- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Federal government acknowledges it could have done more on Ebola, steps up response to disease

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - The nation’s top-disease fighting agency acknowledged Tuesday that an American nurse might not have been infected with Ebola if a special response team had been sent to Dallas immediately after a Liberian man there was diagnosed with Ebola.

The stark admission from the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came as the World Health Organization projected the pace of infections accelerating in West Africa - to as many as 10,000 new cases a week within two months.

Agency Director Tom Frieden outlined a series of steps designed to stop the spread of the disease in the U.S., including increased training for health care workers and changes at the Texas hospital where the virus was diagnosed to minimize the risk of more infections.

The announcement of the effort came after top health officials repeatedly assured the public over the last two weeks that they were doing everything possible to control the outbreak by deploying infectious-disease specialists to the hospital where a Liberian man was diagnosed with Ebola and later died.

“I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the patient - the first patient - was diagnosed. That might have prevented this infection. But we will do that from today onward with any case anywhere in the U.S.,” Frieden said.

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Nurse infected with Ebola knew risks, tried to reassure family that she would be safe

DALLAS (AP) - A Texas nurse who contracted Ebola while caring for a Liberian man who later died of the disease understood the risks and tried to reassure her family that she would be safe, a family friend said.

When Nina Pham’s mother learned her daughter was caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, Pham told her: “Mom, no. Don’t worry about me,” Christina Tran told The Associated Press Monday at Our Lady of Fatima church in Fort Worth, where about 30 people gathered for the regular evening Mass and offered extra prayers for Pham.

But despite wearing protective gear that included gowns, gloves, masks and face shields while caring for Duncan, the 26-year-old nurse became the first person to contract the disease within the United States.

On Tuesday, Pham said through a statement released by Texas Presbyterian Hospital Dallas that she is “doing well,” and she thanked supporters for their kind wishes and prayers. It was her first statement since contracting the disease.

The hospital CEO issued a statement saying that the medical staff is “working tirelessly to help her in this courageous fight. The doctors and nurses involved with her treatment remain hopeful.”

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Turkish strikes on Kurds complicate US coalition efforts to defeat Islamic State militants

WASHINGTON (AP) - In a fresh test for U.S. coalition-building efforts, Turkey is launching airstrikes against Kurdish rebels inside its borders this week despite pleas from the Obama administration to instead focus on an international campaign to destroy Islamic State militants wreaking havoc in the region.

Media reports about the Turkish strikes surfaced Tuesday as President Barack Obama and military chiefs from more than 20 nations gathered in Washington in a show of unity against the Islamic State group.

“This is an operation that involves the world against ISIL,” Obama declared, referring to the militant group by one of its many names.

The Turkish airstrikes occurred Monday and marked the country’s first major strikes against Kurdish rebels on its own soil since peace talks began two years ago. The strikes came amid anger among the Kurds in Turkey, who accuse the government there of standing by while Syrian Kurds are being killed by Islamic State militants in the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani.

The Islamic State militants also have targeted Kurds in Iraq, who have to some extent been able to hold off their advances.

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Conservative Catholic bishops distance themselves from pro-gay, divorce document

VATICAN CITY (AP) - A fight for the soul of the Catholic Church has broken out, and the first battlefield is a document on family values that pits increasingly alarmed conservatives against more progressive bishops emboldened by Pope Francis’ vision of a church that is more merciful than moralistic.

On Tuesday, conservative bishops distanced themselves from the document’s unprecedented opening toward gays and divorced Catholics, calling it an “unacceptable” deviation from church teaching that doesn’t reflect their views and vowing to make changes to the final version.

The report, released midway through a Vatican meeting on such hot-button family issues as marriage, divorce, homosexuality and birth control, signaled a radical shift in tone about welcoming gays, divorced Catholics and unmarried couples into the church.

Its message was one of almost-revolutionary acceptance and understanding rather than condemnation. Gays, it said, had gifts to offer the church and their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided gay couples with “precious” support. The church, it added, must welcome divorced people and recognize the “positive” aspects of civil marriages and even Catholics who live together without being married.

The leaders of the bishops’ meeting, or synod, that produced it stressed Tuesday that it was merely a working paper and was never intended to be a statement of church doctrine, but rather a reflection of bishops’ views that will be debated and amended before a final version is released on Saturday.

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North Korean leader reappears in public after 40-day absence, but why the cane?

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - After vanishing from the public eye for nearly six weeks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is back, ending rumors that he was gravely ill, deposed or worse.

Now, a new, albeit smaller, mystery has emerged: Why the cane?

Kim, who was last seen publicly at a Sept. 3 concert, appeared in images released by state media Tuesday smiling broadly and supporting himself with a walking stick while touring the newly built Wisong Scientists Residential District and another new institute in Pyongyang, part of his regular “field guidance” tours. The North didn’t say when the visit happened, nor did it address the leader’s health.

Kim’s appearance allowed the country’s massive propaganda apparatus to continue doing what it does best - glorify the third generation of Kim family rule. And it will tamp down, at least for the moment, rampant rumors of a coup and serious health problems.

Before Tuesday, Kim missed several high-profile events that he normally attends and was described in an official documentary last month as experiencing “discomfort.”

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APNewsbreak: US agency OKs return of Harvard student who took dying mom to Mexico

LOS REYES LA PAZ, Mexico (AP) - Only hours after the publication of an Associated Press story on his case Tuesday, the U.S. government issued a humanitarian visa enabling the return of a Harvard University student who broke immigration rules by taking his dying mother to Mexico.

Dario Guerrero was born in Mexico and moved with his family to California when he was 2. The Obama administration granted him and hundreds of thousands of other young immigrants a reprieve from deportation two years ago.

But these people can’t leave the U.S. without government approval. And Guerrero’s mother was dying of cancer.

Desperate to save her, Guerrero took his mother to clinics in Mexico before getting that approval. She died there in August, and he’s been stuck since then. The government denied his initial request to return, saying he effectively deported himself by taking his mother across the border before the paperwork was done on his approval request.

Guerrero has been languishing since then at his grandparents’ home outside Mexico City, saying he’s hoping for another chance to return home to his family in California and complete his studies in Massachusetts.

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AP PHOTOS: Hundreds gather in Turkey to bury Kurdish women killed fighting militants

MURSITPINAR, Turkey (AP) - In the Turkish town of Suruc, across the border from the beleaguered Syrian town of Kobani, several hundred people gathered Tuesday at a cemetery to bury four female Kurdish fighters who died there fighting extremists from the Islamic State group.

Waving colorful Kurdish flags and with many wearing traditional headscarves, they chanted slogans in support of their brethren in Kobani, where Kurdish fighters are zealously defending the town.

The four coffins, draped in Kurdish flags and the flag of the main Kurdish militia fighting in Kobani - known as the YPG - were lowered into the ground as some people cried silently. Others wept more openly.

Many families came to pray for other fighters who were killed in previous days and have been buried at the same cemetery. They were seen sitting by the makeshift graves of their loved ones, crying. Some placed flowers on top of graves.

Here are a series of images by Associated Press photojournalist Lefteris Pitarakis of the funeral.

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Teeth-bleaching at Supreme Court: Can dentists make it so only they can offer popular service?

WASHINGTON (AP) - Teeth-bleaching isn’t brain surgery, although the Supreme Court seemed to find a link between the two in an antitrust case argued Tuesday.

Among the questions before the justices is whether it is unfair under federal law for a state regulatory board made up mostly of dentists to prevent lower-cost competitors who aren’t dentists from offering teeth-whitening services.

The outcome could turn on how the justices’ decision affects brain surgeons, lawyers and others whose practices often are regulated by other members of their professions.

The court’s consideration of the dispute between the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners and the Federal Trade Commission is being closely watched by the growing number of occupations that require licenses and state supervision, often in the form of boards made up of people in the same businesses and sometimes elected by their peers. The federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, sided with the FTC in ruling that the board engaged in unfair competition.

On Tuesday, several justices worried aloud about discouraging people from serving on these state boards by opening their decisions to second-guessing by the courts. Justice Stephen Breyer was among members of the court who wanted to be sure that, whatever the court decides, it does not take away authority from the people who know best.

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Hundreds of Hong Kong police move to clear pro-democracy protesters out of tunnel

HONG KONG (AP) - Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis.

Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass.

The operation came hours after a large group of protesters blockaded the tunnel, expanding their protest zone after being cleared out of some other streets.

The protesters outnumbered the police officers, who later returned with reinforcements to clear the area.

Local television broadcast live footage of the operation and its aftermath, with officers taking away many protesters, their hands tied with plastic cuffs, and pushing others out to a nearby park.

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Conservative faith groups to seek religious exemptions after courts recognize gay marriage

Alarmed by the broad expansion of same-sex marriage set in motion by the U.S. Supreme Court, religious conservatives are moving their fight to state legislatures - seeking exemptions that would allow some groups, companies and people with religious objections to refuse benefits or service for gay spouses.

But winning sweeping carve-outs for faith-affiliated adoption agencies or individual wedding vendors will be an uphill battle. Public attitudes against exceptions have hardened, and efforts by faith groups in states where courts, not lawmakers, recognized same-sex unions have had little success.

“When the judiciary does it they don’t do the kind of balancing that legislatures tend to do,” said Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, which has organized legislative caucuses focused on religious liberty in 20 states.

Every state legislative debate over gay marriage has addressed the question of whether religious objectors could be exempt in any way from recognizing same-sex unions. But in states where same-sex marriage became law through the courts, only one, Connecticut, followed up by enacting significant new exemptions. Massachusetts, Iowa and New Jersey have provided no opt-outs for gay marriage opponents.

Until recently, gay rights groups accepted some exceptions to pick up badly needed votes from conservative lawmakers. But that political pressure has dropped as acceptance of same-sex unions has grown. Gay advocates say broad carve-outs perpetuate the very discrimination they had been working to end.

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