World and Nation

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Obama talks about healthcare

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama told the nation’s governors Monday that he was willing to amend his landmark health care law to give states the ability to opt out of its most controversial requirements right from the start, including the mandate that most people buy insurance.

In remarks to the National Governors Association, Obama said he supported legislation that would allow states to obtain waivers from the mandate as soon as it took effect in 2014, as long as they could find another way to expand coverage without driving up health care costs. Under the current law, states must wait until 2017 to obtain waivers.

The announcement is the first time Obama has called for altering a central component of his signature health care law, although he has backed removing a specific tax provision that both parties regard as onerous on business.

And while some Republican governors praised Obama for reaching out, they said the move did not address their underlying discomfort with the law or the major structural flaws facing state budgets.

Middle East unrest in Yemen

SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s political opposition rejected an invitation from President Ali Abdullah Saleh to form a national unity government and instead threw its support for the first time behind street protests calling for an immediate end to his authoritarian rule.

The proposal — and its immediate rejection — came ahead of what organizers have dubbed a “day of rage” on Tuesday, a title chosen for its resonance with protests in Egypt that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

If opposition parties join the street protests Tuesday, as they have indicated, it would signal a more permanent shift in the nature of the protests.

The strength of the Yemeni youth movement that began following the Egyptian revolution put the established opposition parties in a tough place, said Abdul Karim al-Eryani, a former prime minister and presidential adviser.

Japan expands army in response to the rapid growth of China

NAHA AIR BASE, Japan — This sun-baked airfield was built atop Okinawa’s rocky coral by Americans during the Cold War, but these days its roaring jets proudly display the red sun of Japan.

The Japanese F-15 fighters are engaged in an increasingly busy — and at times tense — game of cat-and-mouse with rapidly modernizing China, just across the East China Sea. The pilots say they face intrusions into Japanese-controlled air space by an array of increasingly sophisticated Chinese aircraft, including advanced fighters like the Russian-made Su-27.

Tokyo announced plans to strengthen its forces in the southwestern Okinawan islands, including adding a dozen F-15s in Naha. The increase is part of a broader shift in Japanese defensive stance southward, toward China, that some analysts are calling one of Japan’s biggest changes in postwar military strategy.

This strategic shift is another step in a gradual and limited buildup of Japan’s forces, aimed at keeping up with the changing power balance in Asia while remaining within the bounds of Japan’s antiwar Constitution and the constraints of its declining economic power.

The increases are also limited by Japan’s own economic weakening: its military spending has been shrinking for the past decade along with the size of its overall economy, with little prospect of future increases.

Wisconsin labor unions clash

MADISON, Wis. — Time may or may not be running out to make some crucial decisions in the Wisconsin fight over labor unions and budgets. But the blame game is definitely coming to a boil.

In his two-week-long standoff with Democrats and state employee unions, the governor, Republican Scott Walker, has pressured 14 Democratic state senators, who have fled the state, to return to deal with what he says are important fiscal deadlines that would otherwise pass this week and harm the state.

But the Democrats are staying put, in Illinois, to avoid a quorum and thus stall a proposal by Walker that would strip public employee unions of nearly all their collective bargaining powers, allow publicly owned power plants to be sold with what critics say is little guarantee of fair value, and give the governor’s appointees what public health advocates describe as expansive new powers to limit health care coverage for lower-income residents.

—Richard A. Oppel Jr., The New York Times

Casual use of powerful lasers causes damage to unwary eyes

Eye doctors around the world are warning that recent cases of teenagers who suffered eye damage while playing with high-powered green laser pointers are likely to be just the first of many.

“I am certain that this is the beginning of a trend,” said Dr. Martin Schmid, a Swiss ophthalmologist who reported one such case last September in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The pointers, which have also been implicated in a ninefold increase over five years in reports of lasers’ being aimed at airplanes, are easier than ever to order online, doctors say — even though they are 10 to 20 times as powerful as the legal limit set by the Food and Drug Administration.

At the American Association of Ophthalmologists, a spokeswoman said the group was unaware of any increase in eye injuries caused by lasers. But doctors interviewed for this article said they were shocked by the easy availability of high-powered lasers.

—Christine Negroni, The New York Times