DENVER (AP) — A political generation ago, the West signaled the nation's rightward swing — from the emergence of Ronald Reagan to the success of tax-limitation ballot measures in California and Colorado. But now the fabled expanse of jagged peaks, arid deserts and emerald coastlines is trending in a different direction.
From Washington state — where voters in November legalized marijuana and upheld the legality of gay marriage — to New Mexico, once a hotly contested swing state that Republicans ceded to Democrats in the presidential campaign, the West has become largely Democratic terrain.
There are, as always, exceptions. Lightly populated Idaho and Wyoming remain strongly Republican, as does Utah. And Democrats are struggling in Arizona, where a bruising immigration debate has given Republicans a lock on statewide offices but may provide Democrats an opening by firming up their support among the state's growing Hispanic population. Still, the overall trend is clear, according to analysts on all sides of the political spectrum.
"It's just a different world," said Bill Carrick, a veteran Democratic strategist in Los Angeles who has worked widely in the region. "Nevada became the next California and now Arizona looks like it will become the next Nevada. ... It's just pushing the West further and further from Republicans."
The shift is due to a combination of factors: the fusion of the region's libertarian spirit with both an influx of transplants from more liberal states seeking a better quality of life, and a growing immigrant population alienated by increasingly hardline Republican immigration proposals.
Newtown residents to join pastors, parents in march for gun control on National Mall in DC
WASHINGTON (AP) — Residents from Newtown, Conn., are joining a march on Washington for gun control on Saturday with parents, pastors, survivors of gun violence and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Organizers said they are expecting thousands of participants for the rally on the National Mall, including about 100 from Newtown and buses from New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. Others are flying in from Seattle, San Francisco and even Alaska. They will gather Saturday at the Capitol Reflecting Pool at 10 a.m. and will begin marching down Constitution Avenue toward the Washington Monument at 11 a.m. A rally is planned on the monument grounds at noon.
Molly Smith, the artistic director of Washington's Arena Stage, and her partner organized the march, inspired by the Connecticut massacre that killed 20 first graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, she said. The gunman also fatally shot his mother and committed suicide.
"With the drum roll, the consistency of the mass murders and the shock of it, it is always something that is moving and devastating to me. And then, it's as if I move on," Smith said. "And In this moment, I can't move on. I can't move on.
"I think it's because it was children, babies," she said. "I was horrified by it."
Veterans hope registry answers concerns about health effects of burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AP) — J.D. Williams didn't think much about the smoke cloud that often shrouded his air base in Iraq. Not when it covered everything he owned with black soot or when his wheezing and coughing made it difficult to sleep at night.
"We just went about our business because there was a war going on," said Williams, a retired chief warrant officer who was responsible for maintaining some 250 aircraft for the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division.
He returned home from that second stint in Iraq in 2006 and subsequently was diagnosed with an irreversible lung disease that his doctor suspects could be related to smoke from one of the hundreds of burn pits that dotted Iraq and Afghanistan during the course of the two wars. The pits were used to burn off the garbage that accumulates at military bases, everything from Styrofoam and metal to paints, solvents, human waste and medical waste.
A new Department of Veterans Affairs registry, mandated by Congress, will be used to try to determine if there is a link between the burn pits and long-term health problems.
Military personnel who were stationed near an open burn pit can sign up. Researchers will use the database to monitor health trends in participants, and the VA will alert them to major problems detected.
Iraqi militants try to harness opposition rage, raising fears they will benefit from unrest
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi insurgents are trying to capitalize on the rage of anti-government protesters and the instability caused by rising civil unrest, complicating the government's efforts to stamp out a resurgent al-Qaida and other militants.
Organizers of the protests attracting minority Iraqi Sunnis insist they have no links to terrorist groups. Yet Iraqi and U.S. officials have expressed concern that violent extremists could benefit from the demonstrators' feelings of alienation and hostility toward the Shiite-led Iraqi government.
And tensions are rising.
At least five protesters were killed and more than 20 were wounded on Friday when soldiers opened fire at stone-hurling demonstrators near Fallujah, a former al-Qaida stronghold where tens of thousands took to the streets. Some in the crowd waved black banners emblazoned with the Muslim confession of faith.
They were the first deaths at opposition rallies that have been raging around the country for more than a month. Two soldiers were later killed in an apparent retaliatory attack.
Egypt court sentences 21 to death for soccer violence last year that killed 74
CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court sentenced 21 people to death on charges related to one of the world's deadliest incidents of soccer violence, which killed 74 mostly teenage fans of Egypt's most popular sports club last year.
The verdict comes after a day of clashes between security forces and protesters opposed to Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi that left seven dead.
Fans of al-Ahly, whose stands were attacked by rival club Al-Masry in the Feb. 1 incident in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, had promised more violence if the accused did not receive death sentences.
Families of the victims shouted "Allahu Akbar!," or God is great, after the judge read out his verdict. One man fainted, while others wailed and cried in disbelief as they carried pictures of the young men killed in the soccer riot.
Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid said in his statement read live on state TV that he would announce the verdict for the remaining 52 defendants on March 9.
Migrants from Europe find plenty of jobs in Latin America, but bureaucracy stymies
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Geologist David Rodriguez and actress Cristina Pascual, two of the nearly six million Spaniards left jobless in the European recession, fled to Latin America last year, figuring their futures would be brighter in the booming economies on this side of the Atlantic.
Instead, they found themselves stuck, facing so many bureaucratic hurdles that their only option was to work illegally, for much lower wages. Without a work visa, they couldn't get a formal job. Without a job offer, no visa. And without a job and a visa, they had no way of securing an all-important tax-identification number, freezing them out of Chile's booming formal economy. Trying to bend the rules can result in deportation for the worker, and fines for the company.
Rodriguez and Pascual are among the many migrants watching this weekend as leaders from the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean seek ways of eliminating the red tape that has made it so difficult for foreigners to bring their skills across borders.
The vast majority of migrants between the continents used to travel to Europe, but the trends flipped after 2010, when economic indicators began to improve in Spain and Portugal's former colonies. Now Spanish and Portuguese workers are arriving by the thousands each year, entering on tourist visas and job-hunting in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Argentina. Spanish migrants with skills needed in the mining industry are particularly sought after in Chile.
But the bureaucracy is getting in the way.
Officers' spouses club at Fort Bragg does about-face, invites female officer's wife to join
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — A woman who is married to a female Army officer at Fort Bragg and who was recently denied membership in its officers' spouses club said late Friday that she has been invited to become a full member.
Ashley Broadway told the Associated Press that she received the invitation from the club's board in an email Friday.
The invitation came on the same day that Broadway also learned she'd been named Fort Bragg's 2013 "Military Spouse of the Year" by Military Spouse magazine. She is married to Lt. Col. Heather Mack, who gave birth this week to the couple's second child, a baby girl.
"I'm pleased, I'm happy," Broadway said by phone Friday night. "As soon as things calm down with the baby, I want to get involved. I hate that it took so long for them to come to this conclusion. But I think things happen for a reason. I'm a very devout Christian. I've had faith in God this whole time. I think if anything it's brought up a larger issue: We have two classes of service members and how they're... not treated equally."
"Looking back, it's been a blessing in disguise because people are talking... in Washington, this is being talked about," she added.
Marine expert: Dolphin may have been ill before wandering into polluted NY canal and dying
NEW YORK (AP) — A dolphin seen shaking black gunk from its snout after wandering into a polluted urban canal may well have been ill before it lost its way and died, a marine expert says.
The wayward dolphin splashed around in the filthy waters of the Gowanus Canal before it died Friday evening. The canal is a Superfund site, where for years factories and fuel refineries operated.
The deep-freeze weather hadn't seemed to faze the dolphin as it swam in the canal, which runs 1.5 miles through a narrow industrial zone near some of Brooklyn's wealthiest neighborhoods.
Marine experts had hoped high tide, beginning around 7:10 p.m., would help the dolphin leave the canal safely. But the dolphin was confirmed dead shortly before then, said the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
Experts aim to conduct a necropsy to determine why the dolphin died, but it may have been ill when it got into the canal, said Robert DiGiovanni, a senior biologist with the foundation, which specializes in cases involving whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles. Staffers were having trouble getting to the dolphin's body on a snowy night.
Disney makes it official: JJ Abrams to direct seventh installment of 'Star Wars' franchise
LOS ANGELES (AP) — It's official. The force is with J.J. Abrams.
The Walt Disney Co. issued a statement Friday night confirming reports that had been circulating for two days that Abrams, Emmy-award-winning creator of TV's "Lost" and director of 2009's "Star Trek" movie, has been pegged to direct the seventh installment of the "Star Wars" franchise.
"J.J. is the perfect director to helm this," said Kathleen Kennedy, the movie's producer and president of Lucasfilm, which was acquired by Disney last month for $4.06 billion.
"Beyond having such great instincts as a filmmaker, he has an intuitive understanding of this franchise. He understands the essence of the Star Wars experience," Kennedy said in the statement.
The movie will have a script from "Toy Story 3" writer Michael Arndt and a 2015 release.
Tiger Woods builds a lead over 7 players who have never won
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Tiger Woods cared more about the number of rounds left at Torrey Pines than the number of PGA Tour wins belonging to the guys chasing him.
When the second round ended Friday in a steady rain at the Farmers Insurance Open, the odds looked to be stacked in Woods' favor. He had a 7-under 65 on the North Course for his first outright 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour in more than three years. He is a seven-time winner at Torrey Pines, six of those in this tournament. And his 74 career wins on tour were 74 more than the next seven guys behind him.
"We've got a long way to go," Woods said after finishing his two rounds at 11-under 133.
Woods knows this from experience.
His three-shot win in the 2009 Buick Open was tougher than it looked on paper, only because Woods had everything to lose. He was expected to win. Of the 13 players within five shots of his slim lead going into the last round, only one of them — Ben Crane at No. 73 — was ranked inside the top 100 in the world.