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Hagel deals with Vietnam memories on Asia trip

Forty-five years ago, as the Vietnam war raged on, Army Spc. Chuck Hagel and Nguyen Tan Dung were on opposite sides of combat serving in the Mekong Delta — both wounded more than once as they battled for their countries. This weekend the two men — now America’s defense secretary and Vietnam’s prime minister — met at a formal dinner at the start of an international security conference here, working to help build America’s growing military partnership with Vietnam. Hagel’s first trip to Asia as Pentagon chief has been a bit of a walk down memory lane for the former
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Republicans discover small government is not always better

One major principle of Barack Obama’s presidency that his foes love to hate — that government, when it works right, can be best-equipped to aid and protect Americans — is finding fresh currency among some Republicans. Their doctrine that smaller government is better government is being tested by pressing needs in storm-battered states, security threats that play up the need for a robust defense apparatus and offers for federal funds that are tough to turn down. To be sure, conservatives looking to pare the government have had their pick of examples to make Obama the poster boy for overreaching, bloated
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Sexual assault probe underway at Naval Academy

The U.S. Naval Academy is investigating allegations that three football team members sexually assaulted a female midshipman at an off-campus house more than a year ago, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday, and a lawyer for the woman says she was “ostracized” on campus after she reported it. The Pentagon did not make public the names of the players, and the school’s athletic director referred questions to a Naval Academy spokesman, who said the Annapolis military college’s leaders were monitoring the investigation but declined further comment. Navy criminal investigators have concluded their work and submitted a report with additional corroborating evidence
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Obama claims to see signs of strength in economy

President Barack Obama says the economy is showing new signs of strength. He’s pointing to the auto industry, new jobs and a recovering housing market as signs of progress. In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama calls on Congress to do more to ensure that progress continues. He’s asking lawmakers to invest in roads and bridges, pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul and let homeowners save money by refinancing at low interest rates. Obama says there’s reason to be optimistic about the country’s direction, but there are more jobs to create and more kids to educate. In the Republican address,
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Consumer spending down amid slowdown in economy

Consumer spending fell in April for the first time in almost a year and inflation pressures were subdued, pointing to a slowdown in economic activity, which should allow the Federal Reserve to maintain its monetary stimulus for a while. The Commerce Department said on Friday consumer spending fell 0.2 percent, the weakest reading since May last year, after edging up 0.1 percent in March. Economists had expected a 0.1 percent gain. Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, was held down by weak demand for utilities and a drop in receipts at gasoline stations on
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Threatening letters spotlight Bloomberg’s role in gun control debate

A suspicious letter mailed to the White House was similar to two threatening, poison-laced letters on the gun law debate sent to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the nation’s most potent gun-control advocates, officials said Thursday. The Secret Service said the letter was addressed to President Barack Obama and was intercepted by a White House mail screening facility. Two similar letters postmarked in Louisiana and sent to Bloomberg in New York and his gun control group in Washington contained traces of the deadly poison ricin. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the letter sent to Obama contained ricin. It
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Holder agrees to changes in probes involving news media

Attorney General Eric Holder told media editors on Thursday that he would change the way the Justice Department handles investigations that involve reporters and not repeat searches that have raised concerns about freedom of the press, the editors said. After a meeting that other media outlets boycotted because of its secrecy, the editors who did attend said they were encouraged by officials’ expressions of regret, though one said the Justice Department still has a long way to go to understand how journalists work. “There was a commitment to change the department’s guidelines for handling cases such as these and a
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White House: ‘Obamacare will offer more choices

Insurance companies are showing interest in providing coverage under the new health care law, a development likely to increase market competition and give uninsured people more choices than they now have, the White House said Thursday. Many of the 14 million people who currently buy their own insurance plans could also benefit. Eager to counter Republican criticism of the law, the White House’s upbeat assessment of the effect of the law comes four months before consumers can begin shopping for subsidized private insurance in new state markets. Widespread enrollment in those plans is crucial to the successful implementation of President
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Obama promises new push on student loans

College students are joining President Barack Obama at the White House as he calls on Congress to keep federally subsidized student loan rates from doubling on July 1. Friday’s White House event marks the beginning of a public campaign by Obama to temporarily extend current rates or to find a long-term compromise that avoids the scheduled rate increase. Obama has proposed linking the rates to the financial markets. The Republican-controlled House passed a similar plan last week. But the differences between Obama’s proposal and the House bill prompted a White House veto threat. Obama’s plan, unlike the Republican proposal, would
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Home sale contracts at three-year high

The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes ticked up in April to the highest level in three years. The increase points to growth in home sales in the coming months. The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that its seasonally adjusted index for pending home sales rose 0.3 percent to 106. That’s the highest since April 2010, when a homebuyer tax credit inflated sales. Signed contracts have jumped 10.3 percent in the past 12 months. There is generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale. Home sales and prices began to
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