In brief | Nation & world | 030614


Israel: Raid seizes Iranian shipment of advanced rockets bound for Gaza militants

JERUSALEM — Israeli naval forces on Wednesday seized a ship laden with rockets allegedly bound for militants in the Gaza Strip, and officials accused Iran of orchestrating the delivery in an elaborate 5,000-mile journey that included covert stops across the region.

The Syrian-made M-302 rockets would have put Israel’s biggest cities well within range of Gaza, where militants already possess thousands of less powerful rockets. During eight days of fighting in 2012, armed groups fired 1,500 rockets into Israel, including several that reached the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The naval raid, which took place in the Red Sea hundreds of miles from Israel, came as Iran showed off powerful new ballistic missiles equipped with multiple warheads. The arms bust drew renewed Israeli calls for world powers to toughen their stand in negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program.

Israel believes that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, a charge Iran denies. Israel says a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat to the existence of the Jewish state.

Senate blocks confirmation of Obama’s choice to head civil rights enforcement

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division was blocked by bipartisan Senate opposition Wednesday in an emotional postscript to the long-ago murder of a Philadelphia policeman and the legal help his killer received.

The vote against advancing Debo Adegbile toward confirmation was 47-52, shy of the majority needed under new procedures Democrats put in place late last year to overcome Republican stalling tactics.

In this case, though, to the dismay of civil rights organizations and the White House, Democratic desertions played a decisive role in the outcome. Eight members of Obama’s party joined all 44 Republicans in preventing a final vote.

Administration officials left open the possibility the nomination would be withdrawn rather than put to a second vote, although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is positioned to call for one after changing his “yes” to “no” in a last-minute procedural move.

New SAT: Essay optional, students will be able to use computers beginning in 2016

WASHINGTON — Essay optional. No penalties for wrong answers. The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions.

Changes in the annual test that millions of students take will also do away with some vocabulary words such as “prevaricator” and “sagacious” in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.

College Board officials said Wednesday the update — the first since 2005 — is needed to make the exam better representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward.

The new exam will be rolled out in 2016, so this year’s ninth-graders will be the first to take it, in their junior year. The new SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. Scoring will return to a 1,600-point scale last used in 2004, with a separate score for the optional essay.

For the first time, students will have the option of taking the test on computers.

New health law regulations include 2-year extension for canceled insurance policies

WASHINGTON — Warding off the specter of election-year health insurance cancellations, the Obama administration Wednesday announced a two-year extension for individual policies that don’t meet requirements of the new health care law.

The decision helps defuse a political problem for Democrats in tough re-election battles this fall.

The extension was part of a major package of regulations that sets ground rules for 2015, the second year of government-subsidized health insurance markets under Obama’s law — and the first year that larger employers will face a requirement to provide coverage.

Hundreds of pages of provisions affecting insurers, employers and consumers were issued by the Treasury Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. It will likely take days for lawyers and consultants to fully assess the implications.

The cancellation last fall of at least 4.7 million individual policies was one of the most damaging issues in the transition to a new insurance system under Obama’s law. The wave of cancellations hit around the time that the new healthcare.gov website was overwhelmed with technical problems that kept many consumers from signing up for coverage. It contradicted Obama’s promise that you can keep your insurance plan if you like it.

By wire sources