WASHINGTON | Influential president of Human Rights Campaign stepping down

WASHINGTON | Influential president of Human Rights Campaign stepping down

WASHINGTON— Chad Griffin, the influential LGBTQ activist who helped turn the Human Rights Campaign into a powerful political force, announced Thursday that he is stepping down as the organization’s president.

Griffin’s announcement follows a midterm election in which the group invested heavily in Democratic campaigns. The capstone for the organization came this week, when Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., won a close Senate race, becoming the first openly bisexual person elected to the Senate.

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WASHINGTON | VA seeks to reduce GI Bill payment delays after IT woes

WASHINGTON | VA seeks to reduce GI Bill payment delays after IT woes

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday promised to try to speed up payments to thousands of veterans after delays caused by information technology problems.

“We are working diligently to minimize these delays affecting GI Bill students,” Paul Lawrence, VA’s undersecretary for benefits, said in a statement.

Last year, President Donald Trump signed off on the biggest boost in GI benefits in a decade, but the legislation did not take into account the additional time or finances needed to upgrade VA’s aging IT systems in order to process claims.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. | Federal judge: Florida is ‘laughing-stock of the world’

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. | Federal judge: Florida is ‘laughing-stock of the world’

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— A federal judge slammed Florida on Thursday for repeatedly failing to anticipate election problems, and said the state law on recounts appears to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided the presidency in 2000.

“We have been the laughing-stock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said in court.

Walker vented his anger at state lawmakers but also Palm Beach County officials, saying they should have made sure they had enough equipment in place to handle this kind of a recount.

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WASHINGTON | Judge allows Mueller case against Russian company to proceed

WASHINGTON  | Judge allows Mueller case against Russian company to proceed

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has refused to dismiss a special counsel indictment against a Russian company accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, an appointee of President Donald Trump, allows the criminal case against Concord Management to proceed.

The company and two other entities were indicted in February for participating in an effort to sway American public opinion through social media posts ahead of the election.

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WASHINGTON | Pelosi claims ‘overwhelming support’ among Dems for speaker

WASHINGTON | Pelosi claims ‘overwhelming support’ among Dems for speaker

WASHINGTON— House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says she has “overwhelming support” among fellow Democrats to become the next House speaker, and says: “I intend to win the speakership with Democratic votes.”

Pelosi says she thinks she’s the best person for the job and that any Democrat who disagrees should run against her.

Disgruntled Democrats claim they have 17 names on a letter opposing Pelosi’s leadership. They say those signing are pledging to vote against the 78-year-old Californian when the full chamber elects the next speaker on Jan.

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RABAT, Morocco | Morocco unveils Africa’s first ever high speed train line

RABAT, Morocco | Morocco unveils Africa’s first ever high speed train line

RABAT, Morocco — French President Emmanuel Macron and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI have inaugurated Morocco’s first high-speed rail line, the first ever such line in Africa.

Known as the LGV, it will connect the economic hubs of Tangier and Casablanca in 2 hours 10 minutes at a speed of up to 320 kph (199 mph) instead of almost 5 hours on a regular train.

The Moroccan and French leaders boarded the train in Tangier after they were handed tickets by Director General of the National Railway Office Mohamed Rabie Khlie, according to State agency MAP.

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WASHINGTON | US average mortgage rates flat to higher; 30-year 4.94 pct.

WASHINGTON | US average mortgage rates flat to higher; 30-year 4.94 pct.

WASHINGTON — U.S. long-term mortgage rates were steady to slightly up this week, at their highest levels in nearly eight years and dampening home sales.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was unchanged from last week at 4.94 percent. That’s the highest level for the benchmark rate since February 2011. A year ago the rate stood at 3.95 percent.

The average rate on a 15-year, fixed-rate loan rose to 4.36 percent from 4.33 percent last week.

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VATICAN CITY | Italy’s bishops respond to long-ignored clergy sex abuse

VATICAN CITY | Italy’s bishops respond to long-ignored clergy sex abuse

VATICAN CITY — Italy’s Catholic bishops are declaring a new era of transparency and truth about clergy sex abuse, as awareness of the scandal that has convulsed much of the world begins to take hold in a country where it was long ignored.

Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, said on Thursday that a national advisory group of lay and religious experts is being created to help dioceses educate personnel about protecting children and to help bishops investigate abuse reports.

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LONDON | The Latest: Businesses tentatively back Brexit deal

LONDON | The Latest: Businesses tentatively back Brexit deal

LONDON— The Latest on Britain’s departure from the European Union (all times local):

3:20 p.m.
Businesses and trade groups have given tentative approval to the draft Brexit deal while also calling for more details, highlighting lingering questions about the final agreement.

It’s a “positive step,” said Mike Hawes, CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, a U.K. auto industry trade group. However, he added that businesses still seek “certainty and ambition when it comes to securing a competitive future.”

Airbus CEO Tom Enders said the draft agreement “is a welcome first step forwards but there clearly remains much work to do.” The European planemaker said in June it would have to reassess its long-term plans for Britain if there were no Brexit deal.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates | The Latest: Treasury hits 17 Saudis with economic sanctions

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates | The Latest: Treasury hits 17 Saudis with economic sanctions

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates— The Latest on developments following the Oct. 2 killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul (all times local):

7:45 p.m.
The U.S. Treasury Department is adding economic sanctions to the travel bans already in place against 17 Saudis accused of taking part in the October slaying of writer Jamal Khashoggi inside their country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The new sanctions freeze any assets the 17 may have in the U.S.

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