Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Published:

Santorum rejoices in in his GOP caucus sweep, but he faces major challenges in upcoming states

ALLEN, Texas (AP) -- One day after Rick Santorum's startling breakthrough in the presidential race, his few aides decamped to distant states to start building campaign organizations from scratch. It was evidence of his challenge in converting sudden momentum into victories in the rush of contests ahead.

"We definitely are the campaign right now with the momentum, the enthusiasm on the ground," the former Pennsylvania senator said Wednesday, hours after capturing Republican caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a non-binding primary in Missouri.

"We feel like going forward we're going to have the money we need to make the case we want," he said.

To replenish his coffers, Santorum arranged a weekend of fundraising events in California. He plans to start campaigning in Washington state on Monday, and then Ohio and Michigan in the following days.

At the same time, aides conceded he was making little or no effort in the caucuses in Maine that end this weekend, and they are still working on plans for competing in primaries in Michigan and Arizona on Feb. 28, as well as the delegate-rich, 10-state Super Tuesday a week later.

___

Romney's three new losses lay bare conservative doubts -- and his big-money primary strategy

ATLANTA (AP) -- Mitt Romney still can't seem to win over the bulk of the conservatives who make up the bedrock of the Republican Party.

Despite primary victories that have established him as the GOP presidential front-runner, his stunning trio of defeats this week laid bare the difficulties that still could undercut his path to the party's nomination -- and hamper him in the general election to follow.

Not that he would acknowledge as much Wednesday.

"I don't think the conservative base changes its mind day to day," Romney told reporters, dismissing the notion that he's got a problem with the party's core supporters. "The places where I campaigned actively, we got actually in some respects record support from the conservative base."

Such denials aside, Tuesday's three-state caucus sweep by Rick Santorum illustrated the degree to which many conservative voters remain skeptical of Romney's commitment to the GOP base's principles, especially given what some of them see as his history of shifting priorities. And he hasn't been able to sell them on his main argument -- that he's the most likely in the primary field to beat Democratic President Barack Obama.

___

APNewsBreak: Deputies were dispatched to Powell home 8 minutes after call was placed

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) -- Emergency call logs show that nearly eight minutes elapsed between the time a social worker called 911 to report that Josh Powell's children were in danger and when deputies were dispatched, and it took another 14 minutes for a deputy to arrive on scene.

The Associated Press obtained the logs Wednesday night under a public records request.

At one point during the call, the dispatcher tells the worker, "We have to respond to emergency life-threatening situations first."

A short while later, the house erupted into flames. Powell had killed himself and his two boys.

Authorities say the social worker's call could have been handled better. The agency that runs the 911 call center says it will review the matter and start a disciplinary investigation if necessary.

___

EU threatens new sanctions on Syria as Russia tries to broker talks between regime, opposition

BEIRUT (AP) -- The European Union will impose harsher sanctions on Syria, a senior EU official said Wednesday, as Russia tried to broker talks between the vice president and the opposition to calm violence. Activists reported at least 50 killed in the regime's siege of the restive city of Homs.

Russia, a close ally of Syria, and the West are pushing down starkly different paths in trying to deal with Syria's nearly 11 months of bloodshed. After blocking a Western and Arab attempt to bring U.N. pressure on President Bashar Assad to step down, Russia has launched a bid to show it can resolve the turmoil.

Moscow is calling for a combination of reforms by the regime and negotiations, without calling for Assad to go. Its provisions are so far finding no traction with the opposition, which dismisses promises of reform as empty gestures, refuses any negotiations while violence continues and says Assad's removal is the only option in the crisis.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said outside forces should let Syrians settle their conflict "independently."

"We should not act like a bull in a china shop," Putin said, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency. "We have to give people a chance to make decisions about their destiny independently, to help, to give advice, to put limits somewhere so that the opposing sides would not have a chance to use arms, but not to interfere."

___

Washington state Legislature passes bill calling for legalization of gay marriage.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- Washington state lawmakers voted to approve gay marriage Wednesday, setting the stage for the state to become the seventh in the nation to allow same-sex couples to wed.

The action comes a day after a federal appeals court declared California's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, saying it was a violation of the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples.

The Washington House passed the bill on a 55-43 vote. Supporters in the public viewing galleries stood and cheered as many on the Democratic side of the House floor hugged after the vote.

The state Senate approved the measure last week, and the bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is expected to sign it into law next week.

Gregoire issued a statement after the vote, saying it was "a major step toward completing a long and important journey to end discrimination based on sexual orientation."

___

APNewsBreak: Sources: Pentagon to open new doors for women in combat, catching up with reality

WASHINGTON (AP) -- For the past decade women in the U.S. military have served, fought and died on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Pentagon rules will catch up a bit with reality, recommending to Congress that women be allowed to serve in more jobs closer to the front lines.

According to defense officials, the new rules are expected to continue the long-held prohibition that prevents women from serving as infantry, armor and special operations forces. But they will formally allow women to serve in other jobs at the battalion level, which until now had been considered too close to combat.

In reality, however, the necessity of war has already propelled women to the front lines -- often as medics, military police or intelligence officers. So, while they couldn't be assigned as an infantryman in a battalion or company going out on patrol, they could fly the helicopter supporting the unit, or move in to provide medical aid if troops were injured.

The officials said the new rules will change that, and formally allow women to be assigned to a battalion and serve in jobs such as medics, intelligence, police or communications officers. The changes would have the greatest effect on the Army and Marine Corps, which ban women from more jobs than the Navy and Air Force do -- largely because of the infantry positions.

___

Calif. investigators find 200 more photos in case of teacher accused of committing lewd acts

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The scandal embroiling an elementary school where two teachers were arrested last week on lewdness charges widened Wednesday with revelations of 200 more inappropriate photos of children and that one teacher sent warmly written birthday cards and presents to students who participated in his "games."

The case of a third-grade teacher accused of feeding children his own semen in bizarre "tasting games" in his classroom over a five-year period has garnered international headlines.

It has also roiled the nation's second-largest school district, which has a sizable number of students who come from homes with illegal immigrants. Many parents at the school have said they have been reluctant to report suspicions about the teachers because of their immigration status.

The new developments came as Los Angeles Unified School District prepared to reopen Miramonte Elementary School on Thursday with an entirely new staff.

According to three lawsuits filed against the district Tuesday, teacher Mark Berndt sent birthday cards to some of the girls, asking how they were adjusting to the fourth grade. He also wrote warm notes such as "surely no teacher could ever have a more wonderful student than you!!" and "P.P.S. The Roaches Say 'Hi!'"

___

GOP vows congressional action to overturn Obama administration decision on birth control

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans vowed Wednesday to reverse President Barack Obama's new policy on birth control, lambasting the rule that religious schools and hospitals must provide contraceptive coverage for their employees as an "unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country."

The White House pushed back in the face of a political firestorm, arguing that Obama was sensitive to the objections and looking for a way to allay the concerns. Democratic women lawmakers put up a united front in defending the administration.

"Women's health care should not depend on who the boss is," said Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

The fight over the administration mandate escalated as House Speaker John Boehner accused the administration of violating First Amendment rights and undermining some of the country's most vital institutions, such as Catholic charities, schools and hospitals. He demanded that Obama rescind the policy or else Congress will.

"This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand, and will not stand," Boehner, a Catholic and Ohio Republican, said in a floor speech rare for the speaker.

___

Slow movements of tai chi helped with balance, reduced falls in Parkinson's disease study

NEW YORK (AP) -- The ancient Chinese exercise of tai chi improved balance and lowered the risk of falls in a study of people with Parkinson's disease.

Symptoms of the brain disorder include tremors and stiff, jerky movements that can affect walking and other activities. Medications and surgery can help, and doctors often recommend exercise or physical therapy.

Tai chi (ty-CHEE'), with its slow, graceful movements, has been shown to improve strength and aid stability in older people, and has been studied for a number of ailments. In the latest study, led by Fuzhong Li of the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, tai chi was tested in 195 people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson's.

The participants attended twice-weekly group classes of either tai chi or two other kinds of exercise -- stretching and resistance training, which included steps and lunges with ankle weights and a weighted vest.

The tai chi routine was tailored for the Parkinson's patients, with a focus on "swing and sway" motions and weight-shifting, said Li, who practices tai chi and teaches instructors.

___

TV medical drama 'House' to end after 8 years; producers call decision 'painful' but right

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Fox's medical drama "House" is ending its eight-year run this season.

The show's producers, including Emmy-nominated star Hugh Laurie, said it was a "painful" decision but that the time had come to bring "House" to a close.

The drama stars Laurie as Dr. Gregory House, a brilliant but troubled physician with a gift for unraveling medical mysteries. Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard and Charlyne Yi are part of the ensemble cast.

In a statement Wednesday, Laurie and his fellow producers said they imagined Dr. House as an "enigmatic creature," and that it was best for him to vanish while there was still mystery in the air.

The season finale date for "House," which airs 9 p.m. EST Monday, was not announced.