Monday, March 31, 2014

Published:

AP sources: Obama health law sign-ups on track to hit 7M on deadline day despite glitches

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Beating expectations, President Barack Obama's health care overhaul was on track to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance on deadline day Monday, government officials told The Associated Press.

The 7 million target, thought to be out of reach by most experts, was in sight on a day that saw surging consumer interest as well as vexing computer glitches that slowed sign-ups on the HealthCare.gov website.

Two government officials confirmed the milestone, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter ahead of an official announcement.

Seven million was the original target set by the Congressional Budget Office for enrollment in taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance through new online markets created under Obama's signature legislation.

That was scaled back to 6 million after the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov last fall. Several state-run websites also had crippling problems.

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AP sources: US talking with Israel on possible release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The United States is talking with Israel about releasing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard early from his life sentence as an incentive to the Israelis in the troubled Mideast peace negotiations, people familiar with the talks said Monday. Releasing Pollard, a thorn in U.S.-Israeli relations for three decades, would be an extraordinary step underscoring the urgency of U.S. peace efforts.

Two people describing the talks cautioned that such a release -- which would be a dramatic turnaround from previous refusals -- was far from certain and that discussions with Israel on the matter were continuing. Both spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks on the record.

In return for the release, the people close to the talks said, Israel would have to undertake significant concessions to the Palestinians in Middle East negotiations. Such concessions could include some kind of freeze on Israeli settlements in disputed territory, the release of Palestinian prisoners beyond those Israel has already agreed to free and a guarantee that Israel would stay at the negotiating table beyond an end-of-April deadline.

Secretary of State John Kerry met for several hours late Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before sitting down with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and another Palestinian official. Kerry was expected to meet again Tuesday morning with Netanyahu before flying to Brussels for NATO talks on Ukraine.

U.S. defense and intelligence officials have consistently argued against releasing Pollard.

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10 Things to Know for Tuesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday:

1. US RAISES POSSIBILITY OF EARLY RELEASE FOR JONATHAN POLLARD

Two sources tell the AP that freedom for the convicted spy is being dangled as an incentive for Israel in the Mideast peace talks.

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Australian prime minister pledges to continue Flight 370 search 'for quite some time'

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- Although it has been slow, difficult and frustrating so far, the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet is nowhere near the point of being scaled back, Australia's prime minister said.

The three-week hunt for Flight 370 has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Ten planes and 11 ships found no sign of the missing plane in the search zone in the southern Indian Ocean, about 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) west of Australia, officials said.

The search area has evolved as experts analyzed Flight 370's limited radar and satellite data, moving from the seas off Vietnam, to the waters west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then to several areas west of Australia. The search zone is now 254,000 square kilometers (98,000 square miles), about a 2½-hour flight from Perth.

Malaysia has been criticized for its handling of the search, particularly its communications to the media and the family. In something likely to fuel those concerns, the government changed its account of the final voice transmission from the cockpit.

In a statement late Monday, it said the final words received by ground controllers at 1:19 a.m. on March 8 were "Good night Malaysian three-seven-zero." Earlier the government said the final words were "All right, good night." The statement didn't explain or address the discrepancy. The statement also said investigators were still trying to determine whether the pilot or co-pilot spoke the words.

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Sea garbage frustrates search for Flight 370 and points to wider problems in world's oceans

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Sometimes the object spotted in the water is a snarled fishing line. Or a buoy. Or something that might once have been the lid to an ice box. Not once -- not yet at least -- has it been a clue.

Anticipation has repeatedly turned into frustration in the search for signs of Flight 370 as objects spotted from planes in a new search area west of Australia have turned out to be garbage. It's a time-wasting distraction for air and sea crews searching for debris from the Malaysia Airlines flight that vanished March 8.

It also points to wider problems in the world's oceans.

"The ocean is like a plastic soup, bulked up with the croutons of these larger items," said Los Angeles captain Charles Moore, an environmental advocate credited with bringing attention to an ocean gyre between Hawaii and California known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which by some accounts is about the size of Texas.

The world's oceans have four more of these flotsam-collecting vortexes, Moore said, and the searchers, in an area about 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) west of Perth, have stumbled onto the eastern edge of a gyre in the Indian Ocean.

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Washington governor says financial losses from mudslide reach $10 million; death toll at 24

DARRINGTON, Wash. (AP) -- Estimated financial losses from the deadly Washington mudslide that has killed at least 24 people have reached $10 million, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday in a letter asking the federal government for a major disaster declaration.

In seeking additional federal help following one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history, Inslee said about 30 families need assistance with housing, along with personal and household goods. The estimated losses include nearly $7 million in structures and more than $3 million in their contents, Inslee's letter said.

The Snohomish County medical examiner's office said Monday afternoon that it has received a total of 24 victims, and 18 of those have been positively identified. Previously, the official death toll was 21, with 15 victims identified.

The remains of three additional victims were found Monday, but they have not yet been included in the medical examiner's official numbers, Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson told reporters at a Monday evening briefing.

The county sheriff's office released a list Monday evening of 22 people believed missing following the March 22 slide that destroyed a rural mountainside community northeast of Seattle. That's down from the 30 people officials previously considered missing.

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Recalled GM cars attracted young, inexperienced drivers unaccustomed to handling a crisis

DETROIT (AP) -- As the deaths are tallied from General Motors' delayed recall of compact cars, one thing is becoming clear: Of those killed, the majority were young.

In a way, this isn't surprising. Low-priced cars like the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion were marketed to young, first-time buyers and parents shopping for their kids.

But price may not be the only reason for the disproportionate number of youthful deaths.

The faulty ignition switches behind the recall can shut off the engine while the car is in motion. When that happens, power-assisted steering and power brakes are lost, and the air bags won't inflate in a crash.

In such a situation, inexperienced drivers are more likely to panic and be overwhelmed by the extra effort needed to control the car, safety experts say.

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Russia pulls back battalion from Ukraine border; PM Medvedev promises plenty of aid for Crimea

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea (AP) -- Russia said Monday it was pulling a battalion of several hundred troops away from the Ukrainian border but kept tens of thousands in place, prompting a worried response from the Kiev government about what the U.S. warned was still a "tremendous buildup."

Russia moved quickly to strengthen its economic hold on Crimea, with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev arriving in the newly annexed peninsula with promises of funds for improved power supplies, water lines, education and pensions for the elderly.

Russia's takeover of the strategic Black Sea region, its troop buildup near Ukraine's border and its attempts to compel constitutional changes in Ukraine have markedly raised tensions with the West and prompted fears that Moscow intends to invade other areas of its neighbor.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call Monday that some troops were being withdrawn from the Ukraine border, Merkel's office said. The withdrawal involved a battalion of about 500 troops, Russian news reports said.

The U.S. reacted cautiously to the Russian troop movement, with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel saying that "tens of thousands" of Russian forces still remained along the Ukrainian border, a situation he called "a tremendous buildup."

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DC Police: Body found in park believed to be that of murder suspect seen with missing 8-yr-old

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The body of a man found dead in a park of an apparent suicide Monday is believed to be that of a murder suspect who was the last person seen with a missing 8-year-old girl, police said.

The body has been tentatively identified as that of Kahlil Tatum, 51, a janitor at the city homeless shelter where 8-year-old Relisha Rudd had been living with her family, said Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

"It appears the person we found here today was, in fact, Mr. Tatum, and it does still appear at this point that this was a suicide," Lanier told a news conference at the park.

"This discovery was a shock for us," Lanier said. "We were very focused on finding Relisha and that's what we came here for. ... We're not finished. That search is continuing."

Police had started searching for Relisha in the 700-acre Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens five days ago in an operation aimed at recovering a body, although Lanier said she had not given up hope that Relisha was alive. Hundreds of people, including divers, have participated in the search.

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Major League Baseball goes high-tech with expanded replay, 2 missed calls by umpires get fixed

Major League Baseball launched the expanded replay era Monday, and saw instant results -- a pair of missed calls by umpires got fixed fast, without any arguments.

Opening day showed off the game's newest nod to modern technology in a sport that long relied on the eyes of its umps.

From now on, most every call can be challenged by a manager. When that happens, the final decision will come from a replay booth in New York, rather than the field. And instead of out or safe, fair or foul, disputes will be settled with two words new to baseball's lingo: confirmed or overturned.

Commissioner Bud Selig was at Miller Park in Milwaukee for the first call that got reversed. Minutes later, another ruling got changed at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

"You know what? They got the play right. That's the bottom line," said Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, who won his challenge in Milwaukee but lost the game.