Thursday, February 13, 2014

Published:

Judge declares ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia unconstitutional

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- A federal judge has ruled that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen's decision Thursday makes Virginia the second state in the South to issue a ruling recognizing the legality of gay marriages.

A judge in Kentucky ruled Wednesday that the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. It did not rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriages inside the state, however. The Virginia judge's ruling also follows similar decisions in Utah and Oklahoma federal courts.

Wright stayed her decision until an appeals court rules, meaning that gay couples will not be able to marry in the state immediately.

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'Snow is a four-letter word': Northeast hit with another storm; South still reeling from ice

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Yet another storm paralyzed the Northeast with heavy snow and sleet Thursday, giving the winter-weary that oh-no-not-again feeling, while hundreds of thousands across the ice-encrusted South waited in the cold for the electricity to come back on.

At least 21 deaths were blamed on the treacherous weather, including that of a pregnant woman struck by a mini-snowplow in a New York City parking lot as she loaded groceries into her car.

The sloppy mix of snow and face-stinging sleet grounded more than 6,500 flights and closed schools and businesses as it made its way up the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor, where shoveling out has become a weekly -- sometimes twice-weekly -- chore.

"Snow has become a four-letter word," lamented Tom McGarrigle, a politician in suburban Philadelphia.

About 1.2 million homes and businesses lost power as the storm moved from the South through the Northeast. By Thursday evening, about 550,000 customers remained in the dark, mostly in South Carolina and Georgia.

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Comcast deal to buy Time Warner Cable poses quandary for regulators, questions for consumers

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- With a single behemoth purchase, Comcast is creating a dominant force in American entertainment and presenting federal regulators with an equally outsized quandary: How should they handle a conglomerate that promises to improve cable TV and Internet service to millions of homes but also consolidates unprecedented control of what viewers watch and download?

Comcast, which was already the nation's No. 1 pay TV and Internet provider, says its $45.2 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable will provide faster, more reliable service to more customers and save money on TV programming costs. If the acquisition is approved, Comcast will serve some 30 million pay TV customers and 32 million Internet subscribers.

But industry watchdogs say the deal will give the company too much power and ultimately raise the price of high-speed connections.

"How much power over content do we want a single company to have?" said Bert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, a Washington-based consumer-interest group.

The all-stock deal approved by the boards of both companies trumps a proposal from Charter Communications to buy Time Warner Cable for about $38 billion. It also represents another giant expansion following Comcast's $30 billion purchase of NBCUniversal, operator of networks like NBC, Bravo and USA, which was completed last March.

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10 Things to Know for Friday

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

1. 'OH, NOT AGAIN': NORTHEAST SLAMMED BY ANOTHER STORM

At least 20 people killed, including a pregnant New York City woman hit by a snow plow while loading groceries into her car.

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Male, female or custom? Facebook adds options for users to self-identify

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) -- You don't have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant has added a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them.

Facebook said the changes, shared with The Associated Press before the launch on Thursday, initially cover the company's 159 million monthly users in the U.S. and are aimed at giving people more choices in how they describe themselves, such as androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual.

"There's going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world," said Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, who worked on the project and is herself undergoing gender transformation, from male to female. On Thursday, while watchdogging the software for any problems, she said she was also changing her Facebook identity from Female to TransWoman.

"All too often transgender people like myself and other gender nonconforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it's kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are," she said. "This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is."

Facebook, which has 1.23 billion active monthly users around the world, also allows them to keep their gender identity private and will continue to do so.

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Suspense in Senate: Debt vote shrouded in secrecy to limit financial and political fallout

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Financial markets were watching, the retirement accounts of millions of Americans on the line.

Nervous senators were watching too, well aware that political fortunes could be on the line.

So on perhaps the most important vote of the year, the Senate did something extraordinary this week: It tried to keep the vote tally secret until the outcome was assured.

As lawmakers voted Wednesday on must-pass legislation to increase the government's debt limit, they dropped the parliamentary equivalent of a curtain on the voting as it was in progress.

Typically, roll-call votes in the Senate play out in a very public manner. People watching from the galleries or tracking action from afar via C-SPAN can watch democracy unfold in all its messy wonder.

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Del. doctor convicted of waterboarding companion's daughter, holding girl's head under faucet

GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) -- A pediatrician known for his research on paranormal science and near-death experiences with children was convicted Thursday of waterboarding the daughter of his longtime companion by holding her head under a faucet.

The jury deliberated for about six hours before returning its verdict against Melvin Morse, 60.

Morse was charged with three felonies -- two for alleged waterboarding and one for alleged suffocation by hand. He was convicted of one felony -- waterboarding in the bathtub -- and five misdemeanors. Jurors reduced the second waterboarding charge to a misdemeanor and acquitted Morse of the suffocation charge.

Morse showed no reaction as the verdict was read. He was ordered to surrender his passport and will remain out on bail until his sentencing, set for April 11.

Morse faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, but a lesser punishment is likely under state sentencing guidelines. Each misdemeanor carries a maximum of one year in prison but typically results in probation. The felony reckless endangerment conviction for waterboarding carries a maximum of five years in prison but a presumptive sentence of 15 months.

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Egypt: archeologists find 3,600-year-old mummy; 3 Germans tried for antiquities smuggling

CAIRO (AP) -- Spanish archeologists have unearthed a 3,600-year-old mummy in the ancient city of Luxor, Egypt's Antiquities Minister said Thursday. Prosecutors accused nine people including three Germans of smuggling stone samples from pyramids.

In a statement, Mohammed Ibrahim said the rare find in a preserved wooden sarcophagus dates back to 1600 BC, when the Pharaonic 17th Dynasty reigned.

He said the mummy appears to belong to a high official. The sarcophagus is engraved with hieroglyphs and decorated with inscriptions of birds' feathers.

The exact identity of the well-preserved mummy will now be studied, Ibrahim said, adding that it was discovered by a Spanish mission in collaboration with the Egyptian antiquities ministry.

Antiquities department head Ali Al-Asfar said the two-meter sarcophagus still bears its original coloring and writings.

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HEALTHBEAT: Research shows talking to babies early really matters, and long sentences are fine

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The sooner you start explaining the world to your baby, the better.

That doesn't mean flash cards for tots, or merely pointing out objects: "Here's an orange. That's a bowl."

New research shows that both how much and how well parents talk with babies and toddlers help to tune the youngsters' brains in ways that build crucial language and vocabulary skills -- a key to fighting the infamous "word gap" that puts poor children at a disadvantage at an even younger age than once thought.

The idea is to connect words and meaning, so the brain becomes primed to learn through context: "Let's put the orange in this bowl with the banana and the apple and the grapes."

"You're building intelligence through language," is how Stanford University psychology professor Anne Fernald explains it. "It's making nets of meaning that then will help the child learn new words."

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Ralph Waite, the rock-solid father of TV's family drama 'The Waltons,' dies at 85

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Ralph Waite, who played the kind patriarch of a tight-knit rural Southern family on the TV series "The Waltons," has died, his manager said Thursday. He was 85.

Waite, who lived in the Palm Springs area, died midday Thursday, said his manager, Alan Mills.

Mills did not know the cause of death. He said he was taken aback because Waite had been in good health and still working. He appeared last year in episodes of the series "NCIS," ''Bones" and "Days of Our Lives."

"He was a wonderful guy," Mills said. "He was always kind, always generous, and a joy to work with."

"The Waltons," which aired on CBS from 1972 to 1981, starred Waite as Ralph Walton, and Richard Thomas played his oldest son, John-Boy, an aspiring novelist. The gentle family drama was set in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia.