Friday, January 3, 2014

Published:

'Polar vortex' of Arctic air set to blanket much of the US, breaking record-low temperatures

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- The weather warnings are dire: Life threatening wind chills. Historic cold outbreak.

Winter is normally cold, but starting Sunday tundra-like temperatures are poised to deliver a rare and potentially dangerous sledgehammer blow to much of the Midwest, driving temperatures so far below zero that records will shatter.

One reason? A "polar vortex," as one meteorologist calls it, which will send cold air piled up at the North Pole down to the U.S., funneling it as far south as the Gulf Coast.

The temperature predictions are startling: 25 below zero in Fargo, N.D., minus 31 in International Falls, Minn., and 15 below in Indianapolis and Chicago. At those temperatures, exposed skin can get frostbitten in minutes and hypothermia can quickly set in because wind chills could hit 50, 60 or even 70 below zero.

Temperature records will likely be broken during the short, yet forceful deep freeze that will begin in many places on Sunday and extend into early next week. That's thanks to a perfect combination of the jet stream, cold surface temperatures and the polar vortex -- a counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air, said Ryan Maue, of Tallahassee, Fla., a meteorologist for Weather Bell.

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Al-Qaida militants try to strengthen hold on western Iraqi Sunni cities

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Two Iraqi cities that were strongholds of Sunni insurgents during the U.S. war in the country are battlegrounds once more after al-Qaida militants largely took them over, fending off government forces that have been besieging them for days.

The overrunning of the cities this week by al-Qaida's Iraqi branch in the Sunni heartland of western Anbar provinces is a blow to the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik. His government has been struggling to contain discontent among the Sunni minority over Shiite political domination that has flared into increased violence for the past year.

On Friday, al-Qaida gunmen sought to win over the population in Fallujah, one of the cities they swept into on Wednesday. A militant commander appeared among worshippers holding Friday prayers in the main city street, proclaiming that his fighters were there to defend Sunnis from the government, one resident said.

"We are your brothers from the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant," militants circulating through the city in a stolen police car proclaimed through a loudspeaker, using the name of the al-Qaida branch. "We are here to protect you from the government. We call on you to cooperate with us."

Government troops, backed by Sunni tribesmen who oppose al-Qaida, have encircled Fallujah for several days, and have entered parts of the provincial capital Ramadi, also overrun by militants. On Friday, troops bombarded militant positions outside Fallujah with artillery, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information.

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US intelligence court: Government can continue collecting Americans' phone records daily

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A secretive U.S. spy court has ruled again that the National Security Agency can keep collecting every American's telephone records every day, in the midst of dueling decisions in two other federal courts about whether the surveillance program is constitutional.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Friday renewed the NSA phone collection program, said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Such periodic requests are somewhat formulaic but required since the program started in 2006.

The latest approval was the first since two conflicting court decisions about whether the program is lawful and since a presidential advisory panel recommended that the NSA no longer be allowed to collect and store the phone records and search them without obtaining separate court approval for each search.

In a statement, Turner said that 15 judges on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on 36 occasions over the past seven years have approved the NSA's collection of U.S. phone records as lawful.

Also Friday, government lawyers turned to U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block one federal judge's decision that threatens the NSA phone records program.

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Health overhaul plans seen as too skimpy for people with modest incomes and high medical costs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- For working people making modest wages and struggling with high medical bills from chronic disease, President Barack Obama's health care plan sounds like long-awaited relief. But the promise could go unfulfilled.

It's true that patients with cancer and difficult conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease will be able to get insurance and financial help with monthly premiums.

But their annual out-of-pocket costs could still be so high they'll have trouble staying out of debt.

You couldn't call them uninsured any longer. You might say they're "underinsured."

These gaps "need to be addressed in order to fulfill the intention of the Affordable Care Act," said Brian Rosen, a senior vice president of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. "There are certainly challenges for cancer patients."

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Judge says mother can take daughter declared brain dead from California hospital

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- A judge said Friday that the mother of a 13-year-old girl who was declared brain dead after tonsil surgery can remove her daughter from a California hospital if she assumes full responsibility for the consequences.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said Jahi McMath can be transferred under a deal with Children's Hospital Oakland that will hold Nailah Winkfield accountable for developments that could include Jahi going into cardiac arrest.

The hospital has argued since before Christmas that Jahi's brain death means she is legally dead and she should be disconnected from the ventilator that has kept her heart pumping for 3 1/2 weeks.

Winkfield, refusing to believe her daughter is dead as long as her heart is beating, has gone to court to stop the machine from being disconnected. She wants to transfer Jahi to another facility after forcing Children's Hospital to fit her daughter with breathing and feeding tubes or allowing an outside doctor to perform the surgical procedures.

Grillo on Friday rejected the family's move to have the hospital insert the tubes, noting the girl could be moved with the ventilator and intravenous fluid lines she has now. He also refused to compel the hospital to permit an outside doctor perform the procedures on its premises.

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Rescued Antarctic passengers resume journey home despite Chinese ship remaining stuck in ice

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- An Australian icebreaker carrying 52 passengers who were retrieved from an icebound ship in the Antarctic resumed its journey home on Saturday after it was halted for a second potential rescue operation.

The Aurora Australis had been slowly cracking through thick ice toward open water after a Chinese ship's helicopter on Thursday plucked the passengers from their stranded Russian research ship and carried them to an ice floe near the Australian ship. But on Friday afternoon, the crew of the Chinese icebreaker that had provided the helicopter said they were worried about their own ship's ability to move through the ice.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre, which oversaw the rescue, told the Aurora on Friday afternoon to stay in the area in case help was needed.

Under international conventions observed by most countries, ships' crews are obliged to take part in such rescues and the owners carry the costs.

AMSA said the Aurora was allowed on Saturday to continue its journey despite the Chinese ship Snow Dragon, or Xue Long in Chinese, remaining stuck in ice.

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Phil Everly, part of pioneering rock 'n' roll duo with brother Don, dies at age 74

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Phil Everly, who with his brother Don formed an influential harmony duo that touched the hearts and sparked the imaginations of rock 'n' roll singers for decades, including the Beatles and Bob Dylan, died Friday. He was 74.

Everly died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at a Burbank hospital, said his son Jason Everly.

Phil and Don Everly helped draw the blueprint of rock 'n' roll in the late 1950s and 1960s with a high harmony that captured the yearning and angst of a nation of teenage baby boomers looking for a way to express themselves beyond the simple platitudes of the pop music of the day.

The Beatles, early in their career, once referred to themselves as "the English Everly Brothers." And Bob Dylan once said, "We owe these guys everything. They started it all."

The Everlys' hit records included the then-titilating "Wake Up Little Susie" and the universally identifiable "Bye Bye Love," each featuring their twined voices with lyrics that mirrored the fatalism of country music and a rocking backbeat that more upbeat pop. These sounds and ideas would be warped by their devotees into a new kind of music that would ricochet around the world.

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US Senator Ted Cruz still a dual US-Canadian citizen despite simple renouncement process

TORONTO (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz vowed months ago to renounce his Canadian citizenship by the end of 2013, but the Calgary-born Republican is still a dual citizen.

Cruz, 43, recently said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News that lawyers are preparing the paperwork to renounce citizenship, just as he said in August.

Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration attorney, wonders what's taking so long. Kurland said Friday that unless there's a security or mental health issue that hasn't been disclosed, renouncing citizenship is a simple, quick process.

"If he's attempting to bring our system into disrepute by suggesting it's lengthy and complex, it's just not true. Revocation is one of the fastest processes in our system," said Kurland.

Cruz's office didn't immediately respond for a request for comment.

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'Tik Tok' singer Ke$ha checks into rehab for eating disorder

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Ke$ha has checked into rehab to treat an eating disorder.

The "Tik Tok" singer says in a statement provided by her spokesman Friday that she'll be unavailable for the next 30 days while she seeks treatment for an undisclosed eating disorder.

The 26-year-old pop star says she wants to "learn to love myself again, exactly as I am." No other details were provided.

Ke$ha, whose real name is Kesha Rose Sebert, is the performer of such hits as "Crazy Love," ''Die Young" and "Timber" with Pitbull. She starred in the MTV reality series "My Crazy Beautiful Life."

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Subzero temps expected at Packers-49ers game draw comparisons to '67 Ice Bowl; fans get ready

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- The Green Bay Packers' playoff game Sunday against San Francisco could be one of the coldest in NFL history, rivaling the subzero temperatures of the 1967 Ice Bowl, so fans are taking plenty of precautions.

Temperatures at Lambeau Field are expected to be a frigid minus 2 degrees when the Packers and 49ers kick off at 3:40 p.m. Central time. By the fourth quarter it'll be a bone-chilling minus 7, with wind chills approaching minus 30, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures at the so-called Ice Bowl in Green Bay, the 1967 championship game in which the Packers beat Dallas to advance to Super Bowl II, got as cold as minus 13 degrees with a wind chill of minus 46.

At temperatures like the ones expected Sunday, exposed skin can get frostbitten in minutes and hypothermia can set in. Players will be moving around or huddling around giant heaters on the sidelines, but fans will have to take extra safety measures, such as dressing in layers and sipping warm drinks.

The Packers plan to pass out 70,000 hand warmers, packets that fit inside gloves or boots and stay warm for hours. The team will also provide free coffee and hot chocolate.