Spy panel wants duplicate oversight board replaced WASHINGTON (AP) - For months, two review panels given nearly identical assignments by President Barack Obama have been studying how the White House should change or limit the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. They have functioned separately - with different experts and private and public hearings - but with almost the same mandate. So it was at least a little surprising when the first panel, which recommended changes to NSA's programs this week, urged the White House to abolish the second panel and replace it with a new one.
Judge strikes down Utah's same-sex marriage ban SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A federal judge struck down Utah's same-sex marriage ban Friday in a decision that brings a growing shift toward allowing gay marriage to a conservative state where the Mormon church has long been against it. The Salt Lake County clerk's office started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Deputy Clerk Dahnelle Burton-Lee said the district attorney authorized her office to begin issuing the licenses but she couldn't immediately say how many have been issued so far.
Obama hints at changing phone records collection WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama suggested Friday that he may be ready to make some changes in the bulk collection of Americans' phone records to allay the public's concern about privacy. Obama said he has not yet made any decisions about the National Security Agency's collection programs. But among the dozens of recommendations he's considering, he hinted that he may strip the NSA of its ability to store data in its own facilities and instead shift that storage to the private phone companies.
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Obama puts a rosy spin on rough presidential year WASHINGTON (AP) - Putting a rosy spin on a difficult year, President Barack Obama acknowledged frustrating "ups and downs" on Friday but exulted that the improving economy is creating new jobs and claimed crucial progress for his troubled health care overhaul. He predicted 2014 would be "a breakthrough year for America." In his annual year-end news conference, Obama refused to dwell on his tumbling approval ratings, the disastrous rollout of his signature health care law or the pile of unfinished domestic priorities he leaves behind as he heads for a Christmas holiday in Hawaii. Asked whether this had been the worst year of his presidency so far, he laughed and said, "That's not how I think about it."
Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky a free man MOSCOW (AP) - In a few breathtaking hours, one-time oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky went from being a prisoner locked away for a decade in the remote depths of northern Russia to being a free man in Berlin. As he sped between those extremes, questions trailed behind. Most prominently: Why Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to pardon the man who was once Russia's richest and one of the few with both the boldness and resources to challenge him.
Canadian court strikes down anti-prostitution laws TORONTO (AP) - Canada's highest court struck down the country's anti-prostitution laws Friday, a victory for sex workers who had argued that a ban on brothels and other measures made their profession more dangerous. The ruling drew criticism from the conservative government and religious leaders. The court, ruling in a case brought by three women in the sex trade, struck down all three of Canada's prostitution-related laws: bans on keeping a brothel, making a living from prostitution, and street soliciting. The ruling won't take effect immediately, however, because the court gave Parliament a year to respond with new legislation, and said the existing laws would remain in place until then.
Obama says 1 million signed up for health care WASHINGTON (AP) - His health care plan facing a dicey transition, President Barack Obama said Friday that insurance sign-ups are surging now that the government's website is working better for consumers. But it was too soon to say the rollout has turned the corner. More than 1 million people have enrolled since Oct. 1, Obama said at his end-of-the-year press conference. That's more than two-and-a-half times the number on Nov. 30, when major fixes to the website were completed. At that point, only 365,000 had signed up through new federal and state markets offering subsidized private insurance.
Treatment of arrested diplomat was typical in US NEW YORK (AP) - It has sparked protests outside the American embassy in New Delhi. Burnings of President Barack Obama's photo. And angry speeches by Indian officials. But the arrest - and, yes, even the strip search - of an Indian diplomat accused of visa fraud also revealed a simple and longstanding reality of the U.S. justice system: Everyone charged with a crime here is supposed to be treated the same, whether wealthy or destitute, prominent or ordinary, citizen or foreigner.
Reagan shooter granted more time outside hospital WASHINGTON (AP) - The man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan will get to spend more time outside a mental hospital where he has been confined for most of the past three decades, a judge ruled Friday. John Hinckley will be allowed to visit his mother's home in Williamsburg, Va., for up to 17 days at a time. Hinckley has been allowed to spend increasing amounts of time at his mother's house in recent years, but previous visits were capped at 10 days. Hinckley must make at least eight successful 17-day visits away from the hospital before any requests to increase his time in Williamsburg beyond that will even be considered, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said in his ruling.
Fury and frustration over Target data breach NEW YORK (AP) - Potential victims of credit card fraud tied to Target's security breach said they had trouble contacting the discounter through its website and call centers. Angry Target customers expressed their displeasure in comments on the company's Facebook page. Some even threatened to stop shopping at the store.