Pope Francis has met a Spanish transsexual and his fiancee at the Vatican, opening his doors to a man dubbed "the devil's daughter" by a local priest, media reports said Tuesday. Diego Neria Lejarraga met the pontiff on Saturday after writing to him in December to complain he was being treated as an outcast in his parish in Plasencia in western Spain, according to the Spanish daily Hoy. Officially the Church does not recognize sex changes but its current leader has urged it to show greater compassion towards sections of society which have felt excluded from its embrace, most notably when he said of homosexuals, "Who am I to judge?" read more
After a well-received speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced formation of a fundraising committee -- a typical sign that a candidate is serious about running for president.
Carl Krawitt has watched his son, Rhett, now 6, fight leukemia for the past 4 1/2 years. For more than three of those years, Rhett has undergone round after round of chemotherapy. Last year he finished chemotherapy, and doctors say he is in remission. Now, there's a new threat, one that the family should not have to worry about: measles. Rhett cannot be vaccinated, because his immune system is still rebuilding. It may be months more before his body is healthy enough to get all his immunizations. Until then, he depends on everyone around him for protection -- what's known as herd immunity. But Rhett lives in Marin County, Calif., a county with the dubious honor of having the highest rate of "personal belief exemptions" in the Bay Area and among the highest in the state. This school year, 6.45 percent of children in Marin have a personal belief exemption, which allows parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated against communicable diseases like measles, polio, whooping cough and more. read more
Benjamin and Kristi Strack had spoken of escaping "impending doom," relatives told investigators after the Utah couple and their three children were found dead in September -- but they thought they were talking about moving somewhere like Montana and living off the grid. Instead, the Stracks killed themselves and their three children with drug overdoses in what investigators have concluded was a murder-suicide inspired by the couple's apocalyptic beliefs, KSL.com reports. -- Newser
The Obama administration has decided to scrap a plan to tax 529 college savings plan withdrawals. A White House official called the proposed change a "distraction" and said there are plenty of other ways to raise revenue as part of their budget. Obama had proposed raising $1 billion over 10 years by taxing capital gains realized in withdrawals from 529 college savings accounts. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reportedly joined GOP critics in opposing the proposal.
Jimmy McMillan, who ran for New York governor in 2010 under the slogan "The Rent is Too Damn High," has received an eviction notice for February 5 at his rent-stabilized Manhattan apartment on St. Mark's Place. "The bottom line is, they want me out for more money," said McMillan, who has lived in the building since 1977. His attorney has filed motions in federal and state court seeking a stay of eviction.
A police sergeant in Ohio is facing criminal charges after taking a camera away from a disabled resident who was filming police activity. Yellow Springs Sgt. Naomi Penrod has been charged with three misdemeanors of interfering with civil rights, assault and disorderly conduct, according to village manager Patti Bates. Penrod and two other officers showed up near Athena Fannin's home after an eviction notice was served by a landlord who called the police. When Fannin began filming the officers, Penrod took the camera out of her hands, reports Opposing Views. Video of the three seconds before the camera was taken went viral. read more
Masked investigators and riot police on Monday raided Crimea's only Tatar-language television channel -- the latest in a string of detentions, deportations and searches targeting the peninsula's indigenous Crimean Tatars since Russia annexed the region in March. The raid follows an admission this weekend by a major pro-Russia Crimean leader that he and other armed men forced local lawmakers to dissolve the existing government in the run-up to the republic's controversial secession referendum. read more
A female passenger grabbed the wheel of a bus careening out of control on Interstate 94 near Kenosha, Wisconsin, Saturday, steering it to safety and stopping the vehicle after the driver collapsed. Jill Bien, 48, was on the tour bus with 33 others when she became concerned after the driver hit a wall. Reports indicate the bus was going about 65 mph. "I'm yelling at him to stop the bus, and I realized we started going against the wall again. I turned to yell at him, 'Like what are you doing?' and there was no one sitting there," she said.
Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing: Letters sent to the FCC in favor of Comcast's proposed Time Warner Cable merger came from Mayor Jere Wood of Roswell, GA; Councilor Todd Wodraska of Jupiter, FL; Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown and many other politicians -- all written in whole or part by Comcast's staffers and lobbyists. These were part of what Comcast called an "outpouring of thoughtful and positive comments." Many of the politicians who wrote in support of the merger are also recipients of campaign funds from Comcast.
Peter Suderman, Reason: Andrew Sullivan, the pioneering blogger whose work set the tone for a generation of online political journalism, announced today that heís retiring from blogging after 15 years. It's hard to overstate how influential Sullivanís blogging has been over the years. A former editor of The New Republic, he was among the first people with professional journalism credentials to take to the form, and in taking to it he helped define it.
Fred Barbash, The Washington Post: The North Miami Beach police department was discovered last month to be using mug shots of African Americans for sniper practice at a firing range. NBC News Channel 6 in Miami broke the story after hearing from a member of the Florida Army National Guard who showed up with her unit for weapons qualification at the same commercial firing range used by the police and discovered the targets left behind, an array of six African Americans. North Miami Police Chief J. Scott Dennis, while conceding that his department "could have used better judgment," denied any racial profiling. He said the department uses pictures of people of all races for target practice. But the day National Guard Sgt. Valerie Deant showed up, she saw only African Americans. And what really upset her was that among the mug shots riddled with bullet holes was one of her own brother. read more
U.S. consumers turned exceedingly upbeat about the economy at the start of 2015. increasing the Conference Board's consumer confidence index to 102.9. That's the highest the index has been since August 2007. "Consumers are thrilled to start 2015," wrote economist Bricklin Dwyer of BNP Paribas in a research note. "Overall today's data support our forecast for continued strength in consumer spending."
Mitt Romney has already lost the Rupert Murdoch primary, write Amy Chozick and Michael Barbaro of the New York Times: "Presidential politics is rife with grudges and grievances, but it is hard to recall a display of animus as unsubtle as the one Murdoch and corners of his media empire have unleashed on Romney in the past few weeks as he has tried to build support for a third presidential run. An editorial in Murdoch's most prominent American newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, has called Romney's last run a 'calamity.' Murdoch has dismissed Romney as a 'terrible candidate.' And, in a final indignity, Murdoch has heaped praise on Romney's potential rivals, no matter how long a shot they have at the Republican nomination. ('Watch Ben Carson,' Murdoch wrote on Twitter a few days ago, labeling Carson, a conservative physician and political neophyte, a 'principled brave achiever.')"
The number of U.S. criminals exonerated in 2014 climbed to a record high of 125, in part because of efforts by prosecutors willing to admit their offices made mistakes, according to a report released on Tuesday. The states with the most exonerations last year were Texas, New York and Illinois, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School. This was the first time the Registry, which has tracked exonerations since 1989, found more than 100 in a single year. read more