#HEADLINES: Bipartisan VA Reform Compromise in US Senate, Bergdahl Swap = End of Gitmo?, Israel to Expand Settlements in Response to New Palestinian Gov't, NBA Playoffs' Corporate Winners, FL Gov Signs $77 Billion Budget, UN's Next President Is Corrupt Gay-Hater, NYC Task Force Aids Mentally Ill Inmates
|Win McNamee / Getty Images|
"Senators from both parties have reached an agreement on legislation that would expand the ability of veterans to seek government-paid medical care outside the network of the VA medical system.
"Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who is chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, was joined by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain in making the announcement Thursday on the Senate floor."
|Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum|
"Ever since President Obama signed an executive order, on his second day in office, to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Republicans have blocked the effort with a steady stream of obstacles, including cutting funding for prisoner transfers to the U.S. and calling for impossible guarantees that released detainees would never pose a threat to America. As the White House's political will to overcome these hurdles waned, Obama’s supporters had reason to wonder if he would make good on his promise.
"But when Obama exchanged five Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, he demonstrated that despite the best efforts by Republicans to keep scores of men - most of them never charged with any crime - detained indefinitely, he has the power to both move prisoners and close the prison he once called a 'stain on America.' And he stands by his decision."
|Dan Balilty / Associated Press|
"In an almost predictable response to recent developments, Israel announced plans to expand construction in East Jerusalem and in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, drawing Palestinian outrage and deepening tensions with the United States.
"The announcement Thursday followed the creation of a new Palestinian unity government established in agreement with Hamas, which Israel and the U.S. regard as a terrorist organization.
"The Israelis are furious about not only the new government but also its acceptance by the U.S. The settlement construction, announced Wednesday night, was widely seen as a jab at both the Palestinians and the Americans."
|Rani Molla / Wall Street Journal|
"The Heat and the Spurs aren't the only winners this postseason. The sponsors of NBA arenas get about $4 million of exposure, or soft advertising, for each home game their team plays, regardless of who wins.
"The estimate is based on advertising research company Kantar Media's study of ancillary media surrounding playoff games. Camera pans to the outside of the arena and players flying over an arena sponsor's logo — Barclay's, American Airlines, Staples — only make up about 1 minute of exposure during playoff games, Tracy Schoenadel, VP of sports and sponsorship solutions at Kantar, said. The rest of the soft advertising comes from outside media — TV news coverage, print articles — leading up to and following a game. Kantar weights each mention to come up with the overall value by considering, for example, a TV station's audience size or whether a newspaper image is in color or black and white."
|Joe Skipper / Reuters|
"Florida Governor Rick Scott used his veto pen sparingly on Monday, signing a record $77 billion state budget that balanced spending on programs favored by his Republican supporters in the state legislature against the concerns of fiscally conservative voters.
"In announcing his fiscal decisions, Scott emphasized the budget's tax cuts and increases in state education support.
"Democrats still called it a 'pork-filled' election-year budget, pointing out that, although the bottom line for education is higher, the per-pupil state spending is $177 below its level of 2007-08, the first budget year of ex-Governor Charlie Crist, a former Republican now running against Scott as a Democrat."
|Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images|
"Kutesa is the right-hand man of Uganda's military ruler, Gen. Yoweri Museveni. His last few years have been a revolving door of corruption, scandal, resignation, and reinstatement. In 2011, for example, he resigned for taking bribes from a British oil company—and at the same time using public money to renovate a hotel he owned. But he was reinstated shortly thereafter.
"That's just the most recent example. Kutesa was censured in 1999 for corruption. He was implicated in a 2007 scandal over $150 million in missing public money. (The case was dismissed on a technicality.) And he was named in a leaked 2009 diplomatic cable as being one of the inner circle of Uganda's corrupt ministers, too close to Museveni to be held accountable for his crimes.
And then there is Kutesa's perspective on homosexuality. Kutesa has been a strong supporter of Uganda's new anti-homosexuality law—which has led to a tenfold increase in anti-LGBT violence, according to a new study. As foreign minister, he has defended it many times in the Western media. And why should sex between consenting adults result in life imprisonment? 'The majority of Africans abhor this practice,' he said."
|Bebeto Matthews / AP Photo|
"Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new task force Monday to overhaul how New York City's corrections system treats the mentally ill — both in jail and out — following the grisly deaths of two inmates with psychological problems.
"Corrections experts applauded the task force as an important first step in addressing the problem underscored in Associated Press reports on the deaths of two mentally ill inmates — one who an official said 'basically baked to death' in an overheated cell and another who sexually mutilated himself while locked up alone for seven days."