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WH Takes Credit For Increased Oil And Gas Production
The Obama administration is taking credit for the increase in U.S. oil and gas production, even though it's happened in spite of the president's policies. In an exchange on "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace challenged White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough when McDonough boasted of increased oil production. McDonough was making the point that it's time to enact policies beneficial to middle class families, now that the economic crisis is over: "It's decades now that wages have stagnated, for hard-working middle-class families. (Obama's) saying enough is enough, we're out of the crisis of the last several years. Unemployment is down under 5.6 percent. More oil produced in this country than in any time in the last several decades. CNS News
VOA VIEW: Oil and gas production would be higher if were not for Obama policies.

Christie Launches PAC In Significant Step Toward White House Run
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has taken a major step toward a run for president in 2016, forming a political action committee that will allow him to raise money for a possible White House bid. The creation of the committee, called Leadership Matters for America, was confirmed to Fox News by a Christie adviser. The paperwork was filed Friday before his address over the weekend to the Iowa Freedom Summit, a conservative gathering in Des Moines. The committee, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, also allows Christie to begin to hire staffers, build the foundations of a campaign operation and travel across the country as he weighs a final decision on a run. He plans to make such trips starting in February, Fox News has learned. Fox News

Secret Service: Crashed Drone Used Recreationally
The person operating the drone that crashed on the White House grounds called the U.S. Secret Service Monday morning to "self-report" their involvement in the incident. The individual was interviewed by Secret Service agents and has been fully cooperative, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said in a statement Monday afternoon. The Secret Service locked down the White House shortly after 3 a.m. after an officer on the south grounds of the White House spotted the drone, described as a two-foot wide "quad copter," flying above the White House grounds before crashing on the southeast side of the complex. The officer saw the drone flying at a very low altitude. "Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device," Leary said. CNN


Gov't To Overhaul Medicare Payments To Doctors, Hospitals
Medicare will change the way it pays hospitals and doctors to reward quality over volume, the Obama administration said Monday, in a shift that officials hope will be a catalyst for the nation's $3 trillion health care system. "It is in our common interest to build a health care system that delivers better care, spends health care dollars more wisely and results in healthier people," said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. The shift won immediate support from insurers and the American Hospital Association. The professional group representing primary care doctors also said it's "on board." But American Medical Association president Robert Wah stopped short of an endorsement, telling reporters his group is encouraged but wants specifics. ABC

How Obama’s $3 Trillion Health-Care Overhaul Would Work
The Obama administration has announced plans to accelerate a shift in how the U.S. pays its $2.9 trillion annual health-care bill. Officials at Medicare, which covers one in six Americans, want to stop paying doctors and hospitals by the number of tests and treatments they do. Instead, the government wants to link payments to how well providers take care of patients, not just how much care they provide. This transition is already under way. Millions of Americans are now covered in experimental programs created by the Affordable Care Act designed to reduce unnecessary care and incentivize doctors to focus on quality, not quantity. The administration wants to vastly expand such programs to include half of all Medicare payments by the end of 2018. Bloomberg

Federal Budget Shows Short-Term Rebound, Long-Term Deficits
The economy will rebound strongly over the next two years, then settle into a more normal economic cycle that will see steady but slow growth, albeit significantly less than the U.S. saw in the 1980s and 1990s, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday. The strong short-term growth will help keep federal deficits level through 2018, but the budget will turn south again soon afterward, and will be over the $1 trillion mark within a decade, the budget analysts said in their latest budget and economic outlook, which will govern Congress’s decisions for the next year. Washington Times
VOA VIEW: Figures lie, and liars figure.

How Nursing Homes Collect Debts: Seizing Guardianship
For some families, the golden years are turning nightmarish, thanks to a state law that some nursing homes are using to try to gain guardianship -- and financial control -- of their older patients. It's not an outcome that many people are aware of, according toa report from The New York Times and researchers at Hunter College. In a study of 700 guardianship cases filed in Manhattan over 10 years, the study found that more than 12 percent were for nursing homes seeking guardianship of patients. In some cases, the motive was apparently to gain control of the patient's assets to pay bills. CBS


Hillary Clinton Has Been M.I.A. Lately -- And Here’s Why
At a time when many potential 2016 presidential contenders appear to be starting the ignition of their campaigns, Hillary Clinton has pressed the brake pedal. Or so it seems. Clinton’s calendar, which was jam-packed throughout most of last year with paid speeches, award ceremonies, fundraisers, book tour stops, campaign appearances and official Clinton Foundation business, is now virtually empty. Over the past six weeks, the likely Democratic presidential candidate has made just two public appearances -– both on the same day, and both in Canada. She doesn’t have another event scheduled until late next month. ABC

S&P 500 Advances On Greek Vote As Energy Shares Rally
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose, following its first weekly advance this year, as gains in energy companies overshadowed a drop in technology shares as investors considered possible fallout from Greek elections. The S&P 500 (SPX) added 0.3 percent to 2,057.09 at 4 p.m. in New York, extending gains in the final 30 minutes of trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 6.10 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 17,678.70. The Nasdaq 100 Index slipped 0.1 percent, while the Russell 2000 Index of small caps rallied 1 percent. In New York, officials told residents to stay at home as a blizzard forecasters call “life-threatening” may dump as much as two feet of snow from New York to Boston. Exchanges plan to remain open in the U.S., with the New York Stock Exchange’s owner Intercontinental Exchange Inc. saying it’ll be business as usual. Bloomberg

US High Court Vacates Ruling On Long Hair In Alabama Prisons
Native American inmates in Alabama prisons have won a round in their legal battle to wear long hair. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had upheld the Alabama prison system's policy against long hair. The Supreme Court told the 11th Circuit court to reconsider the case in light of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling last week that said a Muslim prison inmate in Arkansas can grow a short beard for religious reasons. Native American inmates say long hair is part of their religious practices. The Alabama Department of Corrections argues that long hair poses security, discipline and hygiene risks and makes it easier for an inmate to change his appearance after an escape. Las Vegas Sun

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Ex-CIA Officer Convicted Of Leaking Secrets To NY Times Reporter
A former CIA officer was convicted Monday of leaking classified details of an operation to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions to a New York Times reporter. Jurors convicted 47-year-old Jeffrey Sterling, of O'Fallon, Missouri, of all nine counts he faced in federal court. On the third day of deliberations, the jurors had told the judge that they could not reach a unanimous verdict. But they delivered guilty verdicts later in the afternoon after the judge urged them to keep talking. At issue in the two-week trial: Who told journalist James Risen about the secret mission, one that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified was one of the government's most closely held secrets as well as one of its best chances to thwart Iran's nuclear-weapons ambitions? CBS

FBI Investigating Online Threats That Affected 3 Flights
The FBI says it is trying to determine who made online threats involving three commercial airline flights, causing the evacuation of two and the diversion of another.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said Monday that agents were investigating whether the threats came from the same person or from copycats. Law enforcement determined the public was not at risk. Such threats are not rare. Eimiller said federal officials take them seriously and suspects can be prosecuted. Passengers were taken from two planes that landed Sunday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. In addition, a Delta Air Lines flight was diverted to Dallas from its Los Angeles-Orlando, Florida, route. The flights into Seattle originated in Long Beach, California, and Phoenix, and were operated by JetBlue and SkyWest. Las Vegas Sun

Obama's India Trip: A Parade, Pageantry And $4B In Aid
After watching India's Republic Day parade, President Obama told business leaders he plans to build stronger trade ties with the country. Obama, the first U.S. president to attend the parade marking the day India's new constitution took effect in 1950, sat with his wife, Michelle, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi behind bullet-proof glass. At a meeting with Indian and U.S. business leaders, Obama spoke of the two countries' trade relationship. He said he hopes to increase both imports and exports, which total about $100 billion a year, 20 percent of the bilateral trade between the United States and China. "We are moving in the right direction....That said, we also know that the US-India relationship is defined by so much untapped potential," Obama said. UPI


Memo To Work Martyrs: Long Hours Make You Less Productive
Nearly half of U.S. workers say they routinely put in more than 50 hours on the job each week, often without overtime pay. But employers should probably start politely declining the "free" gift, new research suggests. So-called "work martyrs" give hundreds of hours in free labor to their employers every year, encouraged by always-on gadgets, work through nights, weekends, and vacations. Trading sleep or fun for unpaid work is obviously a bad deal for employees, but there's a growing body of evidence that even apparently "free" labor might not be a good deal for employers, either. Research that attempts to quantify the relationship between hours worked and productivity found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours, according to a study published last year by John Pencavel of Stanford University. MSNBC

Feds’ Unemployment Benefits Made Job Recession Worse
If you pay people not to work, they won’t work — and cutting off their payments sends them scurrying back into the job market, according to new research by three academics who looked at the federal government’s extended unemployment benefit program and concluded that it actually deepened, rather than helped, the jobs recession. Once the benefits ended at the end of 2013, the jobs picture began to rebound, trouncing even some of the rosier predictions for the year, the academics said in a new National Bureau of Economic Research paper released this month. Washington Times
VOA VIEW: Government interference always makes matters worse.

S&P Downgrades Russia's Credit Rating To Junk Status
Standard & Poor's downgraded Russia's sovereign credit rating to junk status amid a steady decline in the country's economy. The hits keep on coming for Russia's economy. Oil's dramatic decline, and sanctions by the United States and other European countries have put the country on a steady march toward a possible recession.
The Russian ruble has reached an all-time low, losing more than 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar in 2014. After Monday's credit ranking news, the ruble fell another five percent to 68.57 against the dollar as of 5 p.m. Monday. Now with it's new BB+ or below investment grade status from Standard & Poor's, Russia will have a harder time borrowing money, and if it does, it'll cost the country more. The credit rating agency expects inflation to rise above 10 percent in Russia in 2015. UPI

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Northeast Corridor Braces For 'Potentially Historic' Snowstorm
Much of the Northeast was going into shutdown mode Monday ahead of a blizzard of "historic proportions," with thousands of flight cancellations, a statewide travel ban in Connecticut and road crews and utilities braced for a long night of work heading into Tuesday, when the storm could reach full strength. The blizzard is expected to dump as much as 3 feet of snow along a 250-mile stretch from northern New Jersey up to southern Maine, affecting as many as 50 million people and potentially crippling New York City and Boston. Snowfall was expected as far south as Washington. The warning issued by the National Weather Service also indicated winds of up to 75 miles per hour and widespread coastal flooding was possible, starting Monday and extending throughout Tuesday. Fox News

Sen. Feinstein: 'I Think Our Intelligence...In Many Of These Countries Is Weak'
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the former chair of the Senate intelligence committee, says she agrees with Republican Sen. John McCain that the U.S. needs Special Operations forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria: "Let me tell you where I come down on it," Feinstein told CBS's "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer. "I think our intelligence with respect to what's going to happen in many of these countries is weak. Whether it's because we do not have adequate human intelligence or not, I don't know. CNS News

Judge Puts Alabama Same-Sex Marriages On Hold After Striking Down Ban
Same-sex couples in Alabama will have to put their wedding plans on hold after a federal judge issued a two-week stay on her ruling that struck down the state's laws banning gay marriages, including those performed legally in other states. U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade said in an order issued Sunday night that she would give the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals until Feb. 9 to decide whether gay marriages should continue to be delayed in the state. "As long as a stay is in place, same-sex couples and their families remain in a state of limbo with respect to adoption, child care and custody, medical decisions, employment and health benefits, future tax implications, inheritance and many other rights associated with marriage," Granade wrote. Reuters

U.S. Top Court Rules For Employer In Retiree Benefits Fight
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with a company that amended a collective bargaining agreement to force retirees to pay toward healthcare costs, throwing out a lower-court ruling that favored the former employees who objected to the change. On a unanimous vote, the nine-member court handed a win to M&G Polymers USA, a subsidiary of Italy-based chemical company Mossi & Ghisolfi International, by sending the case back for further proceedings in the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Allyson Ho, the company's lawyer, said the Supreme Court's ruling "sends a strong message that restores a level playing field in benefits litigation nationwide." Reuters

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Iran Nuclear Debate Takes Partisan Shape, As Democrats Resist
Democrats on Capitol Hill have introduced a plan that would endorse international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program while vowing to sanction Iran if the effort fails. The resolution, introduced by ten Democratic senators, is non-binding and does not formally codify new sanctions against the Islamic Republic, in the event of a breakdown in the talks or a violation of negotiating terms. That makes all the difference, according to Obama administration officials, who say a bill that "triggers" new sanctions would be interpreted by Iran and the international community as a subterfuge in the diplomatic effort. Jerusalem Post

US Halted Israeli Arms Transfer To Nigeria
The United States suspended the resale of US-made military helicopters by Israel to the Nigerian government for its fight against Boko Haram last summer, according to Abuja. The transfer of such aircraft requires a review to determine its “consistency with US policy interests,” Obama administration officials told The Jerusalem Post.
Reviews of this kind take place in the case of “any requests for one country to transfer US-origin defense items to another country,” said Ned Price, White House Assistant Press Secretary and Director for Strategic Communications. According to a report initially published in a local Nigerian daily, ThisDay, Nigerian government officials believe a large sale was halted because of “unfounded allegations of human rights violations by our troops,” one such official is quoted saying. The Nigerian official is not named in the report. Jerusalem Post

Syrian Kurds 'Drive Islamic State Out Of Kobane'
Kurdish forces have driven Islamic State (IS) militants from Kobane, officials say, ending a four-month battle for the northern Syrian town. Fighters from the Popular Protection Units (YPG) were said to have entered outlying areas in the east of the town after the jihadists retreated. However, the US said it was not yet prepared to declare the battle over. Kobane was seen as a major test of the US-led coalition's strategy to combat IS in Syria with air strikes. Tens of thousands of people fled over the nearby border with Turkey after IS launched an offensive in September, capturing about 300 nearby villages before entering the predominantly Kurdish town itself. BBC

Dementia Linked' To Common Over-The-Counter Drugs
A study has linked commonly used medicines, including over-the-counter treatments for conditions such as insomnia and hay-fever, to dementia. All of the types of medication in question are drugs that have an "anticholinergic" effect. Experts say people should not panic or stop taking their medicines. In the US study, in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, higher doses and prolonged use were linked to higher dementia risk in elderly people. All medicines can have side-effects and anticholinergic-type drugs that block a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine are no exception. We would encourage doctors and pharmacists to be aware of this potential link and would advise anyone concerned about this to speak to their GP before stopping any medication”. Patient information leaflets accompanying such drugs warn of the possibility of reduced attention span and memory problems as well as a dry mouth. BBC

WikiLeaks Threatens Legal Action Against Google And US After Email Revelations
WikiLeaks is fighting back in an escalating war with both Google and the US government, threatening legal action the day after demanding answers for the tech giant’s wholesale handover of its staffers’ Gmail contents to US law enforcement. The targets of the investigation were not notified until two and a half years after secret search warrants were issued and served by the FBI, legal representatives for WikiLeaks said in a press conference on Monday. “We’re looking at legal action not only with Google but to those who actually turned in the order,” said Baltasar Garzón, the head of Julian Assange’s legal defence team. Calling the order illegal and arbitrary, Garzón said insisted “any information that would be used from the taking of documents [this way] will be considered as biased, illegal and will cancel the whole proceedings.” Guardian

Climate Change Responsible For Super-Charging Winter Storms, Scientists Say
Winters may be getting shorter, but watch out when it does snow: climate change is super-charging storms like the blizzard engulfing the American north-east, scientists said on Monday. The heavier storms of recent years – snowfalls that shut down cities and brought heavy flooding to coastal areas of New England – carried the imprints of climate change, as researchers get better at detecting the fingerprints of global warming – even from snow. It was too soon to pin the current storm to climate change, but a trend line was emerging, the scientists said. “The snow season is getting shorter,” said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “But the interesting thing is you can end up with heavier snows in part because of climate change.” Guardian

Bashar Al-Assad Accuses Israel Of 'Supporting' Syrian Islamist Groups
President Bashar al-Assad on Monday accused Israel of acting as "al-Qaeda's air force" for its attacks on regime and Hizbollah positions in Syria. Mr Assad repeated previous Syrian allegations that Israel was supporting rebel activity in the country – including by Jabhat al-Nusra, the militant group loyal to al-Qaeda. "They are supporting the rebels in Syria. It's very clear," he told Foreign Affairs magazine. "Because whenever we make advances in some place, they make an attack in order to undermine the army. "That's why some in Syria joke: 'How can you say that al-Qaeda doesn't have an air force? They have the Israeli air force'." In the interview, Mr Assad repeated his now familiar claim that the opposition are "puppets" of outside powers. Telegraph

UN Rights Chief Says World ‘Haunted’ By Suffering Endured By Millions During Holocaust
Ahead of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, taking place tomorrow, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement to mark the “forever solemn day” when the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp was liberated. Seventy years since the camp was liberated on 27 January 1945, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he bowed “both personally and as a representative of the United Nations” to every woman, man and child who was forced to endure terrible suffering at the hands of the Nazis. UN News

Libya: Latest Round Of UN-Mediated Peace Talks Kick-Off In Geneva
Libyan parties have gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, today for a new round of United Nations-facilitated talks aimed at resolving the North African nation's political crisis. The latest gathering, hosted by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), is a follow-up to a meeting held in the Swiss city last week, when stakeholders expressed commitment to a united and democratic Libya governed by the rule of law and respect for human rights. This time around the participants will discuss the items that were agreed on last week. On Wednesday, another meeting will bring together municipal and local council representatives from cities and towns across Libya to discuss confidence-building measures. In a statement issued over the weekend, UNSMIL appealed to all Libyan stakeholders and invited participants to approach these talks 'in a spirit of openness and reconciliation that is guided by the higher national interest of the Libyan people.' UN News

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