With much of gov't closed, no progress on ending spending stalemate — and it could last weeks
WASHINGTON (AP) — The political stare-down on Capitol Hill shows no signs of easing, leaving federal government functions — from informational websites, to national parks, to processing veterans' claims — in limbo from coast to coast. Lawmakers in both parties ominously suggested the partial shutdown might last for weeks.
A funding cutoff for much of the government began Tuesday as a Republican effort to kill or delay the nation's health care law stalled action on a short-term, traditionally routine spending bill. Republicans pivoted to a strategy to try to reopen the government piecemeal but were unable to immediately advance the idea in the House.
National parks like Yellowstone and Alcatraz Island were shuttered, government websites went dark and hundreds of thousands of nonessential workers reported for a half-day to fill out time cards, hand in their government cellphones and laptops, and change voicemail messages to gird for a deepening shutdown.
The Defense Department said it wasn't clear that service academies would be able to participate in sports, putting Saturday's Army vs. Boston College and Air Force vs. Navy football games on hold, with a decision to be made Thursday.
Even as many government agencies closed their doors, health insurance exchanges that are at the core of President Barack Obama's health care law were up and running, taking applications for coverage that would start Jan. 1.
Government shutdown sends thousands of federal of employees home, in limbo without pay
WASHINGTON (AP) — The usually bustling District of Columbia will be uniquely affected Wednesday by the first government shutdown in 17 years, with thousands of federal employees who make up the backbone of the metro area's workforce ordered not to report to work.
Furloughed workers facing the prospect of an uncertain time without work — and without paychecks — were offered everything from free burgers, sandwiches and cups of coffee to admission to private museums, pilates lessons and activities at community centers.
At Pork Barrel BBQ in Alexandria, Va., just outside the District of Columbia, the disdain for the stalemate in Congress that led to the shutdown was clear. The restaurant gave away 275 pulled pork sandwiches to workers with a government ID on Tuesday, though it took pains to note in its Twitter announcement that the offer "EXCLUDES CONGRESSMEN."
Many workers were on edge, unsure of how long it may be before they could head back to work.
"Even if it's just shut down for a week that's a quarter of your pay this month. That means a lot to a lot of people," said Marc Cevasco, 30, who works in Congressional affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
First day for online insurance markets brings surge of consumer interest, technical glitches
CHICAGO (AP) — For millions of Americans trying to log in, the online insurance marketplaces created by the new health care law began with a stalled website, an error message or a menu that didn't work.
But the debut of the new insurance marketplaces might have been a victim of the law's own success. The initial sign-up day appeared to draw heavy interest that suggested pent-up demand for just the kind of coverage now being offered.
Tennessee State University student Sam Rutherford, 31, said he signed up for a policy on Tuesday, some 15 years after a sledding accident that resulted in him losing several organs.
"I've been virtually uninsurable since that time," he said.
In 36 states where the federal government is running the marketplaces, a snag involving security questions on users' accounts cropped up repeatedly, preventing many from completing their enrollment.
US dialogue with Iran neutralizes Israeli threat to take military action
JERUSALEM (AP) — President Barack Obama's decision to open a dialogue with Iran's new president appears to have robbed Israel of a key asset in its campaign to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapon: the threat of unilaterally attacking Iranian nuclear facilities.
Despite some tough rhetoric in a speech to the U.N. by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it will be all but impossible for Israel to take military action once negotiations between Iran and world powers resume.
As a result, Israel could find itself sidelined in the international debate over how to handle the suspect Iranian nuclear program over the coming months and reliant on the United States at a time when American credibility in the region is in question.
For years, Netanyahu has warned that Iran is steadily marching toward the development of nuclear weapons, an assessment widely shared by the West. While welcoming international sanctions and diplomacy to engage Iran, Netanyahu has repeatedly said these efforts must be backed by a "credible" military threat. Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Netanyahu repeated his mantra that Israel is prepared to act alone if it determines diplomacy has failed.
Jacksonville International Airport reopens after bomb squad removes 'destructive' device
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville International Airport was shut down for nearly five hours, stranding incoming planeloads of passengers on the tarmac and delaying outgoing flights, after police found two suspicious packages, one of which was deemed "destructive" and had to be deactivated offsite by a bomb squad.
The airport was evacuated shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday when police found one suspicious package in the terminal and another in a nearby parking garage, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokesman Shannon Hartley told a news conference at 11 p.m., just after the airport reopened.
Hartley said one of the packages "had some destructive nature that it had to be taken offsite" but he did not elaborate.
He would not say which of the packages was destructive, and said he could not confirm local news media reports that two suspects had been arrested.
When authorities decided to evacuate the terminal and shut down the airport, some incoming planes were held up on the tarmac until buses could arrive to pick up the passengers, airport spokesman Michael Stewart said. He could not say how many planes were held up or for how long. Airport officials tweeted shortly after the evacuation that passengers on inbound flights would be bused to offsite hotels as transportation became available.
Activists: Clashes with al-Qaida rebels in Damascus suburb kill 12 Syrian troops
BEIRUT (AP) — Activists say heavy clashes between Syrian troops and al-Qaida-linked fighters in northern Damascus have killed at least 12 soldiers and pro-government militiamen.
The fighting comes as international weapons inspectors are in Damascus to begin their complex task of overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons against the backdrop of the civil war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday that the 12 died the day before in the city's Barzeh district.
Clashes in Barzeh flared up on Monday when the army launched a push to dislodge the rebels, including al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, from the district.
The Observatory says the opposition has been trying to capture the area for months in an attempt to take the battle for the capital closer to President Bashar Assad's seat of power.
Italy's government at stake as PM Letta seeks confidence vote amid split in Berlusconi's party
ROME (AP) — Premier Enrico Letta appealed for his government's survival Wednesday ahead of confidence votes in Parliament amid a divisive split in Silvio Berlusconi's party that could at least temporarily save his fragile ruling coalition.
In a speech to the Senate before the vote, Letta hailed his 5-month-old government's successes and outlined his agenda to revive Italy's moribund economy and turnaround its record unemployment as he warned lawmakers that Italy "runs a risk, a fatal risk" depending on the choices they make.
"Give us your confidence to realize these objectives. Give us your confidence for all that has been accomplished," Letta said to applause. "A confidence vote that isn't against anyone, but a confidence vote for Italy and Italians."
It was a last-ditch attempt to persuade enough lawmakers to defy Berlusconi's call to bring down the government. The key vote is in the Senate, where Berlusconi's allies have a narrow majority.
Entering the senate, Berlusconi appeared less combative than he has in recent days: "We'll see what happens," Italian news agencies quoted him as saying. "We'll listen to Letta's speech and then decide."
Friends remember father whose final act likely saved daughter from Colo. rock slide
BUENA VISTA, Colo. (AP) — Friends preparing to bury five relatives who died in a Colorado rock slide are remembering the father credited for saving his daughter's life as a selfless volunteer who probably didn't flinch to jump in front of cascading boulders to protect his daughter.
Thirteen-year-old Gracie Johnson says her father, Dwayne Johnson, covered her when a rock slide crashed down on the family on a popular hiking route to see a waterfall with visiting cousins. The action, according to local law enforcement, made the teen girl the only survivor in the group after Monday's slide.
Gracie's parents and sister from nearby Buena Vista were killed, as were two of her cousins from Missouri.
Family friend Mike Carr of Buena Vista said Dwayne Johnson was quick to help others.
"Probably his only regret is that he didn't jump in front of his whole family. He's just that type of guy," said Carr, who joined others at a candlelight vigil Tuesday night at Buena Vista High School's football field.
AP PHOTOS: Most of Gaza smugglers at border tunnels idle amid Egyptian crackdown, turmoil
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza's tunnel smugglers along the border with Egypt are mostly idle these days.
Some rest on cots in the dank underground pathways, stretching out for a smoke. Others pass the time cleaning the small carts on wheels that are normally pulled through the tunnels carrying cement or consumer goods from Egypt.
Since the summer, Egypt's military has tried to destroy or seal off most of the smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, a consequence of the heightened tensions between Cairo and the Hamas government in Gaza.
In July, Egypt's military brought down the country's Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, in a popularly-backed coup and cracked down on his Muslim Brotherhood movement. The military accused Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood, of fomenting unrest in Egypt and moved to shut down the border tunnels, citing security reasons.
The tunnels have served for years as a lifeline for Gaza, home to some 1.7 million Palestinians.
How does the 'Breaking Bad' finale stack up against other series finales?
NEW YORK (AP) — Now that the dust (and ricin) have settled from Sunday's "Breaking Bad" finale, it's worth considering what makes a drama series' exit good or bad.
As much as fans may miss "Breaking Bad," they were able to bid farewell satisfied that it met its obligations at the end no less than it did every week from the first episode.
"Breaking Bad" left the air with a finale that stands alongside the best ever, inventively tying up five seasons of narrative loose ends.
Now what about a bad finale? Easy: "Dexter," which aired the week before.
It was disappointing, full of holes and a disservice to a series that, against all odds, managed to make a sociopathic serial killer attractive and believable to viewers for eight slice-and-dice seasons. The finale was a contrivance meant to drag the series to the finish line. In only that respect did it succeed.