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Obamacare Woes Widen As Insurers Get Wrong Data

By Christopher Weaver and Louise Radnofsky

Insurers say the federal health-care marketplace is generating flawed data that is straining their ability to handle even the trickle of enrollees who have gotten through so far, in a sign that technological problems extend further than the website traffic and software issues already identified.

Emerging errors include duplicate enrollments, spouses reported as children, missing data fields and suspect eligibility determinations, say executives at more than a dozen health plans. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Nebraska said it had to hire temporary workers to contact new customers directly to resolve inaccuracies in submissions. Medical Mutual of Ohio said one customer had successfully signed up for three of its plans.

The flaws could do lasting damage to the law if customers are deterred from signing up or mistakenly believe they have obtained coverage.



Poll: Most Israelis Back Netanyahu Stance On Iran

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 18, 2013 6:56 EDT

Most Israelis support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance on the Iran nuclear issue after the Islamic republic met world powers in Geneva this week, an opinion poll showed on Friday.

Some 58 percent of respondents to the question “how would you rate Netanyahu’s recent performance in the global arena vis-a-vis Iran?” said it was good (41 percent) or very good (17 percent), said the poll published in Haaretz newspaper.

Netanyahu and his government expressed bitter skepticism over nuclear talks in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 countries — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany — warning his Western allies they risked being duped into easing sanctions prematurely.

The prime minister said Israel reserved the right to carry out a unilateral military strike to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

The P5+1 and Israel, Iran’s arch foe, fear that Tehran’s atomic program is a disguised effort to develop nuclear weapons capability, a claim it denies vehemently.



Man Attempting To Help Mentally Disabled Boy In His Care Wrongfully Arrested In Gay Sex Sting

Man attempting to help mentally disabled boy in his care wrongfully arrested in controversial gay sex sting (full title)

Last March, Charles Couch was attempting to aid a mentally disabled boy in his care when he was arrested in a controversial Manhattan Beach, California bathroom sex sting that resulted in the police releasing his name and photograph to the public. Now, Couch is suing the city, alleging he was subjected to a false arrest, unlawful search and seizure, and a number of other civil rights violations.

The sting in question took place in a Manhattan Beach bathroom that, according to police, is notorious for homosexual men seeking anonymous sex. City police arrested eighteen men during the sting, then published their names, ages and photographs.

Couch is seeking $5 million in damages because, he claims, he wasn’t propositioning strangers for sex when he entered the bathroom — he was attempting to help a fourteen-year-old mentally disabled boy under his care.

According to the lawsuit filed today, Couch said the boy in his charge needed to use the restroom, so he allowed him to go into the bathroom and waited outside. It wasn’t unusual, the suit alleges, for the child to take an “abnormally long time” in the restroom. Eventually, an undercover officer entered the stall next to the child, who soon “bolted from the stall” and told Couch a man was looking at him through a “hole” in the bathroom stall.

Couch and his ward tried to leave, when they were confronted by five plainclothes officers. Not realizing they were police and fearing for his charge’s safety, Couch tried to leave with the boy, but was “tackled, choked and handcuffed” by officers, who then detained him for several hours.



De Blasio Looks at Bratton for NYPD as Homicides Fall to Low

By Henry Goldman and Esmé E. Deprez - Oct 18, 2013

New York City, which had 43 homicides a week in 1990, has been averaging six so far this year. One of the biggest challenges for the next mayor will be to keep it that way.

The first major personnel decision for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successor will be to choose who will run the 34,000-member police department. With less than three weeks before the Nov. 5 election, Democrat Bill de Blasio leads Republican Joseph Lhota in polls by as much as 50 percentage points.

Lhota, who’s running a television ad warning that de Blasio will usher in a return to the crime-ridden 1980s, says he wants to keep Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who’s overseen a 31 percent drop in felonies since 2001. De Blasio wants a new leader who would refine Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policy, which he says has destroyed trust between police and communities. He’s considering former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, who’s also run departments in Boston and Los Angeles, and Philip Banks III, New York’s highest-ranking uniformed officer.

“Who the next mayor picks as police commissioner will send a message about where he stands,” said Ed Mullins, president of the 13,000-member Sergeants Benevolent Association. “We have to convey to the people of the city that our goal is to keep crime as low as possible.”

Crack Days

Public safety has become the most divisive campaign issue as the two candidates vie to lead the most populous U.S. city and manage its $70 billion budget. The job will require negotiating new contracts with workers, including police; continuing vigilance against terrorism; and diversifying an economy beyond Wall Street, which supplies high-paying jobs and 7 percent of city tax revenue.



States Clamping Down on Workers Mislabeled as Contractors

When construction slowed during the recession, some companies hired workers and wrongly designated them as independent contractors to avoid paying insurance, taxes, fair wages and overtime.

Danny Odom, chief operating officer of Odom Construction Systems, Inc. in Knoxville, Tennessee, says he wouldn’t even though the decision put the company of about 225 employees at a disadvantage as the practice would shave about 30 percent off his labor costs. He testified in support of legislation that went into effect July 1 allowing the state to fine competitors who misclassify employees.

“It’s principle for us,” Odom said in an interview. “We weren’t willing to stick our heads in the sand. It’s exploiting those guys and we just don’t want to make money off of people that are being exploited.”

States from New York to California are taking steps to crack down on employers who improperly classify their workers or fail to declare their income. Thirty states have laws on worker misclassification, up from 23 in 2010, according to Construction Citizen, a website that says it seeks to advance social responsibility in the industry.

“There was money to be had,” Linda Donahue, senior extension associate with The Worker Institute at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said in an interview. “The success at identifying those employers has led to pretty substantial revenue for the states.”



Republican Civil War Erupts: Business Groups v. Tea Party

A battle for control of the Republican Party has erupted as an emboldened Tea Party moved to oust senators who voted to reopen the government while business groups mobilized to defeat allies of the small-government movement.

“We are going to get engaged,” said Scott Reed, senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness.” The chamber spent $35.7 million on federal elections in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks campaign spending.

Meanwhile, two Washington-based groups that finance Tea Party-backed candidates said yesterday they’re supporting efforts to defeat Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, who voted this week for the measure ending the 16-day shutdown and avoiding a government debt default. Cochran, a Republican seeking a seventh term next year, faces a challenge in his party’s primary from Chris McDaniel, a state senator.

McDaniel, who announced his candidacy yesterday, “is not part of the Washington establishment and he has the courage to stand up to the big spenders in both parties,” Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said in a statement supporting him.



Families With Kids Go Homeless as U.S. Rents Exceed Pay

By Jeanna Smialek - Oct 18, 2013

When Montoria Freeland separated from her husband of 15 years in 2008, she left a four-bedroom house and economic security. Before long, her pay and hours as a pharmacy technician were cut and she found herself and her son facing homelessness.

Freeland lived with family for a time, she said, and four months ago moved into transitional housing funded by the city government in Washington, D.C., while searching for work that pays more than her $8.25-an-hour retail job. Having lost her oldest son in a 2000 homicide, Freeland said she insists on looking for housing in a safe neighborhood for her surviving one, now 17. She found that’s available only at an increasingly steep price.

“You’re trying to pay car insurance, rent, electric, cable and if you’re using public transit, putting money on your card, groceries,” said Freeland, who was accepted into a program that provides temporary housing, financial planning and job-placement counseling. “It’s hard to survive out here.”

For households with children, rising housing costs, elevated unemployment and stagnant earnings are increasingly placing rent beyond reach. The housing slump made matters worse as former homeowners turned into renters, increasing competition for available apartments.

“There is just a mismatch between what people earn and what it takes to pay for housing,” said Sheila Crowley, chief executive officer of the Washington-based National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Unemployment continues to be persistently high, and wage stagnation at the low end seems to go out as far as the eye can see.”



Jewish Women Can't Volunteer At Night - To Avoid 'Contact With Arabs'

The Israeli government succumbs to pressure by racist and anti-miscegenation organizations, banning Jewish women from volunteering in hospitals at night, when they might be more likely to encounter Arab workers and doctors.

By Mairav Zonszein |Published October 17, 2013

Young Israeli women volunteering at hospitals in Israel as part of their national service (an alternative to serving in the Israel Defense Forces) will no longer be allowed to do night shifts in order to avoid any contact with Arabs, Channel 10 reported Wednesday (Hebrew).

The director of Israel’s National Service Administration, Sar-Shalom Jerbi, issued a directive two weeks ago banning any volunteer shifts past 9:00 p.m.: “We reached the decision based on concern for our volunteers, and Minister Bennett gave his blessing.”

According to the report, the decision was made following a pressure campaign waged by religious Zionist rabbis, among them notorious Kiryat Arba Rabbi Dov Lior (arrested in 2011 for incitement against Arabs and for legitimizing the killing of non-Jews in war time) and the radical Israeli anti-miscegenation organization Lehava. They began the campaign over the last year after hearing reports of “intimate relations” between some of the Palestinian-Arab doctors and the Israeli Jewish volunteers.

The decision was not sharp enough for Lehava, however, according to a statement issued by its director: “Unfortunately, this is too narrow and too late a step. National service should be terminated anywhere there are goyim .”



Saudi Arabia Wins Security Council Seat For The First Time

For the first time, Saudi Arabia on Thursday has won a seat as a non-permanent member in the U.N. Security Council.

Saudi Arabia has joined Chad, Chile, Lithuania and Nigeria who took seats in an election. The five new non-permanent members will be replacing Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo on the 15-member council on January 1 and for the upcoming two years.

All five countries stood unopposed in an election by the 193 member U.N. General Assembly.
While international envoys hurried to congratulate the Saudi U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, an unlikely incident took place.

Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari was seen congratulating his Saudi counterpart. Both shook hands.

“I appreciate his initiative when he congratulated me, and I wish that we can work positively in the future,” Mouallimi told Al Arabiya.



Unbowed Tea Party Republicans Could Shut Down Government Again

By David Horsey
October 17, 2013

At the last possible moment, the dysfunctional United States Congress voted to end the debilitating government shutdown and avoid a calamitous default on the government debt. It should have been a humiliating defeat for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and the other tea party Republicans who engineered this political debacle, but none of them are showing the slightest sign of remorse.

That raises a big question about what happens in January when another government shutdown will loom, and in February when the debt ceiling will need to be raised again. Given the tea partiers' lack of repentance for the shenanigans that cost the U.S. economy $25 billion, the most likely answer is that we will very soon be going through the same reckless, costly brinkmanship again.

A lot of people, including President Obama, insist that it will be different next time. But, for anything to be different, some sort of budget bargain will need to be reached before Christmas. Even without the tea party faction in the House Republican caucus, that would be a tough job. Democrats are going to want some new revenue to offset the deep budget cuts Republicans will demand, and new revenue means raising taxes, which, for today’s Republicans, is the deepest heresy.

Nevertheless, if a deal can be reached between congressional leaders and the president in the next two months, House Speaker John A. Boehner would then be faced with two options: either sell the agreement to the ultra-conservatives or allow the deal to be passed with mostly Democratic votes. The former seems quite unlikely, given the uncompromising stance of the tea partiers. The latter is exactly what Boehner did Wednesday night to win approval of the Senate bill to reopen the government and raise the debt limit.


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