AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on March 26, 2014 at 5:02 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 26 at 6:00 AM

Search for downed Flight 370 resumes in calmer seas as frustration mounts for relatives

PERTH, Australia (AP) — The desperate, multinational hunt for Flight 370 resumed Wednesday across a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean after fierce winds and high waves that had forced a daylong halt eased considerably.

A total of 12 planes and five ships from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were participating in the search, hoping to find even a single piece of the Malaysia Airlines jet that could offer tangible evidence of a crash.

Malaysia announced earlier this week that a mathematical analysis of the final known satellite signals from the plane showed that it had crashed in the sea, taking the lives of all 239 people on board.

The new data greatly reduced the search zone, but it remains huge — an area estimated at 1.6 million square kilometers (622,000 square miles), about the size of Alaska.

"We're throwing everything we have at this search," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Nine Network television on Wednesday.

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Obama, dismissive of Russian influence and power, still rallies opposition to its aggression

BRUSSELS (AP) — President Barack Obama is using Vladimir Putin's audacious annexation of Crimea to make the delicate argument that Russia is no world power but that its actions threaten Europe's order and demand a punishing international response.

The president, stepping up the task of solidifying broad-based support against Russia, was in Brussels Wednesday, a day after dismissing Russia as a mere "regional power" that was threatening its neighbors "not out of strength, but out of weakness." He said that as president, he worried more about a nuclear device in Manhattan than he did about Russia.

It was the kind of brush-off-your-shoulder language sure to antagonize the nationalistic Putin, but it also belied the time and energy Obama and European leaders have devoted to isolate Russia and fashion a menu of sanctions designed to stop Moscow's aggression.

Obama comes to Brussels to shore up commitments he received from allies in The Hague, Netherlands, to reassure Eastern European members of NATO that the alliance will stand by them and to make a larger point about European security a quarter-century after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Obama will blend heavy symbolism with diplomacy Wednesday and conclude with his only speech of the weeklong, four-country trip, tying the current Ukraine crisis to his vision of the United States and Europe as anchors of democracy and international law.

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Mudslide searchers press on with dogs, bare hands after discovery of more bodies

ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) — With search and cadaver dogs leading the way, rescuers using small bulldozers and their bare hands pushed through sludge strewn with splintered homes and twisted cars to find 10 more bodies in the debris of a Washington state mudslide, authorities said.

Despite the grim discoveries as the search entered its fifth day Wednesday — and the likelihood that more bodies will be found — officials were still hoping to find survivors.

"We haven't lost hope that there's a possibility that we can find somebody alive in some pocket area," said Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots.

Two bodies were recovered Tuesday, while another eight were located in the debris field from Saturday's slide 55 miles northeast of Seattle, Hots said.

That brings the likely death toll to 24, though authorities are keeping the official toll at 16 until the eight other bodies are recovered.

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Officials: Senate secretly considered phone company option for NSA program 3 years ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Intelligence Committee three years ago secretly considered — but ultimately rejected — alternate ways for the National Security Agency to collect and store massive amounts of Americans' phone records, The Associated Press has learned.

One of those options, outlined in a classified 2011 NSA analysis and reviewed in detail during closed committee meetings, was similar to what President Barack Obama is now advocating: that the government stop the bulk collection of Americans' phone records and instead ask phone companies to search their own business records for terrorism connections.

After reviewing the 2011 NSA analysis, the Senate overseers decided not move forward with any alternate arrangement, according to two government officials familiar with the review. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the classified report.

The 2011 report is significant because not much has changed — operationally — with the NSA's phone records program in the past three years. What has changed is that Americans now know the extent of the once-classified, massive surveillance operation, and they're not happy with what they consider to be invasions of privacy.

Obama's decision to call for changes in the program is not because he believes the program is flawed. It's because he needs to regain the trust of the American public.

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Health care Q&A: When your health plan disappears; bracing for the penalty

WASHINGTON (AP) — The new health care law helps some people, hurts others and confuses almost everyone. Hoping to simplify things a bit, The Associated Press asked its Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus followers for their real-life questions about the program and the problems they're running into as the March 31 deadline approaches to sign up for coverage in new insurance markets.

Two of their questions and AP's answers:

WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR PLAN

Q: "My premium AND my deductible are doubling ... in order to comply with Obamacare — I liked my coverage before and I was promised repeatedly I could keep it. My husband is self-employed so we don't get the breaks big corporations do. My question is how are self-employed people supposed to afford insurance under the 'Affordable Healthcare Act'?" — Amber Wiser Thompson, Saint Clairsville, Ohio.

Her story: When she posed the question, she and her self-employed husband were facing soaring costs for a new health plan starting this month. Their insurer was discontinuing their old plan because it didn't meet standards of the Affordable Care Act. The insurer's replacement plan cost $1,100 a month with a $5,000 deductible — in both respects, twice what they've been paying. More than 4 million Americans similarly found themselves scrambling for new private coverage when their old plans were pulled from the market because they didn't comply with Obamacare.

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3 Secret Service agents sent home from Netherlands for disciplinary reasons before Obama trip

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Secret Service sent three agents home from the Netherlands just before President Barack Obama's arrival after one agent was found inebriated in an Amsterdam hotel, the Secret Service said Tuesday.

The three agents were benched Sunday for "disciplinary reasons," said Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan, declining to elaborate. Donovan said the incident was prior to Obama's arrival Monday in the country and did not compromise the president's security in any way.

Still, the incident represents a fresh blemish for an elite agency struggling to rehabilitate its reputation following a high-profile prostitution scandal and other allegations of misconduct. An inspector general's report in December concluded there was no evidence of widespread misconduct, in line with the service's longstanding assertion that it has no tolerance for inappropriate behavior.

The agents sent home from Amsterdam were placed on administrative leave, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the disciplinary action. The newspaper said all three were on the Counter Assault Team, which defends the president if he comes under attack, and that one agent was a "team leader."

One agent was discovered highly intoxicated by staff at a hotel, who reported it to the U.S. Embassy, said a person familiar with the situation, who wasn't authorized to discuss the alleged behavior on the record and demanded anonymity. The other two agents were deemed complicit because they didn't intervene despite being in a position to assist the drunken agent or tamp down his behavior, the person said.

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Snag delays arrival of Soyuz spacecraft carrying Russian-American crew at space station

MOSCOW (AP) — An engine snag has delayed the arrival of a Russian spacecraft carrying three astronauts to the International Space Station until Thursday.

A rocket carrying Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and American Steve Swanson to the space station blasted off successfully early Wednesday from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz booster rocket lifted off as scheduled at 3:17 a.m. local time Wednesday (2117 GMT Tuesday). It entered a designated orbit about 10 minutes after the launch and was expected to reach the space station in six hours. All onboard systems were working flawlessly, and the crew was feeling fine.

NASA and Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, said shortly before the planned docking that the arrival had been delayed after a 24-second engine burn that was necessary to adjust the Soyuz spacecraft's orbiting path "did not occur as planned."

The crew is in no danger, but will have to wait until Thursday for the Soyuz TMA-12M to arrive and dock at the space station, NASA said. The arrival is now scheduled for 7:58 EDT (2358 GMT) Thursday.

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NASA launches a mission to measure snowpack in California, Colorado mountain ranges

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — The snowpack atop mountain peaks in California and Colorado has a new set of eyes watching from high above to better gauge the amount of water that will rumble down rivers and streams each spring as runoff.

In a new mission, NASA fixed a lumbering twin-engine plane with high-tech equipment to make regular snow surveys, starting last weekend in drought-stricken California before the weather front expected to bring snow to the Sierra this week. At an altitude of up to 20,000 feet, the so-called Airborne Snow Observatory measures snowpack's depth and water content with precision.

Improving on the old method of taking snow samples from the ground, scientists said that from the lofty heights they can calculate snow depth to within 4 inches and water content to within 5 percent.

The figures will answer a list of questions about mountain snowpack, said Tom Painter, NASA's lead investigator for the mission.

"About 75 to 80 percent of our water comes from the snowmelt," Painter said. "Understanding the snowpack is really, really important."

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At social painting events, beer and brushes help nonartists tap into their creative sides

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Fox and Hound pub in downtown Philadelphia boasts all the fixings of a standard sports bar: huge TVs, numerous beers on draft and a menu filled with burgers, wings and nachos.

So what are all the easels and canvases for?

Welcome to Paint Nite, an opportunity to tap your inner van Gogh. Just order a drink, put on a smock and lighten up a bit as a friendly instructor takes you step-by-step through the brush strokes of a landscape, still life or skyline.

But be sure to reserve your spot ahead of time. The two-hour event, like more than a dozen others held weekly in Philadelphia, often sells out.

The experience known as social painting is seeing explosive growth in cities across the country as people seek to imbibe and relax while rediscovering their creative side.

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At a rising number of domestic violence shelters, there is a place for both people and pets

NEW YORK (AP) — When her abusive husband left for work last fall, she grabbed her kids, her dog and her bags, only to run up against a heart-wrenching obstacle: None of the city's more than 50 domestic violence shelters would accept the pet.

"Should I still leave?" the 34-year-old woman asked herself before fleeing and ultimately finding a foster home for her Chihuahua.

Now, after months apart, the family and Peppah the Chihuahua recently moved into the city's first pet friendly domestic violence shelter, one of a growing number across the country that address a common reason victims are reluctant to leave — they don't want to leave their pets behind.

Ranging from urban apartments to Western ranches, their numbers have shot up from four in 2008 to at least 73 now, with 15 more planned, according to Allie Phillips, a former Michigan prosecutor who has become a leading advocate for such shelters.

Behind the nondescript walls of a New York City building that quietly harbors about 120 adults and children, "pet-friendly apartment" signs mark units outfitted with such special features, such as a dog run built in a side alley, intended to keep residents from having to walk their pets on local streets, lest their batterers learn where they are.

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