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Saturday, December 21, 2013,AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EST

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Posted: Dec 20, 2013 4:00 PM

Updated: Dec 21, 2013 4:01 AM

Obama, first family and their 2 dogs arrive in Honolulu for annual Hawaii vacation

HONOLULU (AP) President Barack Obama has arrived in Hawaii to kick off his annual winter vacation.

The president, first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia landed in Honolulu shortly before midnight. Their two dogs, Sunny and Bo, joined them aboard Air Force One.

Obama has no public events scheduled while he's in Hawaii, where he was born. On previous trips, he's enjoyed regular rounds of golf, local restaurants and family trips to get shave ice, a Hawaiian version of a snow cone.

Last year, gridlock in Congress forced Obama to return to Washington the day after Christmas. This year the Obamas are hoping their vacation will go uninterrupted.

The president is scheduled to be in Honolulu through Jan. 5.

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After months of frustrations, Obama points to an upbeat economy and the promise of a new year

WASHINGTON (AP) Has the fifth year of his presidency been its worst? President Barack Obama laughs off such questions even as he acknowledges many months of frustrating ups and down.

"That's not how I think about it," Obama told reporters during his annual end-of-the year news conference.

Instead of brooding about tumbling approval ratings, the disastrous rollout of his signature health care law or the pile of unfinished domestic priorities, Obama looked ahead to the promise of 2014 and predicted "a breakthrough year for America."

Before he joined his family on Air Force One for a Christmas vacation in his home state of Hawaii, Obama suggested that, given widespread criticism, he may alter the power of the National Security Agency to collect information on Americans.

And when it came to the start of his health care law, Obama conceded that "we screwed it up," and said, "I'm going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year." It was unclear if he meant to signal high-level personnel changes.

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Gay couples rejoice with weddings and a declaration: 'I can't believe this is Utah'

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Elisa Noel rushed to the county clerk's office with her partner immediately after learning that a federal judge overturned Utah's ban on gay marriage. They waited in line for a wedding license and were married in an impromptu ceremony punctuated with Noel giving the officiant a high-five.

"I can't believe this is Utah," Noel said moments after a ceremony that took place about 3 miles from the headquarters of the Mormon church.

Others had a similar reaction after a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby that declared Utah's voter-approved ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. The recent appointee by President Barack Obama said the ban violates the constitutional rights of gay couples and ruled Utah failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.

The ruling prompted a frenzy of activity by lawyers and gay couples. The Republican governor blasted the ruling as going against the will of the people. Gay couples rushed to the Salt Lake County Clerk's office en masse to secure marriage licenses, waiting in line by the dozens and getting married on the spot by the mayor and ministers.

It was a jubilant affair as cheers broke out after ceremonies were completed. A gay bar in Salt Lake quickly made plans for a Friday night party to mark the event. Some made plans to march on the capitol Monday.

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California hospital is ordered by judge to keep 13-year-old girl on life support

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) A 13-year-old California girl declared brain dead after complications from a tonsillectomy should be kept on life support for the time being, a judge has ruled.

The family of Jahi McMath says doctors at Children's Hospital Oakland wanted to disconnect life support after Jahi was declared brain dead on Dec. 12.

Friday's ruling by Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo came as both sides in the case agreed to get together and chose a neurologist to further examine Jahi and determine her condition. The judge scheduled a hearing Monday to appoint a physician.

The girl's family sought the court order to keep Jahi on a ventilator. They left the courtroom without commenting.

After her daughter underwent a supposedly routine tonsillectomy and was moved to a recovery room, Nailah Winkfield began to fear something was going horribly wrong.

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Ahead of enrollment deadline, a surge in health care signups, but problems persist

WASHINGTON (AP) His health care plan facing a dicey transition, President Barack Obama said Friday that insurance sign-ups are surging now that the government's website is working better for consumers. But it was too soon to say the rollout has turned the corner.

More than 1 million people have enrolled since Oct. 1, Obama said at his end-of-the-year press conference. That's more than two-and-a-half times the number on Nov. 30, when major fixes to the website were completed. At that point, only 365,000 had signed up through new federal and state markets offering subsidized private insurance.

"That is a big deal," Obama said of getting coverage for uninsured people. "That's why I ran for this office."

Separately, officials said 3.9 million people have qualified for government health care through the law's Medicaid expansion. Even so, things aren't exactly humming along.

HealthCare.gov was down for part of the day Friday, as technicians attempted to fix an error that occurred Thursday night when the site was undergoing routine maintenance, officials explained.

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US bracing for sleet, snow and even tornadoes that threaten to snarl start of holiday travel

CHICAGO (AP) Freezing rain. Snow. Thunderstorms. Even tornadoes. Much of the nation braced for foul weather on one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, as a wet winter storm created travel worries from Chicago and Detroit to Boston and New York.

Forecasters were predicting everything from freezing rain and snow in the north to torrential rain in the Ohio Valley and Appalachia and possibly even tornadoes in the South.

The worst of the storm was expected to hit Midwest population centers on Saturday, though the weather took a toll on air travel Friday with significant delays from Albuquerque to Denver to Chicago, according to FlightStats.com.

The foul weather could cause headaches for the estimated 94.5 million Americans planning to travel by road or air during this holiday season, which runs from Saturday through New Year's Day.

Most of the precipitation on Friday night was in the Texas panhandle, Oklahoma and southern Missouri. The system was expected to move north into the Chicago area late Saturday into Sunday as it crawls toward the northeast U.S. and Canada, National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Ratzer said.

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Obama names veteran US senator as ambassador to China with economic ties in mind

WASHINGTON (AP) The nomination of veteran Sen. Max Baucus as U.S. ambassador to China reflects the importance to Washington of advancing the economic relationship with the Asian power despite recent strains on security issues.

The Montana Democrat lacks foreign policy credentials but has a track record in pressing Beijing over trade barriers and its currency exchange rate. If his appointment is confirmed by the Senate, he will be looking to see that U.S. companies can benefit from market reforms the ruling communist party promised in November.

While the economic relationship between the countries is loaded with its own problems, including accusations of rampant Chinese cybertheft of U.S. trade secrets, it is one where their national interests are more aligned than on security, as China challenges decades of U.S. military pre-eminence in the Asia-Pacific.

China's declaration of an air defense zone over disputed territory in the East China Sea and a near-collision of U.S. and Chinese naval vessels this month brought those concerns to the fore. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday described China's conduct in the Dec. 5 incident in the South China Sea as "irresponsible."

But when President Barack Obama announced Friday his intent to nominate Baucus as ambassador, he was stressing the senator's work over two decades on economic agreements with China that he said have created millions of American jobs. "He's perfectly suited to build on that progress in his new role," Obama said in a statement and called for a swift confirmation.

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California widow receives remains of husband, decades after soldier was lost in Korean War

LOS ANGELES (AP) Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph E. Gantt went off to war 63 years ago, leaving behind a wife who never gave up on his return.

On Friday, 94-year-old Clara Gantt stood up from her wheelchair and wept in the cold before the flag-draped casket.

Sgt. Gantt was finally home.

"He told me if anything happened to him he wanted me to remarry. I told him no, no. Here I am, still his wife," she told reporters at Los Angeles International Airport, where his remains were carried from a jetliner by military honor guard.

Gant was a field medic who went missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950 during the Korean War while serving with Battery C, 503rd Field Artillery, 2nd Infantry Division, according to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington, D.C.

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Pope warns against mediocrity, gossip, bureaucratic squabbling at Vatican in speech to Curia

VATICAN CITY (AP) Pope Francis has warned Vatican administrators that their work can take a downward spiral into mediocrity, gossip and bureaucratic squabbling if they forget that theirs is a professional vocation of service to the church.

Francis made the comments Saturday in his Christmas address to the Vatican Curia, the bureaucracy that forms the central government of the 1.2-billion strong Roman Catholic Church. The speech was eagerly anticipated given that Francis was elected on a mandate to overhaul the antiquated and oftentimes dysfunctional administration.

Just last week Francis reshuffled the powerful Congregation for Bishops, removing the arch-conservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke as well as the head of Italy's bishops' conference and another hardline Italian, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, earlier axed from the Congregation for Clergy.

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Neighbors say Nevada hospital killer was angry about pain from botched 2010 vasectomy

RENO, Nev. (AP) Authorities on Friday were trying to determine whether a Northern California man's anger over complications he suffered from a 2010 surgery prompted him to go on a shooting rampage at a Nevada urologist's office, killing one doctor and critically wounding another before committing suicide.

Reno Police Lt. William Rulla said detectives were working to obtain Alan Oliver Frazier's medical records to learn more about his physical and mental health.

Frazier, 51, made it clear in a suicide note that he had planned the attack and that his "focus was on the physicians at the specific office," Rulla said. Police recovered the note at Frazier's home.

Investigators have declined to specify the kind of surgery he had or say whether the doctors he targeted had anything to do with it.

But a couple who lived across the street from Frazier at Lake Almanor, about 130 miles north of Reno, said the operation he had was a vasectomy. They also said Frazier frequently posted complaints in an online chat group about the pain he suffered from what he claimed was a botched surgery.

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