- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

Air Force fires 9 commanders in nuke missile cheating scandal, dozens face disciplinary action

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Air Force took the extraordinary step Thursday of firing nine midlevel nuclear commanders and announcing it will discipline dozens of junior officers at a nuclear missile base, responding firmly to an exam-cheating scandal that spanned a far longer period than originally reported.

A 10th commander, the senior officer at the base, resigned and will retire from the Air Force.

Air Force officials called the discipline unprecedented in the history of America’s intercontinental ballistic missile force. The Associated Press last year revealed a series of security and other problems in the ICBM force, including a failed safety and security inspection at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., where the cheating occurred.

In an emotion-charged resignation letter titled “A Lesson to Remember,” Col. Robert Stanley, who commanded the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, lamented that the reputation of the ICBM mission was now “tarnished because of the extraordinarily selfish actions of officers entrusted with the most powerful weapon system ever devised by man.”

Stanley, seen as a rising star in the Air Force, had been nominated for promotion to brigadier general just days before the cheating scandal came to light in January. Instead he is retiring, convinced, as he wrote in his farewell letter Thursday, that “we let the American people down on my watch.”

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Mission accomplished? Obama says more than 6M signed up for health care, meeting target

WASHINGTON (AP) - Back on track after a stumbling start, President Barack Obama’s heath care overhaul reached a milestone Thursday, with more than 6 million Americans signed up for coverage through new insurance markets.

The announcement - four days before open enrollment season ends Monday - fulfills a revised goal set by the Congressional Budget Office and embraced by the White House.

Like much else about Obama’s health care law, it comes with a caveat: The administration has yet to announce how many consumers actually closed the deal by paying their first month’s premium. Some independent estimates are that as many as 10 percent to 20 percent have not paid, which would bring the total enrollment to between 5 million and 6 million people.

The White House said the president made the announcement during an international conference call with enrollment counselors and volunteers, while traveling in Italy. Administration officials, focused on signing up even more people over the weekend, played down the occasion. Others said it was unmistakably a promising sign.

“I think the program is finally starting to hit its stride in terms of reaching the enrollment goals the administration set,” said John Rother, CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, a nonpartisan coalition of businesses, health care industry groups and consumer organizations. “It still has a ways to go in terms of achieving public acceptance.”

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New clues pile up in Malaysia jet search but searchers have no luck hunting them down

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