AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2009 6:16 PM

Senate health bill to cost $849 billion over a decade, cover 94 percent of eligible Americans

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The political stakes enormous, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid launched long-awaited health care legislation Wednesday estimated to extend coverage to 94 percent of eligible Americans at a cost of $849 billion.

Initial maneuvering on the Senate floor was expected later in the week on the measure, bitterly opposed by Republicans eager to deny President Barack Obama a victory on his top domestic priority.

Officials have said the measure would require most Americans to carry health insurance and would mandate large companies to provide coverage to their workers, as well as ban insurance company practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions.

As rank-and-file Democrats gathered to learn details of the measure, a senior Democratic leadership aide said the Congressional Budget Office had estimated it would spread coverage to 31 million Americans who currently lack it while still reducing federal deficits by a total of $127 billion over 10 years.

The aide also cited a CBO estimate that the bill would achieve cuts of $1 trillion over a decade in projected health care costs. The estimate of 94 percent coverage was less than the 96 percent estimated for legislation the House passed earlier this month, but no precise comparisons were possible without as-yet-unreleased CBO documentation.

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Obama: Professed 9/11 mastermind will be executed; Holder: Trial will reveal he's a coward

WASHINGTON (AP) _ From opposite ends of the globe, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder firmly rejected criticism Wednesday of the planned New York trial of the professed Sept. 11 mastermind and predicted Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be exposed as a murderous coward, convicted and executed.

"Failure is not an option," Holder declared.

The president, in a series of TV interviews during his trip to Asia, said those offended by the legal rights accorded Mohammed by virtue of his facing a civilian trial rather than a military tribunal won't find it "offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him."

Obama, who is a lawyer, quickly added that he did not mean to suggest he was prejudging the outcome of Mohammed's trial. "I'm not going to be in that courtroom," he said. "That's the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury."

The president said in interviews broadcast on NBC and CNN that experienced prosecutors in the case who specialize in terrorism have offered assurances that "we'll convict this person with the evidence they've got, going through our system."

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Calif. requires TVs to be more energy efficient; supporters hope rule becomes national model

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Power-hungry TVs will be banned from store shelves in California after state regulators Wednesday adopted a first-in-the-nation mandate to reduce electricity demand.

On a unanimous vote, the California Energy Commission required all new televisions up to 58 inches to be more energy efficient, beginning in 2011. The requirement will be tougher in 2013, with only a quarter of all TVs currently on the market meeting that standard.

The commission estimates that TVs account for about 10 percent of a home's electricity use. The concern is that the energy draw will rise by as much as 8 percent a year as consumers buy larger televisions, add more to their homes and watch them longer.

Commissioners say energy efficiency standards are the cheapest and easiest way to save electricity.

"We have every confidence this industry will be able to meet the rule and then some," Energy Commissioner Julia Levin said. "It will save consumers money, it will help protect public health, and it will spark innovation."

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Afghanistan's minister of mines allegedly accepts $20 million to steer mining project to China

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A senior Afghan official allegedly took a $20 million bribe to steer a copper mining project to a Chinese company, a glaring example of the claims of corruption clouding the Obama administration's deliberations over expanding the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan.

In Washington, two U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports said that Afghanistan's minister of mines, Muhammad Ibrahim Adel, allegedly accepted the money soon after the $3 billion contract was awarded in late 2007 to China Metallurgical Group Corp.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The payment to Adel was apparently made in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said one of the U.S. officials. Dubai, just a three-hour flight from Kabul, has long been viewed as hub for illicit cash transactions, according to an August report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The minister has denied having taken any bribes and said the contract went through all legal channels, according to Afghan state television.

Afghanistan is on the eve of a ceremony to swear President Hamid Karzai in for a second five-year term. Karzai has been under pressure from the U.S. and NATO allies to rid his government of the graft and backroom deals that turn Afghans against their public institutions and undercut the U.S. military effort there.

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Somali pirates attack US-flagged Maersk Alabama for second time; guards repel attack

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Guards aboard the Maersk Alabama used guns and a sound blaster Wednesday to repel the second pirate attack in seven months on the U.S. vessel at a time when ships are increasingly hiring armed security teams to thwart hijackings.

Despite an increased international flotilla of warships off the Horn of Africa, maritime figures indicate the number of ship boardings has remained about the same in the past year.

A U.S. naval commander hailed the ship's new defenses and family members rejoiced at the Maersk Alabama's escape this time around, but the handling of the attack highlights a growing schism over use of arms on commercial vessels.

The U.N.'s Maritime Safety Committee says members should "strongly discourage the carrying and use of firearms by seafarers for personal protection or for the protection of a ship." The concern is that bringing guns aboard ship will encourage violence.

With young and impoverished Somalis increasingly seeking out multimillion-dollar paydays from successful hijackings, ship owners are turning to new tactics, including armed security.

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Israel brushes off Obama criticism, pushes forward with east Jerusalem construction

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel broke ground on a new housing complex for Jews in east Jerusalem on Wednesday, brushing off President Barack Obama's criticism that construction in the disputed part of the holy city undermines efforts to relaunch Mideast peace talks.

The groundbreaking came a day after Israel defied American, European and Palestinian demands to stop settlement activity by announcing it will press forward with construction of 900 apartments in another Jewish area in east Jerusalem.

Speaking to Fox News in Beijing on Wednesday, Obama criticized the plan to build hundreds of homes in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood, saying such moves make it harder to achieve peace in the region and embitter the Palestinians in a way he said could be dangerous.

The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem _ areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war _ for their hoped-for state and have refused negotiations until Israel stops settlement construction in these areas. The Palestinians say the continued growth of settlements on land they claim will make it impossible for them to establish a viable country of their own.

The Israeli government declined to respond to Obama's comments. But earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel had no intention of stopping the Gilo construction. He called the neighborhood "an integral part of Israel, an integral part of Jerusalem."

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HHS secretary Sebelius says women should continue getting mammograms starting at age 40

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Women should continue getting regular mammograms starting at age 40, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday, moving to douse confusion caused by a task-force recommendation two days earlier.

Sebelius issued her statement following a government panel's recommendation on Monday, that said most women don't need mammograms in their 40s and should get one every two years starting at 50.

That recommendation was a break with the American Cancer Society's long-standing position that women should get screening mammograms starting at age 40.

The task force does "not set federal policy and they don't determine what services are covered by the federal government," Sebelius said.

Medicare, which covers older Americans and some younger ones who are disabled, provides women on Medicare coverage for an annual mammogram at age 40 and older.

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Hundreds line up for chance to meet Sarah Palin as she kicks off national book tour in Mich.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ Hundreds of Sarah Palin fans lined up Wednesday at a Michigan book store to get the chance to meet the former Alaska governor as she kicked off a national tour for her book "Going Rogue."

Some supporters camped out overnight to be among the first to get wristbands from the Barnes and Noble bookstore at Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids. Those with the orange bands will get the opportunity to have the former 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate sign their copies of the book at the three-hour signing event Wednesday evening.

The memoir was released Tuesday but has topped best-seller lists for weeks.

"Everyone here has been excited and patient," Barnes and Noble spokeswoman Maddie Hjulstrom said of the waiting crowd.

Calvin College students Megan Patzky, of Racine, Wis., and Sarah Cranmer, of Chicago, were among those waiting overnight to get wrist bands. The two 20-year-olds skipped their Wednesday classes at the private college located less than a mile from the book store .

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Weak home construction weighing down economic rebound; consumer inflation remains tame

WASHINGTON _ The budding economic recovery isn't getting much help from the home-building industry, which normally creates jobs and drives growth when a recession ends.

Uncertainty over whether a homebuyer tax credit would be extended weighed down construction last month _ a sign of how much the fledgling recovery depends on government support.

Home building unexpectedly plunged to its lowest point since April, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The figures show that builders fear there aren't enough buyers to soak up the glut of unsold homes already on the market _ a supply magnified by record-high foreclosures.

Congress renewed the homebuyer tax credit earlier this month and broadened its reach. But even with government aid, the weakness of the housing sector is dragging on the economy.

"It will take a while before residential construction begins to contribute meaningfully to growth," Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a research note.

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Browns quarterback Brady Quinn fined for his low hit on Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs

BEREA, Ohio (AP) _ Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn has been fined by the NFL for his low hit on Baltimore's Terrell Suggs.

After throwing an interception in Monday night's 16-0 loss to the Ravens, Quinn dived at Suggs' knees while trying to bring down cornerback Chris Carr, who had picked him off. Suggs had to leave the game and could miss significant playing time.

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis accused Quinn of a cheap shot.

Quinn understands why the Ravens were mad and can appreciate them questioning his intentions.

"I can see why they'd be upset," he said. "But again, he wasn't even in my vision. I was trying to get to the ball. He cut across my face as I was already try to jump down for the tackle."