- - Thursday, April 28, 2011


First lady says overseas trips are family highlights

Michelle Obama says some of the first family’s best moments have been during trips abroad.

During an interview on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” the first lady singled out a visit to Rome in 2009 when the president and his family met Pope Benedict XVI. She talked about watching daughters Malia and Sasha as they met the pontiff.

President Obama joked during the interview that, as the girls got tired, every time someone wearing a frock passed by they asked, “Is that the pope?” He said he told them they would know when it was the pope.

Miss Winfrey’s show released an excerpt from the interview Thursday. The Obamas taped it Wednesday at Miss Winfrey’s studio in Chicago. It’s scheduled to be broadcast nationally on Monday.


Clarification urged for cities on fingerprinting program

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, is asking for an investigation of Homeland Security Department employees over a supposedly voluntary immigration enforcement program that linked cities with the federal immigration database.

When cities declined to join the program, federal officials told them it was mandatory.

Ms. Lofgren said she thinks some of the statements made by Homeland Security Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees were intentionally false and misleading.

She asked the department’s inspector general to investigate.

The Secure Communities program invited cities to have local suspects’ fingerprints run through the federal immigration database. But the Associated Press reported in February that cities were not allowed to decline to participate, despite assurances to the contrary.


Obama lauds free-trade deal with Panama

President Obama is commending Panama’s president for his leadership in resolving issues that had stalled a key free-trade agreement between their countries.

Mr. Obama said he is confident that the deal will be good for the economy in the U.S. and in Panama. He spoke in the Oval Office alongside President Ricardo Martinelli.

The U.S. and Panama reached agreement on the pact this month after the Panamanian government signed off on a provision to deter tax evasion by using banks in the Central American country.

Mr. Obama also said Panama would be a key partner in regional security and the promotion of democracy in Latin America.


Lawmaker seeks ban on doping of horses

Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat, is seeking a national ban on performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing, calling for a federal role in a sport that lacks uniform standards.

Under the legislation, any person with three violations would be permanently banned from horse racing. A horse that tests positive for performance-enhancing drugs three times would receive a two-year ban.

The bill will be introduced three years after some in the industry urged the federal government to get involved. One prominent horse owner pleaded at a hearing for Congress to help.

Mr. Udall plans to announce the bill next week, ahead of the Kentucky Derby. The Associated Press obtained a draft of the legislation Thursday.


Judge OKs $680 million settlement for Indian farmers

A federal judge has approved a $680 million settlement between the Agriculture Department and American Indian farmers who say they were denied loans because of discrimination.

The two sides agreed on the deal last year, subject to court approval. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan approved the terms Thursday.

Individuals who can prove discrimination could receive up to $250,000. The agreement also includes $80 million in farm debt forgiveness for the Indian plaintiffs and a series of initiatives to try to alleviate racism against American Indians and other minorities in rural farm loan offices.

The lawsuit, filed in 1999, contends Indian farmers and ranchers lost hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades. The government last year settled a similar lawsuit filed by black farmers more than a decade ago.


Nuclear regulator asked about blackout plans

The nation’s top nuclear regulator is casting doubt on whether reactors in the U.S. are prepared for the type of prolonged power outage that struck a nuclear power plant in Japan.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko said Thursday that a U.S. requirement that a plant be able to last at least four hours without any electrical power “doesn’t seem to be reasonable” after the Japanese disaster. After that time, the radioactive core’s cooling systems could fail unless some power is restored.

Of the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S., 87 can last four hours in a blackout. Another 14 can cope for eight hours, and three can last for 16 hours.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant had no electrical power for days after the earthquake and tsunami.

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