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Obama Bans Texting While Driving For Federal Workers

Federal employees will not be allowed to text while driving, according to an executive order signed Wednesday night by President Barack Obama.

The order covers federal employees when they are using government-provided cars or cell phones and when they are using their own phones and cars to conduct government business.

Separately, the federal government plans to ban text messaging by bus drivers and truckers who travel across state lines, and may also preclude them from using cell phones while driving, except in emergencies.

Ray H. LaHood, the Transportation secretary, announced those and several other measures on Thursday, aimed at curbing what he called a deadly epidemic of distracted driving.

He made his announcement at a conference in Washington that included 300 academics, law enforcement officials, legislators, telecommunications and automobile industry representatives, as well as families of people killed by motorists who were talking on cell phones or text messaging.

Senate Panel Easing Penalties for Those Without Insurance

The Senate Finance Committee moved Thursday to soften the impact of financial penalties that would be imposed on people who did not obtain insurance under sweeping health care legislation.

Members of the committee said they would change the bill to exempt an estimated 2 million people who would face financial burdens in buying even the cheapest insurance available. Lawmakers said they would delay and reduce the penalties for others.

The action came after lawmakers heard an impassioned plea from Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, who denounced the idea of punishing people who could not afford the insurance they would be required to buy under the legislation. It was the latest indication of the influence that Snowe holds over Democrats as the only member of her party in Congress who has shown any inclination to support President Barack Obama’s drive to overhaul the health care system.

“The obligation should be first and foremost on the United States government to ensure that these plans will be affordable in the marketplace,” Snowe said. “It surprises me that we would have these high-level penalties on the average American when we have no certainty about whether or not these plans will be affordable. I just don’t understand why there’s this impetus to punish people.”

Another Shoe Flies, This Time in Istanbul at Imf Director

A protester threw a shoe at the director of the International Monetary Fund at the end of his speech at a university on Thursday in the prelude to IMF and World Bank meetings in Istanbul.

The protester, Selcuk Ozbek, a student at Anadolu University, shouted, “Get out of the university, IMF thief!” threw a white sneaker and ran toward the podium where the managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, stood. But televised images showed Ozbek being quickly tackled by security guards.

A female student then tried to unfurl a banner but was surrounded by security officials, allowing Strauss-Kahn to calmly answer a last question before leaving the hall.

Strauss-Kahn played down the episode. “I was glad to meet students and hear their views,” he said in a written statement released afterward. “This is what the IMF needs to do, even if not everyone agrees with us. One thing I learned: Turkish students are polite. They waited until the end to complain.”

He filed no official complaint, and Ozbek was freed by the police later in the evening.

“I think this is how global capital should be welcomed wherever it goes,” Ozbek told NTV on a live broadcast. “The anti-imperialist youth of any country responsible for their future should act this way.”

Ozbek said his shoe was returned to him after his protest.

Top Commander Rejects Scaling Down Afghan Military Aims

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, used a speech here on Thursday to reject calls for the war effort to be scaled down from defeating the Taliban insurgency to a narrower focus on hunting down al-Qaida, an option suggested by Vice President Joe Biden as part of the current White House strategy review.

After his first 100 days in command in Kabul, McChrystal chose an audience of military specialists at London’s Institute for Strategic Studies as a platform for a public airing of the confidential assessment of the war he delivered to the Pentagon last month, parts of which were leaked to news organizations.

McChrystal, 55, did not mention Biden or his advocacy of a scaled-down war effort during his London speech, and referred only obliquely to the debate within the Obama administration on whether to escalate the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan by accepting his request for up to 40,000 more U.S. troops on top of the 68,000 already deployed there or en route.

But he used the London session for a frank rebuttal of the idea of a more narrowly focused war. When a questioner asked him whether he would support scaling back the U.S. military presence over the next 18 months by relinquishing the battle with the Taliban and focusing on tracking down al-Qaida, sparing ground troops by hunting Qaida extremists and their leaders with missiles from unmanned drones, he replied: “The short answer is: no.”

“You have to navigate from where you are, not from where you wish to be,” he said. “A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”