RNC chairman scraps abortion coverage for staff

A chagrined GOP Chairman Michael Steele has told Republican National Committee staff to immediately stop providing RNC employees with insurance for elective abortions — an option that Republicans strongly oppose as Democrats try to pass a health care overhaul bill.

“Money from our loyal donors should not be used for this purpose,” Steele said in a statement late Thursday after learning of the abortion coverage from a news report. “I don’t know why this policy existed in the past, but it will not exist under my administration. Consider this issue settled.”

Steele instructed staff to inform the insurance carrier that the RNC wanted to opt out of elective abortion coverage, RNC spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said. She said the policy has been in effect since 1991.

Obama orders review of screwups on Fort Hood shooter

President Barack Obama has ordered a review to determine if warning signs were mishandled of contact between the Fort Hood shooting rampage suspect and a radical Islamic cleric who encouraged Muslims to kill U.S. troops in Iraq.

The order came as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was charged Thursday with 13 counts of premeditated murder in the attack at the sprawling Texas post that also left 29 people injured. The Army psychiatrist was shot several times and remains hospitalized. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Obama said he wanted all intelligence related to Hasan preserved and reviewed to determine whether it was properly shared and acted upon within the government. The first results are due Nov. 30. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, will oversee the review.

Hanged census worker may have killed himself

Investigators trying to solve the mystery of a census taker found hanging from a tree with the word “fed” scrawled on his chest are examining whether he manipulated the scene in order to conceal a suicide and make a life insurance claim possible for his son, law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.

The dead man’s son, Josh Sparkman, said in an interview with the AP that he found paperwork for the private life insurance policy among the personal files of his father, Bill Sparkman, but wasn’t sure of the amount or when it was taken out. He said authorities have told him nothing about the case or produced a death certificate, which is usually needed to make an insurance claim.

Lack of insurance kills more vets than Afghan war

The number of US veterans who died in 2008 because they lacked health insurance was 14 times higher than the US military death toll in Afghanistan that year, according to a new study.

The analysis produced by two Harvard medical researchers estimates that 2,266 US military veterans under the age of 65 died in 2008 because they lacked health coverage and had reduced access to medical care.

That figure is more than 14 times higher than the 155 US troop deaths in Afghanistan in 2008, the study says.

Released as the United States commemorates fallen soldiers on Veterans Day, the study warns that even health care provided by the Veterans Health Administration (VA) leaves many veterans without coverage.

Hasan’s behavior worried some, but they said nothing

Nidal Malik Hasan’s overly zealous religious views and strange behavior worried the doctors overseeing his medical training, but they saw no evidence that he was violent or a threat.

Months later, the Army major was accused of a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 dead and 29 wounded.

Doctors and staff overseeing Hasan’s training viewed him at times as belligerent, defensive and argumentative in his frequent discussions of his Muslim faith, a military official familiar with several group discussions about Hasan said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Lou Dobbs out as a CNN anchor

CNN’s Lou Dobbs, a lightning rod for criticism following his transition from a business journalist to an opinionated anchor on such issues as illegal immigration, told viewers on Wednesday that he was quitting his nightly show to pursue new opportunities.

“This will be my last broadcast,” Dobbs said after giving the day’s headlines. Dobbs, who hosts a daily radio show unrelated to CNN, said the network had allowed him to be released early from his contract.

Dobbs was a CNN original, signing on when the cable network started in 1980. For much of that time, he hosted a nightly business broadcast that became one of the most influential shows in the corporate world, and CNN’s most profitable show for advertising revenue.

Foreclosures dip slightly in October, still up for year

The number of homeowners on the brink of losing their homes dipped in October, the third straight monthly decline, as foreclosure prevention programs helped more borrowers.

But foreclosure filings are still up 19 percent from a year ago, RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday, and rising job losses continue to threaten the stabilizing trend.

More than 332,000 households, or one in every 385 homes, received a foreclosure-related notice in October, such as a notice of default or trustee’s sale. That’s down 3 percent from September.

Banks repossessed more than 77,000 homes last month, down from nearly 88,000 homes in September.

New state programs, like one launched in Nevada in July, that require mediation before banks can seize a property have helped stem foreclosure activity, said Rick Sharga, senior vice president at RealtyTrac.

Military expects casualties to rise in Afghanistan

Far from winding down, the numbers of wounded U.S. soldiers coming home have continued to swell. The problem is especially acute among those who fought in Afghanistan, where nearly four times as many troops were injured in October as a year ago.

Amputations, burns, brain injuries and shrapnel wounds proliferate in Afghanistan, due mostly to crude, increasingly potent improvised bombs targeting U.S. forces. Others are hit by snipers’ bullets or mortar rounds.

Who knew Hasan was reaching out to radicals?

The mystery over whether the military knew Fort Hood shooting suspect Nidal Hasan was communicating with a radical Muslim imam lapsed into finger-pointing ahead of congressional investigations looking into the Army psychiatrist’s contacts with any extremists.

Even as President Barack Obama remembered those killed at the Texas Army post and condemned what he described as “the twisted logic that led to this tragedy,” federal agencies reacted to conflicting claims about whether a Defense Department terrorism investigator looked into Hasan’s contacts months ago with Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki, an imam who was released from a Yemeni jail last year, has used his personal Web site to encourage Muslims across the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. A military official Tuesday denied knowing Hasan had such contacts.

Blackwater paid $1 million in bribes to Iraqi officials

Former top executives at Blackwater Worldwide say the U.S. security contractor sent about $1 million to its Iraq office with the intention of paying off officials in the country who were angry about the fatal shootings of 17 civilians by Blackwater employees, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Four former executives described the plan under the condition of anonymity, the newspaper said.

Iraqis had long complained about ground operations by the North Carolina-based company, now known as Xe Corp. Then the shooting by Blackwater guards in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square in September 2007 left 17 civilians dead, further strained relations between Baghdad and Washington and led U.S. prosecutors to bring charges against the Blackwater contractors involved.

The State Department has since turned to DynCorp and another private security firm, Triple Canopy, to handle diplomatic protective services in the country. But Xe continues to provide security for diplomats in other nations, most notably in Afghanistan.