Netanyahu: Israel wants talks to go on
JERUSALEM, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other international leaders that Israel wants ongoing peace talks.
Netanyahu's office said he had a 45-minute conversation with Clinton on Wednesday and urged her to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to resume talks, Haaretz reported. He also spoke to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now a special envoy to the Middle East.
His message, according to the statement, was: "Israel is interested in continuous talks with the Palestinians while preserving the security interests of Israeli citizens."
Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have accused each other of sabotaging the latest round of talks, which were held in Amman, Jordan. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the Palestinian Authority hopes to justify its move to win United Nations recognition.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, during a news conference with Ban, said Israel did not put forward specific proposals on borders and security that could have been the basis for further talks. Ban concurred and told Netanyahu that the authority has come up with specifics.
On Thursday, Palestinian protesters threw shoes, sticks and stones at Ban's convoy as it entered Gaza.
About 40 protesters briefly held up the convoy as it tried to enter the Gaza Strip from southern Israel, Voice of America said. No injuries were reported and the convoy resumed its travel once security officials removed the protesters, witnesses said.
Throwing shoes is a sign of disrespect in some cultures.
Most of the protesters were relatives of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, VOA said. Among their complaints, included on signs the protesters carried, were that the United Nations was biased toward Israel and that the non-government organization has refusal to meet with Palestinian prisoner groups.
Holder: Fast and Furious 'misguided'
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday called the "Fast and Furious" gun-running operation "inappropriate and misguided" and pledged to correct "mistakes."
In prepared testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Holder said "allowing guns to 'walk' -- whether in this administration or in the prior one -- is wholly unacceptable."
"This tactic of not interdicting weapons, despite having the ability and legal authority to do so, appears to have been adopted in a misguided effort to stem the alarming number of illegal firearms that are trafficked each year from the United States to Mexico," Holder said. "To be sure, stopping this dangerous flow of weapons is a laudable -- and critical -- goal. But attempting to achieve it by using such inappropriate tactics is neither acceptable nor excusable."
Issa earlier threatened Holder with contempt of Congress if the Justice Department failed to deliver documents by a deadline next week, CNN reported.
In an exchange that began Tuesday, Issa criticized the Justice Department for releasing long-sought documents -- after close-of-business Friday -- that revealed Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer discussed with Mexican officials a plan that would allow illegal guns "to walk" into Mexico where Mexican officials would arrest gun-runners.
In an e-mail, Issa said the Feb. 4, 2011, communication indicated "Breuer suggested allowing straw purchasers cross in Mexico" so Mexican officials could "arrest, prosecute and convict" on the same day Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich "wrote to Congress denying that the department allowed guns to walk."
The Justice Department Wednesday said Issa's letter indicated a "significant misunderstanding both of the documents we recently produced and of the department's position on the issues you raise."
"When I learned early last year about the allegations raised by ATF agents involved with Fast and Furious, I took action," Holder said in his Thursday testimony. "In addition to requesting an inspector general investigation last February, I ordered that a directive be sent prohibiting the use of such tactics. There also have been important personnel changes in the department. And vital reforms reflecting the lessons we have learned from Operation Fast and Furious have been implemented.
"Today, I reaffirm my commitment to ensuring that these flawed tactics are never used again. And I reiterate my willingness to work with Congress to address the public safety and national security crisis along our southwest border that has taken far too many lives. …
"The Department of Justice stands ready to work with you -- not only to correct the mistakes of the past, but also to strengthen our law enforcement capacity in the future," Holder concluded.
Republicans want to learn whether officials in President Barack Obama's administration knew of the controversial tactics, but so far Breuer is the highest-ranking official known to be aware of the sting. The political set-to has been going on for more than a year following the discovery that two of the "Fast and Furious" weapons that had gone missing in Mexico were found in Arizona at the scene of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
In his letter to Holder Issa said, "If the Department continues to obstruct the congressional inquiry by not providing documents and information, this committee will have no alternative but to move forward with proceedings to hold you in contempt of Congress."
In the department's response, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the Feb. 9 deadline was "impossible" because of the breadth of the request, The Washington Post reported.
The hearing featured tense exchanges between Holder and several Republican committee members, including Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, who asked the attorney general, "How many more Border Patrol agents would have had to die as part of Operation Fast and Furious for you to take responsibility?" -- a reference to agent Brian Terry, who critics of the program say was killed because of it, The Hill reported.
"That kind of question I think is frankly, and again respectfully, and I think -- is beneath a member of Congress," Holder said.
Planned Parenthood donations swell
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Donations to Planned Parenthood have soared since the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation cut donations to the group, officials said.
Planned Parenthood executives said Wednesday donors reacting to the cutoff had contributed $650,000 in 24 hours, nearly replacing the $700,000 lost through the Komen cutoff, The Washington Post reported.
The number of donors online spiked, rising to 6,000 Wednesday compared with the 100 to 200 donors who normally contribute each day, the Post said.
Planned Parenthood also set up a Breast Health Emergency Fund for affiliates that lost their Komen grants. The Post said the fund received a $250,000 donation from the family foundation of Dallas philanthropist Lee Fikes and his wife, Amy.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday he will donate $250,000 to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
"Politics have no place in healthcare," Bloomberg said in a statement issued by his office. "Breast cancer screening saves lives, and hundreds of thousands of women rely on Planned Parenthood for access to care. We should be helping women access that care, not placing barriers in their way."
Komen officials had said they were cutting funding for groups under investigation. A House committee has announced it is looking into whether Planned Parenthood is adhering to restrictions on federal funding for abortions.
Planned Parenthood officials said Komen had knuckled under to pressure from anti-abortion activists, the Post said.
But Nancy Brinker, Susan G. Komen for the Cure founder and chief executive officer, said there had been a "gross mischaracterization" about the decision to halt funding to Planned Parenthood, USA Today reported.
Brinker said three of the 19 Planned Parenthood clinics will still get Komen funding because they are the only services available to low-income women in their communities, the newspaper reported. The rest would be funded through the end of the year.
Brinker told MSNBC, "This is not a political decision," just a new set of funding standards. Despite a huge response on Facebook and Twitter, with longtime supporters saying they are cutting up the pink ribbon Komen symbol, Brinker said, "The responses that we are getting are really, really favorable."
The Atlantic reported Thursday Komen's top public-health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest after the organization's board decided in September to cut Planned Parenthood funding.
In a statement, Williams told The Atlantic she would not comment on the funding issue because she "must honor the confidentiality of my former employer," but she said she believes "it would be a mistake for any organization to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission."
"The divide between these two very important organizations saddens me," Williams said. "I am hopeful their passionate and courageous leaders, Nancy Brinker and Cecile Richards, can swiftly resolve this conflict in a manner that benefits the women they both serve."
At least 22 Senate Democrats signed a letter to Komen urging the organization to reverse its decision, which they said "threatens to reduce access to necessary, life-saving services."
"It would be tragic if any woman -- let alone thousands of women -- lost access to these potentially life-saving screenings because of a politically motivated attack," the senators said.
Senate OKs Congress insider-trading ban
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to approve a ban on insider trading by members of Congress, and President Barack Obama urged the House to follow suit.
By a vote of 96-3, the Senate approved the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, which would prohibit members of Congress from gaining financially by trading on information they are privy to before it becomes public. However, the Senate rejected several amendments evidently intended to put more limits on personal financial dealings by members of Congress, The Hill reported.
Obama -- who called in his State of the Union address last week for a ban on insider trading by members of Congress -- said the House should pass the STOCK Act and promised he would sign it "right away."
"And while this is an important step to rebuild the trust between Washington and the American people, there is much more work to be done, like prohibiting elected officials from owning stocks in industries they impact, and prohibiting people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress from lobbying Congress, an idea that has bipartisan support outside of Washington," the president said in a statement issued by the White House. "These are straightforward proposals that will help eliminate the corrosive influence of money in politics."