Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Published:

Disappearing workers: Health care law could mean millions fewer people on the job, report says

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Several million American workers will cut back their hours on the job or leave the nation's workforce entirely because of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, congressional analysts said Tuesday, adding fresh fuel to the political fight over "Obamacare."

The workforce changes would mean nationwide losses equal to 2.3 million full-time jobs by 2021, in large part because people would opt to keep their income low to stay eligible for federal health care subsidies or Medicaid, the Congressional Budget Office said. It had estimated previously that the law would lead to 800,000 fewer jobs by that year.

Republican lawmakers seized on the report as major new evidence of what they consider the failures of Obama's overhaul, the huge change in U.S. health coverage that they're trying to overturn and planning to use as a main argument against Democrats in November's midterm elections.

It's the latest indication that "the president's health care law is destroying full-time jobs," said Republican Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "This fatally flawed health care scheme is wreaking havoc on working families nationwide," he said.

But the White House said the possible reduction would be due to voluntary steps by workers rather than businesses cutting jobs -- people having the freedom to retire early or spend more time as stay-at-home parents because they no longer had to depend only on their employers for health insurance.

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Navy: At least 30 sailors implicated in alleged cheating on naval nuclear reactor tests

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Navy said Tuesday it is investigating about 30 senior sailors linked to alleged cheating on tests meant to qualify them to train others to operate naval nuclear power reactors. Representing roughly one-fifth of the reactor training contingent, sidelining 30 may put a pinch on the Navy's training program, senior officials said.

It is the second exam-cheating scandal to hit the military this year, on top of a series of disclosures in recent months of ethical lapses at all ranks in the military.

Unlike an Air Force cheating probe that has implicated nearly 100 officers responsible for land-based nuclear missiles that stand ready for short-notice launch, those implicated in the Navy investigation have no responsibility for nuclear weapons. The Air Force probe is centered on Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., but could spread to its two other nuclear missile bases in North Dakota and Wyoming.

The Navy said the implicated sailors are accused of having cheated on written tests they must pass to be certified as instructors at a nuclear propulsion school at Charleston, S.C. The Navy uses two nuclear reactors there to train sailors for duty aboard any of dozens of submarines and aircraft carriers around the world whose on-board reactors provide propulsion. They are not part of any weapons systems.

The accused sailors previously had undergone reactor operations training at Charleston before deploying aboard a nuclear-power vessel. In the normal course of career moves, they returned to Charleston to serve as instructors, for which they must pass requalification exams.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:

1. PROBE TARGETS NAVY PERSONNEL

The service is investigating alleged cheating on written tests by senior sailors training on nuclear reactors that power submarines.

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Syrian activist video shows aftermath of bombing at a mosque; at least 11 dead

BEIRUT (AP) -- Men pull a girl from the rubble and haul her onto a dirty sheet of plastic, while another child, coated in white dust save for a red streak of blood from his nose, lies with his crushed leg dangling off a gurney -- the grisly aftermath from the dropping of a crude "barrel bomb" by Syrian forces on the city of Aleppo.

The bombing -- one of at least seven such attacks in Aleppo on Tuesday -- struck a mosque that was being used as a school, killing at least 11 people, activists said. A video supplied by activists contained scenes of the carnage.

It was the latest example of the heightened use of barrel bombs, devices packed with fuel, explosives and scrap metal that are hurled from helicopters, often indiscriminately.

Since Thursday, around 80 people have been killed by barrel bombs used by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces to try to dislodge rebels from Aleppo, according to figures provided by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground.

The video uploaded from the rebel-held Masaken Hanano district showed the aftermath of the explosion at or near the Uthman Bin Affan mosque, where adults were teaching children the Quran, said activist Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center.

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Labor, business and veterans join Dems, Republicans in pushing for Keystone XL oil pipeline

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An unusual coalition of lawmakers from both parties, labor and business leaders, veterans groups and Canada's ambassador to the United States joined forces Tuesday to push for quick approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Five Democrats joined Republicans at a Capitol news conference to urge President Barack Obama to approve the pipeline following a State Department report last week that raised no major environmental objections. The $7 billion pipeline would carry oil from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. The project has lingered for more than five years and has become a symbol of the political debate over climate change.

Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer also spoke at the news conference, along with labor union officials and a retired Navy admiral. A top oil industry lobbyist attended the event but did not speak.

Environmental groups that oppose the pipeline have been making a lot of "noise," Doer said, but polls show a majority of Americans favor the project. Pipeline opponents, including many Democratic lawmakers, say it would carry heavy oil that contributes to global warming. They also worry about a spill.

Doer urged Obama to "choose blue-collar workers over Hollywood celebrities" and accept crude oil from Canada -- the closest U.S ally -- over oil from Venezuela. Robert Redford and Daryl Hannah are among scores of celebrities who have spoken out against the pipeline.

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Heroin, an old menace, makes headlines and deals death once again

NEW YORK (AP) -- Heroin was supposed to be an obsolete evil, a blurry memory of a dangerous drug that dwelled in some dark recess of American culture.

But smack never really disappeared. It comes in waves, and one such swell is cresting across the nation, sparking widespread worry among government officials and driving up overdose deaths -- including, it appears, that of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Fueled by a crackdown on prescription pain killers and an abundant supply of cheap heroin that's more potent than ever, the drug that has killed famous rock stars and everyday Americans alike is making headlines again.

"Heroin has this sort of dark allure to it that's part of its mystique," said Eric Schneider, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who wrote the book "Smack: Heroin in the City," a historical account of the drug. "What I've heard from heroin users is that flirting with addiction is part of the allure: to sort of see how close to that edge you can get and still pull back."

Medical examiners have not made an official determination of the cause of the 46-year-old actor's death, but police have been investigating it as an overdose. Hoffman was found in a bathroom with a syringe in his arm.

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NY police: Heroin found at Philip Seymour Hoffman's home tests negative for additive fentanyl

NEW YORK (AP) -- Heroin recovered at Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's apartment after he was found there dead with a syringe in his arm has tested negative for the powerful additive fentanyl, a police official said Tuesday.

Samples taken from Hoffman's Manhattan apartment didn't contain the potent synthetic morphine, which is added to intensify the high and has been linked to 22 suspected overdose deaths in western Pennsylvania, said the official, who wasn't authorized to talk about the evidence and insisted on anonymity.

Investigators also have determined that the "Capote" star made six ATM transactions for a total of $1,200 inside a supermarket near his home the day before his death, law enforcement officials said Tuesday. They've been piecing together his final hours using video surveillance to determine his whereabouts.

The 46-year-old actor was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment Sunday. His door was double-locked when his body was found around 11:30 a.m. by his assistant and a friend, law enforcement officials have said.

Besides the bank records, investigators discovered buprenorphine, a drug used to treat heroin addiction, at Hoffman's apartment and are examining a computer and two iPads found at the scene for clues, two law enforcement officials said.

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Seemingly endless winter creates salt shortage, forces many US communities to ration supplies

CHICAGO (AP) -- As piles of snow grow taller during this seemingly endless winter, the mounds of salt for spreading on the nation's icy, slushy roads are shrinking, forcing communities to ration supplies or try exotic new ice-melting substances.

Cities have already gone through most of their salt well ahead of the time they traditionally really need it -- when the coldest part of winter gives way to temperatures just warm enough to turn snow into freezing rain and sleet and roads into ribbons of ice.

"If we don't get the salt, at some point people are going to be sliding all over the place like what you saw in Atlanta," said Julius Hansen, public works director in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, citing last week's television images of thousands of motorists getting stranded on ice-covered roads in the South.

So far this year, Glen Ellyn's snow-removal crews have responded to 31 storms.

"In an average winter, we have 20," Hansen said.

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Motion Picture & TV Fund says 'Little House on the Prairie' actor Richard Bull dies at age 89

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Richard Bull, who played shopkeeper and put-upon spouse Nels Oleson on TV's "Little House on the Prairie," has died. He was 89.

Bull died Monday at the Motion Picture & Television Fund's hospital, fund spokeswoman Jaime Larkin said. The actor, a resident of what was once known as the Motion Picture and TV home, died of natural causes after being hospitalized with pneumonia, Larkin said Tuesday.

"Everyone loved him so much," said Bull's "Little House" co-star Alison Arngrim, who played his daughter, Nellie, and remained close to him. "People are posting (condolences) in six different languages on my Facebook page."

Bull "was as Nels Oleson as you'd possibly want someone to be. He was calm, rational, sensible," Arngrim said.

The Illinois-born character actor appeared in a wide range of TV shows, from "Perry Mason" in the 1950s to "Mannix" in the 1960s to Kelsey Grammer's "Boss" in 2011. Bull played opposite his wife of 65 years, actress Barbara Collentine, in several projects.

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Flea: The Red Hot Chili Peppers mimed Super Bowl song at NFL's request

The Red Hot Chili Peppers decided long ago they were never going to mime a live performance. The band made an exception for the NFL, it turns out.

The group's bassist, Flea, said in a letter to fans posted on the group's website Tuesday that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members pretended to play along to a pre-taped track of "Give It Away" during the Super Bowl halftime show as Anthony Kiedis sang live. The request came from NFL officials who felt it was too difficult to pull off a completely live performance because of potential sound issues.

The admission came after observers noted Flea and his bandmates weren't plugged in while performing Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Flea wrote on the band's website that the opportunity was too big for the lifelong football fans to turn down. After internal debate, dubiously checking with fellow musicians and consulting with headliner Bruno Mars, they decided it was "a surreal-like, once in a life time crazy thing to do and we would just have fun and do it."

The 51-year-old said the group pre-recorded a unique instrumental track for the show. He didn't directly address whether Mars also recorded instrumental tracks for his appearance, though he said Mars was aware they did. A publicist for Mars did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.