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Greek villagers secret weapon: Grow your own food

Greek villagers secret weapon: Grow your own food

KARITAINA, Greece (AP) — Ilias Mathes has protection against bank closures, capital controls and the slashing of his pension: 10 goats, some ...


National

Haley says church shooting will forever change her outlook

Haley says church shooting will forever change her outlook

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — For five years, Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s first minority governor, dismissed calls to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse lawn as a divisive issue far from her agenda.

In her 2010 campaign, she said the two-thirds legislative approval required to move the flag from its 30-foot perch was too high a hurdle to allow for real debate. When her re-election opponent called last fall for it to be removed, she branded it a desperate stunt.

None of that mattered, she said, after nine people were killed last month at a black church in Charleston, including its pastor, State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, in a crime she called “pure hate.” When Haley arrived at the church, she found strangers hugging and weeping, and the grief was overwhelming.

At the June 19 bond hearing for suspected shooter Dylann Roof, the victims’ families offered him forgiveness. That night, Haley said, she made a decision.

“That flag needed to come down,” she told The Associated Press in an emotional interview Wednesday. “I could not look my kids in the face and justify that flag anymore.”

The surfacing of a website showing Roof holding Confederate flags alongside a racist manifesto deepened her resolve, she said.

“I could not have been more disgusted,” she said. “The flag didn’t kill those families, but let’s honor every person in South Carolina so no one drives by this Statehouse and feels pain.”

But Haley said nothing publicly for several more days, waiting as calls for the flag’s removal built, even among her fellow Republicans.

Before her announcement June 22, she met with legislators and community leaders, including Lonnie Randolph, president of South Carolina’sNAACP chapter, which has long fought to remove the flag.

Randolph said Haley had little choice. With the world watching, he said, “There was nowhere else to go.”

She then publicly called on legislators to send the battle flag to a museum.

“I give her credit for stepping out there and doing what’s right,” said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford who stood with Haley during the announcement. “I wish it had been done a long time ago.”

While the flag for many South Carolinians stands for noble traditions of history, heritage and ancestry, she said in her speech, for many others it’s a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”

Lewis Gossett, president of the state Manufacturers Alliance, said he began speaking with his board members about pushing to bring the flag down following a memorial to the victims but didn’t notify Haley about it until after her announcement.

“The governor got out in front. I’m glad she did,” he said. “She helped define the issue in our terms and not somebody else’s.”

The next day, the Legislature agreed, by the required two-thirds majority, to add the issue to its special session. The debate begins Monday. The Manufacturers Alliance and state Chamber of Commerce have been encouraging legislators to remove the flag quickly.

Haley has spent much of the last week surrounded by grief as she attended funerals for all nine of the church shooting victims.

“These were good, honest, hard-working, God-fearing people who died because of hate,” she said.

She was struck, she said, by Cynthia Hurd’s life motto: Be kinder than necessary. She said she wakes up thinking of Ethel Lance’s favorite song, “One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus.”

She took each funeral program home to tell her two children about each victim, she said.

“These people are forever ingrained in my soul — what they went through,” she said amid tears. “It will forever change the way I live my life. … Every parent needs to understand we have a responsibility to show our children, because hate is not born. Hate is taught.”

Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, grew up in the tiny town of Bamberg in the Sikh faith. She didn’t look like her classmates and went through hardships because of it, she said, but her parents wouldn’t let her complain.

“They always put the responsibility on me: ‘You have to show how you’re similar. Don’t let people define you as different,'” said Haley, who later converted to Christianity.

During her 2010 campaign, she eschewed questions about the historic nature of her candidacy. In the wake of the church shootings, she seems ready to discuss racial reconciliation in the state. She says she plans to visit schools to talk to children about the “Emanuel nine” and why the flag had to come down.

Since taking office, Haley said, a goal has been to change how people outside the state view South Carolina.

“There is nothing I could ever do as governor that did what those families did,” she said. “They have totally changed the perception by how they responded to this — through the love and care and forgiveness they’ve shown. That gives us hope. That gives us something to build on.”

July 5, 2015 | By | Reply More
Standoff over social media passwords breaks new legal ground

Standoff over social media passwords breaks new legal ground

HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas man used social media to promote his gun store, posting politically charged messages that criticized the president and promoted Second Amendment rights.

But after losing ownership of his suburban Houston store in bankruptcy, Jeremy Alcede spent nearly seven weeks in jail for refusing a federal judge’s order to share with the new owner the passwords of the business’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, which the judge had declared property.

“It’s all about silencing my voice,” said Alcede, who was released in May after turning over the information. “… Any 3-year-old can look at this and tell this is my Facebook account and not the company’s.”

Alcede’s ultimately failed stand charts new territory in awarding property in bankruptcy proceedings and points to the growing importance of social media accounts as business assets. Legal experts say it also provides a lesson for all business owners who are active on social media.

“If your business is something you feel very passionately about, it can be hard to separate those things,” said Benjamin Stewart, a Dallas-based bankruptcy lawyer. “The moral for people is you have to keep your personal life separate from your business life.”

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeff Bohm, who handled Alcede’s case, acknowledged “the landscape of social media is yet mostly uncharted in bankruptcy,” and cited a 2011 New York bankruptcy court case that treated such accounts like subscriber lists, which “provide valuable access to customers and potential customers.”

Other cases in the U.S. and abroad have touched on similar issues. In 2012, a South Carolina Internet company settled a lawsuit filed against a former employee it had said cost them thousands of dollars in lost business when he took 17,000 Twitter followers with him. A Pennsylvania federal court in 2013 ruled in favor of a woman who had sued after her former employer took over her LinkedIn account following her firing.

That same year, a British court approved a company’s request to temporarily stop a group of ex-employees from using the firm’s LinkedIn contacts to start a rival business. The employees claimed the LinkedIn accounts and contacts were personal.

Villanova University School of Law professor Michael Risch said Facebook and Twitter accounts, among other social media platforms, are now seen as property by companies.

“I suspect that’s what the judge was looking at, is this primarily an asset being used for business advertising to get customers to talk about what is going on with the company,” said Risch, who specializes in Internet law. “It might have started out as a personal (account) but turned into a business property.”

Alcede, however, remains defiant, even after his release from jail, saying his refusal to hand over the passwords was not about keeping his Facebook page but fighting tyrannical big government.

He said his Facebook posts and tweets criticizing President Barack Obama and supporting gun owners’ rights were his personal views and not done to promote the business. But Bohm ruled in April that the gun store’s social media accounts were not personal but used to boost sales, citing a tweet in which Alcede told his followers he was at a gun trade show as an example of something that would attract customers because it showed him as a “connected insider in the gun-buying community.”

Control of the store and social media accounts was given to Steven Coe Wilson, Alcede’s former business partner. Bohm’s ruling described Alcede as a “disgruntled former business partner” trying to control assets that no longer belonged to him.

Alcede, who in June filed a motion to revoke the bankruptcy plan, had argued the accounts weren’t listed as assets in the bankruptcy court filings. He told The Associated Press he only turned over the passwords so he could deal with various personal issues, including health problems he developed while jailed.

Wilson said in an email he couldn’t comment until Bohm releases the company from bankruptcy. Richard Kincheloe, Wilson’s attorney, did not return phone calls seeking comment, but said at an April court hearing that the issues related to the social media accounts were “not about what someone is allowed to say. It’s about paying creditors.”

If the new owners could not access the business’ accounts and send messages to followers, it could impact the store’s profits, making it less valuable, Stewart said. While having Alcede spend seven weeks in jail over the passwords was “harsh,” Stewart said that in the end, Alcede held the key to his freedom.

“You have to strike a balance between making sure people respect the court’s authority and giving people the right to make their own decision and accept the consequences if that is the way they want to go,” he said.

Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

July 5, 2015 | By | Reply More

International

California water rates rise as cities lose money in drought

California water rates rise as cities lose money in drought

ROSEVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Saving water doesn’t always mean saving money in parched California.

Millions of Californians expecting relief on their water bills for taking conservation measures instead are finding higher rates and drought surcharges.

Water departments are increasing rates and adding fees because they’re losing money as their customers conserve. They say they still have to pay for fixed costs including repairing pipelines, customer service and enforcing water restrictions — and those costs aren’t decreasing.

The financial blow is only expected to grow because Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has ordered communities to slash their water use anywhere between 8 and 36 percent compared to 2013 levels in response to the four-year drought. Those cuts are expected to leave agencies with a $1 billion hole in revenue, and they’ll likely turn to customers to plug it, according to state estimates.

“Just because you use less water does not mean you have lower rates or a lower bill,” said Lori Dolqueist, a water attorney who represents private utilities. “All of these agencies and private water companies are being told to sell less of what they do. It’s a challenge financially.”

While intensive conservation reduces strains on local water supplies, it can spell trouble for government budgets.

Santa Barbara, for example, expects to lose $5 million if residents hit the city’s 20 percent water use reduction target. Residents are going above and beyond and reached 37 percent in May. That’s good for water supply but bad for financial stability.

This month, water bills in Santa Barbara rose between $13 and $120, depending on water use, to help the city recover lost revenue and activate a desalination plant.

“Our folks are coming in and saying ‘Hey, I’m doing everything right, why do I need to pay more?” said Joshua Haggmark, the city’s water resources manager.

It’s not clear precisely how widespread drought-related rate increases are because no government agency or association tracks them.

But agencies across California are reporting they’ve taken steps to tap customers to offset the losses of conservation. Residents in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, are seeing higher bills after the region’s largest water wholesaler increased the price of water 28 percent to make up for lagging sales.

Others are opting for a clearly labeled temporary drought fee, including the Sacramento suburb of Roseville which raised $1 million in the last year with a 15 percent surcharge on water use.

That surcharge, plus the relatively low price of water, left some residents disappointed by their bills after buying low-flow toilets and tearing out their lawns.

Travis Wills, 42, is still paying about $30 a month even after ditching a grassy front lawn for black mulch with sego palms, jasmine and Agapanthus flowers and collecting water from his shower and sink in buckets for plants in his backyard.

“We haven’t noticed much of a difference on the bill,” said Wills, who runs a home staging company. “That’s troubling because they want us to reduce water.”

Roseville could double its surcharge if the dry spell deepens, which Wills says he wouldn’t mind too much.

“Maybe if they do that, people will stop wasting so much.”

Dwindling water supplies during the drought have also driven up bills as agencies turn to more expensive resources. The East Bay Municipal Utility District, serving 1.3 million customers east of San Francisco, is charging the average household an extra $12 a month to pay for tapping water dozens of miles away near Sacramento and conservation programs.

Some water departments are able to weather a drought financially because they designed complicated rates that plan for conservation and cover fixed costs in times of drought. Even without such mechanisms, others manage to avoid rate hikes.

The Desert Water Agency serving Palm Springs was among the fiercest critics of California’s mandatory conservation order. It warned regulators it would lose more than $10 million under its 36 percent reduction target.

Instead of increasing its rates, the agency has tapped reserves and cut expenses by delaying needed infrastructure upgrades and implementing a hiring freeze. But residents may end up paying more when the agency sets new rates next year.

“This is a business regardless of what some people think,” general manager David Luker said. “When we strangle a business because of political correctness, there are massive consequences, and we still have to pay our bills.”

Follow Fenit Nirappil on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FenitN .

July 5, 2015 | By | Reply More
Africans seeking better lives pass through Ethiopian town

Africans seeking better lives pass through Ethiopian town

METEMA, Ethiopia (AP) — The mood in the border town of Metema these days is quiet and watchful.

Dozens of houses on the hot, dusty main road that stretches from Ethiopia into Sudan look like they have been hastily closed. Guards grimly patrol the border, stopping anyone who looks like an illegal migrant. The nightclubs and bars are emptier than usual, although they still attract Sudanese who are not allowed to drink alcohol in their own country under Shariah law.

Metema, with about 100,000 people, is one of a handful of towns across the region that serve as feeders for a booming trade in migrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, many hoping to make their way to Europe. Life here is now a cat-and-mouse game: The authorities are cracking down, yet the migrants just keep coming, often risking death.

Since 30 Ethiopian Christians who passed through Metema were killed by the Islamic State group in Libya a few months ago, the Ethiopian government has become far more vigilant. It claims it has detained 200 smugglers across the country, and police say about 28 of them are from Metema.

The effect of the crackdown is clear in this town. But while the flow of migrants is down from about 250 a day, it’s still strong at 100 to 150, according to Teshome Agmas, the mayor.

“It’s just a pity that people choose to endanger their lives in an effort to move out of their country and work in inhumane conditions abroad,” he said.

Getachew Merah, a rail-thin 30-year-old aspiring migrant from Ethiopia, agreed to talk to the Associated Press, but only outside Metema, because he was afraid police would arrest him. He has made three unsuccessful attempts to cross into Sudan, and is now trying again.

Merah said his father is dead and his mother lives in extreme poverty in a rural village in the Amhara region. He added that he has tried just about every job in Ethiopia, working as a butcher, a guard, an assistant in a heavy-duty truck, a laborer carrying oil back and forth from between Sudan and Ethiopia and more. But he simply can’t get enough money to change his life or his family’s.

He hopes to earn money in Libya to send back to his family, and eventually return to start his own business.

Three times before, Sudanese police arrested him and sent him back to Ethiopia. Each time, he said, he didn’t have enough money in his pocket to bribe the police. So this time, he is planning to enter Sudan as a daily laborer on a farm and earn about $150 — enough for bribes — and then disappear into the forest to reach the capital, Khartoum.

“I’m tired of working in Ethiopia,” said Merah, who was clearly nervous. “I know the dangers of living now in Libya, especially with the ISIS news. But I want to risk it all and try my luck.”

Close to 80 percent of Metema’s businesses are run by illegal smugglers and their affiliates, according to Sister Hamelmal Melaku of the Ethiopia Higher Clinic. They smuggle charcoal, oil, fruit and, of course, people. With the government sweep-out, migrants are no longer showing up at the clinic, and the temporary shelter built for migrants in the middle of the town sits idle.

“I think it won’t be an exaggeration if I say that the town is totally out of the government’s control,” she said.

With Metema under surveillance, the smugglers are now changing their tactics, according to Abraraw Abeje, police assistant inspector. He said they are now “dumping” the migrants in forests and mountainous areas, and then forcing them to resume their journey into Sudan on foot or in packed vehicles.

Like the migrants, the suspected smugglers say they are poor. Adamo Anshebo is under detention in Metema as a suspected kingpin, which he denies.

“I came here after selling all my property to receive and take back home to my sick child, who was working in Sudan,” he said. There is no way to tell if it is the truth.

Poverty in Ethiopia fell significantly from 44 percent in 2000 to 30 percent more than a decade later, according to a World Bank report in January. However, the country remains one of the world’s poorest and is ruled by an authoritarian government. More than 96 percent of people in the country’s rural areas are still barely eking out a living, according to Oxford University’s poverty index.

Ethiopia is also a pass-through point for most Eritreans traveling to Europe, according to the U.N. refugee agency. While exact numbers vary, Eritreans make up one of the largest groups of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, coming second in number only to Syrians. Somalis are third.

According to accounts from several migrants and officials, here is how the trade works.

The smugglers operate in and from all parts of Ethiopia. While major smugglers stay in cities like Addis Ababa, the capital, affiliates known as “shaqabas” operate in and around small towns like Metema, Moyale to the south and Afar in the northeast.

The migrants say they are not asked for money in Metema, because they could easily be robbed or lose it. Instead, they are charged upon arrival in Khartoum or other Sudanese cities. The final payment is made once they reach the Libyan coast and, in many cases, depart for Europe. The trip to Europe can cost as much as $5,000. Often the migrants don’t carry all their money for fear of being robbed, so payment is made through their families, via hand transfer to the smugglers or affiliates in their hometowns.

In a statement written to the Associated Press, Metema officials said they have repatriated more than 1,100 migrants arrested while trying to cross to Sudan illegally. The letter said they come from all parts of Ethiopia, especially the south, as well as Eritrea. Ethiopian immigration officials on the Sudan border confirm that some of the migrants are foreigners, and more now from South Sudan because of the ongoing conflict there.

Other migrants tell similar stories of poverty. Two women in their 20s travelling together, who refused to give their names for fear of their safety, said their only reason for migration is economic. They, too, said they wanted to work abroad, then return home to help their families and start their own business. Both have not worked in Ethiopia since completing high school.

Another young man, Abinet Yirga, 23, said his job in a billboard advertising company in Addis Ababa did not even leave him with enough money to buy clothes. He said two years ago, he was out of work for many months, which led to a feud with his father. He is now in Metema waiting to cross the border.

“I don’t know when I will travel to Sudan and then to Libya to go to Europe, because I don’t have any money now,” he said. “But I’ve decided I have to change my life whatever the cost is, even if it means life or death.”

July 5, 2015 | By | Reply More

Science & Technology

Farmers eager for drones, but most can’t legally fly them

Farmers eager for drones, but most can’t legally fly them

CORDOVA, Md. (AP) — Mike Geske wants a drone.

Watching a flying demonstration on Maryland’sEastern Shore, the Missouri farmer envisions using an unmanned aerial vehicle to monitor the irrigation pipes on his farm — a job he now pays three men to do.

“The savings on labor and fuel would just be phenomenal,” Geske says, watching as a small white drone hovers over a nearby corn field and transmits detailed pictures of the growing stalks to an iPad.

Nearby, farmer Chip Bowling tries his hand at flying one of the drones. Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association, says he would like to buy one for his Maryland farm to help him scout out which individual fields need extra spraying.

Another farmer, Bobby Hutchison, says he is hoping the man he hires weekly to walk his fields and observe his crops gets a drone, to make the process more efficient and accurate.

“I see it very similar to how I saw the computer when it first started,” says Hutchison, 64. “It was a no-brainer.”

Farmers are eager for the technology.

The small, relatively inexpensive vehicles could replace humans in a variety of ways around large farms: transmitting detailed information about crops to combines and sprayers, directing them very precisely to problem spots and cutting down on the amount of water and chemicals that a farmer needs to use in those areas.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, says agriculture could account for 80 percent of all commercial drone use.

Agricultural use of drones is about to take off after being grounded for years by the lack of federal guidelines. The Federal Aviation Administration has approved more than 50 exemptions for farm-related operations since January.

Companies with those exemptions say business has grown, helped by quick advances in the technology.

Bret Chilcott of Kansas-based AgEagle, which sells unmanned aerial vehicles and the software to help operate them, says his company took its first orders last year. Now it has a backlog of several hundred orders. He says the technology has transformed the market during that short period.

“Last year users had to land their aircraft and then take the data to the computer,” he says. “Now the data appears on your iPad or hand-held device a few minutes after flight.”

That data could be pictures, 3-D images of plants, thermal readings of crops or animals or other observations that a drone could make while in the air. Information that in the past took days to collect — or could not have been collected at all — can be gathered now in minutes or hours and, in some cases, integrated with separate data collected from other high-tech farm machinery.

Chilcott is optimistic that the technology to scout out problem spots so precisely will be transformative because farmers can limit spraying just to those places.

“In five years we won’t have to blanket a field with chemicals,” he says.

Still, most farmers cannot legally fly the vehicles yet.

The FAA is working on rules that would allow the drones to be used regularly for business while maintaining certain safety and privacy standards. An FAA proposal this year would allow flight of the vehicles as long as they weigh less than 55 pounds, stay within the operator’s sight and fly during the daytime, among other restrictions. Operators would have to pass an FAA test of aeronautical knowledge and a Transportation Security Administration background check.

Thomas Haun of North Carolina-based PrecisionHawk, another company with an exemption, says it is unclear what the business will look like eventually. Farmers may hire services that have unmanned aerial vehicles or every farm may get its own drone. Most likely, it will be a combination.

Haun says the proposed rules are appropriate. “It’s pretty spot on for where the technology is right now,” he says.

Some people have concerns about the guidelines. Pilots of crop dusters and other planes that operate around farms are concerned the rules do not go far enough to ensure safety.

“We can’t see them,” says Andrew Moore of the National Agricultural Aviation Association. His group advocated for the unmanned vehicles to include tracking systems or lights to help airplanes figure out where they are, but that was not included in the proposal.

The rules could pose some challenges for the eager farmers, too.

Geske may not be able to use drones efficiently to monitor all the irrigation pipes on his 2,100 acre Missouri farm if he has to keep them within sight. He’s still interested, though. The men he hires now use a lot of fuel and their trucks tear up his land and roads.

“You can wait forever on advancing technology,” Geske says.

Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter http://twitter.com/mcjalonick

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APNewsBreak: Tentative agreement on Iran sanctions relief

APNewsBreak: Tentative agreement on Iran sanctions relief

VIENNA (AP) — World powers and Iran have reached tentative agreement on sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic, among the most contentious issues in a long-term nuclear agreement that negotiators hope to clinch over the next several days, diplomats told The Associated Press on Saturday.

The annex, one of five meant to accompany the agreement, outlines which U.S. and international sanctions will be lifted and how quickly. Diplomats said senior officials of the seven-nation talks, which include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, still had to sign off on the package.

Still, the word of significant progress indicated the sides were moving closer to a comprehensive accord that would set a decade of restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for tens of billions of dollars’ in economic benefits for the Iranians.

Officials had described sanctions relief as one of the thorniest disagreements between Iran and the United States, which has led the international pressure campaign against Iran’s economy. The U.S. and much of the world fears Iran’s enrichment of uranium and other activity could be designed to make nuclear weapons; Iran says its program is meant only to generate power and for other peaceful purposes.

The diplomats, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on this past week’s confidential negotiations in Vienna, said the sanctions annex was completed this week by experts from Iran and the six world powers it is negotiating with: the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. They did not provide details of the agreement.

A senior U.S. official did not dispute the diplomats’ account but said work remained to be done before the issue could be described as finalized.

Negotiators are striving to wrap up the deal by July 7.

Along with inspection guidelines and rules governing Iran’s research and development of advanced nuclear technology, the sanctions annex of the agreement had been among the toughest issues remaining to be resolved.

Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have made repeated demands for economic penalties to be lifted shortly after a deal is reached. Washington and its partners have said they’d take action after Iran verifiably complies with restrictions on enrichment and other elements of the nuclear program.

Much of the negotiation on the matter has concerned sequencing, so that both sides can legitimately claim to have gotten their way.

Several other matters related to sanctions also had posed problems.

The Obama administration cannot move too quickly to remove economic penalties because of Congress, which will have a 30-day review period for any agreement during which no sanctions can be waived.

American officials also had been struggling to separate the “nuclear-related” sanctions it is prepared to suspend from those it wishes to keep, including measures designed to counteract Iranian ballistic missile efforts, human rights violations and support for U.S.-designated terrorist organizations.

And to keep pressure on Iran, world powers had been hoping to finalize a system for snapping suspended sanctions back into force if Iran cheats on the accord. Russia has traditionally opposed any plan that would see them lose their U.N. veto power and a senior Russian negotiator said only this week that his government rejected any automatic “snapback” of sanctions.

Associated Press Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

July 4, 2015 | By | Reply More

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Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign says its raised more than $14M

Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign says its raised more than $14M

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign says it has raised more than $14 million in the just over three months since the Texas senator launched his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

The campaign says the money comes from more than 120,000 donors, who made an average contribution of $81. Cruz raised $4.3 million in the week after announcing his bid in late March. The campaign says it raised an additional $10 million through the end of June.

Cruz also will benefit from several super PACs that are supporting him and can raise money without any contribution limits. Those groups have previously said they have raised $37 million.

Presidential campaigns must report their fundraising details to federal regulators by July 15. Outside groups such as super PACs have a later deadline.

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Greeks vote in austerity referendum

Greeks vote in austerity referendum

Athens, Jul 5 (EFE).- Greeks are voting Sunday in a referendum on whether to accept or reject the austerity measures proposed by Greece’s foreign creditors in exchange for receiving a bailout.Greeks are being asked to vote “yes” or “no” on accepting t…

July 5, 2015 | By | Reply More

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Clinton reaches out (and out and out!) for 2016 policy ideas

Clinton reaches out (and out and out!) for 2016 policy ideas

WASHINGTON (AP) — Earlier this year, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign lost count of its experts.

In the months before she began her second run for the White House, Clinton spent hours quizzing economists, lawyers, educators and activists about everything from executive compensation to the latest research on lead paint.

By last fall, the number of experts she had interviewed hit two hundred and her team stopped keeping track.

“It was like I hadn’t left Harvard,” Roland Fryer, an economist at the university, said of his meeting with Clinton to discuss successful charter school practices. “It was like talking to a colleague and debating over a cup of coffee.”

The Democrat isn’t an incumbent, and even with competition that’s resolute but still far from offering a serious primary challenge, Clinton has a luxury few candidates enjoy: time to hit the books. The results have started to emerge, and Clinton plans to add to them by releasing a new domestic policy proposal nearly every week this summer.

To be sure, politics are at play as Clinton shapes her agenda. She is sidestepping foreign affairs, which has consumed much of the early debate among Republican White House hopefuls eager to paint the former secretary of state with President Barack Obama’s record on the world stage.

She is not yet offering specifics on subjects where consensus among Democrats and independent voters will be harder to find: trade, limits on executive pay, regulating the country’s finance industry, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

What Clinton debuts in the coming weeks will form the core platform of her campaign and, should she win the nomination and the presidency, her administration. It’s an agenda Clinton describes as that of a “pragmatic progressive,” centered on families and focused on economic growth, innovation and income inequality.

Already introduced: proposals for paid family leave, free community college, universal pre-kindergarten, lowering student debt and job retraining. Still to come: ideas about taxes, climate change, education, wages, Wall Street and business regulations, which she’s given the more politically palatable name of “corporate responsibility.”

“There is genuine curiosity and interest in exploring all of this from Clinton and her team,” said Felicia Wong, head of the liberal Roosevelt Institute, who has urged Clinton to aggressively counter income inequality. “But the details will matter a lot.”

Most especially to those who wanted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to get into the race and are now packing town halls held by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic nomination from Clinton’s left.

Clinton’s challenge is to craft positions that will satisfy that grassroots segment of her party, but won’t also vilify the wealthy — particularly the donors she’ll need to pay for a campaign expected to cost $1 billion.

So while Clinton consulted progressive champions, including Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz and New School labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci, she’s also talked with Democrats with close ties to Wall Street, such as former Treasury chiefs Robert Rubin and Larry Summers.

It’s a reach-deep approach aimed in part at correcting mistakes made during Clinton’s 2008 campaign, which was criticized by some Democrats for being too insular.

“In 2008, when we saw each other, she would ask me questions,” said Miami Dade College President Eduardo Patron, an education expert who first met the Clinton in 1980. “This time is more methodical, and that’s very intentional.”

Aides began pulling together briefing books last year. Her campaign says work by Harvard University sociologist Robert Putnam, the author of a book on childhood poverty and the “opportunity gap,” and Brookings Institution fellow Isabel Sawhill, who studies the decline of marriage and income inequality, particularly influenced Clinton’s early thinking.

Since then, Clinton’s research has continued in meetings, phone calls and emails with individual and larger groups of unpaid, informal advisers. Some have known the Clintons for decades, while others who are newer to the circle.

Harvard Professor Raj Chetty, an expert on social mobility, guided Clinton through slides on research into how children in certain areas of the country are more likely than others to get ahead. Heather Boushey, president of the liberal Center for Equitable Growth, provided data on the economic impact of the growing number of female breadwinners.

Those who have met with Clinton say she often questioned whether their policy ideas can be “scaled up” to a national level and also used the gatherings to run her own ideas past outside experts.

“It was made clear that we weren’t just going to sit down for an hour,” said Katie Porter, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and expert in consumer bankruptcy. “We were going to think, refine our ideas and have more conversations.”

The results of the research are evident in the campaign.

While talking about race relations during a visit to an African-American church in Missouri last month, Clinton detailed the impact of lead paint poisoning on young children. A speech to a Latino organization in Las Vegas earlier this month featured data on how many words children hear by the age of three.

At stops in New Hampshire, Clinton frequently mentions the average debt burden for students in the state.

“She can wonk-out for hours,” said Neera Tanden, a former adviser who’s now helping craft campaign policy as president of the liberal-leaning think tank Center for American Progress. “She’s one of the few people who talking about policy can get her into the greatest of moods.”

Follow Lisa Lerer on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/llerer

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Clinton reaches out (and out and out!) for 2016 policy ideas

Clinton reaches out (and out and out!) for 2016 policy ideas

WASHINGTON (AP) — Earlier this year, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign lost count of its experts.

In the months before she began her second run for the White House, Clinton spent hours quizzing economists, lawyers, educators and activists about everything from executive compensation to the latest research on lead paint.

By last fall, the number of experts she had interviewed hit two hundred and her team stopped keeping track.

“It was like I hadn’t left Harvard,” Roland Fryer, an economist at the university, said of his meeting with Clinton to discuss successful charter school practices. “It was like talking to a colleague and debating over a cup of coffee.”

The Democrat isn’t an incumbent, and even with competition that’s resolute but still far from offering a serious primary challenge, Clinton has a luxury few candidates enjoy: time to hit the books. The results have started to emerge, and Clinton plans to add to them by releasing a new domestic policy proposal nearly every week this summer.

To be sure, politics are at play as Clinton shapes her agenda. She is sidestepping foreign affairs, which has consumed much of the early debate among Republican White House hopefuls eager to paint the former secretary of state with President Barack Obama’s record on the world stage.

She is not yet offering specifics on subjects where consensus among Democrats and independent voters will be harder to find: trade, limits on executive pay, regulating the country’s finance industry, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

What Clinton debuts in the coming weeks will form the core platform of her campaign and, should she win the nomination and the presidency, her administration. It’s an agenda Clinton describes as that of a “pragmatic progressive,” centered on families and focused on economic growth, innovation and income inequality.

Already introduced: proposals for paid family leave, free community college, universal pre-kindergarten, lowering student debt and job retraining. Still to come: ideas about taxes, climate change, education, wages, Wall Street and business regulations, which she’s given the more politically palatable name of “corporate responsibility.”

“There is genuine curiosity and interest in exploring all of this from Clinton and her team,” said Felicia Wong, head of the liberal Roosevelt Institute, who has urged Clinton to aggressively counter income inequality. “But the details will matter a lot.”

Most especially to those who wanted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to get into the race and are now packing town halls held by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic nomination from Clinton’s left.

Clinton’s challenge is to craft positions that will satisfy that grassroots segment of her party, but won’t also vilify the wealthy — particularly the donors she’ll need to pay for a campaign expected to cost $1 billion.

So while Clinton consulted progressive champions, including Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz and New School labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci, she’s also talked with Democrats with close ties to Wall Street, such as former Treasury chiefs Robert Rubin and Larry Summers.

It’s a reach-deep approach aimed in part at correcting mistakes made during Clinton’s 2008 campaign, which was criticized by some Democrats for being too insular.

“In 2008, when we saw each other, she would ask me questions,” said Miami Dade College President Eduardo Patron, an education expert who first met the Clinton in 1980. “This time is more methodical, and that’s very intentional.”

Aides began pulling together briefing books last year. Her campaign says work by Harvard University sociologist Robert Putnam, the author of a book on childhood poverty and the “opportunity gap,” and Brookings Institution fellow Isabel Sawhill, who studies the decline of marriage and income inequality, particularly influenced Clinton’s early thinking.

Since then, Clinton’s research has continued in meetings, phone calls and emails with individual and larger groups of unpaid, informal advisers. Some have known the Clintons for decades, while others who are newer to the circle.

Harvard Professor Raj Chetty, an expert on social mobility, guided Clinton through slides on research into how children in certain areas of the country are more likely than others to get ahead. Heather Boushey, president of the liberal Center for Equitable Growth, provided data on the economic impact of the growing number of female breadwinners.

Those who have met with Clinton say she often questioned whether their policy ideas can be “scaled up” to a national level and also used the gatherings to run her own ideas past outside experts.

“It was made clear that we weren’t just going to sit down for an hour,” said Katie Porter, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and expert in consumer bankruptcy. “We were going to think, refine our ideas and have more conversations.”

The results of the research are evident in the campaign.

While talking about race relations during a visit to an African-American church in Missouri last month, Clinton detailed the impact of lead paint poisoning on young children. A speech to a Latino organization in Las Vegas earlier this month featured data on how many words children hear by the age of three.

At stops in New Hampshire, Clinton frequently mentions the average debt burden for students in the state.

“She can wonk-out for hours,” said Neera Tanden, a former adviser who’s now helping craft campaign policy as president of the liberal-leaning think tank Center for American Progress. “She’s one of the few people who talking about policy can get her into the greatest of moods.”

Follow Lisa Lerer on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/llerer

July 5, 2015 | By | Reply More
Back at work: Congress facing busy agenda, funding deadline

Back at work: Congress facing busy agenda, funding deadline

WASHINGTON (AP) — After July Fourth fireworks and parades, members of Congress return to work Tuesday facing a daunting summer workload and a pending deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown in the fall.

The funding fight is shaping up as a major partisan brawl against the backdrop of an intensifying campaign season. Republicans are eager to avoid another Capitol Hill mess as they struggle to hang onto control of Congress and try to take back the White House next year.

Already they are deep into the blame game with Democrats over who would be responsible if a shutdown does happen. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has denounced Democrats’ “dangerously misguided strategy” while House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California accuses Boehner and his Republicans of pursuing “manufactured crises.”

The funding deadline does not even arrive until Sept. 30, but lawmakers face more immediate tests. Near the top of the list is renewing highway funding before the government loses authority July 31 to send much-needed transportation money to the states right in the middle of summer driving season.

The highway bill probably also will be the way lawmakers try to renew the disputed federal Export-Import Bank, which makes and underwrites loans to help foreign companies buy U.S. products. The bank’s charter expired June 30 due to congressional inaction, a defeat for business and a victory for conservative activists who turned killing the obscure agency into an anti-government cause celebre.

Depending on the progress of the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, lawmakers could also face debate on that issue. Leading Republicans have made clear that they are prepared to reject any deal the administration comes up with.

“Congress stands ready to stand up for core U.S. national security interests — and against a bad deal with Iran,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.

Not all will be partisan rancor. The Senate opens its legislative session with consideration of a major bipartisan education overhaul bill that rewrites the much-maligned No Child Left Behind law by shifting responsibility from the federal government to the states for public school standards.

“We’re seven years overdue” for a rewrite, said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the bill’s chief sponsor.

The House also is moving forward with its own, Republican-written education overhaul bill, revived after leadership had to pull it earlier this year when conservatives revolted.

Even if both bills pass, though, it’s uncertain whether Congress will be able to agree on a combined version to send to President Barack Obama. Indeed the prospects for any major legislative accomplishments arriving on Obama’s desk in the remainder of the year look slim, though there’s talk of the Senate following the House and moving forward on cybersecurity legislation.

That means that even though Obama was so buoyed when Congress sent him a major trade bill last month that he declared “This is so much fun, we should do it again,” he may not get his wish.

But all issues are likely to be overshadowed by the government funding fight and suspense over how — or if — a shutdown can be avoided.

Democrats are pledging to oppose the annual spending bills to fund government agencies unless Republicans sit down with them to negotiate higher spending levels for domestic agencies. Republicans, who want more spending for the military but not domestic agencies, have so far refused. If there’s no resolution by Sept. 30, the government will enter a partial shutdown.

It’s an outcome all involved say they want to avoid. Yet Democrats who watched Republicans pay a steep political price for forcing a partial shutdown over Obama’s health care law in 2013 — and come within hours of partially shutting down the Department of Homeland Security this year — claim confidence they have the upper hand.

“Given that a Democratic president needs to sign anything and you need Democratic votes in both chambers, the writing is on the wall here,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

Republicans insist Democrats are running a risk by opposing spending bills for priorities like troop funding — but are not yet discussing how they will proceed if Democrats don’t back down.

As a result it looks likely current funding levels could be temporarily extended beyond Sept. 30 to allow more time to negotiate a solution.

And it’s not the only consequential deadline this fall. The government’s borrowing limit will also need to be raised sometime before the end of the year, another issue that’s ripe for brinkmanship. Some popular expiring tax breaks will also need to be extended, and the Federal Aviation Administration must be renewed. An industry-friendly FAA bill was delayed in the House recently although aides said that was unrelated to the Justice Department’s newly disclosed investigation of airline pricing.

In the meantime, the presence of several presidential candidates in the Senate make action in that chamber unpredictable, Congress will be out for another recess during the month of August — and in September Pope Francis will visit Capitol Hill for a first-ever papal address to Congress.

Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Joan Lowy contributed to this report.

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On 9th day, Kerry says Iran nuke talks could go either way

On 9th day, Kerry says Iran nuke talks could go either way

VIENNA (AP) — Nine days into marathon nuclear talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday said the diplomatic efforts “could go either way,” cutting off all potential pathways for an Iranian atomic bomb or ending without an agreement that American officials have sometimes described as the most likely alternative to war.

“I want to absolutely clear to with everybody: We are not yet where we need to be on several of the most critical issues,” Kerry told reporters outside the 19th-century Viennese palace that has hosted the negotiations.

World powers and Iran are hoping to clinch a deal by Tuesday, setting a decade of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and granting Iran significant relief from international sanctions. Kerry met for 3 ½ hours on Sunday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as top diplomats from the five other negotiating countries planned to return to Austria’s capital later in the evening.

“It is now time to see whether or not we are able to close an agreement,” Kerry said, after hobbling on crutches through 97-degree heat to a podium set up in a city square.

While “genuine progress” had been made and the sides “have never been closer, at this point, this negotiation could go either way. If the hard choices get made in the next couple of days, and made quickly, we could get an agreement this week,” Kerry said. “But if they are not made, we will not.”

The talks had appeared to be moving forward. On Saturday, diplomats reported tentative agreement on the speed and scope of sanctions relief for Iran in the accord, even as issues such as inspection guidelines and limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development remained contentious.

Tuesday’s deadline is the latest that has been set for a comprehensive pact that would replace the interim deal world powers and Iran reached in November 2013. That package was extended three times, most recently on June 30, and Kerry appeared to be partly addressing critics of the diplomacy in the United States who’ve argued that President Barack Obama’s administration has been too conciliatory over the course of the negotiations.

Obama and U.S. officials say that is untrue. But they’ve also fiercely defended their overtures to Tehran and their willingness to allow the Iranians to maintain significant nuclear infrastructure, on the argument that a diplomatic agreement is preferable to military conflict.

Speaking at the same time as Sunday news shows aired in the U.S., Kerry said that “if we don’t have a deal, if there’s absolute intransience with the things that are important, President Obama has always said we would walk away.”

“It’s not what anybody wants. We want to get an agreement,” he said. “What I have said from the moment I became involved in this: We want a good agreement, only a good agreement and we are not going to shave anywhere at the margins in order just to get an agreement. This is something that the world will analyze, experts everywhere will look at. There are plenty of people in the nonproliferation community, nuclear experts who will look at this and none of us are going to be content to do something that can’t pass scrutiny.”

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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