dealt with.”
The two parties may be able to get a deal on some limited fixes, like repealing an income tax reporting requirement that small business is calling a paperwork nightmare.
At the White House, spokesman Reid Cherlin said Obama would have no qualms about delivering his State of the Union speech to lawmakers who’ve just repudiated his signature accomplishment, one that Democrats compare with the establishment of Social Security and Medicare. The president “feels pretty confident about defending the health care law,” Cherlin said.
Senate Democrats agree. In Monday’s letter to Boehner, Majority Leader Reid and top lieutenants said repeal would undermine improvements already on the books, such as deep discounts on brand-name drugs for Medicare recipients who have fallen into a coverage gap called the “doughnut hole.”
“This proposal deserves a chance to work,” the Democratic leaders said. “It is too important to be treated as collateral damage in a partisan mission to repeal health care.” The law would gradually close the coverage gap.
Democrats also are preparing counterattacks.
Supporters of the health care law have launched a “drop it or stop it” campaign, challenging Republicans who vote to repeal the overhaul to also give up the government-funded health insurance provided to members of Congress.
“These Republican members need to understand that they are going to pay a risk for taking away people’s health care,” said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America NOW, a coalition of the law’s supporters. “It’s hypocrisy, their willingness to take health care from the U.S. Congress, while they’re denying it to their constituents.”
Republicans say that’s nonsense: Lawmakers are only accepting the same employer-sponsored health care coverage available to other federal workers.
They may be more vulnerable on another score. The House vote will be to simply repeal the health care law. The “replace” part of the GOP slogan will be delegated to several committees, charged with developing an alternative as the year goes on. That can be a laborious process, one that produced plenty of disagreements and embarrassments for Democrats when they were in control.
It’s a risk worth taking, says Rep. King. “I do not believe that you can leave any of Obamacare in the law,” he said. “To pick and choose would start endless squabbles. If there are components of Obamacare that have merit, they can be reintroduced as part of a replacement process.”
Finally, there’s a wild card: the courts. Challenges to the constitutionality of the health care law are working their way toward the Supreme Court. Opponents say Congress overstepped its authority by requiring most Americans to carry health insurance, effective in 2014. The case may take a couple of years, and it could change everything.
Source: AP News
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Judge upholds Pa. woman’s groping suit against Disney; Donald Duck character at Epcot blamed
A Pennsylvania woman who claims Donald Duck groped her at Disney’s Epcot theme park can have her day in court, a federal judge has ruled.
Disney must defend April Magolon’s claims that the character grabbed her breast as she held her child at the Walt Disney World park and then joked about it.
Magolon, 27, of Upper Darby, claims the May 2008 encounter left her with post-traumatic stress in the form of nightmares, digestive problems and other permanent injuries.
Her lawsuit also charges that Disney parks have a history of fondling complaints involving workers, and that that Disney has “condoned” their actions, putting profits over public safety.
In court papers, the defense argued that Magolon sued the wrong Disney corporate entity, and asked the judge to dismiss the suit or move it to Florida, where the encounter took place.
But U.S. District Judge John R. Padova refused, saying Magolon can proceed in Pennsylvania.
“She, her fiance (who was a witness to the alleged assault), and her treating doctors are all located in Pennsylvania,” Padova wrote in a Dec. 29 ruling.
Disney also has greater resources to try the case in Pennsylvania than Magolon does to try it in Florida, he said.
Magolon does not have a listed number, and lawyers for her and for Disney did not immediately return calls for comment Monday on the ruling.
According to Magolon’s suit, authorities in Florida received 24 related complaints in the week after a Walt Disney World employee dressed as “Tigger” was charged with molesting a 13-year-old girl and her mother in 2004. At least some were deemed credible and investigated by police, the suit said.
The man playing “Tigger” was later acquitted of criminal wrongdoing, after his lawyer donned the Tigger costume in court and argued that his client couldn’t see much.
On the flip side, a 60-year-old Pennsylvania man was convicted last year of groping a woman in a Minnie Mouse costume at Walt Disney World.
John William Moyer, of Cressona, insisted he was innocent. But a Florida judge sentenced him to probation, community service and $1,000 court costs for misdemeanor battery.
The victim said she had to do everything possible to keep Moyer’s hands off her breasts.
Source: AP Features
Additional links from AP Features
The Associated Press
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