Aide: Cabinet diversity concerns Obama
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- President Obama's Cabinet nominations so far may not meet diversity requirements he set during his first term, but the White House urged patience.
"This president is committed to diversity," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. "Look at the record. It is a vast improvement" over previous administrations.
Concern remains however, about whether Obama's second-term Cabinet will be as diverse as his team during his first term, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
Aides said Obama himself raised the point after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice removed herself from consideration as secretary of State, a post occupied by Hillary Clinton. Obama tapped Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as his choice to succeed Clinton.
Obama values a team with a breadth of experience and knowledge, aides said. More than 40 percent of the president's appointees have been women, and the gender breakdown on the White House staff is 50-50, administration officials said.
"I think it would be useful to wait and make judgments about this issue after the president has made the totality of appointments that he will make in the transition to a second term," Carney said.
Obama is expected to name his chief of staff, Jacob Lew, to lead the Treasury Department, and two men are leading candidates to succeed Lew. Earlier this week, Obama nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., as Defense secretary and John Brennan as CIA director.
When Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced Wednesday she was resigning, three Cabinet officials quickly announced they were staying -- Eric H. Holder Jr., the first black attorney general; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; and Veterans Affairs chief Eric K. Shinseki, who is Japanese American.
Jerusalem shut down by winter weather
JERUSALEM, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- A heavy snowfall in Israel cut off the entrance to Jerusalem Thursday as a winter storm battered the Middle East for the fourth day in a row, forecasters said.
At least four deaths in Lebanon and two in the West Bank have been blamed on the weather that has caused widespread power outages, property damage and heavy flooding, The (Beirut) Daily Star reported.
Weather forecasters predicted the storm would die down by midday Thursday, but not before dumping more snow, flooding rivers. High winds caused temperatures to plummet.
In Jerusalem, heavy snow caused city officials to halt public transportation and request residents stay at home, the Haaretz live blog reported.
In Egypt, several buildings collapsed, crops have been ruined and only 6,101 of Cairo's 14,136 drains are properly working due to the storm, the Egypt Independent reported.
Meanwhile, 39 flights in and out of Istanbul were canceled due to snowfall, the semi-official Turkish news Anadolu Agency reported.
Temperatures are approximately 9 to 18 degrees below normal for this time of year in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, CNN said. Temperatures should rebound toward the end of the week, though cold air currents from Europe are predicted to cause more cold snaps this winter, the Muslim Brotherhood newspaper Freedom and Justice reported.
U.S. general takes over Europe forces
WEISBADEN, Germany, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr. has taken command of U.S. Army Europe amid a troop drawdown that officials say will slash the U.S. military presence in Europe.
Campbell acknowledged during his assumption ceremony Wednesday in Germany he was taking charge of Army forces during "a time of transition" as the United States winds down its involvement in the Middle East, Stars and Stripes reported Thursday.
He said the number of U.S. troops in Europe should drop from about 40,000 to about 30,000 over the next three to four years.
Part of the reduction includes units already targeted for deactivation.
Also speaking at the ceremony, Adm. James G. Stavridis, head of U.S. European Command and supreme allied commander Europe, said the reductions will not affect the "strong partnership and alliance" with Germany and other European partners.
Stavridis and Campbell both indicated the future focus of the relationship between the United States and its European allies will be on training.
Appeals panel hears bin Laden photos case
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- A U.S. appeals court in Washington has agreed to hear argument on whether classified pictures of Osama bin Laden's body should be released.
The argument was scheduled for Thursday.
Bin Laden, who founded the terror group al-Qaida and inspired the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon, was killed in a raid in Pakistan by U.S. SEALs in May 2010.
A federal judge initially ruled that the images could remain secret.
The government argues for an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act, and says the photos must be kept secret for national security, The Washington Post reported. Defense and intelligence officials expressed concern in court documents that release of the images would incite violence against U.S. citizens.
But Judicial Watch in Washington, which filed suit to obtain the images, said in a statement it is not seeking information about equipment or techniques used in the raid.
In the suit, the group argues the government and officials "have failed to provide any evidence that all 52 images, including those depicting bin Laden's burial at sea, pertain to 'foreign activities of the United States.' Defendants also have failed to provide any evidence that images depicting the burial at sea actually pertain to 'intelligence activities.' Nor have they demonstrated that the release of images of a somber, dignified burial at sea reasonably could be expected to cause identifiable or describable exceptionally grave damage to national security."
Judicial Watch staff attorney Michael Bekesha will argue the case.
The two met Wednesday in Cairo at the behest of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi with the aim of reconciling the Fatah and Hamas factions.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu criticized Abbas for meeting with Meshal.
"Abu Mazen [Abbas] embraces a terror organization's leader who announced just a month ago that Israel should be wiped off the map. That is not the conduct of someone who wants peace," Ynetnews.com quoted Netanyahu as saying.
"The two parties agreed to call on all Palestinian factions to implement the reconciliation agreement," Middle East Online quoted Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq, who was at the Cairo meeting, as saying. The comment was a reference to an agreement signed by the factions in April 2011 in Cairo. Rishq said the meeting between Abbas and Meshal was held in a "very good and promising atmosphere."
Prior to the meeting Morsi met with Abbas and Meshal separately. Morsi spokesman Yasser Ali said Abbas and Meshal agreed to implement the agreement immediately, Ynetnews.com said.
Religious 'nones' slows from 2011 to 2012
PRINCETON, N.J., Jan. 10 (UPI) -- The percentage of U.S. adults who don't identify with a specific religion rose more than 3 percentage points in four years, Gallup reported Thursday.
In 2012, 17.8 percent of respondents said they had no explicit religious identification, up from 14.6 percent in 2008, results indicated.
The increase from 2011 to 2012 in religious "nones" -- from 17.5 percent in 2011 to 17.8 percent last year -- was the smallest such year-to-year increase during the past five years of Gallup Daily tracking of religion in America, the Princeton, N.J., polling agency said.
Religious "nones" are those who respond "no religion" as well as those who say they don't know or refuse to answer.
The rise in the religious "nones" over time is one of the most significant trends in religious measurement in the United States, Gallup said. Surveys conducted in the 1950s and 1960s indicated virtually all Americans had a religious identity. The percentage who did not report such an identity began to rise in the 1970s and has increased in the years since.
Results are based on nationwide telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking from 2008 through 2012, with random samples of 311,588 adults in 2008; 353,849 adults in 2009; 352,842 adults in 2010; 353,492 adults in 2011, and 353,571 adults in 2012. The margin of error is 1 percentage point.