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Obama Says U.S. Blacks Better Off Overall Than When He Began Presidency
President Barack Obama said on Friday that U.S. blacks are better off now than they were when he began his presidency in 2009, but that the gap between blacks and whites remains. "Like the rest of America, Black America, in the aggregate, is better off now than it was when I came into office," he told reporters in an end-of-year news conference. "The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists, and we've got more work to do on that front." Obama said many of the jobs and housing that has been created since he took office has gone to African-Americans. Reuters
VOA VIEW: Silly thought -  blacks are worse off under Obama reign.

Obama And Putin: From Frosty To Frozen
The tanking Russian economy seems to be doing little to encourage President Vladimir Putin to repair relations with the West. In fact, Putin is slipping deeper into a revisionist Cold War mindset, sending the worst East-West standoff in decades into a potentially more dangerous phase. With Russia's economy on the verge of collapse, Putin could have used his annual marathon news conference on Thursday to show flexibility over Ukraine and to raise the prospect of relief from Western sanctions. But instead, in powerful rhetoric, he dug in, comparing Russia to a "bear" that the United States and its allies are determined to chain down before ripping out "its teeth and claws." CNN

CIA Unlikely To Punish Staff Over Senate Computer Search
A panel investigating the CIA's search of a computer network used by U.S. Senate staff will not recommend disciplining the agency officials involved in the incident, according to the New York Times. The review panel is looking into the search by agency officials of staffers from the Senate Intelligence Committee who were investigating the CIA's use of torture in interrogations of detainees after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. The Times, citing current and former government officials, said the panel was likely to fault the Central Intelligence Agency for missteps. Reuters

U.S. Government Sends 4 Guantanamo Prisoners Back To Afghanistan
The United States released four Guantanamo Bay prisoners to their home country of Afghanistan, the Department of Defense announced Saturday. Defense officials said Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir were approved for transfer by the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force, which considers security issues and other factors in intensive reviews of possible releases. "This repatriation reflects the Defense Department's continued commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo in a responsible manner," said Paul Lewis, the Defense Department's special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo. The transfer "demonstrates Afghan sovereignty and U.S. trust in the strength of Afghan government institutions," said a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The statement added that officials were confident that the Afghan administration has the "ability to mitigate any threats these individuals may pose." MSNBC


Putin Pals, ‘Night Wolves’ Biker Gang, Sanctioned By U.S.
The U.S. targeted a motorcycle group favored by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the latest expansion of economic sanctions imposed over the Kremlin’s support for Ukrainian separatists. All together the Treasury Department added 24 individuals and entities to the list of sanctions, barring travel and financial dealings with the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The biker gang, known as the “Night Wolves” took part in armed fighting in Ukraine. The 5,000 member biker club has close ties to Mr. Putin, who has become friends with its leader, Alexander Zaldostanov, known among the bikers as “The Surgeon,” The Telegraph reported earlier this year. Washington Times

Air Force Admits Nuke Flaws, But Will Fixes Work?
Faced with one of its biggest challenges in years - repairing a troubled nuclear missile corps - the Air Force has taken an important first step by admitting, after years of denial, that its problems run deep and wide. Less certain is whether it will find all the right fixes, apply them fully and convince a doubting force of launch officers, security guards and other nuclear workers that their small and narrow career field is not a dead end. The stakes are huge. The nation's strategy for deterring nuclear war rests in part on the 450 Minuteman 3 missiles that stand ready, 24/7, to launch at a moment's notice from underground silos in five states. ABC

Scratch From Pet Rat Kills California Boy
The tragic death from "rat-bite fever" of a 10-year-old San Diego boy highlights the risk carried by the pet rodents, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Rat-bite fever is a rare but potentially fatal illness that should be considered in persons with rash, fever and joint pain, and when a history of rodent exposure is reported," said a team led by Dr. Jessica Adam of the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service. The case outlined in the report occurred in August of 2013. Adam's team said the boy, previously healthy, first developed a fever of 102.6 degrees and "experienced rigors, fevers, vomiting, headaches and leg pains." CBS

U.S. Soldiers Fight Islamic State in Iraq, Kurds Advance
U.S. soldiers clashed with Islamic State militants, helping the Iraqi army repel attacks against the town of al-Baghdadi in the Western Anbar province, Al Jazeera TV reported today, as Kurdish forces advanced in the north. The U.S. troops were from al-Assad military base, the biggest in Anbar, First Lieutenant Muneer al-Qoud from the Iraqi police said by phone today. U.S. Central Command is aware of the reports and is looking into them, a spokesman said today. The clashes may mark the first time U.S. ground forces have engaged Islamic State militants since President Barack Obama authorized air strikes against the al-Qaeda breakaway group in August. A ground conflict would mark a policy shift for Obama, who made pulling the U.S. out of Iraq the centerpiece of his first presidential campaign and oversaw the withdrawal of combat forces from the country in 2011. Bloomberg


U.S. Seeks BP Fine Of Up To $18 Billion For Gulf Oil Spill Disaster
The government wants BP Plc (BP/) to pay $16 billion to $18 billion in water-pollution fines for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history while seeking more than $1 billion from the co-owner of the blown-out well that caused the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster. The federal government said BP deserves the maximum fine, which BP said would be the biggest Clean Water Act penalty ever and called it a “gross outlier” compared to other cases. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans ruled in September that London-based BP acted with gross negligence in drilling the well, a finding that quadruples the per-barrel penalty. As of Oct. 28, the company had set aside $3.51 billion for the penalties, saying that’s a reliable estimate of its liability if it wins an appeal of the judge’s ruling. Bloomberg

Half of Dr. Oz's Medical Advice Is Baseless Or Wrong
It's not hard to understand what makes Dr. Oz so popular. Called "America's doctor," syndicated talk-show host Mehmet Oz speaks in a way anyone can understand. Medicine may be complex. But with Dr. Oz, clad in scrubs and crooning to millions of viewers about "miracles" and "revolutionary" breakthroughs, it's often not. He somehow makes it fun. And people can't get enough. "I haven't seen a doctor in eight years," the New Yorker quoted one viewer telling Oz. "I'm scared. You're the only one I trust." But is that trust misplaced? Or has Oz, who often peddles miracle cures for weight loss and other maladies, mortgaged medical veracity for entertainment value? Newsday

Staples: Millions Exposed In Data Breach
Staples Inc. said hackers stole personal information from up to 1.16 million payment cards used in the Northeastern United States during the busy back-to-school shopping weeks earlier this year. Malware was deployed at 115 of the office-supply company's approximately 1,400 stores in the United States, the company said. At 113 of the stores, the breach allowed access to personal information from August 10 to Sept. 16. At two stores, personal information was accessed between July 20 and Sept. 16. The company established a web site that shows which stores were breached. UPI

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Congress Finishes Up, Its Members Still Grumbling
The 113th Congress began its turbulent life two years ago battling over whether to help Superstorm Sandy victims. They did, eventually. By the time Congress limped out of town last week, one of its last acts was to honor the 100th anniversary of the extinction of passenger pigeons. In between were mostly modest achievements overshadowed by partisan gridlock, investigations and sharp clashes capped by a government shutdown. If productivity is measured by laws enacted, this Congress one was near the bottom. Congressional and White House data showed that President Barack Obama signed 296 bills into law as of Friday, the second lowest total, by just 13 measures, for any two-year Congress in records dating to the 1940s. ABC

GOP Congressman Offers Obama A Lump Of Coal For Christmas
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, offered President Obama a lump of coal for Christmas on Saturday, urging the president to kickstart America's economic growth by accelerating the development of domestic energy resources. "I'm offering the president a lump of coal because this product right here holds the potential for a 21st-century economic revival," Kelly said in the weekly Republican address, holding a piece of coal aloft. "Coal is our most abundant and valuable resource. It lights our homes, keeps our electric bills low and puts food on the table for countless families. More than 40,000 jobs in my state alone are tied to coal." CBS

Cuban Art World Readies To Take On U.S. Market
U.S. art collectors are among those eagerly awaiting the effects of the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, announced this week.
The restoration of diplomatic ties is expected to increase interest in, and the cost of, examples of Cuba's vibrant contemporary art. Collector Howard Farber told the Wall Street Journal, "I believe Cuban art has been a best-kept secret among a few collectors," Mr. Farber said, "and now that Cuba is opening up to us I think more people will discover a genre that's fresh and great." Cuban art has been available to U.S. buyers, but procedures are complicated by bureaucracy and the Cuban art world's profile has been a low one; the U.S. embargo on Cuban goods exempts "cultural assets," like painting and sculpture, but few people within the United States support the market for star artists like Yoan Capote, Carlos Garaicoia and the duo Los Carpinteros. UPI


Bush's 2016 Remarks Kick Other Potential GOP Candidates Into Higher Gears
Jeb Bush’s announcement this week that he’s considering a 2016 presidential run appears to have dropped the starting gate on the GOP primary, with other potential Republican hopefuls like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Dr. Ben Carson following with their own, telltale moves. The Facebook announcement Tuesday by Bush, a former Florida governor, that he is “actively” exploring a White House bid was followed within hours by two Google ads buys from Paul’s leadership political action committee. The first Rand PAC ad appeared in the search results of those who Google searched Bush’s name. Fox News

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ISIS Reportedly Selling Christian Artifacts, Turning Churches Into Torture Chambers
The Islamic State is turning Christian churches in Iraq and Syria into dungeons and torture chambers after stripping them of priceless artifacts to sell on the black market, according to reports. Ancient relics and even entire murals are being torn from the houses of worship and smuggled out through the same routes previously established for moving oil and weapons in and out of the so-called caliphate, a vast region the jihadist army has claimed as sovereign under Sharia law. "ISIS has a stated goal to wipe out Christianity,” Jay Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice and the author of "Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can't Ignore," told FoxNews.com. “This why they are crucifying Christians -- including children -- destroying churches and selling artifacts. The fact is, this group will stop at nothing to raise funds for its terrorist mission.” Fox News

Cuban President Raul Castro To U.S.: Respect Our Communist Government
Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday demanded that the United States respect Cuba's communist rule as the two countries work toward normalizing diplomatic ties. President Barack Obama this week reset Washington's Cold War-era policy on Cuba and the two countries swapped prisoners in a historic deal after 18 months of secret talks. U.S. officials will visit Havana in January to start talks on normalization, and Obama has said his government will push Cuba on issues of human and political rights as they negotiate over the coming months. Castro said Saturday he is open to discussing a wide range of issues but that they should also cover the United States and he stressed that Cuba would not be giving up its socialist principles. MSNBC

Russian Bombers Buzz U.S. Pacific Island Of Guam
Russian strategic bombers conducted a third circumnavigation of the U.S. Pacific island of Guam last week as other bombers flew close to Alaska and Europe, defense officials said. Two Tu-95 Bear H bombers made the flight around Guam, a key U.S. military hub in the western Pacific, on Dec. 13. No U.S. interceptor jets were dispatched to shadow the bombers. Separately, two Canadian F-18s intercepted two Bear bombers that intruded into the Alaska air defense identification zone on Dec. 8 that a military spokesman called “unwanted, provocative, and potentially destabilizing.” Washington Times

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Netanyahu: We Will Not Ignore Even One Rocket
Israel 's safety is the number one priority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday, regarding a rocket from Gaza that landed in Israel on Friday and an IAF attack on a Hamas cement factory in response. Speaking during a Hannuka candle lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said "I want to thank you soldiers for your contribution to Israel's safety. Israel's safety comes first. I won't allow even one rocket, and that is why the IAF responded to the rocket and destroyed a cement factory that was making cement to repair tunnels that were hit during Operation Protective Edge. Hamas will be held responsible for every escalation. We will protect Israel's safety. Happy holidays to everyone," he said. Jerusalem Post

UN: Israel Must Pay Lebanon 850 Million Dollars
The UN General Assembly approved on Saturday a resolution calling on Israel to pay Lebanon more than $850 million for damages caused by an oil spill allegedly resulting from attacks by the IDF on oil storage tanks during the Second Lebanon War. The resolution, which was past by a vote of 170 countries supporting and only six opposing, does not obligate Israel to pay. Jerusalem Post

Mount Sinjar: Islamic State Siege Broken, Say Kurds
Kurdish forces in northern Iraq are claiming their biggest victory yet against Islamic State (IS) militants. They say they have broken the IS siege of Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis and other displaced Iraqis have been trapped since August. IS controls a swathe of Iraq and Syria, where it has declared a caliphate. Meanwhile, the Pentagon's top officer says US air strikes have killed several high-ranking military leaders of IS in Iraq. The Kurdish offensive against IS forces besieging Mount Sinjar began early on Wednesday with the most intensive round of air strikes yet by US and coalition forces - 45 in all. BBC

Asthma And Allergy Devices 'Not Used Properly'
Patients with asthma and severe allergies are often not taught how to use their medical devices properly, charities have warned. Asthma UK said in some cases poor technique led to people being put on stronger inhalers than they actually needed. And studies by Allergy UK suggest people struggle with instructions on auto-injectors in allergy emergencies. The charities are calling for better training for patients and NHS staff. The warning comes after a separate US study revealed only 16% of those prescribed adrenalin auto-injectors in case of a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction used them properly. BBC

Ebola Death Toll Close To 7,400, Says World Health Organisation
The death toll from the worst ever outbreak of Ebola has reached nearly 7,400, with just over 19,000 people infected across west Africa, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Sierra Leone reported 400 new fatalities this week, bringing the death toll there to 2,500. As of 18 December, it had the highest number of people infected by the virus – 8,800 cases, of which 6,900 were confirmed, according to the country’s health ministry. The WHO is attempting to curb an outbreak in the west of the country, where the disease is spreading fastest, by sending a “massive surge of staff and resources” to the area. Guardian

US Delivers 10 Helicopters To Egypt In Sign Of Improving Relations
Egypt received 10 Apache helicopters from the US in the past week, security sources said on Saturday, in a sign of easing tensions between the longtime allies confronting Islamist extremism across north Africa and the Middle East. The US announced in April that it had decided to lift its hold on the delivery of the attack helicopters. The hold was imposed last year, after the military toppled elected president Mohamed Morsi and cracked down hard on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The Pentagon said in September that the US would deliver the helicopters, built by Boeing, to support Cairo’s counter-terrorism efforts. Guradian

Barack Obama On Collision Course With Republicans In Congress Over Keystone Pipeline
President Barack Obama has set himself on an immediate collision course with the new Republican-run Congress over calls for the construction of a contentious oil pipeline. The incoming Republican leaders in the Senate plan to pass legislation authorising the Keystone XL pipeline as soon as they assume control in January, arguing that the project will help the economy and deliver jobs. But the legislation would have to be signed by Mr Obama to come into effect. And his comments at his end-of-year press conference strongly signalled that he would veto one of the most hotly-disputed projects in the US. Telegraph

Christmas Stampede Drives Strongest Sales Growth In 26 Years
The ongoing supermarket price war and online sales drove the strongest UK retail sales growth in more than a quarter of a century this month, as shoppers rushed out to bag early Christmas bargains. Deep discounts on the high street encouraged consumers to bring forward some of their spending on Christmas presents this year, according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The CBI said 71pc of the businesses it surveyed said sales volumes were higher in the fortnight to December 11 than they were a year ago, compared with 9pc that said they were down. The resulting balance of 61pc was the highest since 1988. Telegraph

In Guinea, As Ebola Spread Slows, Ban Pledges UN Support Towards Total Eradication
Cautioning that much remains to be done to wipe out Ebola in Guinea, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that joint national, regional and global efforts have “significantly” slowed the spread of the deadly virus, giving hope to thousands of people and providing space for communities to look ahead to socio-economic recovery. “Thanks to the determination of national authorities, the mobilization of affected populations and with partners around the world, the spread of the virus has been significantly slowed in some regions of the country,” said Mr. Ban during a press conference in Conakry alongside Guinean President Alpha Condé. UN News

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