Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Published:

Arizona governor vetoes bill allowing religious reasons for refusing service to gays

PHOENIX (AP) -- Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday vetoed a Republican bill that set off a national debate over gay rights, religion and discrimination and subjected Arizona to blistering criticism from major corporations and political leaders from both parties.

Loud cheers erupted outside the Capitol building immediately after Brewer made her announcement.

"My agenda is to sign into law legislation that advances Arizona," Brewer said at a news conference. "I call them like I see them despite the cheers or the boos from the crowd. After weighing all the arguments, I have vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago."

The Republican governor said she gave the legislation careful deliberation in talking to her lawyers, citizens, businesses and lawmakers on both sides of the debate. Her office said it received more than 40,000 calls and emails on the legislation, with most of them urging a veto.

Brewer said the bill "could divide Arizona in ways we could not even imagine and no one would ever want." The bill was broadly worded and could result in unintended negative consequences, she added.

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Heroin overdose antidote promises fewer deaths but raises questions over who should carry it

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) -- As deaths from heroin and powerful painkillers skyrocket nationwide, governments and clinics are working to put a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose into the hands of more paramedics, police officers and the people advocates say are the most critical group -- people who abuse drugs, and their friends and families.

Supporters say the opportunity to save potentially thousands of lives outweighs any fears by critics that the promise of a nearby antidote would only encourage drug abuse.

At least 17 states and the District of Columbia allow naloxone -- commonly known by the brand name Narcan -- to be distributed to the public, said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, a national nonprofit that focuses on preventive health care. And at least 10 of those states allow for third parties, such as a family member or friend of an intravenous drug user, to be prescribed it.

Among them is New Jersey, which passed a law last year that allows members of the public to carry naloxone -- administered through a nasal spray or injection into a muscle -- after getting training.

About 20 people, most of them related to overdose victims or people who currently abuse heroin, crowded into a clinic last weekend in Camden, a drug-plagued city across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, to learn about the antidote. Jane Stiuv, whose daughter survived a heroin overdose in 2011, listened as a nurse described the signs of an overdose and when to administer naloxone.

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

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

1. KERRY ISSUES BLUNT WARNING TO RUSSIA ON UKRAINE

The U.S. tells Moscow that any military operation in its neighbor would be a "grave mistake."

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Russia orders war games in show of force over Ukraine, US warns against intervention

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia ordered 150,000 troops to test their combat readiness Wednesday in a show of force that prompted a blunt warning from the United States that any military intervention in Ukraine would be a "grave mistake."

Vladimir Putin's announcement of huge new war games came as Ukraine's protest leaders named a millionaire former banker to head a new government after the pro-Russian president went into hiding.

The new government, which is expected to be formally approved by parliament Thursday, will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. Its fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the capital last week.

In Kiev's Independence Square, the heart of the protest movement against Yanukovych, the interim leaders who seized control after he disappeared proposed Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the country's new prime minister. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S.

Across Ukraine, the divided allegiances between Russia and the West were on full display as fistfights broke out between pro- and anti-Russia protesters in the strategic Crimea peninsula.

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US Joint Chiefs chairman Dempsey sees grim future for Afghanistan without US security pact

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) -- Depicting a grim future for Afghanistan without U.S. help, the top U.S. military officer said Wednesday that Afghanistan's refusal to sign a security agreement with the United States may make the fight more difficult this year, embolden the enemy and prompt some Afghan security forces to cooperate with the Taliban to "hedge their bets."

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent the day with his commanders and troops in Afghanistan working to manage the after-effects of President Barack Obama's order Tuesday to begin actively planning for a total withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of the year. In back-to-back meetings, he urged them to focus on the considerable military work they have to do and not worry about next year.

Dempsey told The Associated Press in an interview that the possible exit of all U.S. troops was making Afghan military leaders anxious and eating away at their troops' confidence. He said he spoke with some Afghan leaders after the Tuesday announcement, and they asked him to stay committed to an enduring U.S. presence, and told him they were doing all they could to get the agreement signed.

Frustrated with Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, Obama ordered the Pentagon to accelerate planning for a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of this year. But Obama is also holding out hope that Afghanistan's next president, to be elected this spring, may eventually sign a stalled security agreement that could prevent the U.S. from having to take that step.

The administration would like to leave up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after combat operations end on Dec. 31 to continue training Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism missions. But without the agreement that would give international forces legal standing to stay in Afghanistan, Obama has threatened to pull all troops out, and NATO forces would follow suit.

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GOP tax plan repeals popular deduction for state and local taxes in exchange for lower rates

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A sweeping House Republican plan to overhaul the nation's tax laws would wipe out a slew of popular tax breaks to help pay for lower overall tax rates, a politically risky move in an election year that drew quick opposition Wednesday.

The plan would repeal deductions for state and local taxes, medical expenses and moving expenses. Tax credits for child care, adoption services and energy-efficient upgrades to homes would be gone.

The mortgage interest deduction would be reduced for people buying houses costing more than $500,000. The deduction for charitable giving would be limited to contributions that exceed 2 percent of a taxpayer's income.

In exchange, income tax rates would be cut and the standard deduction, which is used by most taxpayers, would be nearly doubled. The child tax credit would be increased and a complicated series of tax breaks for education expenses would be consolidated and simplified.

The plan would mark the first overhaul of the tax code since 1986. It borrows ideas from President Barack Obama and other Democrats. But here's a reality check: It has almost no chance of becoming law this year. Even House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, distanced himself from the details Wednesday.

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Texas is latest, largest conservative state to have gay marriage struck down by federal judge

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A federal judge declared a same-sex marriage ban in deeply conservative Texas unconstitutional on Wednesday, but will allow the nation's second-most populous state to enforce the law pending an appeal that will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Orlando Garcia issued the preliminary injunction after two gay couples challenged a state constitutional amendment and a longstanding law. His ruling is the latest in a tangled web of lawsuits across the country expected to end up in the Supreme Court next year.

"Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution," Garcia wrote. "These Texas laws deny Plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex."

Garcia said the couples are likely to win their case and the ban should be lifted, but said he would not enforce his ruling pending one by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which already is hearing two other states' cases. He also will give Texas time to appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Garcia, appointed by President Bill Clinton, is the first judge in the conservative 5th Circuit to reach such a decision. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who also is the leading Republican candidate to succeed Gov. Rick Perry, promised to appeal the decision to the New Orleans court.

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Death of snake-handling Kentucky pastor doesn't shake faith of fellow believers

Three days after pastor Jamie Coots died from a rattlesnake bite at church, mourners leaving the funeral went to the church to handle snakes.

Coots, who appeared on the National Geographic Channel's "Snake Salvation," pastored the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church founded by his grandfather in Middlesboro, Ky. The third-generation snake handler was bitten during a service on Feb. 15 and died later at his home after refusing medical help. Now his adult son, Cody Coots, is taking over the family church where snakes are frequently part of services.

"People think they will stop handling snakes because someone got bit, but it's just the opposite," said Ralph Hood, a professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, who has been studying snake handlers for decades. "It reaffirms their faith."

The practice of snake handling in the United States was first documented in the mountains of East Tennessee in the early 20th Century, according to Paul Williamson, a professor of psychology at Henderson State University who, along with Hood, co-wrote a book about snake handlers called, "Them That Believe." In the 1940s and 1950s, many states made snake-handling illegal (it's currently illegal in Kentucky), but the practice has continued, and often law enforcement simply looks the other way.

The basis for the practice is a passage in the Gospel of Mark. In the King James Version of the Bible, Mark 16:17-18 reads: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."

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Older fathers linked with many psychiatric troubles in kids in big study but more proof needed

CHICAGO (AP) -- Older fathers may face higher risks than previously thought for having children with psychiatric problems, including bipolar disorder, autism and attention deficits, according to the largest study to examine the potential links.

American and Swedish researchers examined data on more than 2.6 million Swedes born from 1973-2001. Men who fathered kids after age 24 faced increasing odds for having children with psychiatric problems or academic difficulties, with the greatest risks seen at age 45 and older.

The results add to evidence challenging the notion that men's sperm are timeless, but this kind of research isn't proof. And by no means are children of older dads certain to have problems. Absolute risks were small -- less than 1 percent of kids of older dads had autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder or bipolar disorder; and less than 4 percent had schizophrenia or fell victim to substance abuse or attempted suicide.

Academic difficulties were more common but still didn't affect most kids of older dads.

Even so, the magnitude of increased risks faced by kids born to dads aged 45 and older versus dads aged 20 to 24 was surprising, said lead author Brian D'Onofrio, an associate professor in the psychological and brain sciences department at Indiana University.

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NASA's planet-hunting telescope strikes it big, finds 715 new planets outside solar system

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Our galaxy is looking far more crowded and hospitable. NASA on Wednesday confirmed a bonanza of 715 newly discovered planets outside our solar system.

Scientists using the planet-hunting Kepler telescope pushed the number of planets discovered in the galaxy to about 1,700. Twenty years ago, astronomers had not found any planets circling stars other than the ones revolving around our sun.

"We almost doubled just today the number of planets known to humanity," NASA planetary scientist Jack Lissauer said in a Wednesday teleconference, calling it "the big mother lode."

Astronomers used a new confirmation technique to come up with the largest single announcement of a batch of exoplanets -- what planets outside our solar system are called.

While Wednesday's announcements were about big numbers, they also were about implications for life behind those big numbers.