National Briefs / Health care sign-ups rise

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama urged a group of young activists Wednesday not to give up on promoting his signature health care law, as enrollment picked up on

Roughly 29,000 Americans signed up for insurance on the federal exchange on Sunday and Monday, according to an individual familiar with the numbers. That figure exceeds the number who enrolled online in the entire month of October, almost 27,000.

Mr. Obama and his aides have been touting the importance of signing up for plans before Dec. 23, the deadline for obtaining insurance scheduled to start Jan. 1.

Free-speech case aired

WASHINGTON -- A seasoned California peace protester faced Supreme Court resistance Wednesday, in a case that's as much about real estate as it is about free speech.

Conservative justices repeatedly hammered the attorney for John Dennis Apel, who has made a career of demonstrating at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast. Justices, who often defer to the military, didn't seem to buy Mr. Apel's argument that the First Amendment protected his right to protest on a portion of base property for which Vandenberg officials have granted the state an easement.

Budget talks progress

WASHINGTON -- Congressional budget negotiators are near a deal in which Democrats would accept fresh revenue from user fees and Republicans would agree to more federal spending, steps that could avoid another government shutdown next year.

The two leaders of the 29-member bipartisan panel aiming to reach an agreement on budget savings to replace some automatic spending cuts set to start in January are hatching a deal in which both parties would have to compromise.

Detroit art appraised

DETROIT -- The heart of the world-class collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts would raise somewhere between $452 million and $866 million if sold to help the city of Detroit dig its way out of bankruptcy, Christie's said Wednesday, announcing the results of a highly anticipated appraisal.

Experts from the auction house have scoured a significant portion of the collection for months now at the behest of Detroit's emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, who is pushing the museum to help the city contend with more than $18 billion in debt.

Teacher-slaying case

SALEM, Mass. -- The 14-year-old Massachussetts student accused of robbing, raping and killing his math teacher in October pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Wednesday and was ordered held without bail.

Philip D. Chism is being tried as an adult for first-degree murder in the slaying of Colleen Ritzer, 24, a teacher at Danvers High School.

Also in the nation ...

The nation's largest freight rail carriers announced Wednesday they will provide health care benefits to the same-sex spouses of their employees, one day after legally married, gay engineers filed a federal lawsuit in Seattle. ... Wildlife workers in boats struggled unsuccessfully Wednesday to coax nearly four dozen pilot whales out of dangerous shallow waters in Florida's Everglades National Park, hoping to spare them the fate of 10 others that already had died. ... "Fast & Furious" movie star Paul Walker died from a combination of traumatic injuries and burns after the Porsche Carrera GT he was riding in crashed into a light pole and erupted in flames, the Los Angeles County coroner's office ruled Wednesday.

-- Compiled from news services


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