Friday, January 11, 2013

Published:

Flu season hits with scramble for shots; feds say some available but may take calls to find it

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Missed flu-shot day at the office last fall? And all those "get vaccinated" ads? A scramble for shots is under way as late-comers seek protection from a miserable flu strain already spreading through much of the country.

Federal health officials said Friday that there is still some flu vaccine available and it's not too late to benefit from it. But people may have to call around to find a clinic with shots still on the shelf, or wait a few days for a new shipment.

"We're hearing of spot shortages," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colorado offers an example. Kaiser Permanente, which has 535,000 members in the state, stopped giving flu shots this week. But it expected to resume vaccinations when new shipments arrive, expected this weekend.

Some questions and answers about flu vaccines:

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Video game industry defends its practices and cites lower violence amid gun-control discussion

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The video game industry, blamed by some for fostering a culture of violence, defended its practices Friday at a White House meeting exploring how to prevent horrific shootings like the recent Connecticut elementary school massacre.

Vice President Joe Biden, wrapping up three days of wide-ranging talks on gun violence prevention, said the meeting was an effort to understand whether the U.S. was undergoing a "coarsening of our culture."

"I come to this meeting with no judgment. You all know the judgments other people have made," Biden said at the opening of a two-hour discussion. "We're looking for help."

Afterward, the Entertainment Software Association said in a statement that it had told Biden that "independent, scientific research conducted to date has found no causal connection between video games and real-life violence."

"We also recognized that gun violence is a serious problem in our country," the group said, adding that "as an industry integral to the social and cultural fabric of America" it wanted to work toward "meaningful solutions." It didn't say what those might be.

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Obama, Karzai agree to put Afghan forces in lead combat role this spring, earlier than planned

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Uneasy allies, President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai demonstrated Friday they could agree on one big idea: After 11 years of war, the time is right for U.S. forces to let Afghans do their own fighting. U.S. and coalition forces will take a battlefield back seat by spring and, by implication, go home in larger numbers soon thereafter.

"It will be a historic moment," Obama declared.

In a White House meeting billed as a chance to take stock of a war that now ranks as America's longest, Obama and Karzai agreed to accelerate their timetable for putting the Afghanistan army in the lead combat role nationwide. It will happen this spring instead of summer -- a shift that looks small but looms larger in the debate over how quickly to bring U.S. troops home and whether some should stay after combat ends in 2014.

The two leaders also agreed that the Afghan government would be given full control of detention centers and detainees. They did not reach agreement on an equally sticky issue: whether any U.S. troops remaining after 2014 would be granted immunity from prosecution under Afghan law. Immunity is a U.S. demand that the Afghans have resisted, saying they want assurances on other things -- like authority over detainees -- first.

At a joint news conference with Karzai in the White House East Room, Obama said he was not yet ready to decide the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals between now and December 2014. That is the target date set by NATO and the Afghan government for the international combat mission to end. There are now 66,000 U.S. troops there.

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French forces launch military operations against Islamist extremists in Mali

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- France launched airstrikes Friday to help the government of Mali defeat al-Qaida-linked militants who captured more ground this week, dramatically raising the stakes in the battle for this vast desert nation.

French President Francois Hollande said the "terrorist groups, drug traffickers and extremists" in northern Mali "show a brutality that threatens us all." He vowed that the operation would last "as long as necessary."

France said it was taking the action in Mali at the request of President Dioncounda Traore, who declared a state of emergency because of the militants' advance.

The arrival of the French troops in their former colony came a day after the Islamists moved the closest yet toward territory still under government control and fought the Malian military for the first time in months, seizing the strategic city of Konna.

Sanda Abou Moahmed, a spokesman for the Ansar Dine group, condemned Mali's president for seeking military help from its former colonizer.

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After fire, fuel leak, FAA to conduct review of Boeing's 787 -- but officials say plane is safe

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government stepped in Friday to assure the public that Boeing's new 787 "Dreamliner" is safe to fly, even as it launched a comprehensive review to find out what caused a fire, a fuel leak and other worrisome incidents this week.

Despite the incidents, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared, "I believe this plane is safe, and I would have absolutely no reservations about boarding one of these planes and taking a flight." Administrator Michael Huerta of the Federal Aviation Administration said his agency has seen no data suggesting the plane isn't safe but wanted the review to find out why safety-related incidents were occurring.

The 787 is the aircraft maker's newest and most technologically advanced airliner, and the company is counting heavily on its success. It relies more than any other modern airliner on electrical signals to help power nearly everything the plane does. It's also the first Boeing plane to use rechargeable lithium ion batteries, which charge faster and can be molded to space-saving shapes compared to other airplane batteries. The plane is made with lightweight composite materials instead of aluminum.

A fire ignited Monday in the battery pack of an auxiliary power unit of a Japan Airlines 787 empty of passengers as the plane sat on the tarmac at Boston's Logan International Airport. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze. Also this week, a fuel leak delayed a flight from Boston to Tokyo of another Japan Airlines 787.

On Friday, Japan's All Nippon Airways reported two new cases of problems with the aircraft. ANA spokeswoman Ayumi Kunimatsu said a very small amount of oil was discovered leaking from an engine of a 787 flight from southern Japan's Miyazaki airport to Tokyo.

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School board in Ohio plans to arm some non-teaching staffers with guns, perhaps even janitors

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- A rural school district in Ohio is drawing attention with its plans to arm a handful of its non-teaching employees with handguns this year -- perhaps even janitors.

Four employees in the Montpelier schools have agreed to take a weapons training course and carry their own guns inside the district's one building, which houses 1,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, school officials said.

"It's kind of a sign of the times," Superintendent Jamie Grime said Friday.

The Toledo Blade reported that the employees were janitors, but school officials would not confirm that to The Associated Press, saying only that they are employees who don't have direct supervision over the students in the northwest Ohio district.

The four employees who will carry guns all volunteered to take part, Grime said. The school plans to pay for them to attend a two-day training course.

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Official: Grandparents abducted Indiana boy in 1994 when his mother was living in a car

CLARISSA, Minn. (AP) -- In 2006, an 18-year-old Minnesota man legally changed his name to Michael Jeff Landers. Six years later, authorities determined Landers was really the Indiana child who had been abducted by his paternal grandparents in 1994.

Richard Wayne Landers Jr., was reportedly abducted when he was 5 years old. The 24-year-old Michael Landers now lives in the small central Minnesota town of Browerville, the Todd County Sheriff's Office said Friday.

Sheriff Peter Mikkelson said the investigation is ongoing and the case will be forwarded to federal authorities for possible charges.

It's unclear what Landers knew about his history, but authorities said he had lived with his grandparents since birth.

According to court records, Landers applied for the name change himself in November 2006, just a couple weeks after he turned 18. The application doesn't say why he requested the change, and it wasn't immediately clear how long he had used the name Michael.

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Mexican animal activists protest detention of dogs in park killings; tests come back negative

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Dozens of protesters chanting "Free the dogs, arrest the criminals!" demonstrated outside Mexico City police headquarters Friday, demanding the release of 57 stray dogs seized over five suspected mauling deaths in recent weeks.

The protesters said the dogs are innocent, and many claimed the victims were probably killed by humans. They acknowledged the famished dogs that live in a hilltop park in an east-side slum where the bodies were found may have bitten the corpses after they were already dead.

"Dog friends, the people are with you!" the protesters chanted, as well as, "The dogs aren't criminals, the police are inept!"

"We are completely certain ... the dogs are innocent," said Nominis de Esparza, an animal activist who has adopted 30 cats.

Autopsies determined that the three women, a teenage boy and a baby found in the park since mid-December died of loss of blood due to bites from multiple dogs.

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US-born Taliban fighter wins court fight to pray daily with Muslims in high-security prison

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- An American convicted of fighting alongside the Taliban must be allowed to pray daily in a group with other Muslim inmates at his high-security prison in Indiana, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Barring John Walker Lindh and his fellow Muslims from engaging in daily group ritual prayer violates a 1993 law that bans the government from curtailing religious speech without showing a compelling interest, U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled.

The judge blocked the prison from enforcing its ban on daily group prayer, but she noted that her ruling does not prohibit the prison from taking less restrictive security measures.

U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett, whose office represented the prison, said Friday that prosecutors were considering their next step, including a possible appeal.

"This case deals with critically important issues that have significance both inside and outside the walls of our federal prison facilities," Hogsett said. "Our concern continues to be the safety and security of both our federal prison system and the United States of America."

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Let's stay together: Kobe Bryant and wife Vanessa say they've called off their divorce

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kobe and Vanessa Bryant are staying together.

The Los Angeles Lakers superstar and his wife both announced they've called off their divorce Friday on social media.

Shortly after Vanessa posted the news on Instagram, Kobe confirmed it on Facebook less than an hour before the Lakers hosted the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce in December 2011, seeking to end a marriage that began in April 2001. The Bryants have two daughters, Natalia and Gianna.

But Kobe and Vanessa haven't acted like a divorcing couple in the past year, with Vanessa and their daughters attending many Lakers home games.