VIDEO: Today's Headline News from Associated Press
CARTERTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Dairy farmer John Rose has sent more than 100 of his cows to the slaughterhouse over recent weeks as a severe drought browned pastures in New Zealand's normally verdant North Island.
He said it was necessary to thin his herd so that his remaining 550 cows have enough to eat. He's supplementing their diet with ground palm kernel as the grass in his fields withers.
"We try and make sure they've got water and shade during the day and do the best we can for them," he said. "It's very hard to remember when the last rain fall was."
The drought is costing farmers millions of dollars each day and is beginning to take a toll on the country's economy. Parts of the North Island are drier than they've been in 70 years and some scientists say the unusual weather could be a harbinger of climate change. There has been little significant rainfall in the northern and eastern parts of the country since October.
But some are finding the dry, sun soaked days a boon. Vintners say the conditions are perfect for them. And city dwellers are reveling in eating lunch outdoors or spending evenings at the beach in a Southern Hemisphere summer that never seems to end.
Farmers estimate the drought has so far cost them about 1 billion New Zealand dollars ($820 million) in lost export earnings with the damage rising daily as they reduce their herds, which in turn results in lower milk production.
NEW STYLE OF PAPACY: POPE FRANCIS PAYS HOTEL BILL
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis put his humility on display during his first day as pontiff Thursday, stopping by his hotel to pick up his luggage and pay the bill himself in a decidedly different style of papacy than his tradition-minded predecessor who tended to stay ensconced in the frescoed halls of the Vatican.
The break from Benedict XVI's pontificate was evident even in Francis' wardrobe choices: He kept the simple iron pectoral cross of his days as bishop and eschewed the red cape that Benedict wore when he was presented to the world for the first time in 2005 - choosing instead the simple white cassock of the papacy.
And in his first Mass as pope, Francis showed how different he would be as a pastor, giving an off-the-cuff homily about the need to walk with God, build up his church and confess - at one point referring to children building sand castles on the beach.
It was a far simpler message than the dense, three-page discourse Benedict delivered in Latin during his first Mass as pope in 2005.
The difference in style was a sign of Francis' belief that the Catholic Church needs to be at one with the people it serves and not impose its message on a society that often doesn't want to hear it, Francis' authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
SENATE PANEL TO APPROVE BUDGET SPARING SAFETY NET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Acting on the Senate's first budget since President Barack Obama took office, a Democratic-led panel is moving toward party-line approval of a fiscal blueprint that would only modestly trim the budget deficit while protecting safety net programs from slashing cuts proposed by Republicans.
The expected vote Thursday in the Senate Budget Committee comes as Obama arrived at the Capitol for a third consecutive day, carrying his charm offensive with Congress first to Senate Republicans and then his Democratic allies in the House.
The Senate budget plan, drafted by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., blends about $1 trillion in modest cuts to health care providers, the Pentagon, domestic agencies and interest payments on the debt with an equal amount in new revenue claimed by ending some tax breaks.
But because Democrats want to restore $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over the same period - cuts imposed by Washington's failure to strike a broader budget pact - Murray's blueprint increases spending slightly when compared with current policies. And after realistic assumptions about war spending are factored in, Murray's proposal would curb the deficit by only a few hundred billion dollars over 10 years. Murray's plan allocates just $50 billion for overseas military operations next year and assumes no war spending whatsoever starting in 2016.
MORE US THAN EUROPEANS DRIVERS ARE ON THE PHONE
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Distracted driving is more widespread in the U.S. than in Europe, according to a study released Thursday that surveyed drivers about their cellphone and texting habits.
More U.S. drivers reported talking on their cellphones behind the wheel than their counterparts in seven European countries, the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Nearly 69 percent of U.S. drivers said they had talked on a cellphone while driving within the previous 30 days. The share of European drivers who said they chatted on their phones ranged from 21 percent in the United Kingdom to 59 percent in Portugal.
A larger share of U.S. drivers also reported reading or sending text or email messages while driving. Only Portugal's drivers matched those in the U.S. for this distracting habit - 31 percent in both countries. Spain had the smallest share of drivers who said they texted or emailed, at 15 percent.
The study was based on online surveys of drivers ages 18 to 64 in the U.S., Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom in 2011.
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