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Obama: ‘We Can Afford’ $74B Spending Increase
Despite a national debt over $18 trillion, President Obama said Saturday the nation can afford the major spending increases he’ll put forward in his fiscal year 2016 budget, due out Monday. In his weekly address, Mr. Obama made the case that the federal government has the money to invest in infrastructure, education and other priorities because of shrinking deficits, though he also is calling for tax hikes on the wealthy to fund his desired $74 billion increase in spending. His budget also would undo the automatic cuts known as sequestration, paving the way for even higher spending down the road. Washington Times
VOA VIEW: Obama has lost his economic mind.

Saudi Arabia Faces ISIS Threats During Transition Of New King
ISIS recruits from Saudi Arabia have their sights set on seizing their oil-rich homeland, and may be preparing to strike while the Kingdom's throne is changing hands, according to Middle East intelligence experts. A division of the Islamic State, or ISIS, reportedly released a video stating its intention to invade Saudi Arabia, a powerful U.S. ally transitioning after the death of its former king. The threat was issued by a group of Saudi militants who have joined the militant group in Iraq and Syria, and also urged sympathizers inside the Kingdom to attack from within, SITE Intelligence, an organization that tracks jihadist propaganda, reported.  The grim warning underscores the terror organization's desire to annex the Middle East's wealthiest nation, said experts, as well as the country that is home to the most holy site in the Muslim world, Mecca. Fox News

Hagel: Gitmo Transfers Caused Friction With Some At White House
White House officials pressured Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to increase the pace of detainee transfers from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, the outgoing secretary acknowledged to CNN's Barbara Starr in an interview Friday. Those comments come just one day after reports surfaced that a Guantanamo detainee released as part of the deal that freed American POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may have sought to return to militant activity. CNN


Treasury Official Among Those Eyed For Regional U.S. Fed Openings
A U.S. Treasury official and a director at the New York Federal Reserve are among those who have been considered to replace two hawkish Fed policymakers, according to people familiar with the searches. Final decisions are not imminent in the efforts to find successors to Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, who steps down March 1, and Richard Fisher of the Dallas Fed, who retires on March 19. But the clock is ticking to fill those positions, with names beginning to surface as potential candidates. Reuters

Koch Spending Presents A Challenge For Republicans, Too
The $889 million pledge by wealthy entrepreneurs Charles and David Koch and their network for the 2016 presidential cycle will come as welcome news to Republican candidates and causes who are likely to see the benefit of the spending spree, but for the Republican Party apparatus, it causes a bit of heartburn. Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, offered a muted response to the Koch revelation that they want to spend more than the RNC and its Democratic counterpart combined in 2012. "While we are the only ones legally allowed to coordinate with the nominee, we hope they are successful in achieving their goal. The more conservatives we can reach the better off our team is," Kukowski said. MSNBC

Jeb Bush Is A Hypocrite About Marijuana, Rand Paul Says
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, accused Jeb Bush of "hypocrisy" Friday after a report in the Boston Globe chronicled Bush's marijuana use during high school. Bush, a former Florida governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate, opposes the use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. "This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana but he wants to put people in jail who do," Paul, who's also mulling a presidential bid, said during an interview with The Hill newspaper. "You would think he'd have a little more understanding, then." In the Globe's report, Bush acknowledged some experimentation with the drug during his time at Phillips Academy in Andover, an elite private boarding school in Massachusetts. CBS
VOA VIEW: Paul is out of control.

NASA Launches $916 Million Soil Moisture Satellite
A United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket boosted an innovative NASA satellite into orbit Saturday, kicking off a three-year, $916 million mission to measure the moisture, frozen and liquid, in the top few inches of Earth's soil to improve forecasting, to better understand the causes and impact of droughts, floods and other natural disasters and to improve long-range climate change projections. "With the launch of this project, decision makers will be better able to understand the water cycle and how soil moisture fits into that," said Christine Bonniksen, NASA program executive of the Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, mission. "The soil actually gathers the precipitation prior to it entering the rivers and then evaporating back into the atmosphere. CBS


Nearly 4 In 10 Would Steer Kids To Play Sports Other Than Football
Ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl showdown, nearly four-in-10 Americans - 37 percent - say they would encourage their child to play another sport other than football due to concerns about concussions, according to a newly released result from the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. By contrast, 60 percent of respondents say they disagree and would back their children if they wanted to play football. These findings are essentially unchanged from an NBC/WSJ poll from a year ago, when 40 percent said they'd encourage their children to play another sport, while 57 percent wouldn't. MSNBC

U.S. May Need Ground Troops In Iraq
Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Friday that the U.S. might need to send non-combat ground troops to Iraq to help push back Islamic State forces. Mr. Hagel told CNN on Friday that all options must be considered in Iraq, including sending troops for non-combat roles such as intelligence gathering and locating Islamic State targets. “I think it may require a forward deployment of some of our troops…,” he said, Reuters reported. “I would say we’re not there yet. Whether we get there or not, I don’t know.” Washington Times
VOA VIEW: Iraq has failed the loyalty test and no further US military should be at jeopardy.

Romney's Exit Unleashes Race For Donors Among 2016 Hopefuls
Mitt Romney's exit from the presidential campaign has unleashed a frenzy of fresh fundraising and set off a new race for the backing of donors who had remained loyal to the 2012 Republican nominee. Big dollars were said to flow immediately on Friday to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who already had won over several of Romney's past donors. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie claimed the support of others who were waiting on Romney to make a decision about whether to seek the White House a third time. Tony Carbonetti, a Christie supporter and top aide to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a 2008 GOP candidate, said every major Republican donor got at least two calls on Friday — one from Christie's people and one from those promoting Bush. ABC

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In Los Angeles, Muslim Women Find Empowermen In Female-Only Friday Prayers
Friday's gathering at the interfaith center - a former Jewish synagogue near downtown Los Angeles with Stars of David etched into the stained glass windows - aims to encourage women to participate fully in Muslim prayer and education. Significantly, women are at the helm. In traditional mosques, women pray separately from men, which can distance them from the lecturer. Women may also feel excluded for other reasons, such as male-only Koran studies. Muslim women often meet for casual gatherings and prayer, but rarely do they unite in a formal setting, such as the Friday worship, under the banner of a mosque. "The fact that this is the Friday prayer, the jumma'a, and that there's a woman officially giving the sermon, the khutbah, that's new," said Donna Auston, a doctoral candidate studying American Muslim culture at Rutgers University. Reuters

FICO VS. VantageScore: The Credit Score Rivalry Heats Up
VantageScore is making headway into the credit score market dominated by FICO, says the firm behind the upstart measure of credit-worthiness. Nearly one billion VantageScores were generated in 2014 -- a 600% increase -- says VantageScore Solutions LLC, a creation of the nation's three credit bureaus. The number of banks using the scores increased by 24 percent. The VantageScore was created in 2006 by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion as a competitor to the FICO score. The FICO score uses credit bureau data, but was invented and controlled by Fair Isaac Corporation, a separate firm. ABC

The Oil Collapse Isn't Stopping America's Investment In Energy
After an epic collapse in crude prices, U.S. oil companies still aren't blinking. Investment in drilling rigs and wells actually improved in the closing months of 2014.
Outlays for rigs and wells climbed at an 8.9 percent pace in the fourth quarter after an 8.3 percent increase from July through September, today's Commerce Department report on gross domestic product showed.  As you can see from the chart below, those figures are a slight slowdown from numbers in the first half of 2014, but are definitely no halt. Bloomberg


Michelle Obama Defends 'American Sniper' At Veterans Event
First lady Michelle Obama urged Hollywood to give a more accurate portrayal of veterans and defended the Oscar-nominated "American Sniper," which has received criticism for its depiction of war. Bradley Cooper, who is nominated for best actor for his portrayal of the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, joined Obama and media heavyweights in Washington, D.C., on Friday to launch "6 Certified" with representatives from Warner Bros., National Geographic Channels and the Producers Guild of America. The initiative will allow TV shows and films to display an onscreen badge that tells viewers the show they're watching has been certified by the group Got Your 6, which derives its name from military slang for "I've got your back." To be approved, the film or show must cast a veteran, tell a veteran story, have a story written by a veteran or use veterans as resources. Fox News

Navy Abandons ‘Global Force For Good’ To Broaden Appeal
The Navy is taking a new approach to its recruiting commercials: Appealing to people who are already in uniform, have long since left the military and those who never will join. New Navy commercials have been developed to appeal to traditional recruits, those in the Navy and the American public as the service seeks to improve retention and better position itself in the public eye in an era of shrinking defense budgets. Since 2009, the Navy had used the tagline 'America's Navy. A global force for good' as part of an effort to appeal to service-minded young people. While successful attracting recruits, the Navy began phasing it out last year after receiving feedback that it wasn't popular with sailors or veterans. The new commercials only retain the phrasing 'America's Navy.' Las Vegas Sun

Judge: Return Lee Harvey Oswald's Casket To Brother
The original pine casket that Lee Harvey Oswald was buried in belongs to his brother, not the funeral home that sold it at auction in 2010 for nearly $88,000, a Texas judge ruled. Judge Donald Cosby ordered Baumgardner Funeral Home to return the casket and pay Oswald's brother Robert the auction price of $87,468. Oswald was shot and killed in 1963 after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and was buried in the $300 pine box. His body was exhumed in 1981 after conspiracy theories suggested a look-alike Russian agent was buried in his place. After testing proved it was Oswald, his body was transferred to another casket and reburied. The original coffin, however, remained with Baumgardner Funeral Home, owned by Allen Baumgardner Sr. UPI

John Kerry Brushes Off Snow-Shoveling Dust-Up
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has nothing more to say about his recent snow-shoveling controversy. Kerry was fined $50 Thursday for failing to clear the sidewalk in front of his Beacon Hill mansion after a blizzard dumped two feet of snow in the area. A local resident complained about the snow on the city's Citizen Connect website and the city issued a ticket. Kerry was in Saudia Arabia with President Barack Obama attending the funeral of King Abdullah when the blizzard struck. Kerry's spokesman Glen Johnson said yellow caution tape was placed along the snowy sidewalk to warn pedestrians, but the snow-removal crew thought the tape meant it was off limits to clearing. UPI

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2.1 Million Cars Recalled For Crash Sensors
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced on Saturday the recall of over 2 million vehicles to fix faulty crash sensors that could cause airbags to deploy for no reason. All the vehicles had previously been recalled for this issue but the manufacturers' repairs have not stopped the problem. The sensors, which are designed to sense a serious impact, were made by auto parts supplier TRW (TRW). The earlier fix, which involved installing devices to protect the airbag sensor module from electrical surges, was very effective, reducing inadvertent airbag deployments by about 85%, according to NHTSA. But some unwarranted deployments were still occurring. CNN

Greece Will Repay ECB, IMF, Reach Deal With EU
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to repair relations with creditors after a week-long selloff in bonds and stocks, a move welcomed by euro area officials concerned they were headed for a showdown with the bloc’s most indebted nation. Greece will repay its debts to the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund and reach a deal “soon” with the euro-area nations that funded most of the country’s financial rescue, Tsipras said in a statement e-mailed to Bloomberg News on Saturday. “The deliberation with our European partners has just begun,” Tsipras said. “Despite the fact that there are differences in perspective, I am absolutely confident that we will soon manage to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, both for Greece and for Europe as a whole.” Bloomberg

New York Assembly Facing Historic Change In Leadership
The contest to succeed longtime New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was supposed to be an open process, giving lawmakers two weeks to mull their options.
Instead, it's looking increasingly likely that the decision will be made before Silver's resignation from the post amid federal corruption charges takes effect Monday night. That outcome would dash the hopes of some lawmakers and reformers who pushed for a departure from Albany's usual backroom politics. Assemblyman Carl Heastie (HAY'-stee) of the Bronx has emerged as the clear favorite from a field that just a few days ago featured five contenders. Three of them quickly backed out and threw their support behind Heastie, who would be the first African-American speaker in New York. He has only one opponent, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan of Queens. Las Vegas Sun

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Hamas No Longer Accepts Egypt As Israel Mediator
An Egyptian court on Saturday banned the armed wing of Palestinian group Hamas and listed it as a terrorist organization, a ruling in keeping with a systematic crackdown on Islamists by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Sisi said on Saturday Egypt faces a tough, prolonged campaign against militancy. "(It) will be difficult, strong, evil and will take a long time," he said in comments broadcast on state television after meeting top military officers. Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have also declared a terrorist group and repressed thoroughly since the army ousted one of its leaders, Mohamed Mursi, from the presidency in 2013. Jerusalem Post

'Israel Knew About The Gaza Tunnel Threat But Did Bothing About It'
Heavy criticism has been directed against the political and security establishments regarding the IDF being unprepared for the scope of the Hamas tunnel threat during last year's Operation Protective Edge. On Saturday, former OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, who is also the number two candidate for the Knesset on the Koolanu list, added his own harsh critique of the government, accusing it of knowing about the threat prior to the war and allowing it to continue. Galant said that the attack tunnel threat began many years before last summer's war, and that during his tenure that coincided with Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, ninety-two tunnels were destroyed. Jerusalem Post

Egypt President Sisi Warns Of 'Long Battle' With Militants
Egypt faces a long and difficult battle with militants, the country's president has said, in his first remarks since a deadly attack in the Sinai region. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi spoke a day after a group linked to Islamic State said it killed at least 32 soldiers and police. "This battle will be difficult, strong, evil and will take a long time," he said in comments broadcast on state TV. Mr Sisi cut short a visit to an African Union summit to return to Egypt in the wake of the Sinai attack. On Saturday morning he chaired a meeting of the country's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf). BBC

Greece Economy: Merkel Rules Out More Debt Relief
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out cancelling any of Greece's debt, saying banks and creditors have already made substantial cuts. But Mrs Merkel told the Die Welt newspaper she still wanted Greece to stay in the eurozone. Greece's left-wing Syriza party won last weekend's election with a pledge to have half the debt written off. Its new finance minister has refused to work with the "troika" of global institutions overseeing Greek debt. The troika - the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund - had agreed a €240bn (£179bn; $270bn) bailout with the previous Greek government. BBC

Isis Video Purports To Show Beheading Of Japanese Hostage Kenji Goto
Islamic State (Isis) militants have released a video purportedly showing the beheading of the Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, ending days of negotiations by diplomats to save the man. The video, called A Message to the Government of Japan, featured a militant who looked and sounded like a man with a British accent who has taken part in other Isis beheading videos. Goto, kneeling in an orange prison jumpsuit, said nothing in the roughly one-minute-long video. “Abe,” the militant says in the video, referring to the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, “because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this man will not only slaughter Kenji but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.” Guardian

Who Will Lead The Right? New Breed Of Republicans Compete To Take On Clinton
In what may prove his final act in American politics, Mitt Romney has predicted that a fresh face will emerge from the crowd of familiar names crowding the 2016 presidential race and lead his party into the White House with new ideas. “I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” the former Massachusetts governor told supporters as he ruled himself out on Friday. Guardian

Ebola Epidemic Far From Over, But Tide Is Turning
The Ebola epidemic in the most affected West African countries is "far from over" but the tide is turning, the UN Secretary-General said on Saturday. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that the number of new Ebola cases recorded in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone fell below 100 for the first time in seven months. Speaking to African leaders gathered in Addis Ababa for the annual African Union Summit, Ban Ki-moon said he was proud of the work they did together.
Jocelyne Sambira reports. The African Union has been on the frontlines of the fight against the Ebola epidemic, the UN Chief said. UN News

Pakistan Urged To Protect Religious, Ethnic Minorities
Authorities in Pakistan are being urged to redouble efforts to protect religious and ethnic minorities following a terrorist attack that killed around 54 people. The call was made by the UN Secretary-General following the bombing of a mosque in the southern Sindh province belonging to the minority Shia Muslims. Jocelyne Sambira has the story. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "appalled" by what he described as a "vicious" attack targeting people because of their religious affiliation. Shia Muslims killed in the bombing were gathered for Friday's prayers. UN News

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