Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

July 31 2014 9:25 PM

Two Americans Stricken With Ebola in Liberia to Return to U.S. for Treatment

Two American missionaries with the Ebola virus are set to return the U.S. in the coming days to receive treatment, ABC News reports. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol both contracted the virus working to combat the pandemic’s spread in Liberia, which is in the midst of full-scale public health emergency. The virus has killed more than 700 people in West Africa during the outbreak this year.

“The patients will be transported one by one,” sources told ABC News. “With the return of Brantly and Writebol to the United States, it will be the first time that patients diagnosed with Ebola will be known to be in the country,” according to CNN. “Brantly and Writebol are described as being in stable-but-grave conditions, with both reportedly taking a turn for the worse [Wednesday night], according to statements released Thursday by the faith-based charity Samaritan's Purse.”

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Both Brantly and Writebol appear to be headed to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. The hospital “has a specially built isolation unit to treat patients exposed to certain serious infectious diseases,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Set up in collaboration with the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the unit is physically separate from other patient areas and is one of only four such facilities in the country.”

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July 31 2014 7:40 PM

Russian Response to New Sanctions Could Devastate McDonald’s McChicken with Cheese Market

This week, the U.S. and European countries upped the sanctions ante on Russia, targeting the country’s arms, energy and banking sectors. The idea is to hit the Kremlin where it hurts—the pocketbook—to dissuade the country's support of pro-Russia rebels fighting in Ukraine. Russia had previously returned sanctions fire mostly with fiery rhetoric and travel bans on Americans that probably weren’t planning on vacationing in Moscow anytime soon. Reports out of Russia this week, however, indicate the Kremlin is ready to raise the stakes of the sanctions tit-for-tat, Bloomberg reports, with a retaliatory safety investigation into McDonald’s cheese. As if the threat of taking on the golden arches wasn’t punishment enough, Russia said it is also mulling a ban on the import of chicken from the U.S. There have been no reports of a run on McChicken with cheese sandwiches in the country.

Here’s more from Bloomberg on how the sanctions might affect McChicken with cheese availability in Russia:

Russia’s food safety agency said it may ban imports of U.S. poultry and some European fruit due to contamination of the products, according Bloomberg BNA, citing Russian state media. The food safety agency, known as Rosselkhoznadzor, also said it will examine suppliers of McDonald’s cheese for their use of antibiotics…. Officials from McDonald’s, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
While Russia and the U.S. have long sparred over agricultural trade, the actions fueled speculation they could be retaliatory. The 28-nation European Union and the U.S. plan to impose stiffer sanctions to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government… Russia was the second-largest market, after Mexico, for U.S. chicken last year, according to the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. The U.S. exported about $309 million worth of broiler chickens to Russia last year, according to the council.

July 31 2014 6:14 PM

Israel and Hamas Agree to 72-Hour Cease-Fire in Gaza

With the death toll rising in Gaza after more than three weeks of fighting, on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary of State John Kerry announced an unconditional 72-hour cease-fire beginning on Friday morning at 8 a.m. local time in Gaza. “In a joint statement, the U.S. and U.N. said they had gotten assurances that all parties to the conflict had agreed to an unconditional cease-fire during which there would be negotiations on a more durable truce,” the Associated Press reports.

The announcement comes, Reuters reports, as “the Pentagon called on Israel on Thursday to do more to protect civilian life during its military operations in Gaza, saying the conflict was taking too high a toll on civilians.” Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports, “the White House raised the international pressure on Israel on Thursday to change its tactics in the Gaza conflict when it condemned the shelling of a UN facility in Gaza by the Israeli military as ‘totally indefensible.’’”

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According to Gaza’s health ministry, since the beginning of the Israeli offensive, 1,422 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians, and a quarter of the population of Gaza have been forced from their homes, the BBC reports. Fifty-eight Israelis, including two civilians, have been killed.

"During [the cease-fire] the forces on the ground will remain in place," John Kerry and Ban Ki-moon said in a joint statement.

July 31 2014 4:18 PM

Officer Who Faked 911 Call, Got in Bed With Intoxicated Woman Sues Her Over Rape Accusation

Ex-NYPD officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata are known in tabloid parlance as the "Rape Cops"; Moreno was accused of raping a Manhattan woman who he and Mata escorted home after she passed out in a taxi. Moreno was acquitted of rape in 2011—but convicted of other charges for taking the woman's keys and placing a fake 911 call as a pretext to repeatedly re-enter her apartment, where he admitted to getting into her bed with her.

The civil-rights lawsuit filed in Bronx Supreme Court on Wednesday claims that the rape allegations against Moreno and his widely watched trial unjustly damaged his reputation and caused him to suffer financially.
"Mr. Moreno is forever scarred with the scarlet letter of 'Rape Cop,'" his attorney Eric Sanders said in a statement. "Mr. Moreno hopes this lawsuit will vindicate his name and make the schemers pay for their malicious conduct.”
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Moreno also alleges that he was "unfairly targeted for prosecution due to his Puerto Rican ancestry."

July 31 2014 3:17 PM

Did You Know It's Been Illegal to Export Oil From the United States for Nearly 40 Years?

Well, I didn't know this: With a few exceptions, it's been against the law to export crude oil from the United States since 1975. The long-running ban is in the news because an oil tanker left Texas for South Korea on Wednesday, marking the first "unrestricted" sale of "unrefined oil" since the '70s. It's the result of a Department of Commerce ruling that oil that has undergone certain types of processing can be sold abroad even though it hasn't been refined in the traditional sense. (The ban allows for the export of processed or refined fuel like gasoline.)

The issue is especially salient right now because a glut of domestic oil:

Until recently, domestic oil production had been declining and exporting oil wasn't a hot issue. All that changed as new techniques for tapping oil from shale formations have sparked an oil boom in Texas, North Dakota and elsewhere. Since the end of 2011, U.S. oil production has jumped by about 48%, to about 8.4 million barrels a day, according federal data.
That has been good news for companies including Enterprise Products Partners LP in Houston, a $47.7 billion company that processes, ships and stores oil and gas. Last summer, the company noticed a troubling trend: ultralight oil flowing from South Texas was flooding the market and pushing down prices.
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The export ban was instituded in order to conserve United States resources amid the oil crises of the 1970s. (Which, as it happens, were triggered in part by war in Israel.)

July 31 2014 2:20 PM

Washing Machine and Power Drill Sales Suffered During World Cup, Wall Street Journal Reports

An update, via the Wall Street Journal, about the World Cup's impact on the laundry and buzz saw sectors:

Whirlpool Corp. said demand for appliances in Latin America, originally forecast not to grow, could fall as much as 3% this year because people bought items such as video recorders instead of washing machines. Stanley Black & Decker Inc. said it sold fewer power drills and buzz saws in the region because the "World Cup became a huge market distraction."
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I kid, I kid. The Journal's piece is actually a broad look at the Cup's economic effects, and it has a politically relevant takeaway: The mega–sporting event, despite all the attention it attracted, was not necessarily a net economic positive, because other activity slowed down while everyone watched the games. Or avoided them—"American Airlines Group Inc. said fewer business travelers bothered to trek to Latin America" during the World Cup period, the Journal writes. For all the massiveness of Brazil's Cup preparations, the country's GDP is not expected to increase significantly this year:

Brazil's economy as a whole didn't see much benefit from the World Cup, said Daniela Ordonez, an economist at trade-related credit-insurance firm Euler Hermès. She estimated the value of goods and services produced in Brazil this year will grow just an extra 0.2%. Worse, the country's inflation rate is expected to rise 0.5 percentage point because of the extra spending.
"All the activity in consumption and tourism was more or less offset by reduced productivity in other areas like construction and transportation," she said. "From an economic point of view, maybe it was not worth it."

Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, has lost what was until recently a clear lead in polls ahead of the country's October elections.

July 31 2014 11:57 AM

CIA “Improperly Accessed” Computers of Senate Staff Investigating CIA

An internal CIA investigation has found that the CIA "improperly accessed" computers being used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation program, McClatchy reports:

The statement represented an admission to charges by the panel’s chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that the CIA intruded into the computers her staff used to compile the soon-to-be released report on the agency’s use of harsh interrogation methods on suspected terrorists in secret overseas prisons during the Bush administration.
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Committee staffers used computers inside a CIA facility to review documents related to the investigation, and Feinstein came to believe the CIA was monitoring their work, a belief confirmed by today's news.

The final report, said to be very critical of the CIA, will be declassified in "a few days."

July 31 2014 11:02 AM

Warning Flyers Rain on Gaza in Surreal Photos

Violence in Gaza continues today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling up thousands of additional reserve soldiers and vowing to completely destroy Hamas' network of tunnels before agreeing to end hostilities. (An Israeli general said the tunnel operation will take "a few more days.") Above and below: fliers dropped by Israeli forces over Gaza City urging residents to evacuate.

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Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

At least 1,429 people have been killed in the ongoing fighting.

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Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

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July 31 2014 10:09 AM

Peace Corps Pulls Volunteers From Countries Involved in Ebola Outbreak

The Peace Corps will pull 340 volunteers from the three West African countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea) that are suffering from an Ebola outbreak; two volunteers were exposed to the virus but are not showing signs of infection. From Reuters:

A Peace Corps spokesperson said two volunteers were isolated and under observation after being exposed to a person who later died of Ebola.
"These volunteers are not symptomatic and are currently isolated and under observation," the spokesperson said in a statement ...
The two volunteers would return to the United States once they were cleared to travel, the Peace Corps spokesperson added.
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Reuters also says that the State Department has confirmed that an American died of an Ebola infection in Nigeria; earlier reports identified that person as Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old Liberian-born naturalized citizen who lived in Minnesota before moving back to his native country in 2008. Sawyer's wife and children still live in Minnesota.

The Peace Corps also suspended operations in Kenya last week because of terrorism-related security concerns.

July 30 2014 8:35 PM

House Votes for Boehner to Lawyer Up and Sue Obama

While Republicans can’t seem to decide if they ever actually wanted to impeach President Obama in the first place, one thing they are sure of: They want to sue him. Really badly. On Wednesday, the House approved a GOP plan to launch a lawsuit aimed at Obama for allegedly overstepping his constitutional authority as president. The vote was, unsurprisingly, split along party lines—225 to 201—with all but five Republicans supporting the plan and zero Democrats thinking it was a good idea to sue the leader of their party.

The source of Republican anger remains constant—Obamacare. Still peeved over the health care law, "House GOP leaders have said they would focus the suit on the White House's decision last year to give employers a one-year reprieve on enforcing a requirement under the Affordable Care Act that they offer health coverage or pay a penalty,” the Wall Street Journal reports. "Everybody recognizes this is a political stunt," Obama said of the suit at a rally on Wednesday.

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Congress suing the president is not something that happens everyday in American politics, but it’s not unheard of. “In 2008, a federal judge backed a suit by Democrats who then controlled the House and were trying to force the Bush administration to honor House subpoenas of senior White House officials,” according to the Associated Press. “Though the House won the first round in court, that decision was under appeal when a settlement was reached and the lawsuit was dropped.”

Here’s more from the Journal on what an attempt to sue Obama may, or may not, mean.

The legal and political fallout from the decision to pursue the lawsuit remains largely unclear. Many legal experts have questioned whether the courts would take up such a suit, suggesting that lawyers representing the House could face significant hurdles. A court could question whether the House has met the standard of showing that it has been harmed by the president's actions, particularly because lawmakers are suing him for not enforcing a law they have repeatedly sought to repeal. Another question is whether the House, in acting without the Senate, has standing to sue the White House.

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