Health insurance marketplaces struggle to handle surge of customers on first day
CHICAGO (AP) -- Americans got their first chance Tuesday to shop for health insurance using the online marketplaces that are at the heart of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, but government websites designed to sell the policies struggled to handle the traffic, with many frustrated users reporting trouble setting up accounts.
State and federal agencies were working to fix the sites, which represent the biggest expansion in coverage in nearly 50 years. There should be time to make improvements. The open-enrollment period lasts for six months.
Administration officials said they are pleased with the strong consumer interest, but on a day of glitches they refused to say how many people actually succeeded in signing up for coverage. They gave inconsistent answers on whether a common problem had been cleared up or was still being corrected.
By Tuesday afternoon, at least 2.8 million people had visited the healthcare.gov website, said Medicare administrator Marilyn Tavenner, whose office is overseeing the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The website had seven times the number of simultaneous users ever recorded on the medicare.gov site.
In Obama’s home state, dozens of people who came to a Champaign, Ill., public health office to sign up for coverage found computer screens around the room flashing an error message: "System is unavailable."
Netanyahu says Israel won’t let Iran get nuclear weapons, even if it stands alone
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played the spoiler Tuesday to any easing of Iran’s relations with the West, telling world leaders his country will do whatever it takes to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it has to stand alone.
Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu asserted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani must have known about a terror attack on a Buenos Aires Jewish community center in 1994, as well as the 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans, because he was national security adviser at the time.
Last week, President Barack Obama and the Iranian leader spoke on the phone, the highest level contacts between their countries in 34 years.
Netanyahu said Israel’s future is threatened by a "nuclear-armed" Iran seeking its destruction and urged the international community to keep up pressure through sanctions.
"Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons," he said. "If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone, but in standing alone Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others," Netanyahu added.
Tech moves off desktop and onto the body as wearable computers take off
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The digital domain is creeping off our desktops and onto our bodies, from music players that match your tunes to your heart beat, to mood sweaters that change color depending on your emotional state -- blue for calm, red for angry. There are vacuum shoes that clean the floor while you walk and fitness bracelets, anklets and necklaces to track your calorie burning.
"Everyone agrees the race is just beginning, and I think we’re going to see some very, very big leaps in just the next year," said tech entrepreneur Manish Chandra at a wearable technology conference and fashion show in San Francisco Monday that was buzzing with hundreds of developers, engineers and designers.
Wearable technologies have long been a sideshow to mainstream laptop and smartphones, but this year Google’s glasses and rumors of Apple’s iWatch are popularizing the field. Analysts forecast swift growth. Last year the market for wearable technology -- encompassing everything from hearing aids to wristband pedometers -- totaled almost $9 billion. That should climb to $30 billion by 2018, said analyst Shane Walker at IHS Global Insights.
Humans have been wearing technology for centuries, from strapped-on compasses to pocket watches. The current surging industry is centered in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay area, where mostly smaller startups design their products locally and have them manufactured in Asia to take advantage of cheap labor. Monday’s conference was one of several focusing exclusively on wearable technology in recent years.
As wearable technologies proliferate, humans will need to adapt, said Georgia Tech professor Thad Starner. He advises Google on its glasses, which are lightweight frames equipped with a hidden camera and tiny display that responds to voice commands. Starner has worn his for several years.
Nearly 1,000 Iraqis killed in September, up 22 percent from previous month
BAGHDAD (AP) -- An Iraqi sheik cradled his grandson’s tightly wrapped body Tuesday, his face grim and his eyes downcast, trailed by men bearing the coffin of the infant’s mother.
The mother and son were killed the day before by a bombing in Baghdad -- two among nearly 1,000 Iraqi lives lost to violence in September. The heartbreaking image, captured in an Associated Press photo, illuminates the human tragedy behind the numbers.
Sectarian bloodshed has surged to levels not seen in Iraq since 2008. More than 5,000 people have been killed since April, when a deadly government raid on a Sunni protest camp unleashed a new round of violence that showed al-Qaida in Iraq is still strong despite years of U.S.-Iraqi offensives against the terror group.
At least 979 people -- 887 civilians and 92 soldiers and national policemen -- were killed in September, a 22 percent increase from the previous month, the U.N. mission in Iraq said Tuesday. Baghdad was hit hardest, with 418 violent deaths. The U.N. also reported that 2,133 people were wounded nationwide in the relentless car bombings, suicide attacks and shootings.
The spike reversed a brief decline to 804 in August after the death toll reached 1,057 in July, the highest since June 2008 when 975 people were killed.
Sour food, shattered glass: Cleaning Kenya’s mall, but unsure when or if it will reopen
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- The sour odor of rotting food overwhelms the senses. Shattered glass crunches underfoot. And evidence of looting is ever-present, including in Westgate Mall’s chandelier-filled casino.
Shop owners on Tuesday boarded up stores and removed merchandise even as Kenyan, U.S. and European investigators moved through the mall’s rubble in search of answers to the four-day terrorist attack. A soldier inside said that two bodies had been found Tuesday, one likely a soldier. The other was burned so badly it was too difficult to say, he said.
Those cleaning up their shops wondered: Can the mall reopen? If so, when?
A mall official told The Associated Press that such questions won’t be answered until the Kenyan government gives back control of the mall to its owners, a legal hold-up that may take months to resolve as the forensic investigation to find bodies and reconstruct events continues.
An Associated Press reporter on Tuesday spent about two hours inside Westgate, the site of a terrorist siege that killed at least 67 people. Kenya’s government says five attackers are dead -- perhaps under the mall’s rubble -- but officials acknowledge that some of the attackers may have changed clothes and walked out with fleeing, frightened shoppers.
International experts in Syria to begin mission to destroy chemical weapons
BEIRUT (AP) -- Wading into the world spotlight, international inspectors arrived in Damascus on Tuesday to begin the monumental task of overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons in the middle of a civil war.
The inspectors from a Netherlands-based chemical weapons watchdog have around nine months to complete their mission that calls for finding, dismantling and eliminating President Bashar Assad’s estimated 1,000-ton arsenal.
Their task has been endorsed by a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for Syria’s chemical stockpile to be scrapped by mid-2014. The deadline is the tightest that the experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have ever faced.
An advance team of 19 inspectors and 14 U.N. staff members arrived in Damascus late Tuesday afternoon in a 19-vehicle convoy escorted from the Lebanese border by two Syrian Foreign Ministry representatives. The experts set up a logistics base for its immediate work, the U.N. said in a statement.
Experts at The Hague, where the OPCW is based, said Sunday the inspectors’ priority is to reach the first milestone of helping Syria scrap its ability to manufacture chemical weapons by a Nov. 1 deadline, using every means possible.
Despite threat of bombardment, Syrian children head back to school
MADAYA, Syria (AP) -- Clutching his books close to his chest, 12-year-old Abdo al-Fikri eagerly walked into a classroom in Madaya, an opposition-held village in northern Syria, his brother and sister trailing behind him.
It has been a year since they were last in school. The area has seen ongoing battles between opposition forces and troops loyal to President Bashar Assad, and like pretty much everything else in Madaya, the school was forced to shut down because of the violence.
Despite a constant risk of bombardment, al-Fikri and about 200 other pupils returned to school this week in a village desperately seeking normalcy in times of war. "We go to school in fear," al-Fikri said. "They shell us with rockets, airplanes and missiles."
The Syrian war, now in its third year, has killed over 100,000 people and displaced millions. The spark for the uprising against Assad was a school in the country’s southern city of Daraa, where teenagers sprayed anti-government graffiti on a wall. A heavy-handed response then sparked an uprising which has since escalated into an insurgency and civil war.
Millions of Syrian children -- most of them in government-controlled areas -- have returned to school in the past two weeks, despite the conflict that according to UNICEF has left 4,000 Syrian schools -- or one in five -- damaged, destroyed or sheltering displaced families.