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Associated Press

Posted on February 5, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Health law geography lesson: Just 4 percent of US counties are home to half the uninsured

WASHINGTON (AP) — Uninsured Americans are still procrastinating about President Barack Obama's health care law. With less than 60 days left to enroll, can the administration find the millions of customers needed to sustain new insurance markets?

Geography could hold the answer, according to a study conducted for The Associated Press. It found the uninsured aren't scattered around the country willy-nilly; half live in just 116 of the nation's 3,143 counties. That means an outreach campaign targeted to select areas can pay off big.

The pattern also holds true for the younger uninsured, the health care overhaul's most coveted demographic. The study found that half the uninsured people ages 19-39 live in 108 counties. Their premiums are needed to offset the cost of insuring older adults, who are more likely to be nursing chronic ailments.

With the HealthCare.gov website working more smoothly, the Obama administration is using the geography of the uninsured to write a playbook for its closing sign-up campaign. Open enrollment for subsidized private insurance ends March 31 for people who don't have health care through their jobs.

"Our efforts are aimed at making sure we can raise awareness in areas with the largest concentration of uninsured people," said Julie Bataille, communications director for the rollout at the federal Health and Human Services Department.

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States hope steps to rein in government surveillance will prompt federal changes

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Angry over revelations of National Security Agency surveillance and frustrated with what they consider outdated digital privacy laws, state lawmakers around the nation are proposing bills to curtail the powers of law enforcement to monitor and track citizens.

Their efforts in at least 14 states are a direct message to the federal government: If you don't take action to strengthen privacy, we will.

"We need to stand up and protect our liberty," said Republican Missouri state Sen. Rob Schaaf, author of a digital privacy bill.

Police groups, however, say the moves will in some cases hinder efforts to deter or solve crimes. "It would cripple law enforcement's ability to do investigations," said Bart Johnson, executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Proponents say the measures will overhaul the definition of digital privacy and help increase oversight of specific surveillance tools that law enforcement agencies have been using in the states that critics say mirrors federal surveillance technology.

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UN accuses Vatican of adopting policies that allowed priests to rape children

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A U.N. human rights committee denounced the Vatican on Wednesday for adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, and urged it to open its files on the pedophiles and the churchmen who concealed their crimes.

In a devastating report, the U.N. committee also severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should review its policies to ensure children's rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.

On sex abuse, "the committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators," the report said.

It called for the sex abuse commission that Pope Francis announced in December to conduct an independent investigation of all cases of priestly abuse and the way the Catholic hierarchy has responded over time, and urged the Holy See establish clear rules for the mandatory reporting of abuse to police.

The committee issued its recommendations after subjecting the Holy See to a daylong interrogation last month on its implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the main international treaty ensuring children's rights. During that session, the committee's independent experts grilled the Holy See on its protection of children, working from reports prepared by victims groups and human rights organizations.

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In rare case, woman set for execution in Texas for torture slaying of mentally impaired man

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A woman convicted of torturing and killing a mentally impaired man she lured to Texas with the promise of marriage was scheduled to be executed Wednesday in a rare case of a female death-row inmate.

If 59-year-old Suzanne Basso is lethally injected as scheduled, the New York native would be only the 14th woman executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. By comparison, almost 1,400 men have been put to death.

Texas, the nation's busiest death-penalty state, has executed four women and 505 men.

Basso was sentenced to death for the 1998 slaying of 59-year-old Louis "Buddy" Musso, whose battered and lacerated body, washed with bleach and scoured with a wire brush, was found in a ditch outside Houston. Prosecutors said Basso had made herself the beneficiary of Musso's insurance policies and took over his Social Security benefits after luring him from New Jersey.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to halt the execution in a ruling Tuesday, meaning the U.S. Supreme Court is likely her last hope. A state judge ruled last month that Basso had a history of fabricating stories about herself, seeking attention and manipulating psychological tests.

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Navy says at least 30 sailors implicated in alleged cheating on naval nuclear reactor tests

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a new twist to a widening tale of ethical lapses in the military, the Navy is investigating cheating allegations against about one-fifth of its trainers at a school for naval nuclear power reactor operators.

It is the second exam-cheating scandal to hit the military this year, on top of a series of disclosures in recent months of ethical lapses at all ranks in the military as it transitions from more than a decade of war-fighting.

Unlike an Air Force cheating probe that has implicated nearly 100 officers responsible for land-based nuclear missiles that stand ready for short-notice launch, those implicated in the Navy investigation have no responsibility for nuclear weapons.

The Air Force probe is centered on Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., but could spread to its two other nuclear missile bases in North Dakota and Wyoming. Dozens of officers at Malmstrom have been linked to cheating on a monthly test of their proficiency in handling "emergency war orders" for potential launch of nuclear missiles.

The Navy said its implicated sailors are accused of having cheated on written tests they must pass to be certified as instructors at a nuclear propulsion school at Charleston, S.C. The Navy uses two nuclear reactors there to train sailors for duty aboard any of dozens of submarines and aircraft carriers around the world whose onboard reactors provide propulsion. They are not part of any weapons systems.

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Microsoft sticks with safe choice as CEO at critical juncture demanding dramatic changes

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After compiling a list of more than 100 CEO candidates, Microsoft settled on Satya Nadella a home-grown leader who joined the software maker in the early 1990s. That's back when Google's founders were teenagers and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was in elementary school.

Tuesday's hiring of Nadella as Microsoft's CEO after a five-month search is a safe move that's likely to be greeted with sighs of relief around the company's Redmond, Wash. headquarters, industry analysts say. But the methodical, almost predictable decision is likely to reinforce perceptions that Microsoft Corp. is a plodding company reluctant to take risks as it competes against younger rivals who relish going out on a limb.

While Google founder and CEO Larry Page boasts about his company taking "moon shots" and Zuckerberg promises to "move fast and break things," Microsoft has fallen behind the technological curve after underestimating the importance of Internet search more than a decade ago and reacting too slowly to the rise of mobile devices during the past seven years. Meanwhile, the sales of personal computers running on Microsoft's Windows software are shrinking.

Microsoft's malaise may have narrowed the field of up-and-coming visionaries interested in running a company founded in 1975.

Just as Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs would never have considered working at IBM Corp. in the 1980s, today's entrepreneurial whiz kids scoff at Microsoft's overtures.

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Northeast braces for new storm after snow, freezing rain hit Midwest, other states

Winter-weary Northeast residents are readying themselves for the second storm of the week, a day after heavy snow fell on the Midwest, forcing classes to be canceled and government and business offices to close. Anywhere from a few inches to a foot or more of snow is expected to fall on East Coast states, and some will get the freezing rain and sleet that makes driving treacherous. It's their second go-round since Monday.

ARKANSAS

A day after snow, sleet and freezing rain pushed through Arkansas, leaving thousands without power, more wintry precipitation is forecast.

Lows Wednesday may be in the 20s in northern Arkansas and the 30s in the central and south regions. But there are chances of snow across north and central Arkansas starting Wednesday and running into Friday.

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Multiple bombings hit central Baghdad, killing at least 22 people, Iraqi officials say

BAGHDAD (AP) — Multiple bombings rocked central Baghdad on Wednesday, striking mainly near the heavily fortified Green Zone where key government offices are located and killing at least 22 people, Iraqi officials said.

The attacks were the latest in a relentless push by Sunni militants to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government's efforts to maintain security in Iraq, two years after the pullout of American troops from the country.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings but such systematic and brazen attacks against government buildings, security forces and Shiites in general bear the hallmarks of al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq. The terror group has become emboldened by the successes of its fellow militants in the civil war next door in Syria and by widespread Sunni anger at the government in Baghdad.

The deadliest of Wednesday's attacks took place across the street from the Foreign Ministry building, when two parked car bombs went off simultaneously in two different parking lots. Those explosions killed at least 12 people, including three policemen, and wounded 22, a police officer said.

Shortly afterward, a suicide bomber walked into a nearby falafel restaurant where he set off his explosives-laden belt, killing five people and wounding 12, the officer added. The restaurant and others around it are often used by officials or visitors waiting for security escorts to take them inside the Green Zone.

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Farm bill benefits many, from farmers to rural citizens to food stamp recipients

WASHINGTON (AP) — It isn't just farmers who will benefit from the sweeping farm bill that Congress has sent President Barack Obama. There's also help for rural towns, grocery stores in low-income areas and, most notably, the nation's 47 million food stamp recipients.

After years of setbacks, the Senate passed the nearly $100 billion-a-year measure Tuesday on a 62-38 vote. The White House said the president will sign the bill Friday in Michigan, home state of Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow.

Farmers in every region would still receive generous subsidies — from Southern peanut growers to Midwest corn farmers and dairies around the country. The support is designed to provide a financial cushion in the face of unpredictable weather and market conditions.

But the bulk of its cost is for the food stamp program, which aids 1 in 7 Americans. The bill would cut food stamps by $800 million a year, or around 1 percent.

House Republicans had hoped to reduce the bill's costs even further, pointing to a booming agriculture sector in recent years and arguing that the now $80 billion-a-year food stamp program has spiraled out of control. The House passed a bill in September that would have reduced the cost of food stamps five times more than the eventual cut.

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After news of ordeal, sea survivor talks with elated Salvadoran family for first time in years

GARITA PALMERA, El Salvador (AP) — The family of a Salvadoran fisherman who says he survived at least 13 months at sea in an open boat had thought he was dead after losing touch with him eight years ago and are calling his astonishing story of survival a miracle.

While authorities said questions remained about his tale, relatives provided details that might help explain how Jose Salvador Alvarenga could survive floating across 6,500 miles of the Pacific in a small boat. They said he was always unusually strong and resilient and was an experienced sailor.

"The sea was his thing," Alvarenga's father, Jose Ricardo Orellana, 65, said Tuesday. Orellana, who owns a store and flour mill in the seaside Salvadoran town of Garita Palmera, said his son first went off to work at sea as a stocky 14-year-old.

Alvarenga's family reacted with joy after two phone calls from their long lost son, who told them he was getting medical treatment and food in the Marshall Islands. Alvarenga, who says he is 37 years old, later got a shave and a haircut.

He also confessed to his mother he didn't really know where he was.

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