- Associated Press - Sunday, January 26, 2014

Maryland mall gunman was an avid skater who had no criminal record prior to deadly attack

COLUMBIA, Md. (AP) - The gunman who killed two people at a Maryland mall was a teenage skateboarding enthusiast who had no criminal record before he showed up at the shopping center armed with a shotgun, plenty of ammunition and a backpack filled with crude homemade explosives, authorities said Sunday.

Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, took a taxi to the Mall in Columbia in suburban Baltimore on Saturday morning and entered the building near Zumiez, a shop that sells skateboarding gear. He went downstairs to a food court directly below the store, then returned less than an hour later, dumped the backpack in a dressing room and started shooting, police said.

Shoppers fled in a panic or barricaded themselves behind closed doors. When police arrived, they found three people dead - two store employees and Aguilar, who had killed himself, authorities said.

The shooting baffled investigators and acquaintances of Aguilar, a quiet, skinny teenager who graduated from high school less than a year ago and had no previous run-ins with law enforcement. Police spent Sunday trying to piece together his motive, but it remained elusive.

Aguilar, who had concealed the shotgun in a bag, fired six to nine times. One victim, Brianna Benlolo, a 21-year-old single mother, lived half a mile away from Aguilar in the same College Park neighborhood, but police said they were still trying to determine what, if any, relationship they had.

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Top White House advisers warn Congress that Obama could go around them if agenda stalls again

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama will work with Congress where he can and circumvent lawmakers where he must, his top advisers warned Sunday in previewing Tuesday’s State of the Union speech.

Obama faces a politically divided Congress on Tuesday and will use his annual address to demand expanded economic opportunity. Absent legislative action, the White House is telling lawmakers that the president is ready to take unilateral action to close the gap between rich and poor Americans.

“I think the way we have to think about this year is we have a divided government,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a longtime Obama adviser. “The Republican Congress is not going to rubber-stamp the president’s agenda. The president is not going to sign the Republican Congress‘ agenda.”

So the White House is eyeing compromise on some priorities, Obama advisers said. But the president is also looking at executive orders that can be enacted without Congress‘ approval.

“The president sees this as a year of action to work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

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SHOW BITS: Lights, camera, showtime!

Show Bits brings you Sunday’s 56th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles through the eyes of Associated Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

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FINAL GRAMMY PREP: LIGHTS AND RUN-THROUGHS

Inside the Staples Center, last-minute preparations were underway as the starting time for the live Grammys telecast approached.

For the opening act, dozens of lights were erected surrounding a single chair. On the other side of the stage, members of Black Sabbath ran through lines and practiced where to stand, as Sharon Osbourne, wife of lead vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, watched from the sidelines. Meanwhile, in the first few rows of the audience, those selected to occupy the mosh pit kept celebrities’ seats warm underneath strands of twinkling lights before being loaded into two pits directly in front of the stage.

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis win 4 Grammys, including best new artist and rap album

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are cleaning house at the Grammys.

The rap duo won best new artist at the Sunday awards show as well as best rap album for “The Heist,” beating efforts from Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z, Kanye West and Drake.

“Wow, we’re here on the stage right now,” said Macklemore, thanking fans first, then his fiance and team. “I want to say we made this album without a record label, we made it independently and we appreciate all the support.”

Beyonce kicked off the Grammy Awards with steamy and smoky performance of “Drunk In Love”: She started on a chair and then grinded in a revealing black outfit. Jay Z emerged in a fitted suit to rap his verse, and the couple held hands and danced together.

LL Cool J is hosting the 56th annual awards, airing live on CBS.

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Syria peace talks yield narrow deal on besieged city, government ‘red line’ on Assad

GENEVA (AP) - Two days of face-to-face peace talks yielded a narrow and tentative agreement Sunday for women and children trapped in a besieged Syrian city, and the government said President Bashar Assad had no intention of giving up “the keys to Damascus.”

With little progress to show after months of international pressure for the conference in Geneva, the U.N. mediator hoping to broker an end to Syria’s civil war defended their pace.

“I think being too slow is a better way than going too fast,” Lakhdar Brahimi said. “If you run, you may gain one hour and lose one week.”

The limited agreement to let women and children leave a blockaded part of the old city of Homs, under negotiation for at least two days, fell far short of expectations and was called into question by multiple reports of government shelling.

The talks have yet to touch upon the issue of a possible transitional government - their purpose according to terms laid out when they were first conceived. But the government was unequivocal that Assad’s future was assured in the country led by his family since 1970.

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Family of brain-dead, pregnant Texas woman says hospital has removed life support

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - A brain-dead, pregnant Texas woman’s body was removed from life support Sunday, as the hospital keeping her on machines against her family’s wishes acceded to a judge’s ruling that it was misapplying state law.

Marlise Munoz’s body soon will be buried by her husband and parents, after John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth announced it would not fight Judge R.H. Wallace Jr.’s Friday order to pronounce her dead and return her body to her family. The 23-week-old fetus she was carrying will not be born.

The hospital’s decision Sunday brings an apparent end to a case that became a touchstone for national debates about the beginning and end of life, and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus.

Munoz’s husband, Erick Munoz, sued the hospital because it would not remove life support as he said his wife would have wanted in such a situation. Erick and Marlise Munoz worked as paramedics and were familiar with end-of-life issues, and Erick said his wife had told him she would not want to be kept alive under such circumstances.

But the hospital refused his request, citing Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient, regardless of her end-of-life wishes.

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Health overhaul law gets tricky when kids might be eligible for Medicaid but parents are not

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Families shopping for health insurance through the new federal marketplace are running into trouble getting everyone covered when children are eligible for Medicaid but their parents are not.

Children who qualify for Medicaid, the safety-net program for the poor and disabled, can’t be included on subsidized family plans purchased through the federal marketplace, a fact that is taking many parents by surprise and leaving some kids stuck without coverage.

A California man says he was given false assurances that his children could be covered by the same plan he picked for his wife and himself, and a Florida father says his daughter is going without coverage while he waits for answers.

And in New Hampshire, some parents who’ve enrolled in private plans for themselves alone are finding out later that their children aren’t eligible for Medicaid after all, leaving their kids with no options.

“The children are getting stuck in this spot where we’ve enrolled the parent, but we can’t bring the children back on the family plan,” Maria Proulx, senior legal counsel for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Hampshire, told a state advisory board panel this month.

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As US wages stagnate, food stamp use growing fastest among workers with some college training

WASHINGTON (AP) - In a first, working-age people now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps - a switch from a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients.

Some of the change is due to demographics, such as the trend toward having fewer children. But a slow economic recovery with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs also plays a big role. It suggests that government spending on the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program - twice what it cost five years ago - may not subside significantly anytime soon.

Food stamp participation since 1980 has grown the fastest among workers with some college training, a sign that the safety net has stretched further to cover America’s former middle class, according to an analysis of government data for The Associated Press by economists at the University of Kentucky. Formally called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP, the program now covers 1 in 7 Americans.

The findings coincide with the latest economic data showing workers’ wages and salaries growing at the lowest rate relative to corporate profits in U.S. history.

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night is expected to focus in part on reducing income inequality, such as by raising the federal minimum wage. Congress, meanwhile, is debating cuts to food stamps, with Republicans including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wanting a $4 billion-a-year reduction to an anti-poverty program that they say promotes dependency and abuse.

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Brutal cold returns to Midwest for extended stay as weather pattern locked into deep freeze

CHICAGO (AP) - A persistent weather pattern driving bitterly cold air south out of the Arctic will cause temperatures from Minnesota to Kentucky to plummet Monday, turning this winter into one of the coldest on record in some areas.

For about 2½ days, actual temperatures will range from the teens to below zero, and the wind chills with be even colder, minus 43 in Minneapolis, minus 23 in Milwaukee and Chicago, minus 14 in Kansas City, Mo., and minus 3 in Louisville.

In fact, the National Weather Service says most of the Midwest will feel far colder than Monday’s expected high in the nation’s northernmost city, Barrow, Alaska - minus 4.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Scott Blair stopped short of calling the latest round of cold part of the polar vortex, which are winds that circulate around the North Pole.

“There’s really nothing abnormal about the air that’s coming into the area,” he said. “It’s just been a very persistent pattern” of cold air.

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HEALTHBEAT: NIH docs squirt flu virus up the noses of volunteers willing to sneeze for science

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) - Forget being sneezed on: Government scientists are deliberately giving dozens of volunteers the flu by squirting the live virus straight up their noses.

It may sound bizarre, but the rare type of research is a step in the quest for better flu vaccines. It turns out that how the body fends off influenza remains something of a mystery.

“Vaccines are working, but we could do better,” said Dr. Matthew Memoli of the National Institutes of Health, who is leading the study that aims to infect up to 100 adults over the next year.

Wait a minute: Flu is sweeping the country, so why not just study the already sick? That wouldn’t let scientists measure how the immune system reacts through each step of infection, starting with that first exposure to the virus.

It’s not an experiment to be taken lightly. After all, the flu kills thousands of Americans a year. For safety, Memoli chose a dose that produces mild to moderate symptoms - and accepts only volunteers who are healthy and no older than 50.

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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