Tuesday, March 4, 2014

By The Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 4, 2014 at 4:01 p.m.



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Putin drops his cool, public demeanor as he lashes out at the West about Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) — In some ways, the venue Vladimir Putin chose and the emotional lecture he gave the world about Russia's actions in Ukraine said it all.

In an hour-long chat with a handful of Kremlin pool reporters at his presidential residence, Putin sat in an easy chair and spoke with the bravado of an ex-KGB agent suspicious of Western plots.

Wagging his finger at the reporters, the defiant leader dismissed the threat of U.S. and European Union sanctions, alleged that "rampaging neo-Nazis" dominate Ukraine's capital, and said the Russian and Ukrainian soldiers locked in a standoff in Crimea are actually "brothers in arms." A look at Putin's appearance and what it says about the crisis and him.

STANDING TOUGH

Putin has long been famous for his cool public demeanor at public appearances that often are carefully stage managed.

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US prepares $1 billion aid package as Kerry arrives in troubled Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — In a somber show of U.S. support for Ukraine's new leadership, Secretary of State John Kerry walked the streets Tuesday where more than 80 anti-government protesters were killed last month, and promised beseeching crowds that American aid is on the way.

Kerry met in Ukraine with the new government's acting president, prime minister, foreign minister and top parliamentary officials. Speaking to reporters afterward, Kerry urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to stand down and said the U.S. is looking for ways to de-escalate the mounting tensions.

"It is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further," Kerry said. "It is not appropriate to invade a country, and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve. That is not 21st-century, G-8, major nation behavior."

Kerry made a pointed distinction between the Ukrainian government and Putin's.

"The contrast really could not be clearer: determined Ukranians demonstrating strength through unity, and the Russian government out of excuses, hiding its hand behind falsehoods, intimidation and provocations. In the hearts of Ukranians and the eyes of the world, there is nothing strong about what Russia is doing."

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Obama's election-year budget: Rallying Democrats with a focus on jobs, economy, income gap

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's election-year budget seeks to rally fellow Democrats with new help for the working poor and fresh money for road-building, education and research. It also pulls back from controversial cuts to Social Security that had been designed to lure Republicans to the bargaining table.

Otherwise, Tuesday's $3.9 trillion submission for the 2015 budget year, which begins in October, looks a lot like Obama's previous plans. It combines proposals for more than $1.1 trillion in tax increases on the wealthy with an array of modest initiatives such as job training funds, money to rehabilitate national parks and funding for early childhood education.

"Our budget is about choices. It's about our values," Obama said at a Washington elementary school. "As a country, we've got to make a decision, if we're going to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans or if we're going to make smart investments necessary to create jobs and grow our economy and expand opportunity for every American."

Obama's previous budgets have mostly gone nowhere, and that's where Tuesday's submission appears to be headed as well. Instead, Congress is likely to adhere to last year's mini budget deal as it looks ahead to midterm elections this fall.

Said Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee: "This budget isn't a serious document; it's a campaign brochure."

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Analysis: Obama tries to have it both ways with election-year budget

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama tried to have it both ways Tuesday with an election-year budget that paid faint lip service to reducing federal deficits, then piled on about $1 trillion in tax increases and hundreds of billions in higher spending designed to appeal to economically squeezed voters rather than congressional foes of red ink.

Few, if any, of the president's proposals are likely to be enacted into law before next fall's elections. But that's not the point.

The objective is political rather than legislative — a book-length compendium of proposals meant to give Democratic congressional candidates a campaign platform at a time when economic disparity is a major concern for millions trying to dig out from the worst recession in decades.

Last year's deficit-cutting proposals "remain on the table," says the budget, referring ever so gingerly to recommended cuts in the growth of Social Security benefits. Asserting the "Republicans' unwillingness to negotiate a balanced long-term deficit reduction deal," it adds the president is now turning toward "the best path to create growth and opportunity for all Americans."

Shifting priorities means a budget that never balances at any point in the next decade, lays waste to the spending caps that the White House and Congress agreed to late last year and imposes higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for more spending on programs that benefit those further down the income ladder. Education, job training, child care, transportation, tax breaks for lower-income millions of Americans and more would receive increased funding.

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Iditarod: 5 things to know about Alaska race's furry, 4-legged athletes

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — One human wins the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race each year, but it's the smaller, furry athletes that do the heroes' share of the work crossing nearly 1,000 miles of merciless terrain to reach the finish line on Alaska's wind-battered coast.

The 2014 race, which began Sunday, is still in the early stages, with jockeying for the lead remaining fluid until all the mushers begin taking a mandatory, 24-hour layover and two eight-hour rests. Sixty-nine mushers began the race, though several already have dropped out.

On Tuesday, Iditarod veteran Sonny Lindner was the first to leave the Nikolai checkpoint, more than 700 miles from the finish line in the old gold rush town of Nome. Participants say this year's trail conditions are grueling, including stretches of bare ground. Throughout the race, mushers will keep a close eye on their dogs.

Here are some other key things to know about the four-legged competitors:

IT TAKES A TEAM

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United gets tough on oversized carry-on bags, plans to eyeball luggage at security entrances

NEW YORK (AP) — United Airlines is getting tough on passengers with oversized carry-on bags, even sending some of them back to the ticket counter to check their luggage for a fee.

The Chicago-based airline has started a push to better enforce rules restricting the size of carry-on bags — an effort that will include instructing workers at security checkpoint entrances to eyeball passengers for bags that are too big.

In recent weeks, United has rolled out new bag-sizing boxes at most airports and sent an email to frequent fliers, reminding them of the rules. An internal employee newsletter called the program a "renewed focus on carry-on compliance."

The size limits on carry-on bags have been in place for years, but airlines have enforced them inconsistently.

United says it is just ensuring that bags are reviewed at the security checkpoint, in addition to the bag checks already done at gates prior to boarding.

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Texas holding nation's 1st primary election, as GOP hopefuls run right for slate of open seats

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans decided who was more conservative while Democrats sought to galvanize new voters as Texas held a first-in-the-nation primary that could push the state farther right even as the left looks to stake new claims.

Six of Texas' top jobs are open after GOP Gov. Rick Perry decided not to run again following a record 14 years in office, prompting a stampede of 26 Republicans candidates for various stepping stones to higher office. Democrats set on breaking the nation's longest losing streak in races for statewide office meanwhile hoped charismatic gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis would turnout long dormant voters.

"If people don't start supporting the Democratic Party and voting as a Democrat, instead of being a Democrat voting in the Republican primary, then we're never going to win races and we're never going to establish ourselves as a serious party here," said Janet Veal, 43, a Texas Tech student adviser who cast a Democratic ballot in Lubbock.

That possibility, and the rising influence of tea party firebrand U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, has Texas Republicans flanking farther right this primary season. Some have blasted an "invasion" of immigrants coming across the Texas border, where immigration arrests have almost tripled in recent years but remain at about one-third of their historic highs. Others pledged to further tighten some of the nation's strictest abortion laws and doubled down on the state's gay marriage ban — one of several state bans recently ruled unconstitutional by federal courts.

"I think we need to bolster the border security and get tougher on immigration," 38-year-old conservative Republican Glendon Paulk said after voting in Lubbock. "I'm all for people who come over here legally but the illegal immigrants, it doesn't make sense for them to get a break while we're working and having to pay taxes."

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Pistorius neighbor breaks down on stand after murder trial interrupted

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — For two days, the witness in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius kept her composure. Then, just as her testimony was about to finish, she broke down in tears at what she said was the memory of the screams she heard on the night that the double-amputee athlete fatally shot his girlfriend in his South African home.

Michelle Burger, a neighbor of Pistorius who took the stand on the second day of a trial watched around the world, remained calm through intense questioning by the chief defense lawyer. In a final exchange with the lead prosecutor on Tuesday, however, emotion washed over her as she recalled what she described as the terrified screams of a woman early on Valentine's Day last year.

"When I'm in the shower, I relive her shouts," Burger said in an apparent reference to her trauma just after the shooting, when a police captain took her statement. When Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor, asked her about her emotions at the time, she said the experience was "quite raw" and her voice broke.

Nel asked her how she was coping now.

"I'm coping fine," Burger insisted. "It's been a year."

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Police say 1 person killed in NJ explosion after gas line damaged; 7 injured

EWING, N.J. (AP) — Authorities say one resident was killed in an explosion in a New Jersey housing development that also injured seven workers.

Police say the blast happened Tuesday after a gas line was damaged by contractors who were digging in the area. At least one town home was destroyed in the Trenton suburb of Ewing and 55 others damaged.

The person who was killed was found outside the home that blew up, but authorities don't know whether the victim lived there. No other details were given.

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A monthly shot to prevent HIV infection? Monkey studies show big promise for novel drug

Exciting research suggests that a shot every one to three months may someday give an alternative to the daily pills that some people take now to cut their risk of getting HIV.

The experimental drug has only been tested for prevention in monkeys, but it completely protected them from infection in two studies reported at an AIDS conference on Tuesday.

"This is the most exciting innovation in the field of HIV prevention that I've heard recently," said Dr. Robert Grant, an AIDS expert at the Gladstone Institutes, a foundation affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco.

"Both groups are showing 100 percent protection" with the drug, Grant said of the two groups of researchers. "If it works and proves to be safe, it would allow for HIV to be prevented with periodic injections, perhaps every three months."

Until a vaccine is developed, condoms are the best way to prevent infection with the AIDS virus and many other sexually spread diseases. But not everyone uses them, or does so all the time, so public health officials have pursued other prevention options.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Associated Press

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