Obama administration spells out health care site problems -- and its efforts to fix them
WASHINGTON (AP) -- On the defensive, the Obama administration acknowledged Wednesday its problem-plagued health insurance website didn’t get enough testing before going live. It said technicians were deep into the job of fixing major computer snags but provided no timetable.
Democratic unhappiness with the situation began growing louder -- including one call for President Barack Obama to "man up" and fire someone -- as the president’s allies began to fret about the political fallout.
And Republican sniping continued unabated, with House Speaker John Boehner declaring, "We’ve got the whole threat of Obamacare continuing to hang over our economy like a wet blanket."
Obama himself, though strongly defending the health care overhaul, has been increasingly willing to acknowledge extensive problems with the sign-up through online markets. Amid all that, the Health and Human Services Department on Wednesday provided its most specific accounting yet of the troubles with HealthCare.gov -- an issue that is also about to get a lengthy, even-less-forgiving airing on Capitol Hill.
The first of several hearings is set for Thursday in the Republican-led House, with lawmakers ready to pounce on the contractors who built the balky online enrollment system.
Merkel complains to Obama that U.S. spies may have targeted her mobile phone
BERLIN (AP) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained to President Barack Obama on Wednesday after learning that U.S. intelligence may have targeted her mobile phone, saying that would be "a serious breach of trust" if confirmed.
For its part, the White House denied that the U.S. is listening in on Merkel’s phone calls now.
"The president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "The United States greatly values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges."
However, Carney did not specifically say that that U.S. had never monitored or obtained Merkel’s communications.
The German government said it responded after receiving "information that the chancellor’s cellphone may be monitored" by U.S. intelligence. It wouldn’t elaborate, but German news magazine Der Spiegel, which has published material from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, said its research triggered the response.
Boston Marathon bombing suspect may try to pin most of the blame on his brother
BOSTON (AP) -- Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers may try to save him from the death penalty in the Boston Marathon bombing by arguing he fell under the murderous influence of his older brother, legal experts say.
The outlines of a possible defense came into focus this week when it was learned that Tsarnaev’s attorneys are trying to get access to investigative records implicating the now-dead brother in a grisly triple slaying committed in 2011.
In court papers Monday, federal prosecutors acknowledged publicly for the first time that a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev told investigators that Tamerlan participated in the unsolved killings of three men who were found in a Waltham apartment with their throats slit, marijuana sprinkled over their bodies.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, faces 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction, in the twin bombings April 15 that killed three people and injured more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in a gunbattle with police days later.
Tests suggest Mississippi baby born with HIV may be cured
Doctors now have convincing evidence that they put HIV into remission, hopefully for good, in a Mississippi baby born with the AIDS virus -- a medical first that is prompting a new look at how hard and fast such cases should be treated.
The case was reported earlier this year but some doctors were skeptical that the baby was really infected rather than testing positive because of exposure to virus in the mom’s blood.
The new report, published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, makes clear that the girl, now 3, was infected in the womb. She was treated unusually aggressively and shows no active infection despite stopping AIDS medicines 18 months ago.
Doctors won’t call it a cure because they don’t know what proof or how much time is needed to declare someone free of HIV infection, long feared to be permanent.
"We want to be very cautious here. We’re calling it remission because we’d like to observe the child for a longer time and be absolutely sure there’s no rebound," said Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, a University of Massachusetts AIDS expert involved in the baby’s care.
Kennedy cousin Skakel wins new trial after appeal over lawyer’s effectiveness
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel was granted a new trial on Wednesday by a Connecticut judge who ruled his attorney failed to adequately represent him when he was convicted in 2002 of killing his neighbor in 1975.
The ruling by Judge Thomas Bishop marked a dramatic reversal after years of unsuccessful appeals by Skakel, the 52-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy. Skakel is serving 20 years to life.
Bridgeport State’s Attorney John Smriga said prosecutors will appeal the decision.
Skakel’s current attorney, Hubert Santos, said he expects to file a motion for bail on Thursday. If a judge approves it, Skakel could then post bond and be released from prison.
"We’re very, very thrilled," Santos said. "I always felt that Michael was innocent."
Saudi Arabia’s test: How far to push its frustration over U.S. policies on Syria, Iran?
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- In Washington last week, arms regulators announced that Saudi Arabia is seeking $6.8 billion in advanced missiles and other equipment in its latest military buying spree. Days later, Saudi officials snubbed a seat on the U.N. Security Council in a stunning protest mostly aimed at U.S. policies in the Middle East.
This role of being an eager customer and emboldened critic may come to define the new relationship between Saudi Arabia and its longtime ally: The kingdom warns it won’t sit idly as Washington’s views increasingly drift away from the Gulf state’s priorities of keeping Iran and the West as far apart as possible and steadily supplying arms and aid to Syria’s rebels.
The Saudi-U.S. alliance has been among the bedrock elements of Middle East affairs for decades, and even small fissures carry outsized significance in a region that is in huge flux amid the chaotic Arab Spring fallout, the Syrian civil war and the election in Iran of moderate-leaning President Hassan Rouhani.
But there is very little chance that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners will push their grievances against Washington far enough to risk any deep damage, knowing they need the U.S. as a source of protection, arms and international standing.
Still, the script of Saudi Arabia enjoying predictable U.S. support has been rewritten somewhat after a series of high-profile breaks, including America pulling back from possible military strikes against the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad and last month’s historic U.S. outreach to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
Soft-spoken 14-year-old accused of killing well-liked high school math teacher in Mass.
DANVERS, Mass. (AP) -- A well-liked teacher was found slain in woods behind this quiet Massachusetts town’s high school, and a 14-year-old boy who was found walking along a state highway overnight was charged with killing her.
Blood found in a second-floor school bathroom helped lead investigators to the body of Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher at Danvers High School who was reported missing when she didn’t come home from work on Tuesday, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said.
"She was a very, very respected, loved teacher," Blodgett said.
The suspect, Philip Chism, was arraigned on a murder charge Wednesday and ordered held without bail. The teenager, described by classmates as soft-spoken and pleasant, also did not come home from school the day before and was spotted walking along Route 1 in the neighboring town of Topsfield at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Officials didn’t release a cause of death and haven’t discussed a motive in the killing.
Paroled offender flees Canada, accused of new assault in U.S. after being let across border
SEATTLE (AP) -- For a few weeks, Michael Sean Stanley managed to cut away from a troubled life in Canada and navigate a bizarre pathway to freedom.
The sex offender removed his electronic monitoring bracelet, eluded a Canadian manhunt and headed for the border. He was allowed to cross into Washington state, where local authorities told the U.S. citizen to register as a sex offender but didn’t arrest him, since he’d committed no crimes here.
Less than four days after registering, Stanley was accused this week of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old in a Seattle alley in a case that has caused alarm on both sides of the border and exposed a challenging dynamic of cross-border relations.
"This, for us, was the worst-case scenario," Seattle Police Det. Renee Witt said. "Our worst fear was realized when this kid came forward and said Stanley had attempted to sexually assault him."
Stanley’s criminal record in Canada dates back 25 years. He most recently served a 32-month prison term after luring two mentally challenged boys into an apartment, lighting a crack pipe and blowing smoke in their faces and then sexually assaulting them. Parole documents also describe another case in which Stanley broke into an elderly woman’s apartment while she was sleeping and sexually assaulted her.
Romney’s new house in Utah has will have hidden room behind bookcase that swivels open
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A new house Mitt Romney is building in Utah is not only spacious and luxurious, but also a little mysterious.
The home’s study has a bookcase on the far wall that swivels open and leads into a hidden room, according to architecture plans obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/1a0wGL9 ). The drawings say the room is for office storage, and show it is 11-feet long with cabinets.
It’s not the first time plans for a Romney home include attention-grabbing features. Drawings for renovation on a waterfront house in Lo Jolla, Calif., include a split-level garage with an elevator.
The Tribune reports the 5,900-square-foot house in the Salt Lake City suburb of Holladay will be the fifth home for the former Republican presidential candidate. He recently bought an 8,700-square-foot home that has six bedrooms and eight bathrooms in the Utah mountain resort town of Park City. He also has homes in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
The planning documents for the new Utah house show it listed as a home for Romney’s wife, Ann Romney. The home sits on an acre of land next to a home being built by their son, Josh Romney, the Tribune reports.