Iraq’s al-Maliki losing support as parliament prepares to start work on new government

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Prominent Shiite leaders pushed Thursday for the removal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as parliament prepared to start work next week on putting together a new government, under intense U.S. pressure to rapidly form a united front against an unrelenting Sunni insurgent onslaught.

Increasingly, the Shiite al-Maliki’s former allies believe he cannot lead an inclusive government that can draw minority Sunnis away from support for the fighters who have swept over a large swath of Iraq as they head toward the capital, Baghdad. In a further sign of Iraq’s unraveling along sectarian lines, a bombing on Thursday killed 12 people in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad that houses a revered shrine, and police found the bullet-riddled bodies of eight Sunnis south of the capital.

Most crucially, though, backing for al-Maliki is weakening with his most important ally, neighboring Iran.

A senior Iranian general who met with Shiite politicians in Iraq during a 10-day visit this month returned home with a list of potential prime minister candidates for Iran’s leadership to consider, several senior Iraqi Shiite politicians who have knowledge of the general’s meetings told The Associated Press.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wants al-Maliki to remain in his post, at least for now, the politicians said, but Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, believes al-Maliki must go or else Iraq will fragment. Khamenei holds final say in all state matters in Iran, but the politicians expressed doubt he would insist on al-Maliki against overwhelming rejection of him by Iraq’s Shiite parties.

Huge advances nationwide for gay marriage in
eventful year since Supreme Court rulings

One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a pair of landmark rulings, one striking down the statute that denied federal recognition to same-sex marriages and the other clearing the way for gay couples to wed legally in California.

In the 12 months since then, the ripple effects of those rulings have transformed the national debate over same-sex marriage, convincing many people on both sides that its spread nationwide is inevitable.

From the East Coast to the Midwest and the Pacific, seven more states legalized same-sex marriage, boosting the total to 19, plus Washington, D.C. The Obama administration moved vigorously to extend federal benefits to married gay couples. And in 17 consecutive court decisions, federal and state judges have upheld the right of gays to marry. Not a single ruling has gone the other way.

Giant food service contractor Sodexo backtracks after bumping thousands from health plan

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A giant food service company unexpectedly reversed course Thursday after bumping thousands of college cafeteria workers from its health plan earlier this year and pointing a finger at President Barack Obama’s overhaul.

Sodexo’s experience could serve as a cautionary tale for other employers trying to pin benefit reductions on "Obamacare." The company’s cutbacks fueled a union organizing drive and campus protests.

Julie Peterson, Sodexo’s vice president for benefits, said the company will make changes for next year to restore eligibility for many of those affected.

"We think that overall this is going to result in about the same number of employees being eligible as in the past," Peterson said. The latest shift grew out of a regular review of company policy, she added.

"We’ve realized we can change the way we are determining eligibility and still remain competitive in the market," Peterson explained.

Thousands flee Ukraine for safety in Russia as shaky cease-fire is set to expire

IZVARYNE, Ukraine (AP) -- As a shaky cease-fire in the east entered its final hours Thursday, thousands of Ukrainians in cars stuffed with belongings lined up at the border to cross into Russia, some vowing never to return.

Many said they were most frightened for their children and desperate to take them to safety.

A commander at the rebel-controlled border post outside the city of Luhansk said 5,000 people had left by evening, joining a stream that he said has continued unabated during the weeklong truce that has failed to end the gunfire and shelling.

Russia says tens of thousands of Ukrainians have come in the 2 1/2 months since Ukraine’s government began fighting separatists in the east, a heavily industrial region with a large population of ethnic Russians, many of whom feel strong ties to Moscow.

Air strikes and artillery attacks by the Ukrainian military have infuriated many residents, and many crossing the border on Thursday said they were fleeing the fighting, which has killed more than 400 people since mid-April by the United Nations’ estimate.

Passwords got you down? Solutions are out there -- nd D0n’t hve to lk L!kE th1s!

CHICAGO (AP) -- Good thing she doesn’t need a password to get into heaven. That’s what Donna Spinner often mutters when she tries to remember the growing list of letter-number-and-symbol codes she’s had to create to access her various online accounts.

"At my age, it just gets too confusing," says the 72-year-old grandmother who lives outside Decatur, Illinois.

But this is far from just a senior moment. Frustration over passwords is as common across the age brackets as the little reminder notes on which people often write them.

"We are in the midst of an era I call the ‘tyranny of the password,"’ says Thomas Way, a computer science professor at Villanova University.

"We’re due for a revolution."

15 years after court ruling, progress to home care for aged, disabled is checkered

Brent Kaderli has a wheelchair-accessible van waiting in the driveway, a hospital bed in a spare bedroom and an electric lift that’s left unused. If the 30-year-old quadriplegic had his way, he’d be living here, in his father’s house, with help from aides. Instead, he is in an institution, hoping each day for a place that feels more like a home.

Fifteen years after a landmark Supreme Court ruling that the disabled should be given the choice to live outside nursing homes, mental hospitals and other institutions, its legacies are dueling. Progress has been made in every state to keep more aged and disabled people in their homes and communities, but only half of Medicaid spending goes to such care, with the services routinely denied by a system that favors institutions even though they’re typically more expensive to taxpayers.

In the June 22, 1999, decision in Olmstead v. L.C., the justices ruled that unnecessarily segregating people with disabilities in institutions amounts to discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act if they can be cared for in more home-like settings. Advocates for the mentally ill, older people and the physically disabled regularly cite the ruling, but it has limitations. It says individuals should be "reasonably accommodated," specifically noting "the resources available to the state," caveats that have made it difficult to assess compliance and that have fueled widely different outcomes around the country.

FDA faces challenges overseeing fecal transplant safety

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Imagine a low-cost treatment for a life-threatening infection that could cure up to 90 percent of patients with minimal side effects, often in a few days.

It may sound like a miracle drug, but this cutting-edge treatment is profoundly simple -- though somewhat icky: take the stool of healthy patients to cure those with hard-to-treat intestinal infections. A small but growing number of physicians have begun using these so-called fecal transplants to treat Clostridium difficile, commonly referred to as C-diff, a bacterial infection that causes nausea, cramping and diarrhea.

But fecal transplants pose a challenge for the Food and Drug Administration, which has decided to regulate the treatment as an experimental drug. Stool transplants don’t fit neatly into the agency’s standard framework. Some critics say the mere presence of government oversight is discouraging many doctors from offering transplants. That’s led some patients to seek out questionable "do-it-yourself" websites, forums and videos.

Most researchers agree that the FDA’s concerns are warranted. Patients can contract HIV, hepatitis and other viruses and parasites from fecal matter that is not properly screened. Additionally, there are no long-term studies on potential side effects of stool transplantation.

FDA officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in a written response that the fecal transplantation "shows promise in treating C. difficile infection that has not been responsive to other therapies."