Nation & World News

POTUS Weighs In: No Peas In Guacamole

By Lucy Perkins on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 8:03 pm

If you were about to talk to President Obama and suggest that he try adding fresh peas to guacamole, don’t. The Twitterverse learned this when someone asked Obama what he thought about a recipe The New York Times published that suggested adding fresh peas. The recipe drew a lot of rotten tomatoes from average folks, and someone asked Obama what he thought.

It came up during the president’s healthcare Q & A on Twitter, writes The Associated Press – “It turns out, the president is a traditionalist when it comes to his guac.”

In case you missed the buzz, here are a few Tweets to give you an idea of how people reacted:

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush jumped in too – turns out he and Obama have similar views on guac policy:

Actually, not everyone rejected the concept.

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Cities In California Conserved A Lot Of Water In May

By Lucy Perkins on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Cities in drought-plagued California took water conservation seriously in May. Residential water use went down by 28.9 percent in May, according to a press release from the State Water Resources Control Board.

“The numbers tell us that more Californians are stepping up to help make their communities more water secure, which is welcome news in the face of this dire drought,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus, in the press release. “That said, we need all Californians to step up — and keep it up — as if we don’t know when it will rain and snow again, because we don’t. If the drought continues beyond this year, we’ll all be glad we did.”

The Associated Press reports that certain parts of the state saved more than others:

“The southern coast, which includes Los Angeles and San Diego, conserved 25 percent in May after months of tepid savings. Sacramento and its surrounding suburbs were the state’s top performer, cutting water use nearly 40 percent.”

In May, the LA Times wrote that, statewide, Californians only used 8.6 percent less water than they did last summer.

You can read more of our coverage on the drought here.

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Senators Call For VA To Explain Why It Couldn’t Find Mustard-Gassed Veterans

By Caitlin Dickerson on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 7:03 pm

A group of 12 U.S. senators is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to help World War II veterans who were exposed to mustard gas, after an NPR Investigation found the VA broke a decades-old promise to provide them compensation.

Last week, we reported that the VA had promised to contact about 4,000 veterans who were exposed to the chemical weapon during secret gas warfare tests in the 1940s. But in more than 20 years, the VA contacted only 610. Agency officials said they couldn’t find the rest, but an NPR researcher located more than 1,200, living and dead, in two months.

NPR also found that many of the veterans who applied for benefits were denied, even though they met the VA’s established criteria.

Tuesday the 12 senators — 11 Democrats and one Republican — wrote a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald saying they found the reports “profoundly disturbing,” and telling the VA “to take immediate and comprehensive steps to address this issue.”

They called on the VA to contact as many of the mustard gas test subjects as it can and immediately assist them in getting benefits. They also said the agency should determine why it failed to contact the veterans earlier and explain why some of those who met the benefits criteria had been rejected.

The group of senators includes Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who also sits on the committee.

The VA acknowledged the letter in a statement to NPR, adding that it “appreciates the service and sacrifices of those World War II Veterans who may have been subject to mustard gas testing.”

The statement said VA officials are “working in good faith with all stakeholders to do right by these veterans to ensure that they receive the benefits and services to which they are entitled.”

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Justice Department Investigating Airlines For Possible Price Collusion

By Brian Naylor on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 6:03 pm

The Justice Department says it is investigating “possible unlawful coordination” by several major airline carriers. American, Delta, Southwest and United Airlines have all confirmed receiving letters from the Justice Department.

In a statement, American said the department “seeks documents and information from the last two years that are related to statements and decisions about airline capacity.”

A United spokesman said the company is complying fully in regard to the probe.

The story was first reported by The Associated Press, which notes that the investigation “appears to focus on whether airlines illegally signaled to each other how quickly they would add new flights, routes and extra seats.”

The airline industry has been steadily consolidating in recent years, with American, Delta, Southwest and United now controlling 80 percent of the U.S. market. At the same time, the AP says, the average domestic airfare rose 13 percent from 2009 to 2014 adjusted for inflation.

And while fares have been going up, so too have fees that carriers charge for things such as checked bags and reservation changes. The AP says airlines collected $3.6 billion in bag fees and $3 billion in reservation-change fees, and that U.S. airlines earned a combined $19.7 billion in the past two years.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., recently wrote to the Justice Department and urged an investigation into airline pricing. The Wall Street Journal reports that:

“Sen. Blumenthal’s letter came after an international airline conference last month in Miami, where several executives of large North American airlines said they and their peers were being careful to limit service increases amid cheap fuel to protect profit margins. The letter urged the Justice Department to ‘investigate this apparent anti-competitive conduct potentially reflecting a misuse of market power, and excessive consolidation in the airline industry.’ ”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement, “It’s hard to understand, with jet fuel prices dropping by 40 percent since last year, why ticket prices haven’t followed. We know that when airlines merge, there’s less price competition. What we need now is a top-to-bottom review to ensure consumers aren’t being hurt by industry changes.”

But the airline industry contends that its members are holding the line on prices.

In a statement, the industry group Airlines For America said it is “confident that the Justice Department will find what we know to be true: our members compete vigorously every day, and the traveling public has been the beneficiary, as the DOT’s own data shows that domestic fares are down in 2015.”

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Militants Stage Series Of Deadly Attacks In Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

By Brian Naylor on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Militants launched a number of deadly attacks on checkpoints in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula early Wednesday. A group linked to the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Merrit Kennedy filed this report from Cairo for Newscast:

“In Egypt, militants launched a coordinated series of assaults in the restive north Sinai peninsula. The military says 17 soldiers were killed, though local security officials earlier in the day said more than 50 soldiers were killed.

“More than 70 militants hit at least five checkpoints in the early hours of the morning, setting off hours of deadly fighting between the soldiers and the militants. The military targeted groups of attackers with warplanes, according to military statements.

“The coordinated attacks on the checkpoints were later claimed by the Sinai affiliate of the self-described Islamic State.

“In a televised statement, Egypt’s armed forces vowed to root out terrorism from the Sinai, where a burgeoning insurgency has survived and even grown in the face of a major military campaign.”

The Washington Post says North Sinai “has been the site of heated battles between Egyptian government forces and militant Islamists for years.”

It adds that “attacks have been increasing in frequency since the military backed the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. According to some military experts, the attacks also have been increasing in sophistication.”

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Recreational Marijuana Is Now Legal In Oregon

By Lucy Perkins on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 6:03 pm

Recreational marijuana is legal in Oregon as of today.

People 21 and older can now possess up to an ounce of pot when away from home and up to 8 ounces at home. It’s also legal to grow up to four plants per household.

However, there’s no way to legally buy it unless you’re a medical marijuana patient, writes The Oregonian. The newspaper says that “the Oregon Legislature and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission are still crafting regulations that will shape the state’s regulated industry. Sales of marijuana aren’t expected to begin until late 2016, though lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to sell to recreational consumers this year.”

The Associated Press reports that this isn’t a big change in some places:

“In populous parts of the state that have long been tolerant of marijuana, police don’t generally bust people using it in private. Most important, though, is that under the new law it’s still illegal to sell recreational marijuana. When Oregon voters approved Measure 91 last November, they left the job of writing rules for pot shops to the Legislature and the state liquor control agency, which so far haven’t gotten it all figured out.”

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission plans to start accepting applications from farmers in January, the AP writes.

So if you can’t legally buy recreational marijuana in Oregon, where can you get it?

“Marijuana can be given away, so if you know anyone who has a medical marijuana card, they can legally share buds, seeds or plants with you,” writes Lizzy Duffy of member station OPB in Portland.

She says marijuana and its use is expected to stay out of sight and out of public places under the new law. Even if you’re in your parked car, if it’s out on public streets, you can’t use marijuana. Here’s more from her FAQ post:

“What will get me in trouble under the new law?

  • Exceeding any possession limits
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana
  • Buying or possessing marijuana if you’re not at least 21
  • Importing or exporting across state borders
  • Distributing large amounts or selling marijuana without proper licensing
  • Using, exchanging or growing marijuana in public
  • Possessing marijuana in prison or jail”

Voters in Oregon passed Measure 91, legalizing recreational use of pot, last fall. The AP says three other states — Washington, Alaska, Colorado — and the District of Columbia permit recreational use of marijuana.

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Somebody Is Cutting Internet Cables In California

By Brian Naylor on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 3:03 pm

The FBI is investigating a string of recent physical attacks on Internet cables in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The most recent occurred early Tuesday morning, reports The Wall Street Journal, hitting “several cables in Livermore, Calif., shortly before 4:30 a.m. Pacific time and hadn’t been repaired as of early Tuesday evening, according to several Internet service providers affected by the outage.”

The FBI has asked for the public’s help in finding those responsible for the attacks.

According to USA Today, there have been at least 11 attacks since a year ago. The newspaper adds:

“FBI agents declined to specify how significantly the attack affected customers, citing the ongoing investigation. In Tuesday’s attack, someone broke into an underground vault and cut three fiber-optic cables belonging to Colorado-based service providers Level 3 and Zayo.

“The attacks date back to at least July 6, 2014, said FBI Special Agent Greg Wuthrich.

” ‘When it affects multiple companies and cities, it does become disturbing,’ Wuthrich said. ‘We definitely need the public’s assistance.’ ”

Fiber-optic cables are the backbone of high-speed Internet service, with each cable containing thousands of fibers that use light waves to transmit data.

In our interconnected world, a cut cable can have far-reaching consequences. The Journal reports that Microsoft experienced “a slowdown in its Azure cloud computing service in the western U.S linked to cut fiber” and that service providers reported disruptions as far north as Seattle.

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U.S., Cuba Formally Resume Diplomatic Relations

By Brian Naylor on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 3:03 pm

President Obama on Wednesday announced the formal resumption of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba after more than half a century of hostilities. The two countries have agreed to reopen embassies in Washington and Havana.

Standing in the White House Rose Garden, Obama called it “a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people.”

Obama said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Havana this summer to “proudly raise the flag over our embassy once more.”

The reopening of the embassy “is not merely symbolic,” the president said. It will mean the U.S. will be able to “substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people.”

Members of Congress and presidential candidates were quick to react to Obama’s announcement, and the responses generally fell along party lines.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, blasted the president, saying, “The Obama administration is handing the Castros a lifetime dream of legitimacy without getting a thing for the Cuban people being oppressed by this brutal communist dictatorship.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised what she called the president’s bold leadership:

“Reopening embassies lays the foundation for a new, more productive relationship with Cuba that can support and advance key American priorities — including human rights, counter-narcotics cooperation, business opportunities for American companies, migration, family unification, and cultural and faith-based exchanges.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted: “New US Embassy in Havana helps us engage Cuban people & build on efforts to support positive change. Good step for US&Cuban people.”

Republican Jeb Bush, meanwhile, issued a statement that noted the upcoming Independence Day holiday:

“As Americans prepare to celebrate the anniversary of our freedom from tyranny and commit anew to the democratic principles on which our nation was founded, it is no small irony that President Obama prepares to open an Embassy in Havana, further legitimizing the brutal Castro regime.

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The 2 Goals That Gave The U.S. The Win Over Germany

By Krishnadev Calamur on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 3:03 pm

A 2-0 win over Germany on Tuesday night gave the U.S. a place in the Women’s World Cup final.

You can construct a lot of hero narratives around last night’s game: The American defense is unstoppable. (Julie Johnston has been a breakout player.) Midfielder Carli Lloyd owns the field.

Lloyd was at the center of both goals against Germany: scoring the first one through a controversial penalty kick in the 69th minute, and then when she sent in a cross that was knocked home by substitute forward Kelley O’Hara in the 84th minute.

You can watch the first goal here, and the second one here.

As NPR’s Chris Hopkins noted Tuesday night: “The U.S. defense has not allowed a goal in five games, since its first game of the tournament against Australia.”

Hope Solo and the U.S. back line’s shutout streak is now at 513 minutes. The game was Solo’s 10th clean sheet in World Cup play. That ties former U.S. goaltender Briana Scurry’s record in the Women’s World Cup.

But let’s save a moment for midfielder Morgan Brian. No, not her bloody, midair collision Tuesday night.

Let’s focus on the other 85 minutes of the game. Brian controlled the field. She moved the ball quickly and precisely. Every time it skidded her way, it seemed to drop neatly at her feet. She was everywhere.

Brian is 22, the youngest player on the team. She wasn’t assured a place in the starting lineup Tuesday night. And the U.S. has struggled — dangerously — to find the right mix in the midfield. At times during the Cup, the team has looked as though it just met. There was a smart case to be made that coach Jill Ellis should keep Brian in the lineup. (Here’s Michael Cummings at Bleacher Report and Kevin McCauley at SB Nation.)

For the U.S. team, this World Cup has been steeped in nostalgia about 1999, the last time the team won. Abby Wambach is clearly a phenomenal leader off the field, but her play has proved that it’s time to pass the torch. So let’s start thinking about the future of this team. And after last night, Morgan Brian should be central to that narrative.

The U.S. plays the winner of tonight’s Japan-England game in Vancouver on Sunday.

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It’s Official: You Can Now Take Photos During White House Tours

By Krishnadev Calamur on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 6:03 pm

The decades-old ban on taking photographs inside the White House during public tours is being lifted today, first lady Michelle Obama announced on Instagram.

The White House, in a statement, said guests are welcome to take photos throughout the White House tour route and encouraged visitors to share their experiences using the hashtag #WhiteHouseTour.

What’s permitted: Phones and compact still cameras with a lens no longer than 3 inches.

What’s not: Video cameras, including any action camcorders, cameras with detachable lenses, tablets, tripods, monopods, and camera sticks (selfie sticks); flash photography and livestreaming.

The ban has been in place for more than 40 years.

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