Thursday, October 31, 2013

Obama cites early setbacks of Mass. health law

President Barack Obama speaks at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall about the federal health care law, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Faneuil Hall is where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama's rival in the 2012 presidential election, signed the state's landmark health care law in 2006, with top Democrats standing by his side. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama speaks at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall about the federal health care law, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Faneuil Hall is where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama's rival in the 2012 presidential election, signed the state's landmark health care law in 2006, with top Democrats standing by his side. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Protesters interrupt President Barack Obama as he speaks at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall about the federal health care law, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Faneuil Hall is where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama's rival in the 2012 presidential election, signed the state's landmark health care law in 2006, with top Democrats standing by his side. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama speaks at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall about the federal health care law, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Faneuil Hall is where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama's rival in the 2012 presidential election, signed the state's landmark health care law in 2006, with top Democrats standing by his side. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(AP) — President Barack Obama chose the site where Massachusetts' health care system became law to promote his signature health insurance program, arguing that the state plan also faced initial setbacks and low enrollment but in time gained popularity and became a success.

"All the parade of horribles, the worst predictions about health care reform in Massachusetts never came true," he said. "They're the same arguments that you're hearing now."

The Massachusetts' law provided the model for the federal health insurance overhaul. Obama spoke in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, where Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney was joined by the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy to sign the state's 2006 health care overhaul bill.

The president pointed to benefits already available under the 3-year-old health care law, including ending discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions and permission to keep young people on their parents' insurance plans until they turn 26.

But he conceded the troubled launch of the open enrollment period that began Oct. 1.

"I am not happy about it," he said.

Underscoring the president's challenge, the website was down, because of technical difficulties, during his remarks. Republicans say the current computer dysfunction is more reason to repeal the law, and they're pressing Obama administration officials for an explanation.

Obama also tried to clarify the most recent controversy surrounding the law — the wave of cancellation notices hitting small businesses and individuals who buy their own insurance. Obama repeatedly had vowed that people who liked their insurance would be able to keep it.

The cancellation notices apply to people whose plans changed after the law was implemented or don't meet new coverage requirements. The president said those changes ensure that all Americans are able to get quality coverage.

He said that because of government subsidies, most people who must get new policies will pay less than they do now. But he acknowledged that "a fraction of Americans with higher incomes" will likely pay more.

Romney took issue with Obama's characterization of the Massachusetts health care law. In a statement, he said "had President Obama actually learned the lessons of Massachusetts health care, millions of Americans would not lose the insurance they were promised they could keep, millions more would not see their premiums skyrocket and the installation of the program would not have been a frustrating embarrassment." During the 2012 presidential campaign, Romney had pledged to work for the repeal of Obama's health care law if elected.

Obama, who lived in Boston while a student at Harvard University, was in town for a World Series game day, but his spokesman said he didn't plan to make a side trip to Fenway Park, mindful of the impact his security entourage has on the public.

While in Boston, Obama also spoke at a fundraiser for House Democrats, where about 60 people dined on Spanish-influenced fare, followed by Red Sox cookies honoring the World Series game being played in town the same night.

Invoking the school shooting in nearby Connecticut and the Boston Marathon bombing, Obama said it had been a "challenging year." He said he had hoped the tragedies would presage a new spirit of cooperation in Congress, but Americans got obstruction, instead.

"However low people's estimations were of Washington before the shutdown," Obama said, "they're lower now."


Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.


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One year ago today, much of New York City and the surrounding region was without power, its basement

One year ago today, much of New York City and the surrounding region was without power, its basements and transit tunnels flooded with seawater from the tidal surge and relentless rainfall of Hurricane Sandy, its suburbs caged in by fallen trees. Gawker's own Lower Manhattan servers were inundated and we were working on a bare-bones Tumblr to keep delivering the news. Here are some links to help remember where the city was last year, and to see how far we've come, twelve months after Sandy.



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Marvin Gaye's children sue over 'Blurred Lines'

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two of Marvin Gaye's children sued Robin Thicke and his collaborators on the hit song "Blurred Lines" on Wednesday, accusing them of copyright infringement and alleging music company EMI failed to protect their father's legacy.

Nona Marvisa Gaye and Frankie Christian Gaye's suit is the latest salvo in a dispute over Thicke's hit and whether it copies elements of Gaye's song "Got to Give It Up."

Their lawsuit seeks to block Thicke and collaborators Pharrell and T.I. from using elements of their father's music in "Blurred Lines" or other songs.

Thicke has denied copying Gaye's song for "Blurred Lines," which has the longest streak this year atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart and has sold more than 6 million tracks so far. The suit also accused Thicke of improperly using Gaye's song "After the Dance" in his song "Love After War."

Much of the lawsuit focuses on claims that EMI should have pursued a copyright infringement claim. It also alleges the company's executives used intimidation to try to stop the Gaye family from pursuing a lawsuit.

The suit claims EMI, which is owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, has allowed a conflict of interest between the family's rights and the profits it is earning from "Blurred Lines" sales.

"This conflict has resulted in EMI's intentional decision to align themselves with the ('Blurred Lines') writers, without regard to the harm inflicted upon the rights and interests of the Gaye Family, and the legacy of Marvin Gaye," the lawsuit states.

Sony-ATV said it takes "very seriously" its role of protecting its songwriters' works from infringement.

"While we have not yet seen the claims by the Gaye family against EMI, we have repeatedly advised the Gaye family's attorney that the two songs in question have been evaluated by a leading musicologist who concluded that 'Blurred Lines' does not infringe 'Got To Give It Up,'" the company said in a statement.

Sony-ATV also said that while it treasures Marvin Gaye's works and the company's relationship with his family, "we regret that they have been ill-advised in this matter."

Thicke and his collaborators filed a case in August asking a federal judge to rule that the singers did not copy "Got to Give It Up" for their hit.

Howard King, who represents the singers, said the Gayes' countersuit was not unexpected, but he said their decision to sue EMI demonstrates the family lacks the appropriate authority to pursue the case against his clients.

He rejected the notion that EMI turned a blind eye to improper copying of Gaye's music. "EMI is in the business of collecting money for infringements," King said.

The company likely consulted a musicologist who found nothing improper, the attorney said. King said his firm consulted three music experts who determined the notes in the two songs were different.

Gaye's son Marvin Gaye III also might pursue legal action over the song, but he is not included in the federal court suit filed Wednesday.


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Cheick Kongo vs. Peter Graham leads three tournament finals at Bellator 107

A trio of season nine tournament finals is official for Bellator 107, including the night's main event, a heavyweight match-up pitting UFC veteran Cheick Kongo against Australian kickboxer Peter Graham.

Bantamweights Joe Warren vs. Travis Marx and middleweights Mikkel Parlo vs. Brennan Ward will also lock horns on Bellator 107's main card, with a guaranteed title shot and $100,000 grand prize up for grabs. Bellator officials confirmed the match-ups on Wednesday.

Kongo (19-8-2) was initially slated to meet fellow tourney finalist Vinicius Queiroz, who knocked out UFC veteran Lavar Johnson in 23 seconds earlier this month. However an ACL injury forced Queiroz off the card, and Graham (10-5), who two weeks ago battered Eric Prindle at Bellator 104, was tabbed as a replacement.

"I want to fight the best in Bellator so I can be the best," Kongo said in a statement. "When I try to do things as a competitor, I want to be the best. I messed up before because I wasn't focused like I've been from the beginning. But, now ... I will be the best. It's my time. I came to Bellator for the opportunity to show the best Cheick Kongo. And that's it."

A former Bellator featherweight champion, Warren (9-3) now looks to stake his claim in the bantamweight division, having advanced to season nine's finals on the strength of a second-round submission win over Nick Kirk. He'll meet Marx (21-4, 1 NC), a 36-year-old who knocked out Brandon Bender in the tourney semifinals.

"The Baddest Man on the Planet is back," Warren said. "I'm one win away from getting back to exactly where I want to be, fighting for that belt. This is what I work for, this is what I train for, and nothing is going to get in the way of that."

Also highlighting the card are middleweight finalists Parlo (11-1) and Ward (8-1). Parlo outpointed Brian Rogers and Jason Butcher to reach this stage of the tournament, while Ward knocked out Justin Torrey then submitted Joe Pacheco.

Bellator 107 takes place November 8, 2013 at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, OK.

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Israel plans more than 1,500 new settlement homes

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel announced plans Wednesday to build more than 1,500 homes in Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, dealing a setback to newly relaunched peace efforts hours after it had freed a group of long-serving Palestinian prisoners.

The construction plans drew angry condemnations from Palestinian officials, who accused Israel of undermining the U.S.-led talks by expanding settlements on the lands where they hope to establish an independent state. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also condemned the Israeli decision, and Washington said it would not create a "positive environment" for the negotiations.

Israel had freed the 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a U.S.-brokered agreement to restart the talks. The construction was meant to blunt anger over the release of the prisoners, all of whom had been convicted of murder in the deaths of Israelis.

Israel's Interior Ministry said 1,500 apartments would be built in Ramat Shlomo, a large settlement in east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city claimed by the Palestinians as their capital. It also announced plans for archaeology and tourism projects near the Old City, home to Jerusalem's most sensitive holy sites.

Israel first announced the Ramat Shlomo plan in 2010 during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, sparking a diplomatic rift with Washington that took months to mend. Wednesday's decision is the final approval needed, and construction can begin immediately, officials said.

Ofir Akunis, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, said construction also had been approved for several West Bank settlements.

"The building in Judea and Samaria will continue and be intensified," said Akunis, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

In addition, he told parliament that Netanyahu had given orders to "advance plans" for more than 2,000 homes in a longer list of settlements across the West Bank.

While these projects still need additional bureaucratic approvals, they are especially provocative because several of the settlements are deep inside the West Bank and almost certainly would have to be dismantled as part of a peace deal.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future state.

The Palestinians, along with virtually all of the international community, consider the settlements to be illegal or illegitimate.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the settlement plans, saying they were "destructive to the peace efforts and will only lead to more tensions."

"It's a message to the international community that Israel is a state that doesn't abide by international law and continues to put obstacles in the way of peace," he said.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "We do not consider continued settlement activity or East Jerusalem construction to be steps that create a positive environment for the negotiations."

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the secretary-general "deplores" the Israeli announcement.

"Settlement activity is contrary to international law and constitutes an obstacle to peace," Nesirky said. "Any measures that prejudge final status issues will not be recognized by the international community."

The previous round of peace talks broke down in late 2008 and remained frozen for nearly five years, in large part because of Palestinian objections to settlement construction.

The Palestinians say continued expansion of settlements, now home to more than 500,000 Israelis, makes it increasingly difficult to divide the land between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Under heavy U.S. pressure, the Palestinians dropped a longstanding demand for a settlement freeze over the summer and agreed to resume negotiations with the understanding that Israel would slow construction.

As part of that arrangement, Israel agreed to release 104 of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners, most of whom had committed their crimes before a landmark interim peace deal was reached in 1993. Wednesday's release was the second of four groups in the coming months.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been meeting secretly since late July. Under orders from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to keep quiet, they have said little about the discussions, although Palestinian officials say all core issues are being discussed.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of Kerry's orders, said the talks are currently focusing on Israeli security demands and the contours of future borders.

The future of the settlements would fit heavily into those discussions. It remains difficult to see how the U.S. can bridge the wide gaps between the sides.

Netanyahu opposes a full withdrawal from the West Bank, saying Israel would need to keep significant portions of the territory for security needs.

He also has vowed never to divide Jerusalem. Israel has built a series of settlements around east Jerusalem, including Ramat Shlomo, to solidify its control.

Israel considers east Jerusalem settlements to be "neighborhoods" of its capital, but Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem is not internationally recognized

Danny Danon, a hard-line member of Netanyahu's party, said the U.S. should focus its energies on stopping Iran's suspected nuclear program instead of trying to broker a peace deal by next May.

"To finish the conflict with the Palestinians by May 2014 is wishful thinking," he told foreign journalists in Jerusalem. "I would say let's finish with the threat coming from Iran by May 2014 and then go to the negotiation table and speak with the Palestinians."

Israel has a long history of lopsided prisoner exchanges with its Arab adversaries. But this week's release appeared especially charged because Israel appeared to be receiving little in return except for the opportunity to conduct negotiations that few people believe will succeed.

In the West Bank and Gaza, thousands celebrated long into the night as they welcomed the released prisoners. Abbas greeted them at his West Bank headquarters early Wednesday.

While Israel views the prisoners as terrorists, the Palestinians seem them as heroes in a struggle against Israeli occupation.

"There will be no final agreement without the release of all the prisoners," Abbas told the raucous crowd.


Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed reporting.

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An Up Close Look at the East Coast Google Mystery Barge

An Up Close Look at the East Coast Google Mystery Barge

The Google mystery barges docked near San Francisco and Portland, Maine are getting even more mysterious. We've seen the barge and heard the arguments about what's inside. But news that the search giant is making government officials keep their mouths shut about them—that takes it to the next level.



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2nd mistress testifies in murder trial of Utah doc

PROVO, Utah (AP) — Another mistress of a former Utah doctor accused of killing his wife testified Wednesday that he had once described how he could induce a heart attack in someone that would appear natural.

Anna Walthall took the witness stand and said she began a six-month affair with defendant Martin MacNeill in 2005 when he was a consulting doctor at a laser hair removal clinic that she operated.

MacNeill described the heart attack method during "pillow talk," she said.

Walthall quoted MacNeill as saying, "'There's something you can give someone that's natural that's a heart attack that's not detectable after they have a heart attack.'"

No cause of death has been determined for Michele MacNeill.

Defense lawyers have argued that she had a heart attack and fell into a bathtub in April 2007 in the family home in Pleasant Grove, about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Defense lawyers challenged Walthall by getting her to acknowledge she had been diagnosed with what was formerly called multiple personality disorder, but she insisted she was giving a true account of Martin MacNeill's statement.

Earlier in the day, two daughters of the MacNeills testified that their father had hired another mistress, Gypsy Willis, as a nanny soon after his wife died, but Willis did not cook or take care of the children and went to their father's bedroom at night.

Sabrina MacNeill, 19, testified that Willis didn't do anything a nanny would be expected to do.

"She made spaghetti once, and that was the only time she cooked," said Sabrina MacNeill. "She didn't do anything."

Another daughter, Alexis Somers, testified that Willis would come and go throughout the day, seemingly more focused on the doctor than the children.

Prosecutors say Martin MacNeill, 57, hounded his wife, Michele MacNeill, to get cosmetic surgery then knocked her out with painkillers and left her to die in a bathtub. His motive, they said, was to get rid of his wife so he could be with Willis.

Somers testified that her father bullied her mother to get the face-lift and insisted the plastic surgeon prescribe an unusual combination of painkillers and other drugs for her recovery.

Two days after the surgery, Somers said, she confronted her father after finding her mother knocked out by the powerful drugs.

Somers, also a doctor, recalled her father saying, "'I must have given her too much medicine.'"

Michele MacNeill had tried to delay the surgery until she could reduce her high blood pressure and weight and to wait until her daughter could help take care of her, Somers said.

Somers, who has adopted her mother's maiden name, described an argument between her parents about the timing of the surgery.

"He got angry at my mom and said, 'If you don't have the surgery now, you're not getting it,'" Somers testified.

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