Changing course, Obama says religious hospitals don't have to offer birth control to employees
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Under fierce election-year fire, President Barack Obama on Friday abruptly abandoned his stand that religious organizations must pay for birth control for workers, scrambling to end a furor raging from the Catholic Church to Congress to his re-election foes. He demanded that insurance companies step in to provide the coverage instead.
Obama's compromise means ultimately that women would still get birth control without having to pay for it, no matter where they work. The president insisted he had stuck by that driving principle even in switching his approach, and the White House vehemently rejected any characterization that Obama had retreated under pressure.
Yet there was no doubt that Obama had found himself in an untenable position. He needed to walk back fast and find another route to his goal.
The controversy over contraception and religious liberty was overshadowing his agenda, threatening to alienate key voters and giving ammunition to the Republicans running for his job. It was a mess that knocked the White House off its message and vision for a second term.
Leaders from opposite sides of the divisive debate said they supported the outcome -- or at least suggested they probably could live with it. Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, the head of the nation's Roman Catholic bishops and a fierce critic of the original rule covering hospitals and other employers, said the bishops were reserving judgment but that Obama's move was a good first step.
Facing down protests, dissent, Greece vows to push through austerity warns of default 'chaos'
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greece's future in the eurozone came under renewed threat Friday as popular protests again turned violent and dissent grew among its lawmakers after European leaders demanded deeper spending cuts.
The country's beleaguered coalition government promised to push through the tough new austerity measures and rescue a crucial €130 billion ($170 billion) bailout deal after six members of the Cabinet resigned.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos promised to "do everything necessary" to ensure parliament passes the new austerity measures that would slap Greeks with a minimum wage cut during a fifth year of recession. He also promised to replace any other Cabinet members who did not fully back his efforts.
"It is absolutely necessary to complete the effort that began almost two years to consolidate public finances, restore competitiveness and economic recovery," Papademos told an emergency Cabinet meeting.
Draft legislation for the new austerity measures was submitted to parliament after the five-hour meeting ended.
Social issues rule as Obama tends birth control flare-up, Republicans appeal to conservatives
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Social issues dominated the 2012 presidential race Friday, as President Barack Obama tried to calm a storm over religion and birth control and the Republicans vying to replace him jockeyed to outdo each other in proving their conservative fervor.
There was little time left for talk of jobs and the economy, subjects still expected to dominate the fall election. In that sense, the day's events may become little more than a footnote.
But Democrats hope the unusually intense focus on social issues, even if temporary, will help them portray Republicans as out of step with middle America on matters such as access to birth control, equal treatment of men and women, and government philosophies that put problem-solving ahead of ideological purity.
Three of the four GOP presidential candidates addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference, emphasizing their fealty to activists on the right. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney declared himself "severely conservative."
That wasn't enough for former Sen. Rick Santorum, who surprised Republicans by winning this week's caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota. Even if Romney goes on to defeat Obama this fall, Santorum told the CPAC crowd it would be a "hollow victory" because Romney isn't conservative enough.
Budget deficit totals $349B through first 4 months; on pace to pass $1T for 4th straight year
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The federal deficit was lower through the first four months of the budget year than the same period last year. Still, the deficit is expected to top $1 trillion for the fourth year in a row, putting more pressure on Congress and President Barack Obama in an election year.
The deficit totaled $349 billion through January, the Treasury Department said Friday. That's $70 billion less than at the same point last year. January's monthly deficit was $27 billion, roughly half of the deficit in January 2011.
The White House later confirmed a report that President Obama's new budget predicts a $1.3 trillion deficit for the full fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1. The figures were first reported in The Wall St. Journal, which viewed leaked draft budget documents.
If the administration is correct, the 2012 deficit would be the same as last year's imbalance. The government ran an all-time record deficit of $1.41 trillion in fiscal 2009, and a $1.29 trillion imbalance in 2010.
This year's deficit is running lower in part because of higher corporate tax receipts, the department said. That has boosted government revenue to $790 billion from October through January.
APNewsBreak: Satellite company says its photos show Syrian tanks in streets of Homs
LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) -- Satellite image provider DigitalGlobe Inc. released photos Friday that appear to show Syrian army tanks and other armored vehicles in the city of Homs.
DigitalGlobe said the images were taken late Friday morning Syrian time by the company's WorldView 2 satellite from about 480 miles above the Earth.
Stephen Wood, director of DigitalGlobe's analysis center, said the photos show tanks, armored personnel carriers and other armored vehicles in the southern part of the city, some of them near apartment buildings.
The satellite images show an increase in the level of army activity in and around Homs from the previous 24 hours, Wood said.
Fighting in Homs has reportedly killed hundreds of people over the past week from bombardments followed by soldiers' advances. The battle there is part of the Syrian government's attempts to suppress an 11-month-old uprising against the rule of President Bashar Assad.
Uzbek man pleads guilty in Ala. to terror-related plot to assassinate President Barack Obama
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- A man from Uzbekistan who pleaded guilty Friday to plotting to kill President Barack Obama with an automatic rifle claimed he was acting at the direction of an Islamic terror group in his home country.
Authorities said Ulugbek Kodirov had discussed trying to kill the president as he campaigned for re-election because he would be out in public more often. Kodirov entered the plea during a hearing in Birmingham before U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon, an Obama appointee.
Defense attorney Lance Bell said the 22-year-old Kodirov avoided a potential life sentence by pleading guilty. He faces up to 30 years in prison, though Bell expected Kodirov to receive about half that. The judge also told Kodirov that he will face deportation once he's released from prison.
Kodirov pleaded guilty to three counts: Threatening to kill the president, possessing an automatic weapon, and providing material support to terrorists. Four other charges were dropped as part of the deal.
Area Muslims who knew Kodirov were stunned to learn of his plans.
Navy names ship for Gabrielle Giffords; ship's sponsor is mother of girl killed in same attack
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Gabrielle Giffords, the recently retired congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in an assassination attempt 13 months ago, returned to Washington Friday for double honors. The Navy named a ship after her and she saw President Barack Obama sign the last piece of legislation she authored into law.
In a ceremony at the Pentagon, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus unveiled an artist's rendering of the USS Gabrielle Giffords, a littoral combat ship. The craft is among the Navy's most versatile and can operate in shallower coastal waters than larger ships.
"God bless the USS Gabrielle Giffords and all who sail in her," Mabus said at the ceremony.
Giffords was shot in the head and grievously wounded in January 2011 as she met with constituents outside a supermarket in Tucson, Ariz. Twelve others also were wounded in the rampage that left six dead, including a federal judge, a Giffords aide and a 9-year-old girl. Christina Taylor Green had an interest in government and politics and wanted to hear Giffords speak.
At Friday's ceremony, Mabus announced that Christina Taylor's mother, Roxanna, is the ship's "sponsor." Green's initials will be welded into the ship's keel.
First public photos of Beyonce and Jay-Z's 1-month-old baby, Blue Ivy, are posted online
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- She's been a sensation since she's been born, and now Blue Ivy has made her public debut.
Five photos of the 1-month-old were posted by her parents -- Beyonce and Jay-Z -- on a page at the blogging service Tumblr.
The pictures at http://helloblueivycarter.tumblr.comhttp://helloblueivycarter.tumblr.com include a close-up of the baby and two of each parent holding her. Blue Ivy is their first child.
A statement next to the photos reads, "We welcome you to share our joy." The couple also thanked the public for respecting their privacy.
Beyonce and Jay-Z are the latest celebrities to shun big bucks from the tabloid press for exclusive rights to baby pictures and instead post the photos on a public website for free. Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon debuted their twins in the same way last year.
Police: Fight breaks out a Phoenix funeral when a man punches another to honor deceased
PHOENIX (AP) -- A fight broke out during a funeral at a Phoenix church after a friend of the departed punched a man who had reportedly been fighting with the deceased before he died.
Phoenix police say the fight broke out Friday afternoon when the unidentified friend recognized the other man and punched him "in honor of the fallen."
The Arizona Republic (http://bit.ly/A5JRMm) reports many of the other people attending began fighting, but there were no injuries and no arrests when officers broke up the scuffle.
Phoenix TV station KSAZ says the fight involved up to 30 people.
Neither the person who instigated the fight nor the man he punched was identified.
Jeremy Lin does it again, scoring 38 points to lead Knicks past Kobe Bryant and Lakers 92-85
NEW YORK (AP) -- Jeremy Lin keeps getting better. Better even than Kobe Bryant on Friday night.
Lin had the most astounding performance of his remarkable week, scoring a career-high 38 points and outdueling Bryant as the New York Knicks held off the Los Angeles Lakers 92-85.
Buried deep on the bench a little more than a week ago, Lin led the Knicks to their fourth straight win, tying their longest streak of the season. His two free throws with 52 seconds left and some booming "MVP! MVP!" chants stopped the Lakers' final rally and allowed the undrafted Harvard product to pass Carmelo Anthony for the highest-scoring game by a Knicks player this season.
Iman Shumpert added 12 points for the Knicks, who are still without Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. But they have Lin, the point guard that two other teams gave up on in December and didn't get his chance in New York until three other players couldn't do the job.
Bryant finished with 34 points, but he got off to a horrendous start and finished only 11 of 29 from the field. Pau Gasol had 16 points and 10 rebounds, but All-Star Andrew Bynum was only 1 of 8 for three points with 13 rebounds as the Lakers' nine-game winning streak against the Knicks was snapped.