US officials: Obama administration considers military training of Syrian rebels
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is considering a plan to use U.S. military trainers to help increase the capabilities of the Syrian rebels, in a move that would greatly expand the current CIA training being done quietly in Jordan, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Any training would take place outside Syria, and one possible location would be Jordan.
The officials said no decision had been made, but that discussions were going on at high levels of the government. It comes as the Obama administration prods Congress to authorize limited military strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's government in retaliation for a deadly Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack.
The proposal to use the U.S. military to train the rebels — something the administration has resisted through more than two years of civil war — would answer the demands of some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to do more to train and equip the Syrian opposition. President Barack Obama in June decided to provide lethal aid to the rebels, but so far none of that assistance has gotten to the opposition.
Officials said Thursday that talk about a military training mission has increased but that there have been no specific Pentagon recommendations forwarded to the White House on how big it should be or how many troops it should involve.
At global summit, Obama presses fellow world leaders to back a US-led strike against Syria
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — President Barack Obama pressed fellow world leaders on Thursday to support a U.S.-led strike on Syria, but he ran into opposition from Russia, China and even the European Union — which condemned the deadly recent chemical weapons attack in Bashar Assad's country but declared it too soon for military action.
"The use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only a tragedy but also a violation of international law that must be addressed," Obama insisted during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit, where he mostly made his case behind the scenes.
China's G-20 delegation spokesman, Qin Gang, was among those who countered, saying: "War isn't the fundamental way to solve problems in Syria."
Obama's public and private diplomatic wrangling partly was intended to ratchet up pressure on lawmakers back in Washington as they debate authorizing military action. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a use-of-force resolution this week, but the measure's prospects in the full Senate and the House of Representatives are uncertain.
The prospect of military action against Syria overshadowed the global growth agenda at the two-day G-20 summit, which opened Thursday in this historic Russian city on the Baltic Sea. Leaders did, however, hold a lengthy discussion about the crisis during a four-hour dinner hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Syria's strongest backers.
Low-cost 'bronze' plans under health law could leave some consumers with big medical bills
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's health care law appears to mirror a trend in job-based insurance, where employees are being nudged into cost-saving plans that require them to pay a bigger share of their medical expenses.
Two independent studies out this week highlighted attractive prices for less-generous "bronze" plans that will offer low monthly premiums but require patients to pick up more of the cost if they get sick.
Consumers might avoid "rate shock" over premiums, but some could end up struggling with bigger bills for the care they receive.
The Obama plans will be available starting Oct. 1 for people who don't have access to coverage on the job.
Studies by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation and Avalere Health provided the first look at rates filed by insurers around the country, ahead of the Oct. 1 opening of new state insurance markets under the law.
Lawyer: George Zimmerman's wife filing for divorce a week after pleading guilty to perjury
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — George Zimmerman's wife filed for divorce Thursday, less than two months after her husband was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin and a week after she pleaded guilty to perjury in his case.
Shellie Zimmerman made the decision because of "disappointment," her attorney, Kelly Sims, wrote Thursday in a short email to The Associated Press. The 26-year-old Zimmerman told ABC's "Good Morning America" last week that she was having serious doubts about remaining married.
The interview came just after she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor perjury charge for lying during a bail hearing following her husband's arrest for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Her husband, who was acquitted on second-degree murder and other charges in July, wasn't in the Sanford, Fla., courtroom as she was sentenced to a year's probation and 100 hours of community service — even though she supported him and lied about their finances.
ABC first reported the divorce filing. Email messages and phone calls to Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, were not immediately returned.
Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman, wrote on Twitter: "Pray 4 them."
Report: US military agency cracked most online encryption used to protect confidential data
WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Security Agency, working with the British government, has secretly been unraveling encryption technology that billions of Internet users rely upon to keep their electronic messages and confidential data safe from prying eyes, according to published reports Thursday based on internal U.S. government documents.
The NSA has bypassed or altogether cracked much of the digital encryption used by businesses and everyday Web users, according to reports in The New York Times, Britain's Guardian newspaper and the nonprofit news website ProPublica. The reports describe how the NSA invested billions of dollars since 2000 to make nearly everyone's secrets available for government consumption.
In doing so, the NSA built powerful supercomputers to break encryption codes and partnered with unnamed technology companies to insert "back doors" into their software, the reports said. Such a practice would give the government access to users' digital information before it was encrypted and sent over the Internet.
"For the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies," according to a 2010 briefing document about the NSA's accomplishments meant for its UK counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. Security experts told the news organizations such a code-breaking practice would ultimately undermine Internet security and leave everyday Web users vulnerable to hackers.
The revelations stem from documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who sought asylum in Russia this summer. His leaks, first published by the Guardian, revealed a massive effort by the U.S. government to collect and analyze all sorts of digital data that Americans send at home and around the world.
Afghanistan war veterans reunited in NY with dog and her 7 puppies born on the battlefield
PORT JEFFERSON STATION, N.Y. (AP) — Army reunions have been held as long as soldiers have been going off to war, yet a reunion this week was perhaps like no other in history.
National Guard soldiers from New York who befriended a stray dog while on patrol in Afghanistan were reunited with the 65-pound mixed breed and her seven rambunctious puppies after the animals arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday.
The reunion was made possible by the efforts of a Long Island pet rescue organization whose motto is: "Paws of War — No Buddy Left Behind."
"They really became part of the family to us," 1st Lt. Joseph LaPenta of Staten Island said. The soldiers befriended the dog they called Sheba after arriving in Afghanistan in January. She sometimes joined them on patrol, chasing away other stray dogs that may have threatened the soldiers, they said.
In March, Sheba had a litter of seven puppies. Because Sheba was weakened from the births, they nursed her and the puppies back to health, feeding her their allotment of beef jerky and MREs — Army issued "meals ready to eat." Later, relatives sent bags of dog food from home.
Family prepares to claim Ariel Castro's body; Ohio conducting reviews into suicide
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The family of Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro planned to claim his body Thursday as investigations sought to determine how a man who was perhaps Ohio's most notorious prisoner managed to hang himself with a bedsheet while in protective custody.
Castro was a month into his life sentence for holding three women captive in his home for a decade when he committed suicide Tuesday night.
Two reviews ordered Wednesday by Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr were underway, prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said. One inquiry will look into the suicide itself, and the other is examining whether Castro received proper medical and mental health care leading up the suicide.
A representative of Castro's family was expected to claim his body Thursday, the Franklin County coroner said.
Castro, 53, had been taken off suicide watch while in county jail and was in protective custody in prison, which involves checks every 30 minutes.
Teenager hit by his remote control helicopter in NYC park, dies from severe head injury
NEW YORK (AP) — A teenager operating a remote control helicopter in a New York City park has been struck in the head by it and killed.
Police say 19-year-old Roman Pirozek Jr. died Thursday afternoon near a parkway in Brooklyn. They say he suffered a severe head injury.
Enthusiasts are allowed to operate model aircraft in designated parts of Calvert Vaux Park, which features a playground, basketball courts and baseball diamonds.
Pirozek's father is the vice president of the Seaview Rotary Wings Helicopter Club, which organizes flights in the park. He hasn't responded to requests for comment.
A spokesman for the Muncie, Ind.-based Academy of Model Aeronautics says he believes Pirozek's death is only the second death caused by a remote control helicopter in the United States.
Gut bacteria may be a hidden ally in fighting fat, says study of mice given human germs
WASHINGTON (AP) — Call it a hidden ally: The right germs just might be able to help fight fat.
Different kinds of bacteria that live inside the gut can help spur obesity or protect against it, say scientists at Washington University in St. Louis who transplanted intestinal germs from fat or lean people into mice and watched the rodents change.
And what they ate determined whether the good germs could move in and do their job.
Thursday's report raises the possibility of one day turning gut bacteria into personalized fat-fighting therapies, and it may help explain why some people have a harder time losing weight than others do.
"It's an important player," said Dr. David Relman of Stanford University, who also studies how gut bacteria influence health but wasn't involved in the new research. "This paper says that diet and microbes are necessary companions in all of this. They literally and figuratively feed each other."
Quickly, if not quietly, Murray's US Open title defense ends in quarterfinal loss to Wawrinka
NEW YORK (AP) — The earliest real signs of trouble for Andy Murray came in the 10th game of his U.S. Open quarterfinal. For 22 points stretched over 15 excruciating minutes Thursday, Murray's body language was as poor as his play.
When the 2012 champion pushed a simple forehand into the net, he smacked his palm against his forehead, once, twice, three times. When he left a similarly routine forehand too low, he mocked his footwork by pressing one shoe atop the other. When he sailed a later forehand long, he rolled his eyes and muttered. When he delivered his second double-fault, he swiped the ground with his racket.
And when he rushed yet another forehand on break point No. 6 of that key game — the ball drifting long to cede a set to his far-less-accomplished opponent, ninth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka — Murray cracked his racket on the court. Not satisfied, he trudged to his changeover chair and whacked the racket again, mangling the frame.
Trying to defend a Grand Slam title for the first time, and not quite two months removed from his historic Wimbledon championship, Murray bowed out quickly, if not quietly, at Flushing Meadows, losing 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 to Wawrinka in a result that was surprising both because of who won and by how much.
"I have had a good run the last couple of years," said the third-seeded Murray, who shook his hands in front of his face and screamed after dropping the second set. "It's a shame I had to play a bad match today."