Dems slam Ryan proposal for private Social Security accounts; Obama largely silent on his plan
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats are eagerly renewing their fight against privatizing Social Security now that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has picked Paul Ryan as his running mate. It was a fight that didn't go well for the GOP when President George W. Bush pushed the idea in 2005.
In his 2010 "Road Map for America's Future," the Wisconsin congressman proposed a plan to allow younger workers to divert more than one-third of their Social Security taxes into personal accounts that they would own and could will to their heirs.
Ryan wrote that the accounts would provide workers an opportunity "to build a significant nest egg for retirement that far exceeds what the current program can provide." Workers 55 and older would stay in the current system.
Romney hasn't embraced the proposal and Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, didn't include it in either of the federal budgets passed by House Republicans the past two years. But now that Ryan is running for vice president, Democrats hope to capitalize on the issue.
Bush's proposal for private accounts received a chilly reception from members in both parties in Congress, though Ryan embraced it. Democrats used the issue against GOP congressional candidates in the 2006 election, when they regained control of the House and Senate.
Social Security's financial problems could be solved with modest but politically tough changes
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Despite Social Security's long-term problems, the massive retirement and disability program could be preserved for generations to come with modest but politically difficult changes to benefits or taxes, or a combination of both.
Some options could affect people quickly, such as increasing payroll taxes or reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments for those who already get benefits. Others options, such as gradually raising the retirement age, wouldn't be felt for years but would affect millions of younger workers.
All of the options carry political risks because they have the potential to affect nearly every U.S. family while raising the ire of powerful interest groups. But the sooner changes are made, the more subtle they can be because they can be phased in slowly. Each year lawmakers wait, Social Security's financial problems loom larger and the need for bigger changes becomes greater, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
"Certainly, in the current environment, it would be very difficult to get changes made," Social Security's commissioner, Michael J. Astrue, said in an interview. "It doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. And sometimes when you try hard things, surprising things happen."
Social Security is ensnared in the same debate over taxes and spending that has gripped Washington for years. Liberal advocates and some Democrats say benefit cuts should be off the table. Conservative activists and some Republicans say tax increases are out of the question.
Julian Assange urges US to end 'witch hunt' over Wikileaks in appearance from Ecuador embassy
LONDON (AP) -- Wikileaks founder Julian Assange portrayed himself Sunday as a victim of an American "witch hunt" over his secret-spilling website in a defiant address from the balcony of an embassy where he has holed up to avoid extradition to face sex assault allegations.
Surrounded by British police who want to detain him, Assange made no mention of the sex assault case in Sweden or how long he would remain in Ecuador's embassy in London, where he took refuge two months ago. Instead he shifted focus to the U.S., accusing the government of targeting him for revealing a trove of American diplomatic and military secrets.
"I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks," Assange said, wearing a formal blue shirt and red tie in front of the Ecuadorean flag.
"The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters," he said, referring specifically to Pfc. Bradley Manning, who awaits trial in Virginia in the scandal.
The U.S. risks "dragging us all into a dark, repressive world in which journalists live under fear of prosecution," Assange said
Ousted Chinese politician's wife gets suspended death sentence for murder of UK businessman
HEFEI, China (AP) -- The wife of a disgraced Chinese politician was given a suspended death sentence Monday after confessing to killing a British businessman by poisoning him with cyanide in a case that rocked the country's top political leadership.
A suspended sentence is usually commuted to life in prison after two years.
Sentenced along with Gu Kailai was a family aide who was given nine years' imprisonment for his involvement in the murder of Neil Heywood, a former family associate, said He Zhengsheng, a lawyer for the Heywood family who attended the sentencing in this eastern China city.
The sentencing closes one chapter of China's biggest political crisis in two decades, but also leaves open questions over the fate of Gu's husband, Bo Xilai, who was dismissed in March as the powerful Communist Party boss of the major city of Chongqing.
Bo's dismissal and his wife's murder trial come at a sensitive time in China, with party leaders handing over power soon to a younger generation. At one time Bo was considered a candidate for a top position.
US Senate candidate, Mo. congressman Todd Akin stirs outcry with comments on rape, pregnancy
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, a conservative Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, said in an interview broadcast Sunday that women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in the case of "a legitimate rape," adding that conception in such cases is rare.
Akin, a six-term congressman running against incumbent Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill, was asked in an interview on St. Louis television station KTVI if he would support abortions for women who have been raped.
"It seems to me first of all from what I understand from doctors that's really rare," Akin said. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Akin said of a rape victim's chances of becoming pregnant.
Akin said in an emailed statement later Sunday that he "misspoke" during the interview, though the statement did not specify which points or comments.
"In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year," Akin's statement said.
Man in Afghan police uniform shoots and kills NATO service member in southern Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A man in an Afghan police uniform shot and killed a U.S. service member on Sunday, a U.S. Defense Department official said, raising the death toll to 10 in such attacks in the space of just two weeks.
The surge in violence by Afghan allies against their international partners has raised doubts about the ability of the two forces to work together at a key transition time. Afghan forces are expected to take over security for the country by the end of 2014, when the majority of international combat forces are scheduled to leave.
On the other side, a coalition airstrike killed dozens of Taliban militants, including one of their leaders, officials said.
The U.S. defense official in Washington discussed the matter on condition of anyonymity because the official notification process had not been completed.
Few details were immediately available about Sunday's killing of a coalition member in southern Afghanistan. NATO said only that they and Afghan authorities were investigating. Afghan officials could not be reached for comment.
Distance swimmer Diana Nyad said to be steady, strong, on Day 2 of Cuba-Florida record attempt
HAVANA (AP) -- Endurance athlete Diana Nyad forged ahead in the Straits of Florida with renewed vigor Sunday in pursuit of a record 103-mile (166-kilometer), unassisted swim in open waters without the aid of a shark cage.
The 62-year-old Los Angeles woman was said to be comfortable, confident and steady at around 50 strokes per minute after a harrowing Saturday night of painful jellyfish encounters -- despite an improved bodysuit that she had hoped would offer better protection.
Nyad was stung four times on the neck, lips, hand and forehead, according to members of her 50-member crew who updated fans through social media.
"Today is more like swimming," one member quoted her as saying, via Twitter. "I don't know what you would call last night ... probably surviving."
Sunday night, her team reported when she passed the 28-hour mark, but gave no details on the distance she had traveled. Earlier, it said Nyad had made 27.7 miles and was taking advantage of "ideal conditions" with calm seas and little wind.
215-year-old USS Constitution sets sail in Boston Harbor; commemorates War of 1812 battle
BOSTON (AP) -- At 215 years old, the USS Constitution is the U.S. Navy's oldest commissioned warship afloat. But it's not too old to take a quick sail.
For 17 minutes on Sunday, the ship cruised west across Boston Harbor, reaching a maximum speed of 3.1 knots. It was its first sail under its own power since turning 200 in 1997.
The short trip -- a distance of 1,100 yards -- was to commemorate the Constitution's victory over a British warship of a similar size in a fierce battle during the War of 1812. The victory earned the ship its nickname, "Old Ironsides."
Chief Petty Officer Frank Neely, a Constitution spokesman and crew member, said he was among the 285 lucky people who were aboard on Sunday. It was a warn day with a few clouds, but still perfect for the sail, he said.
"This was really terrific," Neely said. "It couldn't have been more memorable."
What time is it? Entire family shifts to living on Mars time after Curiosity rover landing
LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. (AP) -- For one family, an exotic summer getaway means living on Mars.
Martian time, that is.
Since the landing of NASA's newest Mars rover, flight director David Oh's family has taken the unusual step of tagging along as he leaves Earth time behind and syncs his body clock with the red planet.
Every mission to Mars, a small army of scientists and engineers reports to duty on "Mars time" for the first three months. But it's almost unheard of for an entire family to flip their orderly lives upside down, shifting to what amounts to a time zone change a day.
Intrigued about abiding by extraterrestrial time, Oh's wife, Bryn, could not pass up the chance to take their kids -- 13-year-old Braden, 10-year-old Ashlyn and 8-year-old Devyn -- on a Martian adventure from their home near the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory where the Curiosity rover was built.
Hospital volunteer's 2 dogs help give emotional boost to kids with cancer at Quito hospital
QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- Every Wednesday, Lancelot and Juci scamper into a special mission: nudging and pawing youngsters into smiles at the only hospital in Ecuador's capital that treats children with cancer.
Veronica Pardo, the hospital volunteer who owns the dogs, says the animals are used to cheer up the most discouraged of the patients, especially those with the grimmest prognosis.
"Sometimes they do not want to eat, their moms haven't visited them, they don't want to take their medicine, or they don't want to talk with the doctor," Pardo said.
Then she brings her dogs in on Wednesdays, and small miracles happen as the sick youngsters caress and cuddle the dogs. "The children smile, talk. They're infused with life."
Pardo recalled a patient named Dana, a 7-year-old girl who took a special liking to Lancelot, a 15-month-old American cocker spaniel, before she died early this month.