World in Brief
Firefighter killed in Boston blaze had aided N.H. colleague
CLAREMONT, N.H. (AP) -- One of the two city of Boston firefighters killed in a Wednesday blaze came to the aid of an injured Claremont, N.H., firefighter just three weeks ago.
Michael Kennedy was among the members of the Boston Firefighters Burn Foundation to visit Lt. Andrew Stevens, who was burned in a March 2 house fire. They provided emotional support, gave Stevens’ family gift cards for living expenses and arranged a hotel for a week.
Claremont Fire Chief Rick Bergeron says Stevens and Scott Kenniston were burned when their only escape route was cut off by a fast-moving fire. Both men are recovering.
Bergeron says Kennedy and the others did an "incredible" job taking care of his men.
Kennedy and Edward Walsh died Wednesday fighting a blaze in a four-story brownstone in Boston.
Air Force fires 9 commanders in nuke missile cheating scandal
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Air Force took the extraordinary step Thursday of firing nine midlevel nuclear commanders and announcing it will discipline dozens of junior officers at a nuclear missile base, responding firmly to an exam-cheating scandal that spanned a far longer period than originally reported.
A 10th commander, the senior officer at the base, resigned and will retire from the Air Force.
Air Force officials called the discipline unprecedented in the history of America’s intercontinental ballistic missile force. The Associated Press last year revealed a series of security and other problems in the ICBM force, including a failed safety and security inspection at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., where the cheating occurred.
In an emotion-charged resignation letter titled "A Lesson to Remember," Col. Robert Stanley, who commanded the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, lamented that the reputation of the ICBM mission was now "tarnished because of the extraordinarily selfish actions of officers entrusted with the most powerful weapon system ever devised by man."
Stanley, seen as a rising star in the Air Force, had been nominated for promotion to brigadier general just days before the cheating scandal came to light in January. Instead he is retiring, convinced, as he wrote in his farewell letter Thursday, that "we let the American people down on my watch."
Obama says more
than 6M signed up
for health care
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Back on track after a stumbling start, President Barack Obama’s heath care overhaul reached a milestone Thursday, with more than 6 million Americans signed up for coverage through new insurance markets.
The announcement -- four days before open enrollment season ends Monday -- fulfills a revised goal set by the Congressional Budget Office and embraced by the White House.
Like much else about Obama’s health care law, it comes with a caveat: The administration has yet to announce how many consumers actually closed the deal by paying their first month’s premium. Some independent estimates are that as many as 10 percent to 20 percent have not paid, which would bring the total enrollment to between 5 million and 6 million people.
The White House said the president made the announcement during an international conference call with enrollment counselors and volunteers, while traveling in Italy. Administration officials, focused on signing up even more people over the weekend, played down the occasion. Others said it was unmistakably a promising sign.
"I think the program is finally starting to hit its stride in terms of reaching the enrollment goals the administration set," said John Rother, CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, a nonpartisan coalition of businesses, health care industry groups and consumer organizations. "It still has a ways to go in terms of achieving public acceptance."
New clues pile up in Malaysia jet search but searchers have no luck hunting them down
PERTH, Australia (AP) -- The clues keep piling up: more and more mysterious objects spotted bobbing in the southern Indian Ocean, perhaps part of the missing Malaysian airliner, perhaps not. But just as the night sky depicts the universe as it once was, the satellite images that reveal these items are also a glance backward in time.
Strong winds and fast currents make it difficult to pinpoint where they are right now, and stormy weather Thursday again halted the hunt by air and sea for evidence of debris fields. The search for the plane that disappeared March 8 has yet to produce a single piece of debris -- not to mention the black boxes, which could solve the mystery of why the jet flew so far off-course.
For relatives of the 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, it was yet another agonizing day of waiting.
"Until something is picked up and analyzed to make sure it’s from MH370, we can’t believe it," Steve Wang, whose 57-year-old mother was aboard the flight, said in Beijing. "Without that, it’s useless."
Japan said it provided Malaysia with information from satellite images taken Wednesday showing about 10 objects that might be debris from the plane, with the largest measuring about 4 meters by 8 meters (13 feet by 26 feet). The objects were located about 2,500 kilometers (1,560 miles) southwest of Perth, Japan’s Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office said.
Spotters hunting for lost Malaysian plane face monotony, nausea, tricks of the eye
OVER THE SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN (AP) -- They stare out at a punishingly unbroken expanse of gray water that seems, at times, to blend into the clouds. Occasionally, they press their foreheads against the plane’s windows so hard they leave grease marks, their eyes darting up and down, left and right, looking for something -- anything -- that could explain the fate of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
The hunt for Flight 370, which vanished on March 8 during a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, is complicated in just about every way imaginable, from the vastness of the search area to its distance from land to the brutal weather that plagues it. But for all the fancy technology on board the planes and vessels scouring the swirling waters, the best tool searchers have are their own eyes.
Those eyes can spot things man-made equipment cannot. But they are also subject to the peculiarities of the human brain. They can play tricks. They can blink at the wrong moment. They can, and often do, grow weary.
"It is incredibly fatiguing work," says Flight Lt. Stephen Graham, tactical coordinator for the crew on board a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion that has made six sorties into the southern Indian Ocean search zone. "If it’s bright and glaring, obviously sunglasses help, but there’s only so much you can do."
Search and rescue makes up a small part of what Graham’s squadron does, and visual spotting is an even smaller subset of that. But everyone on board has had to learn how to do it -- and it’s not as simple as most people think. Graham learned as part of a yearlong training stint in Canada, further refined his skills during a six-month course in New Zealand and has had ongoing training since.
Obama’s meeting with Pope: Common ground on inequality but divisions on social issues
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Face to face for the first time, President Barack Obama and Pope Francis focused publicly on their mutual respect and shared concern for the poor on Thursday. But their lengthy private discussion also highlighted the deep differences between the White House and the Catholic Church on abortion and birth control.
The gaps were evident in the differing accounts Obama and the Vatican gave of the meeting, with Obama stressing the two leaders’ common ground on fighting inequality and poverty while Vatican officials emphasized the importance to the church of "rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection." That point by church officials referred to a major disagreement over a provision of Obama’s health care law.
The meeting inside the grand headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church marked a symbolic high point of Obama’s three-country visit to Europe. For a president whose approval ratings have slipped since winning re-election, it was also an opportunity to link himself to the hugely popular pope and his focus on fighting poverty.
"Those of us as politicians have the task of trying to come up with policies to address issues," Obama said following the meeting. "But His Holiness has the capacity to open people’s eyes and make sure they’re seeing that this is an issue."
The president said the plight of the poor and marginalized was a central topic in their talks, along with Middle East peace, conflicts in Syria and the treatment of Christians around the world. Social issues, he said, were not discussed in detail.
Report from Christie’s lawyer clears governor in payback plot, but other investigations loom
NEW YORK (AP) -- Lawyers hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration said Thursday that the governor was not involved in the plot to create a traffic jam last fall, a conclusion that left the lead lawyer defending the integrity of his report, which came ahead of the results of separate and ongoing federal and legislative investigations.
The taxpayer-funded report released by former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro relied on interviews with Christie and other officials in his administration -- who were not under oath -- and 250,000 documents, many of them emails and text messages. But the key figures in the political payback plot did not cooperate, leading Democrats to question the credibility of the report and its thoroughness.
The investigation concluded Christie had no knowledge beforehand of lane closings Sept. 9-12 near the George Washington Bridge between New Jersey and New York that caused four days of massive gridlock in the community of Fort Lee.
The closings became a major scandal for the governor in January when he had to backtrack and acknowledge the involvement of a top aide and an associate in orchestrating the closings. He has repeatedly denied knowing about the plot or being involved in the closings.
"Governor Christie’s account of these events rings true. It’s corroborated by many witnesses, and he has conducted himself at every turn as someone who has nothing to hide," the report found.
Government autism estimate increases to 1 in 68 children, a 30 percent move in 2 years
NEW YORK (AP) -- The government’s estimate of autism has moved up again to 1 in 68 U.S. children, a 30 percent increase in two years.
But health officials say the new number may not mean autism is more common. Much of the increase is believed to be from a cultural and medical shift, with doctors diagnosing autism more frequently, especially in children with milder problems.
"We can’t dismiss the numbers. But we can’t interpret it to mean more people are getting the disorder," said Marisela Huerta, a psychologist at the New York-Presbyterian Center for Autism and the Developing Brain in suburban White Plains, N.Y.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the latest estimate Thursday. The Atlanta-based agency said its calculation means autism affects roughly 1.2 million Americans under 21. Two years ago, the CDC put the estimate at 1 in 88 children, or about 1 million.
The cause or causes of autism are still not known. Without any blood test or other medical tests for autism, diagnosis is not an exact science. It’s identified by making judgments about a child’s behavior.
Newlywed gets more than 30 years in prison for pushing husband off cliff at national park
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) -- A Montana woman was sentenced Thursday to more than 30 years in prison for killing her husband of eight days by pushing him from a cliff in Glacier National Park after they argued over her regrets about the marriage.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said he saw no remorse from Jordan Graham, 22, in the killing of Cody Johnson, 25. He sentenced her to 30 years and five months in prison and ordered her to pay $16,910 in restitution.
Graham will be subject to five years of court supervision upon her release. There is no possibility of parole in the federal system, meaning she’s likely to serve the full term.
A tearful Graham took the stand during Thursday’s sentencing hearing in Missoula, apologizing to her family and Johnson’s.
But Molloy indicated he had continuing doubts about the Kalispell woman’s honesty. The judge said he was waiting for Graham "to say she was sorry for killing Cody," KGVO-AM reported.
Russell Crowe describes criticism of biblical epic ‘Noah’ as irrational
NEW YORK (AP) -- Russell Crowe calls the criticism that the film "Noah" has received "irrational" and says he’s happy audiences can finally see it for themselves.
Crowe spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday night at the New York premiere of the biblical epic, directed by Darren Aronofsky and featuring Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly, who were also at the event.
"Noah" has been the subject of controversy with some religious groups claiming the story has been inaccurately portrayed. That has prompted Paramount Pictures to add a disclaimer to its marketing material saying "artistic license has been taken" in telling the story. The film has also been banned in many Islamic countries where it’s taboo to depict a prophet.
"We have endured 12 to 14 months of irrational criticism and now people are starting to see it and to realize how respectful it is, and how true to the source material it is and how intense of an experience it is in the movie theater, you know, so that’s cool," he said.
Emma Watson, who plays Ila, the wife of Noah’s son Shem, says she wasn’t surprised by the response to the film.
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