Kerry to press Russia for tough stance on Syrian chemical weapons as focus shifts to diplomacy
GENEVA (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva Thursday morning to test the seriousness of a Russian proposal to secure Syria's chemical weapons.
Kerry and a team of U.S. experts will have at least two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts on Thursday and Friday. They hope to emerge with an outline of how some 1,000 tons of chemical weapons stocks and precursor materials as well as potential delivery systems can be safely inventoried and isolated under international control in an active war zone and then destroyed.
Officials with Kerry said they would be looking for a rapid agreement on principles for the process with Russians, including a demand for a speedy Syrian accounting of their stockpiles.
One official said the task is "doable but difficult and complicated."
The official said the U.S. is looking for signs of Russian seriousness and thinks it will know in a relatively short time if the Russians are trying to stall. Another official described the ideas that the Russians have presented so far as "an opening position" that needs a lot of work and input from technical experts. The U.S. team includes officials who worked on inspection and removal of unconventional weapons from Libya after 2003 and in Iraq after the first Gulf War.
Lack of alternatives to Assad helps explain US reluctance to intervene in Syria
BEIRUT (AP) — The crisis over chemical weapons in Syria has underlined a central dilemma for the West as it tries to deal with the country's civil war — the lack of attractive alternatives to President Bashar Assad.
The political opposition, largely operating from exile with little credibility on the ground, has been hobbled by infighting. Inside Syria, rebels are also divided. Fighters linked to the al-Qaida terror network have become increasingly dominant, even as the U.S. and its allies try to strengthen rebels seen as moderates with better training and military equipment.
Rebels and Islamic radicals fighting alongside them have already come to blows in some cases, and their divisions could turn into outright battles without the common enemy of Assad.
"Should Assad one day fall from power, it is extremely unlikely that moderates and hard-liners would come to a long-term agreement because of completely diverging interests," said Charles Lister at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center.
President Barack Obama said early on in the 2 1/2-year-old conflict that Assad lost the right to lead because of the brutal oppression of the uprising against his rule, most chillingly displayed in what Washington contends was an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas that killed hundreds of civilians.
Enrollment in state exchanges under health overhaul confuses Medicare beneficiaries
MIAMI (AP) — Dear seniors, your Medicare benefits aren't changing under the Affordable Care Act. That's the message federal health officials are trying to get out to elderly consumers confused by overlapping enrollment periods for Medicare and so-called "Obamacare."
Medicare beneficiaries don't have to do anything differently and will continue to go to Medicare.gov to sign up for plans. But advocates say many have been confused by a massive media blitz directing consumers to new online insurance exchanges set up as part of the federal health law. Many of the same insurance companies are offering coverage for Medicare and the exchanges.
Medicare open enrollment starts Oct. 15 and closes Dec. 7, while enrollment for the new state exchanges for people 65 and under launches Oct. 1 and runs through March.
"Most seniors are not at all informed. Most seniors worry they're going to lose their health coverage because of the law," said Dr. Chris Lillis, a primary care physician in Fredericksburg, Virginia. "I try to speak truth from the exam room but I think sometimes fear dominates."
Next month, roughly 50 million Medicare beneficiaries will get a handbook in the mail with a prominent Q&A that stresses Medicare benefits aren't changing. Federal health officials have also updated their training for Medicare counselors, and are prepping their Medicare call center and website.
Hydroelectric power makes big comeback as utilities propose adding generators to existing dams
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — On a typical summer weekend, hundreds of boats glide across the shimmering surface of Iowa's Lake Red Rock, the state's largest body of water.
The placid 15,000-acre lake was created in the 1960s after the government built a dam to prevent frequent flooding on the Des Moines River. Now the cool waters behind the dam are attracting interest beyond warm-weather recreation. A power company wants to build a hydroelectric plant here — a project that reflects renewed interest in hydropower nationwide, which could bring changes to scores of American dams.
Hydroelectric development stagnated in the 1980s and 1990s as environmental groups lobbied against it and a long regulatory process required years of environmental study. But for the first time in decades, power companies are proposing new projects to take advantage of government financial incentives, policies that promote renewable energy over fossil fuels and efforts to streamline the permit process.
"We're seeing a significant change in attitude," said Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association, a trade group.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees hydroelectric projects in the U.S., issued 125 preliminary hydropower permits last year, up from 95 in 2011. Preliminary permits allow a company to explore a project for up to three years. The agency issued 25 licenses for hydropower projects last year, the most since 2005.
Work out while you work: More employees using treadmill desks, standup desks at office
WASHINGTON (AP) — Glued to your desk at work? Cross that off the list of excuses for not having the time to exercise.
A growing number of Americans are standing, walking and even cycling their way through the workday at treadmill desks, standup desks or other moving workstations. Others are forgoing chairs in favor of giant exercise balls to stay fit.
Walking on a treadmill while making phone calls and sorting through emails means "being productive on two fronts," said Andrew Lockerbie, senior vice president of benefits at Brown & Brown, a global insurance consulting firm.
Lockerbie can burn 350 calories a day walking three to four miles on one of two treadmill desks that his company's Indianapolis office purchased earlier this year.
"I'm in meetings and at my desk and on the phone all day," he said. "It's great to be able to have an option at my work to get some physical activity while I'm actually doing office stuff. You feel better, you get your blood moving, you think clearly."
Conn. slave who died in 1798 to lie in state at capitol, receive elaborate funeral service
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Abused in life and death, an enslaved man known as Mr. Fortune will be honored with an elaborate funeral more than 200 years after he died in Connecticut.
Fortune's remains will lie in state in the Capitol rotunda in Hartford Thursday before taken by state police escort to Waterbury for a memorial service at the church where he was baptized and burial in a cemetery filled with prominent citizens. Plans call for bagpipers and the singing of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
"It's a long overdue honor," said Steven R. Mullins, one of the organizers. "We're not just remembering one man. His body is representing all of the slaves that came over here and worked in this country."
Fortune was owned by Dr. Preserved Porter on a farm in Waterbury. When Fortune died in 1798, Porter, a bone surgeon, preserved his skeleton by having the bones boiled to study anatomy at a time when cadavers for medical study were disproportionately taken from slaves, servants and prisoners.
One of Porter's descendants gave the skeleton in 1933 to Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, where it was displayed from the 1940s until 1970. The descendant referred to the slave as "Larry" and his name was forgotten at the time.
Obama allies say he misread public's mood, Congress' willingness in push for strike at Syria
WASHINGTON (AP) — Some of President Barack Obama's top allies say the president misread a few crucial political forces when he asked Congress to support his bid to strike Syria.
Chief among Obama's missteps, they say, was underestimating the nation's profound weariness with military entanglements in the Middle East, fed by residual anger over the Iraq war's origins, and overestimating lawmakers' willingness to make risky votes 14 months before the next congressional elections.
"I can't understand the White House these days," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., an early and enthusiastic endorser of a strike against Syria over last month's chemical weapons attack. Rather than unexpectedly asking for Congress' blessing on Aug. 31, Moran said, Obama might have quietly called House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to say, "'I'm thinking of sending this vote to the Congress. How do you think it might turn out?'"
"She would have said, 'You've got to be kidding,'" Moran said. "She knows where the votes stand."
In recent days, Obama put military decisions on hold and asked Congress to halt plans to vote on a strike authorization while diplomats explore Russia's proposal to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control. The pause has given the president's friends time to ponder why Congress, and especially the House, seemed to be moving against his push for military action against Syria's government.
DIGITS: Mistrust, changing culture challenge a polling industry battered by accuracy questions
A new survey highlights the two-front problem facing the polling industry: People don't trust polls, and many say they are unlikely to want to participate in them.
Let's take trust first. The Kantar survey, conducted to assess how people view polls, shows that 75 percent of Americans think most polls they hear about are biased toward a particular point of view.
But Americans differentiate polls based on their source. Most say they trust polls from nonpartisan foundations and academic centers, slightly fewer trust polls from polling companies or news media organizations, and even fewer have faith in those from political parties or candidates.
These two findings combined — broad questions about the veracity of polling coupled with greater trust in sources that seem to prioritize scientific methods — suggest that Americans take a savvy approach to polling.
And in two key ways, they're right. Not every poll is worthy of trust, and there probably are more "biased" polls out there than unbiased ones.
Wounded veterans, Boston Marathon bombing victims to meet, share stories and inspiration
BOSTON (AP) — Days after the Boston Marathon bombings, B.J. Ganem was one of the wounded veterans who met with survivors who had lost a limb or limbs in the April 15 attack.
He thought he'd do a lot of hand holding and hearing crying, but the 36-year-old Marine Corps veteran instead saw resilience.
The new amputees asked a lot of questions about his prosthetic leg, which replaced the left leg he lost below his knee after an improvised explosive device blast in Iraq in 2004. He even took off the artificial limb and let them hold it.
Now, as marathon amputees walk on their own prosthetic limbs, Ganem is looking forward to catching up with them in Boston on Thursday. A dozen military veterans who have undergone an amputation will meet with 11 marathon amputees as part of an effort by a Chicago area nonprofit called Operation Warrior Wishes.
"It's going to be good to see how far they've come," said Ganem, who lives in Reedsburg, Wis.
EU lawmakers set to vote for centralized bank oversight authority in step toward banking union
BRUSSELS (AP) — European lawmakers are expected to back legislation establishing a new, centralized oversight for Europe's largest banks Thursday, marking what is considered a key step toward stabilizing the bloc's financial system.
The centralized bank supervision authority, which will be anchored by the European Central bank, is due to be up and running late next year following a thorough stress-test of the banks' balance sheets.
The so-called single supervisory mechanism is the first of three pillars of the bloc's planned banking union, which is a cornerstone of the policies to turn the tide on the 17-nation eurozone's three-year-old debt crisis.
Its goal is to make supervision and rescue of banks the job of European institutions rather than leaving weaker member states to fend for themselves. Failing banks in the past have dragged down government finances and forced European Union countries such as Ireland or Cyprus into seeking bailouts.
However, the establishment of the banking union's remaining pillars — setting up a joint deposit guarantee and an authority to restructure or wind down banks complete with a common financial backstop — is still a long way from being agreed upon.