Winding up days-long visit to Damascus, UN envoy to Syria renews call for peace talks
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria ended a days-long visit to Damascus on Friday, calling on both the government and the opposition to attend a peace conference in Geneva later this month but acknowledging the gathering cannot take place if the opposition refuses to take part.
Lakhdar Brahimi, who had traveled to Damascus at the end of a Mideast tour to muster regional support for the conference, appeared uncertain about prospects for the meeting.
"We will say it's happened only when it happens," he told reporters at a press conference in Damascus, urging both sides to cooperate.
Brahimi's plea came just hours after officials said Israeli warplanes had attacked a shipment of Russian missiles inside a Syrian government stronghold — a development that threatened to add another volatile layer to regional tensions from the Syrian civil war.
An Obama administration official confirmed the Israeli airstrike late Thursday, but provided no details. Another security official said the attack occurred late Wednesday in the Syrian port city of Latakia and that the target was Russian-made SA-125 missiles.
Sprawling shantytown for Syrian refugees, largest in the region, to be transformed into a city
ZAATARI CAMP, Jordan (AP) — The manager of the region's largest camp for Syrian refugees arranges toy figures, trucks and houses on a map in his office trailer to illustrate his ambitious vision. In a year, he wants to turn the chaotic shantytown of 100,000 into a temporary city with local councils, paved streets, parks, an electricity grid and sewage pipes.
Zaatari, a desert camp near Jordan's border with Syria, is far from that ideal. Life is tough here. The strong often take from the weak, women fear going to communal bathrooms after dark, sewage runs between pre-fab trailers and boys hustle for pennies carting goods in wheelbarrows instead of going to school.
But with Syria's civil war in its third year, the more than 2 million Syrians who fled their country need long-term solutions, said Kilian Kleinschmidt, who runs Zaatari for the U.N. refugee agency.
"We are setting up ... a temporary city, as long as people have to be here," said Kleinschmidt, a 51-year-old German. The veteran of conflict zones is getting help from urban planners in the Netherlands.
Many in Zaatari residents acknowledge, if reluctantly, that a quick return is unlikely.
Congress governs self under 'Obamacare,' with discretion, coyness about who is covered and how
WASHINGTON (AP) — Think you're confused by "Obamacare." It's roiling Capitol Hill behind the scenes, too.
Members of Congress are governing themselves under President Barack Obama's signature law, which means they have great leeway in how to apply it to their own staffs.
For House members and senators, it's about a section of the law that may — or may not — require lawmakers to toss some staffers off of their federal health insurance and into the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. The verdict from congressional officers is ultimately that lawmakers, as employers, have discretion over who among their staffs gets ejected, and who stays. And they don't have to say who, how many or why.
What they all say is this:
"I followed the law," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., echoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others.
Still all smiles: Newly insured who became latest faces of health overhaul defend their choice
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) — It didn't take long for the friendly-looking young woman whose face was splashed across HealthCare.gov to spiral from smiling stock photo to laughingstock. As it scrambles to correct problems with the website, the Obama administration is now asking people who have successfully purchased health insurance to let their pictures be used instead.
Two of them told The Associated Press they found the site easy to navigate, were happy with the plans they purchased and were eager to share their stories in any format, including become the new face of the health care overhaul.
Not long after she enrolled on Oct. 3, Deborah Lielasus of Portsmouth was contacted by the Department of Health and Human Services and asked to appear both in a video describing her experience and in photographs that could replace the stock photo. She agreed, in part, to set an example for her children.
"I think it's important to show them that you shouldn't hide from being honest and being sincere and talking about something that you believe in," she said. "Although family members have said to me, 'You don't need this, don't do this, because you're just going to get hurt,' I have felt like it is important."
Opponents aren't impressed. "The White House should focus more on fixing their flawed law and less time trying to prove their law isn't broken," said Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
Appeals court ruling means one-third of Texas' abortion clinics can't perform procedure
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A third of the abortion clinics in Texas can no longer perform the procedure starting Friday after a federal appeals court allowed most of the state's new abortion restrictions to take effect.
A panel of judges at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled Thursday evening that Texas can enforce its law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital while a lawsuit challenging the restrictions moves forward. The panel issued the ruling three days after District Judge Lee Yeakel determined that the provision violated the U.S. Constitution and said it serves no medical purpose.
The panel's ruling is not final, and a different panel of judges will likely hear the case in January. But in the meantime, Texas clinics will have to follow the order. Twelve of the 32 clinics in Texas that perform abortions don't have doctors who have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, meaning they won't be able to perform the procedure, though they can provide other services.
In its 20-page ruling, the appeals court panel acknowledged that the new provision "may increase the cost of accessing an abortion provider and decrease the number of physicians available to perform abortions." However, the panel said that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that having "the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate" a law that serves a valid purpose, "one not designed to strike at the right itself."
Although several conservative states in recent months have approved broad abortion limits, the Texas ones were particularly divisive because of the number of clinics affected and the distance some women would have to travel to get an abortion.
Barges, cranes drop limestone boulders into Gulf of Mexico as oyster reef restoration begins
MATAGORDA, Texas (AP) — A deep sea oyster reef restoration being touted as the largest ever in the Gulf of Mexico began in an unlikely place: a quarry in landlocked Missouri.
That is where years of research, planning and precise engineering led Mark Dumesnil, an associate director of restoration for the Nature Conservancy in Texas, as he sought to restore what was once a nearly 500-acre oyster reef and is now no more than hard sand and shell remains, with not one oyster in sight.
And so, about seven years after Dumesnil was first tipped off by wildlife ecosystem experts that restoration of Half Moon Reef might be possible, 36 barges carrying 93,000 tons of Missouri limestone traveled for 12 days down the Mississippi River, arriving in the Gulf earlier this month. Scientists, engineers, researchers and laborers will spend some eight weeks dropping the boulders onto a 54-acre plot 8 feet underwater as part of a $5.4 million, two-phase project designed to revitalize a damaged ecosystem.
The project also will provide a robust natural barrier from hurricanes and teach scientists whether reefs can rebuild in drought conditions, becoming another mechanism for marine habitats to withstand devastating dry spells.
"This project is designed to be innovative and different," said Dumesnil, who has financial backing from a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office.
China reporter wants to crowdfund his career, challenging state-controlled, corrupt industry
BEIJING (AP) — From his temporary home on a friend's sofa, Yin Yusheng hopes to craft a new kind of journalism in China, where the industry is widely seen as state-controlled and corrupt. He wants to make his readers the boss — and that includes paying his salary.
Once users pledge 5,000 yuan ($800) — half his monthly pay when he worked for a business daily — he takes a story up. He has completed one piece since beginning his experiment in crowdfunding in September, appealing to those who are "tired of the praises sung by the state-run media."
Journalism in China is held in low esteem by many members of the public, not just because virtually all media is state-controlled and toes the government line, but also because of dirty practices dating back to the 1990s. Journalists regularly demand money from companies or individuals not to report a negative story about them, and expect a "red envelope" with cash to report a positive development or to turn up at a press conference.
Yin, who lost a reporting job at a magazine earlier this year when it changed from a weekly to a monthly, wants to be beholden only to the news-reading public, and is testing whether crowdfunding from online donations can give him a stable income.
In an online mission statement, he says crowdfunding can make a product successful, save a company and bring donations to the weak and vulnerable. "In the same way, it can give us the truth," he writes.
Colorado voters deciding how to tax recreational marijuana, and questions abound
DENVER (AP) — A pro-pot jingle in Colorado last year went like this: "Jobs for our people/Money for schools/Who could ask for more?" Nearly a year after Colorado legalized recreational weed, voters get the chance to decide exactly how much more — in taxes.
On Tuesday, voters decide whether to approve a 15 percent pot excise tax to pay for school construction, plus an extra sales tax of 10 percent to fund marijuana enforcement.
Some pot activists are campaigning against the taxes, arguing that marijuana should be taxed like beer, which has a tax rate of 8 cents a gallon. They've handed out free joints at tax protests.
"Our alcohol system is regulated just fine with the taxes they have, so we don't see any need for this huge grab for cash from marijuana," said Miguel Lopez, volunteer coordinator for the small opposition campaign to Colorado's pot tax measure.
While polls suggest the tax is going to pass — even in this state where voters frequently reject new taxes — it is very much an open question how much the state is going to reap.
Banksy leaves NYC with a final tag, a $615,000 painting and debate: Is he a jerk or— a genius?
NEW YORK (AP) — The secretive street artist Banksy ended his self-announced monthlong residency in New York City with a final piece of graffiti, a $615,000 painting donated to charity and a debate: Is he a jerk or a genius?
Banksy, who created a new picture, video or prank every day of October somewhere in the city, spent his last day like thousands of graffiti artists before him: He tagged a building near a highway with his name in giant bubble letters. The twist was that these letters were actual bubbles: balloon-like inflatables stuck to a wall near the Long Island Expressway in Queens.
As if to underscore his dual identity as both a street punk and an art-world darling, he also donated a painting that was auctioned off Thursday night for $615,000. The original painting first sold for $50 at a Manhattan thrift shop that benefits Housing Works, an organization that fights homelessness and AIDS. Banksy added a Nazi soldier to the landscape scene and Housing Works sold it in an online auction.
Throughout his 31 days here, Banksy put pictures of his work on BanksyNY.com, with clues as to locations but nothing precise. That spawned a treasure hunt by fans who hunted the works down, shared locations via social media, then swarmed to see them.
But by the time Banksy was done, New Yorkers were divided in their opinions. Some tweeted "Go home, Banksy!" Others declared their admiration.
Wake sacks Dalton for safety, Dolphins beat Bengals 22-20 in overtime
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — With the Miami Dolphins needing any kind of score to end a four-game losing streak, two points were plenty.
Cameron Wake sacked Andy Dalton for a safety with 6:38 left in overtime, and Miami beat the Cincinnati Bengals 22-20 on Thursday night.
On third-and-10 from the 8, Dalton retreated to the goal line and was tackled by Wake coming up the middle for the third overtime safety in NFL history. The officials immediately signaled the score, which was upheld following a replay review.
"You just have to do whatever you can to get to the quarterback," Wake said. "It couldn't have come at a better time. How much better could it have been than to have a d-lineman seal the deal?"
The Pro Bowl end totaled three sacks, and Cincinnati committed four turnovers that might have meant a difference of 17 points.