The sign-up deadline for health insurance under Obamacare closed Monday with a surge in enrollment nationwide. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the federal website, as well as local offices in multiple states. The Obama administration says it expects to well surpass its original goal of seven million enrollees. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said the program had overcome the botched rollout of six months ago.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: "There has been a remarkable story since the dark days of October and November, which has resulted in a situation where here, on the last day of enrollment, we’re looking at a number substantially larger than six million people enrolled. And I dare say that there are few people in this room, including some of the folks who work in the White House, who would have predicted that we would get to that number."
The federal website stopped working for several hours on Monday after a software glitch. The deadline has been extended until mid-April for those who tried to sign up but were unable to complete their enrollment. Some estimates have put the number of previously uninsured receiving coverage under Obamacare at as high as 9.5 million. The program marks the nation’s largest expansion of healthcare coverage since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.
Leaked details of a still-classified Senate report on Bush-era torture and rendition show the CIA misled the public on the extent of its prisoner abuses and the intelligence gained as a result. According to The Washington Post, Senate investigators have concluded CIA torture produced no information on top al-Qaeda leaders, including any that led to the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden. One U.S. official briefed on the report said: "The CIA described [its program] ... as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives. Was that actually true? The answer is no." In certain cases, CIA operatives continued to torture prisoners even after it was decided they had no more information to give. The report also exposes previously undisclosed torture tactics, including repeatedly dunking prisoners in tanks of ice water. The report has set off a public clash between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee, with accusations of CIA spying on the panel’s work. The Intelligence Committee is set to vote this week on whether to recommend declassifying the report’s summary and key findings.
The auto giant General Motors faces its first congressional hearings today on the safety scandal behind at least 12 and possibly hundreds of deaths. GM has recalled millions of cars after acknowledging faulty ignition switches shut down engines and disabled air bags. Documents released over the past several weeks show GM misled victims’ families despite being made aware of its vehicles’ flaws. Federal regulators also took no action despite the findings of its own investigators. Ahead of today’s hearing, Laura Christian, the mother of 16-year-old GM crash victim Amber Rose, spoke out to reporters.
Laura Christian: "I contacted GM again a month ago. I simply wanted them to give my contact information to the other families, the other victims’ families, to hope to get us all together and maybe heal a little bit. But they pretty much have refused to do that. Apparently the only thing they listen to are things that affect their bottom line. It’s just a shame that corporations, big corporations, like GM, feel that they might be large enough to hide the truth from the public, but in this day and age, there are many people like me who will seek to uncover that information. There is no more hiding."
Amber died after crashing her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt in July of that year, months after GM had internally recognized the model’s defective ignition switch. On Monday, GM recalled another 1.5 million cars, this time over a power steering problem. Around six million GM cars have now been recalled this year.
Secretary of State John Kerry visited Israel and the Occupied Territories on Monday in a bid to prevent the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks. Twenty-six Palestinian prisoners were due for release over the weekend, but Israel says it will now only release them if the Palestinian Authority agrees to extend the talks beyond next month’s deadline. In an effort to convince Israel to follow through on its pledge, the Obama administration is reportedly considering an early release for the jailed spy Jonathan Pollard. Pollard is a former U.S. intelligence officer convicted of passing U.S. secrets on to Israel. He is due for release next year, but could be freed under a rumored agreement to salvage the peace talks. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to deny that Pollard could see an early release.
Press Secretary Jay Carney: "On the question about release of prisoners, this is a complicated issue that is being worked through with the parties, and I’m not going to get into details about that. And with regards to Mr. Pollard, he is a person who was convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence, and I don’t have any update on his situation."
Russia has begun what it calls a partial withdrawal of forces from its eastern border with Ukraine. Around 500 troops are said to have pulled back so far. The build-up of Russian forces has emerged as a key point of contention between Russia and NATO countries in the aftermath of last month’s annexation of Crimea. NATO countries are meeting in Brussels today to discuss additional measures in response to the standoff with Russia, including joint military exercises between Ukrainian and U.S. forces.
The World Court has ordered Japan to stop whaling in the Antarctic, rejecting claims of scientific research. Geert Vons of the Sea Shepard Conservation Society welcomed the ruling.
Geert Vons: "I don’t know if Japan will proceed with their whaling. They might find a new program, a new scientific research program, in the future. But for the moment, I feel very confident that that will not happen, because, as the judge said, they should fulfill their obligations. They should meet standards, and they have not done so far. International scientific community has to support. There has to be peer-reviewed articles, etc., etc. So this is, I think, a very positive, strong statement."
Three Al Jazeera journalists appeared in an Egyptian court on Monday where they were allowed to testify for the first time since being detained late last year. Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy are accused of belonging to or aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, deemed by the government a terrorist organization. In brief testimony, the three denied having ties to the Brotherhood and cited their longtime work as journalists. The trial has been adjourned until next week.
A death row prisoner set for execution in Mississippi has won a new trial. Michelle Byrom was convicted in 2000 of murdering her husband even though her son had reportedly confessed to the crime. Her execution was slated for last week. But on Monday, the Mississippi Supreme Court said Byrom is entitled to a new trial before a new judge.
A wealthy heir to the du Pont family chemical fortune has avoided prison, despite being convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter. Delaware Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden said Robert Richards IV should be spared jail time because he would "not fare well" behind bars. Jurden ruled that Richards’ "treatment need exceeds [the] need for punishment," a reasoning almost never used in the case of child rapists. Richards is the great-grandson of billionaire du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont. The case has drawn comparisons to last year’s sentencing of a wealthy Texas teenager who avoided jail time for killing four people while driving drunk after claiming he suffered from "affluenza."
The United States is facing renewed pressure on financing climate aid for poorer countries in the aftermath of a U.N. report warning of global warming’s impact. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said Monday that climate change will have dire consequences for the world’s poorest countries, and urged rich countries most responsible for greenhouse emissions to help them adapt. The report cited a World Bank study calling on rich countries to provide climate aid of as much $100 billion per year, of which the United States would be responsible for up to $30 billion. Panel chair Rajendra Pachauri said climate change has become an issue of global security.
Rajendra Pachauri: "There is a reason for the world not really neglecting the findings of this report, because they are profound. And let me repeat once again, we have said very categorically in this report, the implications for human security. We have reasons to believe that if the world doesn’t do anything about mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases and the extent of climate change continues to increase, then the very social stability of human systems could be at stake."
The Malaysian human rights activist Irene Fernandez has died at the age of 67. Ferndandez faced government persecution for her devotion to championing the rights of women, migrants and domestic workers. She endured Malaysia’s longest-ever trial on charges of spreading "false news" after criticizing the treatment of migrant workers, winning acquittal after 13 years. She was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2005 "for her outstanding and courageous work to stop violence against women and abuses of migrant and poor workers."