---- — WASHINGTON (AP) — Defending the shaky rollout of his health care law, President Barack Obama yesterday said frustrated Americans “definitely shouldn’t give up” on the problem-plagued program now at the heart of his dispute with Republicans over reopening the federal government.
Obama said public interest far exceeded the government’s expectations, causing technology glitches that thwarted millions of Americans when trying to use government-run health care websites.
“Folks are working around the clock and have been systematically reducing the wait times,” he said.
The federal gateway website was taken down for repairs over the weekend, again hindering people from signing up for insurance.
Obama, in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, also disclosed that U.S. intelligence agencies believe Iran continues to be a year or more away from having the capability to make a nuclear weapon. That assessment is at odds with Israel, which contends Tehran is on a faster course toward a bomb.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, the president spoke about the shaky start of enrollment under the health care overhaul, the government shutdown, the threat of a U.S. default, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other topics. Here are some highlights:
Health care overhaul
Obama blamed reports of long waits to get on health care websites and difficulty signing up for coverage on a level of public interest that he said exceeded expectations and overwhelmed the system. He said people are working around the clock to make things run smoother.
The president said people shouldn’t give up on signing up since coverage doesn’t kick in until January and the enrollment period ends in March. He said he did not have data on how many people had successfully signed up to buy insurance from private companies, mostly through websites that went live this past Tuesday.
Obama said if he were the owner of the Washington Redskins football team, “I’d think about changing” their name because it offends many people. Native Americans, in particular, have objected to the name.
Furlough pay accord can’t mask huge impediments to resolving default fear
WASHINGTON (AP) — A rare flash of bipartisanship yesterday served as a cruel tease to those hoping Congress is moving toward reopening the government and averting an unprecedented default on the federal debt in less than two weeks.
Only two days after House Speaker John Boehner raised hopes by telling colleagues he won’t let the nation go into default, key members of both parties conceded that no one has presented a plausible plan for avoiding it. Instead, they continued to bicker and to ponder the chasm between two warring parties, each of which seems convinced it’s on the winning side morally and politically.
Boehner, asked yesterday whether Congress was any closer to resolving the impasse, replied: “No.” Aides close to Boehner say he has not figured out how to end the gridlock.
Even the day’s top bipartisan achievement — agreeing to pay about 800,000 furloughed federal employees for the work days they are missing — was a thin victory. Congress made the same deal after the mid-1990s shutdowns, and Saturday’s 407-0 vote was widely expected.
Still, it triggered the sort of derisive quarreling that has prevented Congress from resolving the larger funding and debt dilemmas.
Suicide attack on in Baghdad, other attacks kill at least 66 in Iraq
BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd of Shiite pilgrims passing through a mainly Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad and another detonated his explosives inside a cafe north of the capital, the deadliest of several attacks across Iraq yesterday that killed at least 66 people.
The killings, which also included attacks on journalists and anti-extremist Sunni fighters, are part of the deadliest surge in violence to hit Iraq in five years. The accelerating bloodshed is raising fears that the country is falling back into the spiral of violence that brought it to the edge of civil war in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The extent of the carnage from the evening attack on the pilgrims became clearer as midnight approached, when officials sharply revised the death toll upward to at least 42. Another 80 were reported injured.
The bomber detonated his explosives at a checkpoint in the northern neighborhood of Azamiyah as the pilgrims en route to a prominent Shiite shrine in the nearby neighborhood of Kazimiyah, according to police officials. At least four policemen manning the checkpoint were among the dead, the officials said.
Azamiyah and the Shiite district of Kazimiyah sit on opposite sides of the Tigris River that snakes through the Iraqi capital. Their proximity made them a key flashpoint for the widespread sectarian conflict that gripped Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s ouster and peaked in 2006 and 2007. Authorities closed the bridge between the neighborhoods after hundreds of Shiite pilgrims died in a 2005 stampede sparked by fears of a suicide bomber, and reopened it in 2008.
After summer of convulsion, Arabs search to make democracy work
CAIRO (AP) — “For too long, many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused, oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability... We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom, and strive to build a community of peaceful, democratic nations.” — President George W. Bush in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 21, 2004
Almost a quarter-century ago, a young American political scientist achieved global academic celebrity by suggesting that the collapse of communism had ended the discussion on how to run societies, leaving “Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
In Egypt and around the Middle East, after a summer of violence and upheaval, the discussion, however, is still going strong. And almost three years into the Arab Spring revolts, profound uncertainties remain.
That became shatteringly clear on July 3, when Egyptian generals ousted the country’s first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi, installing a technocratic government in the wake of massive street protests calling for the Islamist leader to step down. He had ruled incompetently for one year and badly overstepped his bounds, they argued. A crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood has put more than 2,000 of its members in jail and left hundreds dead, and a court has ordered an outright ban on the group. Although new elections are promised, the plans are extremely vague.
Analysis: Allies worried US turning inward to handle chaos at home
An unmistakable sense of unease is growing in global capitals as the U.S. government from afar looks increasingly befuddled. America is shirking from a military confrontation in Syria, stymied at home by a gridlocked Congress and in danger of defaulting on sovereign debt, which could plunge the world’s financial system into chaos.
While each may be unrelated to the direct exercise of U.S. foreign policy, taken together they give some allies the sense that Washington is not as firm as it used to be in its resolve and its financial capacity, providing an opening for China or Russia to fill the void, an Asian foreign minister told a group of journalists in New York this past week.
Concerns will only deepen now that President Barack Obama canceled travel this weekend to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Bali and the East Asia Summit in Brunei. He decided to stay home to deal with the government shutdown and looming fears that Congress will block an increase in U.S. borrowing power, a move that could lead to a U.S. default.
The U.S. is still a pillar of defense for places in Asia such as Taiwan and South Korea, providing a vital security umbrella against China. It has strong allies in the Middle East, including Israel and the Gulf Arab states arrayed against al-Qaida and Iran.
But faith that the U.S. will always be there is fraying more than a little, according to interviews with academics, government leaders and diplomats.
Iran foreign minister: Outreach to US opening way for nuclear negotiations
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s foreign minister says historic outreach with the U.S. has already paid dividends by opening opportunities to negotiate a nuclear deal that would allow Tehran to maintain its uranium enrichment but provide greater assurances the program remain peaceful.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s comments seek to build on groundbreaking diplomatic momentum with Washington at last month’s U.N. General Assembly gathering.
He said in an interview broadcast late Saturday that Iran seeks a “win-win” scenario when nuclear talks resume this month with world powers.
He also disputed Obama’s claim in an Associated Press interview that Iran was at least a year from reaching the capacity to build a nuclear weapon. Zarif repeated Iran’s claims it does not seek nuclear arms.
Spokesman: Man who set himself on fire on the National Mall has died
WASHINGTON (AP) — A man who set himself on fire on the National Mall in the U.S. capital has died of his injuries, which were so severe that authorities will have to use DNA and dental records to identify him, District of Columbia police said yesterday.
The man died Friday night at a Washington hospital where he had been airlifted, Officer Araz Alali, a police spokesman, said.
The man poured the contents of a red canister of gasoline on himself in the center portion of the mall Friday afternoon.
He then set himself on fire, with passing joggers taking off their shirts to help put out the flames.
Police had said he was conscious and breathing at the scene, but he was airlifted to MedStar Washington Hospital Center with life-threatening injuries.
Police are investigating the man’s possible motives.
Lt. Pamela Smith of the U.S. Park Police said Friday she was not aware that he had carried any signs with him or had articulated a cause.
One witness, Katy Scheflen, said she did not hear the man say anything intelligible before he set himself on fire.
But she said she did notice that another man with a tripod was standing nearby and had disappeared by the time the police had arrived. It was not immediately clear whether a recording exists.
Caskets of African migrants lined up in Italian airport hangar; survivors pay respects
LAMPEDUSA, Italy (AP) — The coffins of African migrants killed in a shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa were lined up in long rows inside an airport hangar where survivors of the tragedy paid their respects yesterday. All of the caskets had a single white rose on top except for the four of the youngest victims, which had stuffed animals.
The 111 coffins were numbered — a teddy bear wearing a smile and a blue shirt with a heart was placed above casket No. 92.
The ceremony took place hours after Italian fishermen threw a bouquet of yellow flowers near the exact spot where the migrant boat sank, honking their foghorns in tribute to the dead and up to 250 migrants who may still be missing.
The search to recover more bodies, meanwhile, was called off for a second day because of choppy waters and strong currents.
A parliamentary delegation visited the survivors amid reports that a boat may have violated the “law of the sea” by failing to help the migrant ship packed with 500 migrants, nearly all from Eritrea, about 600 meters (650 yards) from shore.
Heavy snows hit Great Plains
The weather is so bad, even the plow is stuck.
Heavy snow, strong rain, hail storms and tornadoes hit the Great Plains in the last few days, cutting power and stranding drivers while causing at least 3 deaths.
While the Dakotas are digging out of up to 43 inches of snow, Nebraska and Iowa are reeling from nine tornadoes that touched down Friday evening.
Rapid City plow driver Jesse Curnow said yesterday morning things weren’t moving so smoothly in chest-high drifts after a record 21-inch snowfall.
“I’m trapped. I can kind of move, but only a little bit,” Curnow said by telephone from the cab of his truck.