Thursday, March 27, 2014

Published:

Australia says search area for Malaysian airliner has shifted because of 'new credible lead'

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- The search zone for the Malaysia airliner that crashed in the Indian Ocean nearly three weeks ago has shifted 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of where planes and ships had been looking for possible debris because of a "new credible lead," Australia said Friday.

The revised search area comes as the weather cleared enough Friday to allow planes to hunt for fresh clues to the fate of the plane carrying 239 people that went missing March 8.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the change came after updated the new information is based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost with the Boeing 777.

It said the analysis indicated the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel use and reducing the possible distance the aircraft could have flown into the Indian Ocean.

The new area is 319,000 square kilometers (123,000 square miles) and about 1,850 kilometers (1,250 miles) west of Perth, Australia, the launching area for the search. The pervious search area was more southwest and about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) from Perth.

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Air Force fires 9 commanders in nuke missile cheating scandal, dozens face disciplinary action

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Air Force took the extraordinary step Thursday of firing nine midlevel nuclear commanders and announcing it will discipline dozens of junior officers at a nuclear missile base, responding firmly to an exam-cheating scandal that spanned a far longer period than originally reported.

A 10th commander, the senior officer at the base, resigned and will retire from the Air Force.

Air Force officials called the discipline unprecedented in the history of America's intercontinental ballistic missile force. The Associated Press last year revealed a series of security and other problems in the ICBM force, including a failed safety and security inspection at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., where the cheating occurred.

In an emotion-charged resignation letter titled "A Lesson to Remember," Col. Robert Stanley, who commanded the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, lamented that the reputation of the ICBM mission was now "tarnished because of the extraordinarily selfish actions of officers entrusted with the most powerful weapon system ever devised by man."

Stanley, seen as a rising star in the Air Force, had been nominated for promotion to brigadier general just days before the cheating scandal came to light in January. Instead he is retiring, convinced, as he wrote in his farewell letter Thursday, that "we let the American people down on my watch."

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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. PINK SLIPS FOR MILITARY BRASS

The Air Force fires nine commanders at a Montana nuclear missile base in an exam-cheating scandal, and dozens of other officers face disciplinary action.

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Mission accomplished? Obama says more than 6M signed up for health care, meeting target

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Back on track after a stumbling start, President Barack Obama's heath care overhaul reached a milestone Thursday, with more than 6 million Americans signed up for coverage through new insurance markets.

The announcement -- four days before open enrollment season ends Monday -- fulfills a revised goal set by the Congressional Budget Office and embraced by the White House.

Like much else about Obama's health care law, it comes with a caveat: The administration has yet to announce how many consumers actually closed the deal by paying their first month's premium. Some independent estimates are that as many as 10 percent to 20 percent have not paid, which would bring the total enrollment to between 5 million and 6 million people.

The White House said the president made the announcement during an international conference call with enrollment counselors and volunteers, while traveling in Italy. Administration officials, focused on signing up even more people over the weekend, played down the occasion. Others said it was unmistakably a promising sign.

"I think the program is finally starting to hit its stride in terms of reaching the enrollment goals the administration set," said John Rother, CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, a nonpartisan coalition of businesses, health care industry groups and consumer organizations. "It still has a ways to go in terms of achieving public acceptance."

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Obama's meeting with Pope Francis: Common ground on inequality but divisions on social issues

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Face to face for the first time, President Barack Obama and Pope Francis focused publicly on their mutual respect and shared concern for the poor on Thursday. But their lengthy private discussion also highlighted the deep differences between the White House and the Catholic Church on abortion and birth control.

The gaps were evident in the differing accounts Obama and the Vatican gave of the meeting, with Obama stressing the two leaders' common ground on fighting inequality and poverty while Vatican officials emphasized the importance to the church of "rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection." That point by church officials referred to a major disagreement over a provision of Obama's health care law.

The meeting inside the grand headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church marked a symbolic high point of Obama's three-country visit to Europe. For a president whose approval ratings have slipped since winning re-election, it was also an opportunity to link himself to the hugely popular pope and his focus on fighting poverty.

"Those of us as politicians have the task of trying to come up with policies to address issues," Obama said following the meeting. "But His Holiness has the capacity to open people's eyes and make sure they're seeing that this is an issue."

The president said the plight of the poor and marginalized was a central topic in their talks, along with Middle East peace, conflicts in Syria and the treatment of Christians around the world. Social issues, he said, were not discussed in detail.

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Weary mudslide rescuers battle rain, exhaustion in quest to find bodies, maybe a miracle

DARRINGTON, Wash. (AP) -- Weary rescuers in hip waders pressed through rain and their own exhaustion Thursday, searching for more bodies and perhaps a miracle atop the pile of filth and debris that laid waste to a Washington town and killed at least 25 people.

Rescue and cadaver dogs occasionally led crews to a wrecked car or the ruins of a house containing a body. Teams then began removing the corpse, ignoring the muck that clogged their tools. As the victim was taken away, silence fell over the site.

The main goal now is to find more bodies and winnow the list of the 90 people who are still missing in the mudslide that buried the community of Oso on Saturday.

Authorities kept the official death toll at 16 while acknowledging at least nine additional bodies have been located, but they warned the community a higher toll would be announced Friday morning.

"I fully expect that number to go up here very, very soon," said Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots.

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Federal appeals court upholds tough Texas abortion restrictions that shuttered many clinics

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld Texas' tough abortion restrictions that have forced the closure of about 20 clinics around the state, saying the new rules don't jeopardize women's health.

A panel of judges at the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court judge who said the rules violate the U.S. Constitution and serve no medical purpose. After the lower court's ruling, the appeals court allowed the restrictions to go into effect while it considered the case, which ultimately could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The new law requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and places strict limits on doctors prescribing abortion-inducing pills. More regulations that are scheduled to begin later this year weren't a part of the case.

In its opinion, the appeals court said the law "on its face does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman."

Planned Parenthood, which sued to block the restrictions, called the ruling "terrible" and said that "safe and legal abortion will continue to be virtually impossible for thousands of Texas women to access."

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Despite ample warnings, candidates' gaffes are still caught on tape and sent to the world

WASHINGTON (AP) -- You might think this year's candidates had learned from Barack Obama's comments about bitter people who "cling to guns or religion." Or perhaps from Mitt Romney's apparent dismissal of the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes.

But despite ubiquitous cellphone cameras and Twitter accounts, politicians still make regrettable off-the-cuff remarks that find their way into hostile videos and campaign ads. The latest examples come from tightly contested Senate races, where a candidate's every sentence -- uttered in public or in supposedly private meetings -- is parsed for possible gaffes.

In Iowa, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley apologized after describing six-term GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley as "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law."

In New Hampshire, Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown seemed not to thoroughly think through his options when The Associated Press asked if he was the state's best choice, having just moved from Massachusetts.

"Do I have the best credentials?" Brown replied. "Probably not. 'Cause, you know, whatever."

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Judge who sentenced newlywed to 30 years says she showed no remorse in husband's death

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) -- A Montana woman was sentenced Thursday to more than 30 years in prison for killing her husband of eight days by pushing him from a cliff in Glacier National Park after they argued over her regrets about the marriage.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said he saw no remorse from Jordan Graham, 22, in the killing of Cody Johnson, 25. He sentenced her to 30 years and five months in prison and ordered her to pay $16,910 in restitution.

Graham will be subject to five years of court supervision upon her release. There is no possibility of parole in the federal system, meaning she's likely to serve the full term.

A tearful Graham took the stand during the sentencing hearing in Missoula, apologizing to her family and Johnson's.

But Molloy indicated he had continuing doubts about the Kalispell woman's honesty. The judge said he was waiting for Graham "to say she was sorry for killing Cody," KGVO-AM reported.

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AP Interview: Colter, at center of fight for a college union, says group knows what it's doing

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- Kain Colter is not completely sure what the landscape will one day look like if college athletes are allowed to unionize. He's just more convinced than ever that it's become necessary.

The former Northwestern quarterback, now essentially the face of the movement that could completely reshape college sports, said Thursday that a federal agency's decision to allow the Wildcats to form a union was an expected victory -- but also represents just the first step in what he knows will be a lengthy process.

"There's so many different components," Colter said in an interview with The Associated Press. "But what this does ... it ensures that players have a voice and whatever route this goes and whatever structure comes from college sports, we have input. We're out there sacrificing so much. We're a big part of what college sports is today and the revenue that's generated off of it. We deserve to have a say in that. We deserve a seat at the table."

A two-page online letter that he wrote might have made it all happen.

Colter, 21, wasn't the first to question why athletes feel like their rights in college are limited, but it was an online rant that he sent to the National College Players Association that started the roll of this now-enormous snowball. From that note, an idea was born, and the notion got legitimized Wednesday when a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board said Northwestern's players should be allowed to unionize.