Another ice storm across the South knocks out power to 445,000

ATLANTA (AP) -- The second wintry storm in two weeks to hit the Deep South encrusted highways, trees and power lines in ice Wednesday, knocking out electricity to nearly a half-million homes and businesses.

But it didn’t wreak the highway havoc in Atlanta that the previous bout of heavy weather did -- largely because people learned their lesson the last time and stayed off the roads.

At least nine traffic deaths across the region were blamed on the treacherous weather, and nearly 3,300 airline flights nationwide were canceled.

As residents across the South heeded forecasters’ unusually dire warnings and hunkered down at home against the onslaught of snow and freezing rain, the storm pushed northward along the Interstate 95 corridor, threatening to bring more than a foot of snow Thursday to the already sick-of-winter mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Mass. woman convicted of killing pregnant pal, cutting baby from womb

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) -- A woman accused of killing her pregnant friend three months after her own miscarriage was convicted Wednesday of beating and strangling her, then cutting the baby from her womb and passing the child off as her daughter.

Julie Corey sobbed as a Worcester Superior Court jury found her guilty of the 2009 murder of 23-year-old Darlene Haynes. The jurors had deliberated for 10 hours over two days. Sentencing was scheduled for Tuesday.

Prosecutors said Haynes was eight months pregnant when Corey attacked her and cut the baby out of her body. They told the jury that Corey had been pregnant, too, but had a miscarriage three months earlier and told her boyfriend and family that Haynes’ baby was her own.

"It’s probably the most horrific case this office has ever seen in terms of facts," District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said in a statement after the verdict was handed down. "This woman was killed for her baby."

Corey, 39, did not testify during the trial.

About 1M sign up for health plans in January as a dozen states meet or beat sign-up targets

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Most states are still lagging when it comes to sign-ups under President Barack Obama’s health care law, but an Associated Press analysis of numbers reported Wednesday finds a dozen getting ahead of the game.

Huge disparities are emerging in how well states are living up to federal enrollment targets, and that will help determine if the White House reaches its unofficial goal of having 7 million signed up by the end of March, six weeks away.

Connecticut is the nation’s over-achiever, signing up more than twice the number of residents it had been projected to enroll by the end of January. Massachusetts, which pioneered the approach Obama took in his law, is at the bottom of the list having met only 5 percent of its target.

Six Republican-led states -- Florida, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin -- are on pace or better.

The administration said Wednesday about 1 million people signed up for private insurance under the health law in January, extending a turnaround from early days when a dysfunctional website frustrated consumers. There were fewer enrollments than in December, but a drop-off had been expected.

After politically treacherous vote, Senate sends Obama bill for govt to pay bills

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Legislation to raise the federal debt limit and prevent a crippling government default cleared Congress on Wednesday with an awkward assist from top Senate Republican leaders who were forced into a politically treacherous vote engineered by tea party favorite Ted Cruz.

The Texas Republican’s maneuver forced several GOP colleagues, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, into a reluctant vote against a filibuster, helping the measure along. It’s a vote likely to cause grief for McConnell, who is facing a primary election challenges.

On a day of legislative drama, the key vote clearing the way for final action was held open for more than an hour and broke open only after McConnell and top lieutenant John Cornyn, R-Texas, unexpectedly voted "aye." Several other Republicans then switched their votes to support the measure, ultimately breaking the filibuster by a 67-31 margin.

The bill then passed the Senate by a near party-line 55-43 vote, with all of the yes votes coming from President Barack Obama’s allies.

The president is now clear to sign the bill, which allows the government to borrow all the money it needs to pay bills such as Social Security benefits, federal salaries, and payments to Medicare and Medicaid providers.

In besieged Syrian city, kids begged for food, women picked grass to eat

BEIRUT (AP) -- Weeping children begged for food and women picked grass to eat as hunger gripped rebel-held neighborhoods of the Syrian city of Homs during a nearly two-year military blockade, according to a rare first-hand account by a man evacuated during a truce this week.

It was ultimately that hunger that caused Abu Jalal Tilawi to flee, along with around 1,300 others, mostly women, children and elderly allowed out during the truce.

"They couldn’t dislodge us with the missiles they rained down on us," the 64-year-old Tilawi said of besieging government forces. "The hunger defeated us. The hunger, the hunger, the hunger. I left the city where I was born, where my father was born, where my ancestors were born. I was weeping while I was walking."

Tilawi’s account in a Skype interview spotlights the suffering experienced by an estimated 250,000 civilians living in over 40 areas across Syria that have been blockaded for months. Most of the sieges are by government forces, aiming to wear down resistance, but rebels have also adopted the tactic in some areas.

Western powers at the U.N. Security Council are trying to push for more sanctions against Syria to punish the government of President Bashar Assad for the blockades, though Russia has vowed to veto a resolution.

Sid Caesar, whose sketches lit up 1950s television with zany humor, dies at age 91

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Sid Caesar, the TV comedy pioneer whose rubber-faced expressions and mimicry built on the work of his dazzling team of writers that included Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, died Wednesday. He was 91.

Family spokesman Eddy Friedfeld said Caesar, who also played Coach Calhoun in the 1978 movie "Grease," died at his home in the Los Angeles area after a brief illness.

"He had not been well for a while. He was getting weak," said Friedfeld, who lives in New York and last spoke to Caesar about 10 days ago.

Friedfeld, a friend of Caesar’s who wrote the 2003 biography "Caesar’s Hour," learned of his death in an early morning call from Caesar’s daughter, Karen.

In his two most important shows, "Your Show of Shows," 1950-54, and "Caesar’s Hour," 1954-57, Caesar displayed remarkable skill in pantomime, satire, mimicry, dialect and sketch comedy. And he gathered a stable of young writers who went on to worldwide fame in their own right -- including Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart ("M-A-S-H’), and Allen.

Canadian report disputes value of routine mammograms for breast cancer; others see study flaws

A Canadian study that many experts say has major flaws has revived debate about the value of mammograms. The research suggests that these screening X-rays do not lower the risk of dying of breast cancer while finding many tumors that do not need treatment.

The study gives longer follow-up on nearly 90,000 women who had annual breast exams by a nurse to check for lumps plus a mammogram, or the nurse’s breast exam alone. After more than two decades, breast cancer death rates were similar in the two groups, suggesting little benefit from mammograms.

It’s important to note that this study did not compare mammograms to no screening at all, as most other research on this topic has. Many groups have not endorsed breast exams for screening because of limited evidence that they save lives.

Critics of the Canadian study also say it used outdated equipment and poor methods that made mammograms look unfairly ineffective.

The study was published Wednesday in the British journal BMJ.

From study of 12,600-year-old DNA from Montana, clues to early colonization of the Americas

NEW YORK (AP) -- The DNA of a baby boy who was buried in Montana 12,600 years ago has been recovered, and it provides new indications of the ancient roots of today’s American Indians and other native peoples of the Americas.

It’s the oldest genome ever recovered from the New World. Artifacts found with the body show the boy was part of the Clovis culture, which existed in North America from about 13,000 years ago to about 12,600 years ago and is named for an archaeological site near Clovis, N.M.

The boy’s genome showed his people were direct ancestors of many of today’s native peoples in the Americas, researchers said. He was more closely related to those in Central and South America than to those in Canada. The reason for that difference isn’t clear, scientists said.

The researchers said they had no Native American DNA from the United States available for comparison, but that they assume the results would be same, with some Native Americans being direct descendants and others also closely related.

The DNA also indicates the boy’s ancestors came from Asia, supporting the standard idea of ancient migration to the Americas by way of a land bridge that disappeared long ago.