- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

Americans brave blizzards, long lines to beat deadline under national health insurance reforms

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A blizzard, jammed phone lines and unreliable websites failed to stop throngs of procrastinating Americans from trying to sign up for health coverage by the midnight Monday deadline for President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy initiative.

In Louisiana, wait times for callers lasted up to two hours. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee received nearly 1,900 calls by midday compared with about 800 the previous Monday. And in California, where enrollments surged toward the Obama administration’s original projection of 1.3 million, the deadline day volume forced the state exchange to switch off a key function on its website and encourage people to finish their applications in the days ahead.

Across the nation, the interest in getting health insurance and avoiding a federal tax penalty was made clear in interviews with enrollment counselors and consumers.

“I have not had a physical in over 15 years,” said Dionne Gilbert, a 51-year-old uninsured woman from Denver who waited in a 90-minute line to get enrollment assistance. “I told myself, ‘You need to do this. Your daughter loves you and needs you.’”

The last-minute rush was expected to significantly boost the number of Americans gaining coverage under the new law, and government officials told The Associated Press late Monday that they were on track to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance by the deadline. But the months ahead will show whether the Affordable Care Act will meet its mandate to provide affordable health care coverage or whether high deductibles, paperwork snags and narrow physician networks make it a bust.

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Washington governor says financial losses from mudslide reach $10 million; death toll at 24

DARRINGTON, Wash. (AP) - Estimated financial losses from the deadly Washington mudslide that has killed at least 24 people have reached $10 million, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday in a letter asking the federal government for a major disaster declaration.

In seeking additional federal help following one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history, Inslee said about 30 families need assistance with housing, along with personal and household goods. The estimated losses include nearly $7 million in structures and more than $3 million in their contents, Inslee’s letter said.

The Snohomish County medical examiner’s office said Monday afternoon that it has received a total of 24 victims, and 18 of those have been publicly identified. Previously, the official death toll was 21, with 15 victims identified.

The remains of three additional victims were found Monday, but they have not yet been included in the medical examiner’s official numbers, Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson told reporters at a Monday evening briefing.

The county sheriff’s office released a list of 22 people believed missing following the March 22 slide that destroyed a rural mountainside community northeast of Seattle. That’s down from the 30 people officials previously considered missing.

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Israeli Cabinet minister says spy Pollard against his own release as incentive for peace talks

JERUSALEM (AP) - A hard-line Israeli Cabinet minister says convicted spy Jonathan Pollard opposes being freed from a U.S. jail in exchange for Palestinians prisoners.

Uri Ariel says people close to Pollard have told him that he opposes such a “shameful deal.”

Ariel, from the hard-line Jewish Home party, spoke to Army Radio on Tuesday. He says he, too, is against the release of “murderers” for Pollard.

Talk of the possibility of Pollard’s early release has arisen as an incentive in the troubled Mideast peace negotiations. The idea is that if he is freed, Israel would make concessions and release more Palestinian prisoners.

Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave classified documents to Israeli handlers. He was arrested in 1985 and later sentenced to life in prison.

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New report details racial gap among US children: Asians, whites outpacing blacks, Latinos

NEW YORK (AP) - In every region of America, white and Asian children are far better positioned for success than black, Latino and American Indian children, according to a new report appealing for urgent action to bridge this racial gap.

Titled “Race for Results,” the report is being released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which for decades has worked to improve child well-being in the United States.

The foundation also produces annual “Kids Count” reports, with reams of state-specific data, but these generally have not focused on race. The new report tackles the topic head-on, with charts and ratings that convey dramatic racial discrepancies.

At the core of the report is a newly devised index based on 12 indicators measuring a child’s success from birth to adulthood. The indicators include reading and math proficiency, high school graduation data, teen birthrates, employment prospects, family income and education levels, and neighborhood poverty levels.

Using a single composite score with a scale of one to 1,000, Asian children have the highest index score at 776, followed by white children at 704.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg realized $3.3 billion gain in 2013 from remaining stock options

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reaped a $3.3 billion gain last year by exercising stock options in the social networking company that he founded in a Harvard University dorm room.

The windfall saddled Zuckerberg with a huge tax bill, even though he limited his Facebook salary to just $1, according to regulatory documents filed Monday.

It marks the second straight year that Zuckerberg has realized a huge gain on the holding that he has accumulated in Facebook Inc. since he started the company in 2004. In 2012, Zuckerberg made $2.3 billion off his stock options.

Zuckerberg, 29, now has exhausted his supply of stock options after exercising 60 million of them last year a price of 6 cents per share. He then sold 41.35 million shares for $55.05 apiece in December, primarily to pay for his tax bill on the gains.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, also donated 18 million Facebook shares to a Silicon Valley nonprofit. The December gift, then valued at nearly $1 billion, landed the couple at the top of The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual list of the most generous Americans.

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Australia to deploy flying air traffic controller over crowded skies in search for Flight 370

PERTH, Australia (AP) - Australia deployed Tuesday an airborne traffic controller over the Indian Ocean to prevent a mid-air collision among the many aircraft searching for the Malaysia Airlines jetliner that went missing over three weeks ago.

An air force E-7A Wedgetail equipped with advanced radar “is on its first operational” task in the search area in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a tweet. Earlier, Angus Houston, who heads the joint agency coordinating the multinational search effort, said the modified Boeing 737 will monitor the increasingly crowded skies over the remote search zone.

The three-week hunt for Flight 370 has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people on board bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia has been criticized for its handling of the search, particularly its communications to the media and families of the passengers. In something likely to fuel those concerns, the government changed its account of the final voice transmission from the cockpit.

In a statement late Monday, it said the final words received by ground controllers at 1:19 a.m. on March 8 were “Good night Malaysian three-seven-zero.” Earlier the government said the final words were “All right, good night.”

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Russia hikes gas price for Ukraine, Ukrainian police disarm radical nationalists

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia on Tuesday sharply hiked the price for natural gas to Ukraine and threatened to reclaim billions previous discounts, raising the heat on its cash-strapped government, while Ukrainian police moved to disarm members of a radical nationalist group after a shooting spree in the capital.

Alexei Miller, the head of Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant, said Tuesday that the company has withdrawn December’s discount that put the price of gas at $268.50 per 1,000 cubic meters and set the price at $385.50 per 1,000 cubic meters for the second quarter.

The discount was part of a financial lifeline which Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to Ukraine’s President, Viktor Yanukovych, after his decision to ditch a pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow. The move fueled three months of protests which led Yanukovych to flee to Russia in February.

Radical nationalist groups played a key role in Yanukovych’s ouster, but they quickly fell out with the new government. Last week, one of the leaders of the most prominent radical group, the Right Sector, was shot dead while resisting police.

Right Sector members then besieged parliament for several hours, breaking windows and demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. They lifted the blockade after lawmakers set up a panel to investigate the killing.

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Riders wowed by first trip on world’s biggest Ferris-style observation wheel on Vegas Strip

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Tourists began taking in the view Monday from a skyline-changing observation wheel that offers a unique overview of sparkling Las Vegas Strip resorts, wide skies and craggy brown mountains in the distance.

Van Kim, an airline call center employee from Phoenix, declared the experience “unanimously awesome.”

Kim stood in line for six hours to be in the first gondola to complete the 30-minute ride on the 550-foot High Roller. Its height eclipses the 541-foot Singapore Flyer and the nearly 443-foot London Eye, and is expected to be the tallest in the world until planned Ferris-style wheels are completed in coming years in New York and Dubai.

“It’s probably the best view of the Strip,” said Kim, who made mental images on a sunny and blustery day of the iconic Bellagio fountain across Las Vegas Boulevard and the stunningly green Wynn Golf Club a short distance away.

Kim compared what he saw from his spherical pod with the panorama from an observation deck at the 1,148-foot Stratosphere tower, just 2 miles away. He said he liked the view better at the heart of the Strip.

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Major League Baseball goes high-tech with expanded replay, 2 missed calls by umpires get fixed

Major League Baseball launched the expanded replay era Monday, and saw instant results - a pair of missed calls by umpires got fixed fast, without any arguments.

Opening day showed off the game’s newest nod to modern technology in a sport that long relied on the eyes of its umps.

From now on, most every call can be challenged by a manager. When that happens, the final decision will come from a replay booth in New York, rather than the field. And instead of out or safe, fair or foul, disputes will be settled with two words new to baseball’s lingo: confirmed or overturned.

Commissioner Bud Selig was at Miller Park in Milwaukee for the first call that got reversed. Minutes later, another ruling got changed at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

“You know what? They got the play right. That’s the bottom line,” said Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, who won his challenge in Milwaukee but lost the game.

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Senator says manufacturing giant Caterpillar uses offshore haven to avoid billions in US taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) - Executives from manufacturing giant Caterpillar Inc. are heading to Capitol Hill to explain what one senator calls an aggressive strategy to avoid paying billions of dollars in U.S. taxes.

Caterpillar has avoided paying $2.4 billion in U.S. taxes since 2000 by shifting profits to a wholly-controlled affiliate in Switzerland, according to a report released by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Levin chairs the Senate investigations subcommittee. His subcommittee is holding a hearing on the report Tuesday. Representatives from Caterpillar and accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP are scheduled to testify.

The report says Caterpillar paid PricewaterhouseCoopers $55 million to develop its tax strategy.

The committee’s Democratic staff compiled the report as part of a nine-month investigation into Caterpillar’s taxes. It was released Monday.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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