Fixes by end of November? Private contractor tabbed to oversee repair of health care website
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nearly a month into the dysfunctional rollout, the Obama administration acknowledged the wide extent of its health care website's problems Friday and abruptly turned to a private company to oversee urgent fixes. Setting a new timetable, officials said most issues will be repaired by the end of November.
It will take a lot of work, but "HealthCare.gov is fixable," declared Jeffrey Zients, a management consultant brought in by the White House. By the end of next month, he said, there will be many fewer signup problems such as computer screen freezes -- but he stopped short of saying problems will completely disappear.
The administration also said it is promoting one of the website contractors, a subsidiary of the nation's largest health insurance company, to take on the role of "general contractor" shepherding the fixes.
Quality Software Services Inc. -- owned by a unit of UnitedHealth Group-- was responsible for two components of the government's online insurance system. One is the data hub, a linchpin that works relatively well, and the other is an accounts registration feature that initially froze and caused many problems.
Zients reported that his review found dozens of issues across the entire system, which is made up of layers of components meant to interact in real time with consumers, government agencies and insurance company computers.
Alleged electronic targeting of allies must end, French president says
BRUSSELS (AP) -- Indignant at reports of U.S. electronic espionage overseas, the leaders of Germany and France said Friday they will insist the Obama administration agree by year's end to limits that could put an end to alleged American eavesdropping on foreign leaders, businesses and innocent citizens.
German spy chiefs will travel to Washington shortly to talk with U.S. officials about the spying allegations that have so angered European leaders, including whether Chancellor Angela Merkel's own cellphone was monitored by the National Security Agency.
Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, at the final day of a European Union summit in Brussels, did not offer many specifics on what they want President Barack Obama and his intelligence chiefs to agree to.
A former French counterintelligence agent, however, told The Associated Press the European allies will likely demand the Americans sign off on a "code of good conduct" for intelligence-gathering, and could use the espionage dispute as leverage against the United States in upcoming trade talks.
"I think France and Germany would want guidelines," said Claude Moniquet, who now directs the Brussels-based European Strategic and Intelligence Center. But he was dubious there would be much change in intelligence agencies' real-world behavior.
Grand jury wanted parents of JonBenet Ramsey prosecuted in her killing, documents show
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) -- A grand jury found enough evidence to indict the parents of JonBenet Ramsey for child abuse and accessory to first-degree murder in the 6-year-old's death, newly unsealed documents revealed Friday, nearly a decade after DNA evidence cleared the couple.
But the 1999 documents shed no light on who was responsible for the child beauty queen's death, and 14 years later, authorities are no closer to finding her killer.
The documents confirmed reports earlier this year that grand jurors had indeed recommended an indictment in the case, contrary to the long-held perception that the secret panel ended their work without deciding to charge anyone.
At the time, then-District Attorney Alex Hunter didn't mention an indictment, saying only that there wasn't enough evidence to warrant charges against the Ramseys, who had long maintained their innocence.
The grand jury met three years after JonBenet's body was found bludgeoned and strangled in the basement of her family's home in Boulder, the day after Christmas in 1996. Lurid details of the crime and striking video footage of the child in adult makeup and suggestive pageant costumes propelled the case into one of the highest-profile mysteries in the U.S., unleashing a series of true-crime books and TV specials.
Timeline: Deputy made decision in 10 seconds to shoot California boy who had replica rifle
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Ten seconds.
That's how much time passed after a California sheriff's deputy reported a suspicious person to dispatch then called back to say shots had been fired.
The shots killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez on Tuesday afternoon in a blue-collar neighborhood in Santa Rosa. Police say Lopez was carrying a pellet gun that looked like an AK-47 assault rifle.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced late Friday that it is conducting its own investigation of the shooting, which has outraged many local residents who are demanding to know whether the shooting was justified.
More than 100 angry middle and high school students walked to City Hall on Friday, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported. Hundreds of people protested earlier in the week.
Syrian state TV claims leader of al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front killed in coastal province.
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian state-run TV reported Friday that the leader of a powerful al-Qaida-linked rebel group has been killed -- a claim that if confirmed would be a huge blow to fighters trying to topple President Bashar Assad. At least one rebel commander denied the report.
Questions remained over whether Abu Mohammad al-Golani, head of Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, had indeed died. State TV said he was killed in the coastal province of Latakia, but did not say when or give details. Later Friday, it removed the report from its website without explanation.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the fighting in Syria, said senior Nusra Front leaders contacted by activists in Latakia and the eastern Deir el-Zour province denied al-Golani had been killed.
Other Nusra Front sources said they could not confirm or deny the report "because contact with al-Golani was cut," the Observatory said in a statement. A rebel commander in a Damascus suburb contacted by The Associated Press said he believed al-Golani was "alive and well" based on his contacts with other fighters including those from Nusra Front. He declined to elaborate or be identified for security concerns.
The report comes as the fragmented rebels have suffered significant losses on the battlefield.
7.3-magnitude quake rocks Japan off Fukushima coast; no reports of damage
TOKYO (AP) -- An earthquake of magnitude 7.3 struck early Saturday off Japan's east coast, the U.S. Geological Survey said, triggering small tsunamis but causing no apparent damage.
Japan's meteorological agency said the quake was an aftershock of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck the same area in 2011, killing about 19,000 people and devastating the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunamis of up to 40 centimeters (15 inches) were reported Saturday at four areas along the coast, but a tsunami advisory was lifted less than two hours after the quake.
Japanese television images of harbors showed calm waters. The quake hit at 2:10 a.m. Tokyo time (1710 GMT) about 290 kilometers (170 miles) off Fukushima, and it was felt in Tokyo, some 300 miles (480 kilometers) away.
"It was fairly big, and rattled quite a bit, but nothing fell to the floor or broke. We've had quakes of this magnitude before," Satoshi Mizuno, an official with the Fukushima prefectural government's disaster management department, told The Associated Press by phone. "Luckily, the quake's center was very far off the coast."
Man charged in 1979 NYC missing-boy case wants former prime suspect, a Pa. convict, as witness
NEW YORK (AP) -- The man charged with killing a 6-year-old boy who disappeared in 1979 is securing an unusual witness in his defense: a convicted Pennsylvania child molester who was long the prime suspect.
A Pennsylvania judge on Friday ordered now-jailed Jose Antonio Ramos to appear at Pedro Hernandez' murder trial next year in the death of Etan Patz, The Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., reported.
A civil court years ago declared Ramos responsible for the boy's death, though he has denied involvement. Friday's developments raise the prospect of Ramos taking a witness stand for the first time to answer questions about one of the nation's most infamous missing-child cases.
"The jury should know that there's someone out there with a lot more evidence against him than my client," Hernandez' lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, said by phone Friday.
The Manhattan district attorney's office, which is prosecuting Hernandez, had no immediate comment on Friday's developments in a court in Luzerne County, Pa. Ramos is currently jailed there on a charge of violating sex-offender-registration requirements.
North Dakota bishop exposes churchgoers to hepatitis A virus; health advisory issued
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- The bishop of the Fargo Catholic Diocese exposed some parishioners at North Dakota churches in Fargo, Grand Forks and Jamestown to the hepatitis A virus in late September and early October.
The state Health Department on Thursday issued an advisory of exposure for anyone who attended any of the five affected churches and took communion from Bishop John Folda, 52. State immunization program manager Molly Howell said that the risk is low but that officials "felt it was important for people to know about the possible exposure."
State health officials say they are not sure exactly how many churchgoers might have been exposed. A church official from one affected church said about 25 people there received communion from Folda.
Diocese spokeswoman Aliceyn Magelky told The Associated Press that Folda contracted the liver disease from contaminated food while attending a conference last month in Italy for newly ordained bishops. Folda has taken time off work since Oct. 10 due to the virus, she said.
"He's doing great," Magelky said of Folda. "He's moving back into his regular schedule."
Quincy Jones sues Michael Jackson's estate over royalties, producer credit on 'This Is It'
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Quincy Jones sued Michael Jackson's estate on Friday claiming he is owed millions in royalties and production fees on some of the superstar's greatest hits.
Jones' lawsuit seeks at least $10 million from the singer's estate and Sony Music Entertainment, claiming the entities improperly re-edited songs to deprive him of royalties and production fees. The music has been used in the film "This Is It" and a pair of Cirque du Soleil shows based on the King of Pop's songs, the lawsuit states.
Jones also claims that he should have received a producer's credit on the music in "This Is It." His lawsuit seeks an accounting of the estate's profits from the works so that Jones can determine how much he is owed.
The producer worked with Jackson on three of his most popular solo albums, "Off the Wall," ''Thriller" and "Bad."
Jackson's estate wrote in a statement that it was saddened by Jones' lawsuit. "To the best of its knowledge, Mr. Jones has been appropriately compensated over approximately 35 years for his work with Michael," the statement said.
Cardinals right at home as World Series shifts, Red Sox visit town of Arch and toasted ravioli
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- From the Green Monster to the Gateway Arch. From the Charles River to the mighty Mississippi. From clam chowder to toasted ravioli.
The World Series scene is shifting, and St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright couldn't be happier.
"We love Cardinal country," he said Friday.
For good reason, too. After Boston split the first two games at Fenway Park, now Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and the rest of the Red Sox will get to see what makes this place so special.
Especially in October.