Obama’s Syria-strike plan clears Senate panel; he suggests he could go ahead without Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s request for speedy congressional backing of a military strike in Syria advanced Wednesday toward a showdown Senate vote, hours after the commander in chief left open the possibility he would order retaliation for a deadly chemical weapons attack even if Congress withheld its approval.
A resolution backing the use of force against President Bashar Assad’s government cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote after it was stiffened at the last minute to include a pledge of support for "decisive changes to the present military balance of power" in Syria’s civil war. It also would rule out U.S. combat operations on the ground.
The measure is expected to reach the Senate floor next week, although the timing for a vote is uncertain. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky conservative with strong tea party ties, has threatened a filibuster.
The House also is reviewing Obama’s request, but its timetable is even less certain.
The administration blames Assad for a chemical weapons attack that took place on Aug. 21 and says more than 1,400 civilians died, including at least 400 children. Other casualty estimates are lower, and the Syrian government denies responsibility, contending rebels fighting to topple the government were to blame.
U.S. spies had intercepted key intelligence, but didn’t connect dots before Syrian WMD Strike
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. intelligence agencies did not detect the Syrian regime readying a massive chemical weapons attack in the days ahead of the strike, only piecing together what had happened after the fact, U.S. officials say.
One of the key pieces of intelligence that Secretary of State John Kerry later used to link the attack to the Syrian government -- intercepts of communications telling Syrian military units to prepare for the strikes -- was in the hands of U.S. intelligence agencies but had not yet been "processed," according to senior U.S. officials.
That explains why the White House did not warn either the regime or the rebels who might be targeted as it had done when detecting previous preparations for chemical strikes.
"We know that for three days before the attack the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area making preparations," Kerry said as he presented the evidence in a State Department speech last week. "We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons."
But the Obama administration only uncovered the evidence after Syrians started posting reports of the strike from the scene of the attack, leading U.S. spies and analysts to focus on satellite and other evidence showing a Syrian chemical weapons unit was preparing chemical munitions before the strike, according to two current U.S. officials and two former senior intelligence officials.
Obama considers suspending hundreds of millions in aid to Egypt
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s top national security aides have recommended that the U.S. suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic assistance to Egypt in response to the Egyptian military’s ouster of the country’s first democratically elected leader, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
Such a step would be a dramatic shift for an administration that has declined to label Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s July 3 ouster a coup and has argued that it is in U.S. national security interests to keep the aid flowing. It would also likely have profound implications for decades of close U.S.-Egyptian ties that have served as a bulwark of security and stability in the Middle East.
The officials say the recommendation has been with Obama for at least a week but they don’t expect him to make a decision until after the full Congress votes on his request for authorization for military strikes on Syria, which is not expected before Monday.
The U.S. provides Egypt with $1.5 billion a year in aid, $1.3 billion of which is military assistance. The rest is economic assistance. Some of it goes to the government and some to other groups. Only the money that goes to the government would be suspended.
’Coward’s way out’: Suicide of Cleveland man who held 3 women captive brings little sympathy
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Residents in the tough Cleveland neighborhood where three women were secretly imprisoned for a decade reacted with scorn and grim satisfaction Wednesday after Ariel Castro hanged himself in his cell barely a month into a life sentence.
Even the prosecutor joined in.
"This man couldn’t take, for even a month, a small portion of what he had dished out for more than a decade," said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty.
Castro, 53, was found hanging from a bedsheet Tuesday night at the state prison in Orient, corrections spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said. Prison medical staff performed CPR before Castro was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Sticker price for Obamacare: $300/month premiums for young to middle-aged adults
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The No. 1 question about President Barack Obama’s health care law is whether consumers will be able to afford the coverage. Now the answer is coming in.
The biggest study yet of premiums posted by states finds that the sticker price for a 21-year-old buying a mid-range policy will average about $270 a month. That’s before government tax credits that act like a discount for most people, bringing down the cost based on their income.
List-price premiums for a 40-year-old buying a mid-range plan will average close to $330, the study by Avalere Health found. For a 60-year-old, they were nearly double that at $615 a month.
Starting Oct. 1, people who don’t have health care coverage on their job can go to new online insurance markets in their states to shop for a private plan and find out if they qualify for a tax credit. Come Jan. 1, virtually all Americans will be required to have coverage, or face fines. At the same time, insurance companies will no longer be able to turn away people in poor health.
The study points to the emergence of a competitive market, said lead author Caroline Pearson, a vice president of the private data analysis firm. But it’s a market with big price differences among age groups, states and even within states.
Palestinian: Israeli peace talk offer sees settlements, bases in West Bank
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Israel has proposed leaving intact dozens of Jewish settlements and military bases in the West Bank as part of a package to establish a Palestinian state in provisional borders, a Palestinian official told The Associated Press on Wednesday, in the first detailed glimpse at recently relaunched peace talks.
The official said the proposal is unacceptable to the Palestinians, underscoring the tough road ahead as the sides try to reach an agreement ending decades of conflict.
For their future state, the Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed to a return to the pre-1967 lines, the idea of a Palestinian state in temporary borders has gained appeal with the Israelis.
Prosecutors appeal sentence in Montana rape case that drew criticism for judge
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- State prosecutors on Wednesday appealed as "illegal" a 30-day sentence handed down by a Montana judge to a former teacher for raping a student who later killed herself.
The announcement came after District Judge G. Todd Baugh received widespread condemnation for the sentence and his comments that the victim was "older than her chronological age."
Defendant Stacey Rambold, 54, last week received 15 years in prison with all but a month suspended for his months-long sexual relationship with Billings Senior High School student Cherice Moralez.
Attorneys for the state and Yellowstone County say a minimum of two years in prison for Rambold is mandated under state law.
"We believe that the sentence Judge Baugh imposed on Stacey Rambold is illegal," Attorney General Tim Fox said in a statement. "Using the means provided by state law, we are appealing his sentence and working diligently to ensure that justice is served."
Computer-operated car developed by Carnegie Mellon University takes Pa. congressman for a ride
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A Pennsylvania congressman caught a cutting-edge ride to the airport on Wednesday.
Rep. Bill Shuster, a Republican from Altoona, made a 33-mile trip from Cranberry Township to Pittsburgh International Airport at about 11 a.m. in a computer-operated car.
The so-called driverless Cadillac SRX was designed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers who have been working on the project since 2008. The car uses inputs from radars, laser rangefinders, and infrared cameras to maneuver in traffic.
Shuster is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and he was accompanied by Barry Schoch, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Shuster saw a Carnegie Mellon test vehicle about five years ago, and he said it was crammed so full of equipment that there wasn’t even room for a person inside. Now, the 2011 Cadillac is basically a standard model with all the sensors and electronics discreetly hidden. It didn’t look out of place on the drive to the airport, which began in a suburban area with stop-and-go traffic and then reached speeds of about 65 mph on a major highway. A Carnegie Mellon engineer was in the driver’s seat as a safety precaution.