AP News in Brief at 10:58 p.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on January 2, 2014 at 11:09 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 3 at 1:01 AM

Snowstorm lashes Northeast, closing schools, grounding flights; 22 inches of snow in Mass.

BOSTON (AP) — A strong winter storm pounding the Northeast with stiff winds and punishing cold has dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in parts of Massachusetts.

The National Weather Service says 21 inches of snow has fallen in Boxford, just north of Boston. It says parts of upstate New York have 18 inches.

The brutal weather has extended Christmas break for some students while posing the first test for New York's new mayor and perhaps the last challenge for Boston's outgoing one.

Some schools in New England and New York closed well ahead of the Thursday snowfall. Cities have mobilized plows and salt spreaders. Some major highways have been ordered shut down overnight. Efforts are underway to get homeless people into the warmth and safety of shelters.

U.S. airlines have canceled more than 2,300 flights nationwide.

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California Supreme Court grants law license to man who has lived in US illegally for 20 years

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California Supreme Court granted a law license Thursday to a man who has lived in the U.S. illegally for two decades, a ruling that advocates hope will open the door to millions of immigrants seeking to enter other professions such as medicine, accounting and teaching.

The unanimous decision means Sergio Garcia, who attended law school and passed the state bar exam while working in a grocery store and on farms, can begin practicing law immediately.

It's the latest in a string of legal and legislative victories for people who are in the country without permission. Other successes include the creation of a path to citizenship for many young people and the granting of drivers licenses in some states.

"This is a bright new day in California history and bodes well for the future," the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said in a statement.

The court sided with state officials in the case, which pitted them against the White House over a 1996 federal law that bars people who are in the U.S. illegally from receiving professional licenses from government agencies or with the use of public money, unless state lawmakers vote otherwise.

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10 Things to Know for Friday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:

1. MAN LIVING IN US ILLEGALLY IS GRANTED LAW LICENSE

The decision by California's high court raises the possibility of millions of immigrants being able to enter professions in the U.S.

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Enrollment confusion, relief to those with medical problems mark start of new health benefits

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The new year brought relief for Americans who previously had no health insurance or were stuck in poor plans, but it also led to confusion after the troubled rollout of the federal health care reforms sent a crush of late applications to overloaded government agencies.

That created stacks of yet-to-be-processed paperwork and thousands — if not millions — of people unsure about whether they have insurance.

Mike Estes of Beaverton, Ore., finally received his insurance card on Dec. 27 after applying in early November. Still, the family was thrilled to have insurance through the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon's version of Medicaid, because their previous $380-a-month premium "literally crushed our family's finances," Estes said.

Obama administration officials estimate that 2.1 million consumers have enrolled so far through the federal and state-run health insurance exchanges that are a central feature of the federal law. But even before coverage began, health insurance companies complained they were receiving thousands of faulty applications from the government, and some people who thought they had enrolled for coverage have not received confirmation.

Tens of thousands of potential Medicaid recipients in the 36 states relying on the federal exchange also are in limbo after the federal website that was supposed to send their applications to the states failed to do so.

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The New York Times and Guardian newspapers call for clemency for NSA leaker Edward Snowden

LONDON (AP) — The New York Times and Guardian newspapers have called for clemency for Edward Snowden, saying that the espionage worker-turned-privacy advocate should be praised rather than punished for his disclosures.

The papers — both of which have played a role in publishing Snowden's intelligence trove — suggested late Wednesday that the former National Security Agency contractor's revelations about the United States' world-spanning espionage program were of such public importance that they outweighed any possible wrongdoing.

"Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight," the Times said, calling either for a plea bargain, some form of clemency, or a "substantially reduced punishment."

The Guardian said it hoped "calm heads within the present (U.S.) administration are working on a strategy to allow Mr. Snowden to return to the U.S. with dignity, and the president to use his executive powers to treat him humanely and in a manner that would be a shining example about the value of whistleblowers and of free speech itself."

But the paper also said it was hard to envision President Barack Obama giving the leaker "the pardon he deserves."

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Kerry: Mideast peace accord still possible despite latest rifts between Israel, Palestinians

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted his Palestinian partner in peace-making efforts on Thursday, accusing him of embracing terrorists "as heroes," harsh words that clouded the start of Secretary of State John Kerry's tenth trip to the region to negotiate a peace deal he claims is "not mission impossible."

Kerry arrived in Israel to broker negotiations that are entering a difficult phase aimed at creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel. He had dinner with Netanyahu and planned to be in the West Bank on Friday to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Kerry is asking both leaders to make tough, highly charged political decisions in hopes of narrowing differences on a framework that will outline a final peace pact.

Netanyahu greeted Kerry at the prime minister's office and joked that it had been a long time since he'd seen him. But after the initial small talk, the Israeli leader took aim at Abbas. He claimed Abbas' homecoming for Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails earlier this week had led more Israelis to wonder if the Palestinians seriously want to find a way to end the decades-long dispute.

"I know that you're committed to peace," Netanyahu told Kerry. "I know that I'm committed to peace, but unfortunately, given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there's growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace."

Netanyahu was referring to events surrounding Israel's release on Tuesday of more than two dozen Palestinian prisoners convicted in deadly attacks against Israelis. Netanyahu has faced political pressure from Israeli hard-liners for agreeing to release a total of 104 Palestinian prisoners as part of the U.S.-brokered package to restart the peace talks.

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Rescued passengers from ship stuck in Antarctic since Christmas Eve now on way to Australia

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — All 52 passengers rescued after being trapped for more than a week on an icebound Russian research ship in the Antarctic were aboard an Australian icebreaker slowly cracking through heavy sea ice Friday toward open water after their dramatic rescue by a Chinese helicopter.

A spot of clear weather allowed the multinational rescue operation after blinding snow, strong winds and thick sea ice forced rescuers to turn back time and again.

The twin-rotor helicopter — its red and yellow colors contrasting with the ice and snow — took seven hours to carry the scientists and tourists from the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy to an Australian icebreaker, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre, which oversaw the rescue.

Earlier, the passengers had linked arms and stomped out a landing site in the snow next to the Russian ship for the helicopter, which is based on a Chinese icebreaker.

Helicopter pilot Jia Shuliang told China's official Xinhua News Agency that frequent weather changes and landing on ice were among the major challenges he faced in using a transport helicopter on a rescue operation for which it was ill-equipped.

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Snapchat to issue more secure app after hacking exposes millions of user phone numbers

NEW YORK (AP) — Snapchat says it plans to put out a more secure version of its application following a breach that allowed hackers to collect the usernames and phone numbers of some 4.6 million of its users.

The disappearing-message service popular with young people said in a blog post late Thursday that the updated version of its app would allow users to opt out of its "Find Friends" feature, which was apparently at the heart of the breach, and would stem future attempts to abuse its service.

The breach occurred after security experts warned the company at least twice about a vulnerability in its system.

Before announcing its plans to update the app, Snapchat had been quiet. Its seemingly detached response caused some security specialists to wonder whether the young company can handle the spotlight that it's been thrust into over the last year as its service has become enormously popular.

In response to a warning by Gibson Security on Dec. 25 —which followed an earlier alert in August — Snapchat said in a blog post last Friday that it had implemented "various safeguards" over the past year that would make it more difficult to steal large sets of phone numbers. Snapchat hasn't detailed the changes it made.

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Kiss to perform at NHL game at Dodger Stadium between Kings and Ducks

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kiss will perform at the NHL game at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25.

The NHL said Thursday that the rock band will play during the pregame festivities and first intermission of the Stadium Series game between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.

Featuring Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, Kiss is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of its first album and will also be inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame this year.

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Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe alleges special teams coach made anti-gay remarks

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe says his special teams coordinator made anti-gay comments while Kluwe was with the Vikings, an allegation the coach "vehemently denies."

In an article posted Thursday on the website Deadspin, Kluwe wrote that coach Mike Priefer made several anti-gay comments in objection to Kluwe's outspoken opposition of an anti-gay marriage amendment in Minnesota.

Kluwe also says former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and current general manager Rick Spielman encouraged him to tone down his rhetoric in an effort to reduce distractions to the team. At the same time, Kluwe said, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf expressed support for Kluwe's championing of gay rights.

Hours later, Priefer issued a statement disputing Kluwe's portrayal of the events.

"I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals," Priefer said. "I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member."

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