South Africa commemorates Nelson Mandela as government readies funeral
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — As flags were lowered to half mast, people across South Africa commemorated Nelson Mandela with song, tears and prayers on Friday as the government prepared funeral ceremonies that will draw leaders and other dignitaries from around the globe.
A black SUV-type vehicle containing Mandela's coffin, draped in South Africa's flag, pulled away from Mandela's home after midnight, escorted by military motorcycle outriders, to take the body to a military morgue in Pretoria, the capital.
Many South Africans heard the news of his death, which was announced just before midnight, upon waking Friday, and they flocked to his home in Johannesburg's leafy Houghton neighborhood. One woman hugged her two sons over a floral tribute.
In a church service in Cape Town, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu said the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa's first black president would want South Africans themselves to be his "memorial" by adhering to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.
"All of us here in many ways amazed the world, a world that was expecting us to be devastated by a racial conflagration," Tutu said, recalling how Mandela helped unite South Africa as it dismantled apartheid, the cruel system of white rule, and prepared for all-race elections in 1994.
Death of Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid icon, mourned the world over
In nearly seven decades spent fighting for freedom and equality, Nelson Mandela inspired and challenged the world to stand up for others. As word of Mandela's death spread, current and former presidents, athletes and entertainers, and people around the world spoke about the life and legacy of the former South African leader.
From Harlem to Hollywood, Paris to Beijing, people hailed Mandela's indomitable courage in the face of adversity as an inspiration for all. In a testament to his universal appeal, political leaders of various stripes joined critics and activists in paying tribute to Mandela as a heroic force for peace and reconciliation.
Some knew Mandela personally while many only knew him from afar, but they shared how they drew inspiration from his strength and looked to live his message of continuing the struggle against social injustice and for human rights.
"He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages," said President Barack Obama, who shares with Mandela the distinction of being his nation's first black president.
AP PHOTOS: Mandela remembered around the world
As news of Nelson Mandela's death spread, current and former heads of state and government, athletes and entertainers, and people around the world spoke out about the life and legacy of the former South African president. Some knew him personally while many only knew him from afar, but they shared how they drew inspiration from his strength and looked to live his message of continuing the struggle against social injustice.
Here are some images of people around the world celebrating and remembering his life.
Changes bring welcome improvements to Obama's health care website, but goal is harder to reach
WASHINGTON (AP) — It looks like President Barack Obama's fickle health insurance website is finally starting to put up some respectable sign-up numbers, but its job only seems to have gotten harder.
Two months in and out of the repair shop have left significantly less time to fulfill the White House goal of enrolling 7 million people by the end of open enrollment on March 31.
Signups were just over 100,000 nationally as of the end of October. The 36 states served by the federal government's website accounted for a paltry one-fourth of that, fewer than 27,000 people. But officials now say an additional 29,000 people enrolled through the revamped HealthCare.gov in just two days at the start of this week, despite heavy volume that not long ago would have caused the system to lock up.
HealthCare.gov is the online portal to subsidized private health insurance for people who don't have job-based coverage. Though it's too early to say whether the corner is being turned, Obama is inviting consumers to give the website a second chance. Here's a look at the changes you can expect:
SPEED AND AVAILABILITY
Texas prepares for 'Ice Friday' as wintry blast of cold, ice, snow moves across South, Midwest
DALLAS (AP) — As Texas residents prepared for what one hardware store manager called "Ice Friday," schools started canceling classes and thousands of shoppers jammed store aisles to buy milk, pet food and other supplies.
Earlier this week, many in Texas were basking in spring-like temperatures hitting the 80s. But by Thursday, Texas was facing the same wintry blast that's hitting much of the U.S., bringing frigid temperatures, ice and snow.
At a Dallas Home Depot, manager James McGilberry said the store was already running out of firewood and ice melt on Thursday afternoon, as freezing rain and wind began hitting the region. Residents were preparing for a storm that threatened to slicken highways, freeze power lines — and leave them stranded through the weekend.
"It's almost like a Black Friday," McGilberry said, "but I guess we'll call it an Ice Friday."
The National Weather Service issued winter storm and ice warnings through much of Friday for parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Some parts of the Midwest were expected to see several inches of snow.
Democrats, GOP work on backup plan for stalled defense bill
WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a standoff in the Senate, the top Democrats and Republicans on Congress' military panels are working on a backup plan to ensure that they complete a far-reaching defense policy bill before year's end.
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and the panel's top Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, expressed optimism on Thursday that they could agree with their Senate counterparts on a pared-back bill that would cover a pay raise for troops, buy new ships and aircraft and address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military.
The Senate and the House have only one legislative week to work out their differences before the House adjourns for the year on Dec. 13. A version of the bill remains stalled in the Senate, caught up in a dispute over amendments.
"We have to have this done," Smith told reporters. "A whole lot of bad stuff happens if we don't pass this by the end of the year, in terms of military pay, in terms of death benefit compensation, in terms of military construction projects and on and on and on."
Under the fallback plan, the House would quickly pass a new, precooked bill and send it to the Senate.
20 years after Long Island Rail Road massacre, survivors reflect on their changed lives
MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — Before Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and Newtown, there was the Long Island Rail Road.
On Dec. 7, 1993, a gunman opened fire on a train car filled with commuters leaving New York City. By the time passengers tackled Colin Ferguson, his fusillade had left six people dead and 19 wounded.
Though other massacres have far superseded it in terms of casualties, there are aspects of the railcar shooting that, even two decades later, make it stand out in the sad pantheon of rampages that have horrified the nation.
"In a mall or a school or a movie theater, there is at least some opportunity for hiding or escaping," said James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University in Boston. "These people had nowhere to go."
And then there was the trial. Ferguson defended himself in court, cross-examining the very people he terrorized.
American teacher killed in Libya was heading home for Christmas; students say he inspired them
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — An American chemistry teacher shot to death while jogging in Benghazi was looking forward to his first Christmas in the United States with his wife and toddler son.
Ronald Thomas Smith II shared his excitement with his students, and sent his wife and child home while he stayed in Libya a few more weeks to help the young people in his class complete their end-of-semester exams.
His death on Thursday shattered those dreams and highlighted the tenuous security in the eastern Libyan city where a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed last year.
But to Smith's students, this was more personal. He was a teacher who offered free private tutoring when others had given up, they said. Smith pushed them, demanding hard work and success.
More than anything, though, he talked and laughed with them, and loved their country.
Cargo bikes the new two-wheel minivan for cycling families, car-free deliveries
SEATTLE (AP) — One fisherman uses a bike to deliver hundreds of pounds of salmon to local markets. A mom who regularly shuttles her two kids around town once tried to haul a twin mattress home. And some companies are using the bikes to deliver beer kegs or pick up recycling.
Cyclists are pushing the limits of what they can haul on cargo bikes — sturdy two-wheelers built to haul lots of stuff. The so-called SUV of bicycles are increasingly popular in pedal-friendly communities, from Washington state to Massachusetts.
Families are using the bikes to do everything they did on four wheels — schlepping kids to school, hauling groceries or running errands — without the hassle of finding parking. Some do it to help the environment in a small way or get exercise, while others say it's an easier, more fun way to get around.
"(Our) bike has turned into our go everywhere minivan," said Julian Davies, a Seattle physician who regularly hauls his two kids in a cargo bike.
Companies also are using bikes to deliver beer around Portland, Ore., collect recycling in Cambridge, Mass., or pick up dirty laundry in Philadelphia.
Teen arrested in theft of Porsche part from 'Fast & Furious' star Paul Walker's deadly crash
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Detectives arrested a teenager Thursday accused of stealing some wreckage from the Porsche that "Fast & Furious" star Paul Walker was in when he died in a crash, and a second suspect was planning to turn himself in, authorities said.
The theft occurred as the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT was being towed from the accident scene Saturday night, Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said.
The investigation led detectives to Jameson Witty, 18, who was arrested at his home in Los Angeles and was being held on $20,000 bail, the Sheriff's Department said in a statement. A second suspect, a 25-year-old man whose name has not been released, was outside California and arranging to surrender, the statement said.
Witnesses told investigators that they saw someone driving behind the tow truck that was hauling away wreckage hours after the fiery crash that killed Walker and friend Roger Rodas, who was driving the car and also died.
The witnesses said a man got out of the car when the truck was at a stoplight, grabbed the part, and drove away.