Russian moves raise specter of wider confrontation; new Ukraine leaders vow to prevent breakup
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) - Masked gunmen stormed parliament in Ukraine's strategic Crimea region Thursday as Russian fighter jets scrambled to patrol borders, the stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.
While a newly formed government led by a pro-Western technocrat in Kiev pledged to prevent any national breakup, there were mixed signals in Moscow: Russia granted shelter to Ukraine's fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, while pledging to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity.
Yanukovych was said to be holed up in a luxury government retreat and to have scheduled a news conference Friday near the Ukrainian border.
As gunmen wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms erected a sign reading "Crimea is Russia" in the provincial capital, Ukraine's interim prime minister declared the Black Sea territory "has been and will be a part of Ukraine."
The escalating conflict sent Ukraine's finances plummeting further, prompting Western leaders to prepare an emergency financial package.
GOP derails Senate Dems' bill boosting vets benefits amid disputes over spending, Iran
WASHINGTON (AP) - A divided Senate on Thursday derailed Democratic legislation that would have provided $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation's veterans. The bill fell victim to election-year disputes over spending and fresh penalties against Iran.
Each party covets the allegiance of the country's 22 million veterans and their families, and each party blamed the other for turning the effort into a chess match aimed at forcing politically embarrassing votes.
Republicans used a procedural move to block the bill after Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chided GOP lawmakers about their priorities.
"I personally, I have to say this honestly, have a hard time understanding how anyone could vote for tax breaks for billionaires, for millionaires, for large corporations and then say we don't have the resources to protect our veterans," said Sanders, the measure's chief author.
Democrats noted that more than two dozen veterans groups supported the legislation. But Republicans said they still favor helping veterans while also wanting to be prudent about federal spending.
Sen. Cruz blasts GOP leaders, refuses to endorse fellow Texan or others with party challengers
WASHINGTON (AP) - The sniping between establishment Republicans and tea partyers resumed Thursday as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz refused to endorse his state's senior senator in next week's Republican primary.
Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate's second-ranking Republican leader, faces tea party-backed Rep. Steve Stockman in Tuesday's election. Cruz declined to tell reporters how he plans to vote.
"I am not supporting any of the senators from my party or their opponents" in this year's primaries, Cruz said, adding that he might change his mind later.
Cruz, a tea party favorite and potential 2016 presidential candidate, has infuriated fellow Republicans by forcing uncomfortable votes on issues such as the debt, and by raising money for conservative groups trying to defeat veteran Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Cruz's comments are especially notable because he is a vice chairman of the GOP committee tasked with winning Senate elections. He criticized the committee's track record and policy of virtually always backing incumbents.
Obama unveils plans to put young, minority boys on path to success; he vows lifelong effort
WASHINGTON (AP) - In strong, often personal terms, President Barack Obama on Thursday called for vigorous efforts to reverse underachievement among young black and Hispanic males. He also cautioned young minority men not to repeat his own youthful mistakes in an unforgiving world.
The president kicked off his "My Brother's Keeper" initiative from the White House East Room, appearing on stage with teenagers involved in the Becoming a Man program for at-risk boys in his hometown of Chicago.
The aim is to "start a different cycle," Obama said. "If we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens, then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren."
The president said he, too, could have been a negative statistic, because of his own unfocused anger over having no father at home.
"I made bad choices. I got high, not always thinking about the harm it could do. I didn't always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short," Obama said.
AP Exclusive: Airport phone system didn't give location of Los Angeles airport shooting
LOS ANGELES (AP) - A dispatcher at Los Angeles International Airport couldn't immediately send police to a shooting last year because the emergency phone system didn't provide a location, according to an investigation that also found broken panic buttons that are supposed to quickly call for help.
A screening supervisor picked up the "red phone" seconds after shots were fired in the sprawling airport's Terminal 3 last Nov. 1, but she fled as the gunman approached with his high-powered rifle. Because no one was on the other end of the line to provide details and no location information was included with the call, the dispatcher was helpless, according to two officials briefed on preliminary findings of a review of the emergency response.
They spoke only on condition of anonymity because the final report won't be released until next month.
One of the officials likened the situation to a 911 call with police not knowing what address to go to. Airport dispatchers knew something was wrong but didn't know where to send help because the system didn't identify the locations of its emergency phones.
An airline contractor working in the terminal called dispatch directly from his cellphone and provided the location. Officers were sent nearly 90 seconds after the shooting started.
Democrats look to make GOP split over Arizona bill a midterm election campaign issue
PHOENIX (AP) - Gov. Jan Brewer's veto of a bill allowing businesses to refuse service to gays exposed a fracture within the Republican Party between social conservatives and the GOP's pro-business wing, a split that Democrats hope to turn into a midterm election campaign issue.
The Republican governor has made job creation and business expansion the centerpiece of her administration, and she was more than willing to disregard the wishes of social conservatives amid protests from major corporations such as American Airlines and Apple Inc. As a result, the GOP base was left dispirited, and opponents of gay marriage are struggling to find their footing after significant losses in the courts and statehouses.
"It's leading people to say: 'We're not sure where the Republican party is on something as basic as economic freedom,'" said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action, a conservative group in Washington, D.C., that argued the proposal was aimed simply at allowing people to run businesses as they saw fit. "There certainly is a risk, especially as you head into the midterm elections, when the turnout of your base is essential."
Brewer vetoed the measure Wednesday night after Republicans ranging from Mitt Romney to her state's two U.S. Senators urged her to reject the measure, which emerged from the GOP-controlled state Legislature. The bill was designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays or others who offend their beliefs. Opponents called it an open attack on gays that invited discrimination.
Gay marriage is increasingly popular nationwide, and the Democratic Party already has been claiming that measures like the Arizona bill are a throwback to pre-civil rights era Jim Crow laws.
Maronite Catholic Church in US to ordain its 1st married priest in nearly a century
ST. LOUIS (AP) - When Deacon Wissam Akiki is ordained as a Maronite Catholic priest Thursday night in St. Louis, he's expected to have hundreds of supporters there for him, including his wife and daughter.
For the first time in nearly a century, the Maronite Catholic Church in the United States is ordaining a married priest in a ceremony at the ornate St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral near downtown St. Louis.
Akiki was in retreat before Thursday's ceremony and unavailable for an interview.
Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and Europe ordain married men. However, the Vatican banned the practice in America in the 1920s after Latin-rite bishops complained it was confusing for parishioners. But Pope John Paul II called for greater acceptance of Eastern Catholic traditions. And over the years, popes have made exceptions on a case-by-case basis for married men to become Eastern Catholic priests in America.
"Almost half of our priests in Lebanon are married, so it's not an unusual event in the life of the Maronite Church, though in the United States it is," Deacon Louis Peters, chancellor at St. Raymond's, said Thursday.
Mormon church: Members not taught they'll get planet in afterlife, as told in 'Book of Mormon'
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The Mormon Church is pushing back against the notion that members of the faith are taught they'll get their own planet in the afterlife, a misconception popularized in pop culture most recently by the Broadway show "The Book of Mormon."
A newly posted article affirms the faith's belief that humans can become like God in eternity, but says the "cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets" is not how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints envision it.
"While few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities," the article says.
The expectation of exaltation is more figurative and ambiguous than boiling it down to living on one planet, it says.
"Church members imagine exaltation less through images of what they will get and more through the relationships they have now and how those relationships might be purified and elevated," the article says.
Creation Museum founder: Bill Nye debate emboldened supporters to get ark project funded
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The founder of a Bible-themed museum who recently debated evolution with TV's "Science Guy" Bill Nye says the widely watched event helped to boost enthusiasm among followers who invested in a project to build a 510-foot Noah's Ark.
Creation Museum founder Ken Ham said Thursday that a $62 million municipal bond offering has raised enough money to begin construction on the wooden ark, estimated to cost about $73 million. Groundbreaking is planned for May and the ark is expected to be finished by the summer of 2016.
"It did help," Ham said of the Feb. 4 debate with Nye. "We obviously had a big spurt toward the end (of the bond deadline), and I think it was people who were involved in this, who really decided they were going to do something."
Ham said he could not go into details about the bond investors. He said he was grateful to "our generous supporters around the country."
Reached by phone Thursday, Nye said he was disappointed the project would go forward and said he hoped it "goes out of business."
Teen survives rare cancer and then wants to study it, helping scientists find a gene mutation
WASHINGTON (AP) - First the teenager survived a rare cancer. Then she wanted to study it, spurring a study that helped scientists find a weird gene flaw that might play a role in how the tumor strikes.
Age 18 is pretty young to be listed as an author of a study in the prestigious journal Science. But the industrious high school student's efforts are bringing new attention to this mysterious disease.
"It's crazy that I've been able to do this," said Elana Simon of New York City, describing her idea to study the extremely rare form of liver cancer that mostly hits adolescents and young adults.
Making that idea work required a lot of help from real scientists: Her father, who runs a cellular biophysics lab at the Rockefeller University; her surgeon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; and gene specialists at the New York Genome Center. A second survivor of this cancer, who the journal said didn't want to be identified, also co-authored the study.
Together, the team reported Thursday that they uncovered an oddity: A break in genetic material that left the "head" of one gene fused to the "body" of another. That results in an abnormal protein that forms inside the tumors but not in normal liver tissue, suggesting it might fuel cancer growth, the researchers wrote. They've found the evidence in all 15 of the tumors tested so far.