Crippled cruise ship docks at Ala. port; passengers celebrate end of miserable Gulf odyssey
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — The passengers of the Carnival cruise ship Triumph began the process of getting back to normal early Friday, checking into hotels for a shower, hot meal and good night's sleep or boarding buses bound for other cities after five numbing days at sea on a powerless ship disabled by an engine-room fire.
The cruise ship carrying some 4,200 people finally docked late Thursday in Mobile, as passengers raucously cheered the end to an ocean odyssey they say was marked by overflowing toilets, food shortages and foul odors.
"Sweet Home Alabama!" read one of the homemade signs passengers affixed alongside the 14-story ship as many celebrated at deck rails lining several levels of the stricken ship. The ship's horn loudly blasted several times as four tugboats pulled the crippled ship to shore at about 9:15 p.m. CST. Some gave a thumbs-up sign and flashes from cameras and cellphones lit the night.
Less than four hours later, the last passenger had disembarked.
Some, like 56-year-old Deborah Knight of Houston, had no interest in boarding one of about 100 buses assembled to carry passengers to hotels in New Orleans or Texas. Her husband Seth drove in from Houston and they checked into a downtown Mobile hotel.
Meteor falls in Russia's Chelyabinsk region; 400 injured by explosions
MOSCOW (AP) — A meteor streaked across the sky above Russia's Ural Mountains on Friday morning, causing sharp explosions and injuring more than 400 people, many of them hurt by broken glass.
"There was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people's houses to check if they were OK," said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, about 1500 kilometers (930 miles) east of Moscow, the biggest city in the affected region.
"We saw a big burst of light then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound," he told The Associated Press by telephone.
Another Chelyabinsk resident, Valya Kazakov, said some elderly women in his neighborhood started crying out that the world was ending.
Some meteorites — fragments of the meteor — fell in a reservoir outside the town of Cherbakul, the regional governor's office said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. It was not immediately clear if any people were struck by fragments.
Republicans stall Hagel vote, drawing White House ire, but confirmation still likely
WASHINGTON (AP) — By delaying a confirmation vote on Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary, Senate Republicans have forced Leon Panetta to remain on the job he is eager to give up. But they've also given the White House an opportunity to cast the GOP as obstructing President Barack Obama's assembly of a second-term national security team.
Senate Republicans temporarily blocked a Hagel confirmation vote on Thursday, insisting that the administration must first answer more questions about its handling of a terrorist attack last September on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, called it "political posturing."
"Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, it got worse," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the GOP forced the delay.
The Senate action amounted to a parliamentary maneuver, with Democrats needing 60 votes for Hagel's confirmation to move forward. It fell two votes short.
Obama wants to change the face of the federal judiciary, if nominees can get past the Senate
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is trying to change the face of a federal judiciary that has a long tradition of white men passing judgment on parties from all walks of life — if he can get his nominees past the Senate.
Republicans have used the powers accorded the Senate minority party to slow Obama's influence on the federal bench. But recent changes to Senate rules suggest the process may begin to move faster, at least at the lower, U.S. District Court level.
Under a recent bipartisan agreement, the Senate will limit debate on district court judge nominees to two hours, far below the 30 hours that used to be allowed. The hope is that will curtail a tradition that dates back to the Clinton administration of the president's opposing party stalling judicial nominees.
Democrats also used the tactic for some of President George W. Bush's nominees, but the delays have been particularly long under Obama.
Nearly half of Obama's nominees have waited for more than 100 days for confirmation votes, while less than 10 percent of Bush's waited that long, according to White House figures. Most of the Bush nominees were approved in less than a month after clearing committee, the White House said.
House move to extend pay freeze for federal workers draws fire from White House, Democrats
WASHINGTON (AP) — House conservatives want to extend to a full three years the current freeze on cost-of-living pay increases for the nation's 2 million civilian federal workers.
They say that blocking a modest raise proposed by President Barack Obama for the last nine months of this year will save $11 billion over the long run and that well-compensated federal employees can afford it.
Democrats, and a few Republicans, say federal workers have already done more than their fair share in helping reduce the federal deficit and they are being singled out for punishment by anti-government lawmakers.
The House on Thursday took up legislation by freshman Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., that would block the 0.5 percent pay increase Obama ordered in December and scheduled to go into effect at the end of March. DeSantis said federal spending is out of control and his bill "tackles Congress and our bloated federal government head-on." His bill would affect across-the-board pay increases but not merit and longevity raises.
The GOP-led House is expected to pass the bill on Friday, but it's likely to receive a cold reception in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Couple's story about being held hostage by ex-LA cop renews questions about intensive manhunt
BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) — Karen and Jim Reynolds say they came face to face with fugitive Christopher Dorner, not on a snow-covered mountain trail, but inside their cabin-style condo.
During a 15-minute ordeal just a stone's throw from a command post authorities had set up in the massive manhunt for the ex-Los Angeles police officer, the couple said Dorner bound them and put pillowcases on their heads. At one point, he explained that he had been there for days.
"He said, 'I don't have a problem with you, so I'm not going to hurt you,'" Jim Reynolds said. "I didn't believe him; I thought he was going to kill us."
Police have not commented on the Reynoldses' account, but it renews questions about the thoroughness of a search for a man who authorities declared was armed and extremely dangerous as they hunted him across the Southwest and Mexico.
Remains found in the burned cabin where Dorner made his last stand Tuesday were positively identified Thursday through dental examination, said Jodi Miller, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County sheriff-coroner.
Oscar Pistorius arrives in court in murder case after girlfriend shot dead
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius openly wept as he appeared in court Friday, charged with the murder of his girlfriend as South Africans closely watched developments in a killing that has stunned the country.
Reeva Steenkamp, a model and budding reality TV show participant, was shot and killed at Pistorius' upmarket home in an eastern suburb of the South African capital in the predawn hours of Thursday, sending the country reeling.
Pistorius solemnly entered court in a gray suit and blue tie. He later broke down in tears.
Chief Magistrate Desmond Nasir was presiding over the hearing which likely will include Pistorius' request for bail. Police oppose the granting of bail.
Pistorius' father, Henke, was in the court as was his brother Carl, sister Aimee and other supporters of the 26-year-old double-amputee athlete.
Planned 'traditional' prom barring gays raises questions about tolerance in small Indiana city
SULLIVAN, Ind. (AP) — A small Indiana community best known for its parks and corn festival has become the center of a national discussion about intolerance over a group's plans to host a "traditional" prom that bans gay students.
Residents and officials in Sullivan, a city of about 4,200 near the Illinois border, are scrambling to escape the uncomfortable spotlight cast when a teacher supporting the "traditional" prom for Sullivan High School said she believes people choose to be gay and that gays have no purpose in life.
"I just ... I don't understand it," Diana Medley, referring to gays, told Terre Haute television station WTWO.
The comments by Medley, a special education teacher in a neighboring school district, have gone viral and sparked online campaigns to have her fired. A petition on Change.org calling for her dismissal had generated more than 17,500 signatures from as far away as the United Kingdom as of Thursday, and a Facebook page supporting a prom that includes all students had more than 27,000 likes.
The fallout has surprised many residents, who say the issue roiling the community in an area known for coal mining and attractive parks is being blown out of proportion.
Robot gives 7-year-old NY boy with dangerous allergies the chance to experience school
WEST SENECA, N.Y. (AP) — In an elementary school hallway, a teacher takes her second-graders to the library, leading a single-file line of giggling boys and girls that's perfectly ordinary until you get to a sleek white robot with a video screen showing the face of a smiling, chubby-cheeked boy.
Devon Carrow's life-threatening allergies don't allow him to go to school. But the 4-foot-tall robot with a wireless video hookup gives him the school experience remotely, allowing him to participate in class, stroll through the hallways, hang out at recess and even take to the auditorium stage when there's a show.
What's most remarkable is how unremarkable this gee-whiz technology is viewed by his classmates. In a class of 7-year-olds raised on video games, avatars and remote-controlled toys, they don't see a robot. They just see Devon.
Just before class one recent day, a girl leaned toward the robot to tell Devon the joke making the rounds at Winchester Elementary School: Why did the boy eat his homework? The teacher told him it was a piece of cake.
That Devon isn't actually there is barely acknowledged. While making get-well cards for him during a hospital stay last year, his classmates all drew him as a boy, not a bot.
Attorney for Kim Kardashian to make another plea to judge to help end reality star's marriage
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kim Kardashian's divorce case is returning to court Friday with her attorney urging a speedy end to her marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries.
Lawyers for the pregnant reality star and the Brooklyn Nets power forward disagree over a timetable for a trial to end the marriage, which Humphries wants annulled.
Kardashian is asking a judge to order a trial as soon as possible. Humphries wants the case to remain on hold until the basketball season ends.
Setting a trial date may be complicated by a filing Thursday by one of Humphries' attorneys to leave the case, citing "irreconcilable differences" with Humphries. The attorney, Marshall Waller, had stated in recent court filings that he was still seeking evidence from several companies that produce Kardashian's reality shows to try to prove their fraud claims.
Kardashian's attorney Laura Wasser has repeatedly sought a trial date so that the marriage can be ended and denies that the couple's televised marriage was based on false pretenses.