Friday, February 3, 2012

Published:

White House, religious groups in fight over doctrine, religious freedom and contraception

The Obama administration's decision requiring church-affiliated employers to cover birth control was bound to cause an uproar among Roman Catholics and members of other faiths, no matter their beliefs on contraception.

The regulation, finalized a week ago, raises a complex and sensitive legal question: Which institutions qualify as religious and can be exempt from the mandate?

For a church, mosque or synagogue, the answer is mostly straightforward. But for the massive network of religious-run social service agencies there is no simple solution. Federal law lays out several criteria for the government to determine which are religious. But in the case of the contraception mandate, critics say Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius chose the narrowest ones. Religious groups that oppose the regulation say it forces people of faith to choose between upholding church doctrine and serving the broader society.

"It's not about preventing women from buying anything themselves, but telling the church what it has to buy, and the potential for that to go further," said Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, representing some 600 hospitals.

Keehan's support for the passage of the Obama health care overhaul was critical in the face of intense opposition by the U.S. bishops. She now says the narrowness of the religious exemption in the birth control mandate "has jolted us." She pledged to use a one-year grace period the administration has provided to "pursue a correction."

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Supporters rally around Planned Parenthood after Komen decides to cut breast screening grants

NEW YORK (AP) -- Supporters are rallying around Planned Parenthood after renowned breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure decided to cut breast screening grants to the reproductive health organization.

Besides $400,000 in smaller donations from 6,000 people, Planned Parenthood is receiving $250,000 from a family foundation in Dallas and a $250,000 pledge announced Thursday by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to match future donations.

In Washington, 26 U.S. senators -- all Democrats except for independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- signed a letter calling on Komen to reconsider its decision.

"It would be tragic if any woman -- let alone thousands of women -- lost access to these potentially lifesaving screenings because of a politically motivated attack," the senators wrote.

According to Planned Parenthood, its health centers performed more than 4 million breast exams over the past five years, including nearly 170,000 as a result of Komen grants.

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Economists expect 7th straight month of solid hiring; unemployment rate likely unchanged

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The economy likely produced another solid month of hiring in January, a promising start for 2012.

Economists forecast that employers added a net 155,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate remained 8.5 percent for a second straight month, according to a survey by Factset.

The unemployment rate has fallen for four straight months. It's at its lowest level in nearly three years.

A gain of 155,000 jobs would be down slightly from December, when employers added a net 200,000. Still, it would mark the seventh straight month in which at least 100,000 jobs have been added. That hasn't happened since 2005.

On Friday, the government will also issue its annual revisions to earlier jobs figures. The revisions are expected to show that hiring was stronger over the past two years than previously thought. The government has said the economy added about 1.6 million jobs last year, nearly twice as many as in 2010.

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House ready to consider Senate-passed ban on insider trading by lawmakers, administration

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With members of Congress convinced their political survival depends on their image, the House is wasting no time in considering a Senate-passed bill that would ban insider trading by lawmakers and thousands of executive branch officials. Stock trades would have to be posted online within 30 days.

The Senate showed a rare display of bipartisanship Thursday to pass the bill 96-3, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said it would be before the House next week. President Barack Obama repeated a pledge to sign it immediately.

"With approval ratings of Congress at an all-time low, this bill represents an opportunity to build some trust with the American people," said Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., a chief sponsor of the bill. "The truth is, members of Congress have access to all kinds of sensitive information, and it has to be clear that the information is being used to serve our country, not to make a personal profit."

Congress' approval ratings have been in the teens lately.

Cantor said, "Insider trading at any level of the federal government is unacceptable. We will quickly review the entire bill and the amendments that were added ... to ensure that public servants, whether in the legislative or executive branch, do not personally profit from insider information.

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APNewsBreak: Filipino troops still search for most-wanted terrorist reported dead in airstrike

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- The remains of a top leader of the regional Jemaah Islamiyah terror network have not been found, the Philippine military said Friday, a day after announcing that he had been killed in a U.S.-backed airstrike.

Troops on the ground were still combing the jungle camp that was hit Thursday for the body of Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, said regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang.

Military officials said at least 15 people were killed in the dawn strike on a militant camp on remote southern Jolo Island, including two other high-level leaders. A military spokesman in Manila, Col. Marcelo Burgos, initially reported that Marwan was among them.

Marwan's death would mark a major success in disrupting a militant network blamed for some of the most spectacular bombing attacks in Southeast Asia in recent years. But if the initial report proves incorrect, it would turn a largely successful strike into at least a partial embarrassment for the Philippine military, while burnishing the reputation of the elusive terrorist.

The U.S. has offered a $5 million reward for the capture of Marwan, a U.S.-trained engineer accused of involvement in deadly bombings in the Philippines and in training militants.

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Namaste, travelers! San Francisco International Airport opens yoga room for flying yogis

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Stressed out by flying?

Travelers in Northern California can now find their inner calm in the Yoga Room at San Francisco International Airport.

The quiet, dimly lit studio officially opened last week in a former storage room just past the security checkpoint at SFO's Terminal 2.

Airport officials believe the 150-square-foot (14-square-meter) room with mirrored walls is the world's first airport yoga studio, said spokesman Mike McCarron.

The room, open to all ticketed passengers, contains a few chairs and yoga mats but no instructors or televisions. No shoes, food, drinks or cell phones are allowed.

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Pew study finds Facebook users receive more warm fuzzies than they give

NEW YORK (AP) -- The goody-two-shoes among us say it's better to give than to receive. That's not true for the average Facebook user, though.

A new study out Friday found that the average user of the world's biggest online social network gets more than they give. That means more messages, more "likes" and more comments. Yes, even more "pokes."

Behind all that is Facebook's relatively small group of "power users," who do more than their share of tagging, liking and uploading. The report from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project comes two days after Facebook filed for a $5 billion initial public offering of stock that could eventually value the company at $100 billion.

Key to that mammoth valuation will be Facebook's ability to convince advertisers they can make money from the billons of connections and interactions that people partake in on its website and beyond. Though Pew's findings don't address the commercial side of people's activities, they shed important light on how people use the site and what they get out of it.

The study is the product of Pew's analysis of Facebook users' activities in November 2010. It consisted of data that Facebook provided to Pew after 269 users gave their permission. Those users were identified through a random telephone survey about broader Internet issues.

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9-year-old Maine girl bouncing back after 6 organs are replaced in groundbreaking surgery

HOLLIS, Maine (AP) -- A 9-year-old Maine girl is home from a Boston hospital healthy, active and with high hopes -- and a new stomach, liver, spleen, small intestine, pancreas, and part of an esophagus to replace the ones that were being choked by a huge tumor.

It's believed to be the first-ever transplant of an esophagus and the largest number of organs transplanted at one time in New England.

Spunky and bright-eyed as she scampered around her family's farmhouse outside Portland, Alannah Shevenell said Thursday that she's glad to be feeling well again and able to go sledding, make a snowman, work on her scrapbooks and give her grandmother a little good-humored sass.

The best part, though? "Being home," she said. "Just being home."

It was 2008 when Alannah, then 5, began running a fever and losing weight while her belly swelled. Doctors discovered the tumor that year and twice attempted to remove it, as it made its way like octopus legs from organ to organ. But it was difficult to access what turned out to be a rare form of sarcoma, said Debi Skolas, Alannah's grandmother, and chemotherapy didn't do the trick, either.

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Madonna simultaneously launching 'Give Me All Your Luvin" on billboards, radio, online

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Clear Channel is giving Madonna all its luvin'.

The radio giant announced plans Friday to premiere the 53-year-old pop star's new single "Give Me All Your Luvin'" and its music video across Clear Channel radio stations, electronic billboards and online venues. Clear Channel, which owns 850 stations nationwide, estimated the promotional campaign would reach more than 150 million people around the world.

Beginning on Friday morning, "Give Me All Your Luvin'" is scheduled to premiere simultaneously across 95 radio stations and on more than 1,600 digital billboards in the United States, France, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Singapore, Belgium, Finland and the United Kingdom, as well as on demand at iHeartRadio.com, Clear Channel's customized online radio service.

"This first-of-its-kind multimedia premiere with Madonna demonstrates the unequalled scope and strength of the entire Clear Channel platform -- a range and depth that enables us to work with the most talented and creative artists in the world to develop truly groundbreaking promotional opportunities," said Bob Pittman, CEO of Clear Channel, in a statement.

The Material Girl push is the latest multimedia endeavor from Clear Channel, which organized a two-day concert in Las Vegas last year that featured the likes of Jay-Z and Lady Gaga and announced last month that it was taking a minority stake in the production company of "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest, who produces E!'s "Keeping Up with the Kardashians."

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Report: Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton has relapse, drinks alcohol in Dallas-area bar

DALLAS (AP) -- Rangers outfielder and recovering drug addict Josh Hamilton had a relapse this week when he drank alcohol at a bar, The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday night.

The newspaper, citing unidentified "individuals familiar with the episode," reported Hamilton was drinking at a Dallas-area bar on Monday.

In a statement to the newspaper, the Rangers said they were "aware of a situation, but we don't have further comment at this time."

Hamilton, 30, was suspended for more than three years for drug and alcohol use while in the Tampa Bay organization. He missed the entire 2004 and 2005 seasons. He won the AL MVP in 2010.

This was Hamilton's second known alcohol-related relapse in three years. In January, 2009, he drank to excess in a bar in Tempe, Ariz. Before that, Hamilton said he hadn't taken a drink of alcohol since Oct. 6, 2005.