In impressive surge, nation adds 243,000 jobs in January; unemployment rate lowest in 3 years
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a long-awaited surge of hiring, companies added 243,000 jobs in January -- across the economy, up and down the pay scale and far more than just about anyone expected. Unemployment fell to 8.3 percent, the lowest in three years.
The job growth was the fastest since last March and April. Before that, the last month with stronger hiring, excluding months skewed by temporary census jobs, was March 2006.
The unemployment rate came down by two notches from December. It has fallen five months in a row, the first time that has happened since 1994, two economic booms and two recessions ago.
"The economy is growing stronger," President Barack Obama said. "The recovery is speeding up."
Indeed, the report Friday from the Labor Department seemed to reinforce that the nation is entering a virtuous cycle, a reinforcing loop in which stronger hiring leads to more consumer spending, which leads to even more hiring and spending.
Syrian activists: Government assault kills 200 people in Homs
BEIRUT (AP) -- In a barrage of shelling, Syrian forces killed 200 people and wounded hundreds early Saturday in Homs in an offensive that appears to be the bloodiest episode in the nearly 11-month-old uprising, activists said.
The offensive was reported in Homs, which has been one of the main flashpoints of opposition to the regime during the uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Two main opposition groups, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, said the death toll was more than 200 people. More than half of the killings -- about 140 -- were reported in the Khaldiyeh neighborhood.
"This is the worst attack of the uprising, since the uprising began in March until now," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Observatory, which tracks violence through contacts on the ground.
The reports could not be independently confirmed.
Komen cancer charity abandons plans to cut breast-screening grants to Planned Parenthood
NEW YORK (AP) -- For leaders of the nation's pre-eminent breast-cancer charity, it was a firestorm they didn't see coming -- and couldn't withstand.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure on Friday abandoned plans to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. The dramatic retreat followed a three-day furor that resounded across the Internet, in Congress and -- perhaps most tellingly -- among Komen affiliates who openly rebelled, suggesting the leadership had bowed to anti-abortion pressure.
"We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives," a Komen statement said.
As first reported by The Associated Press on Tuesday, Komen had adopted criteria excluding Planned Parenthood from future grants for breast-cancer screenings because it was under government investigation, citing a probe launched by a Florida congressman at the urging of anti-abortion groups.
"We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political," Komen said Friday. "That is what is right and fair."
Prosecutors won't charge cyclist Lance Armstrong; Tour de France champ says its right decision
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The case against Lance Armstrong is closed. His legacy as a seven-time Tour de France champion endures.
Federal prosecutors dropped their investigation of Armstrong on Friday, ending a nearly two-year effort aimed at determining whether the world's most famous cyclist and his teammates joined in a doping program during his greatest years.
Armstrong steadfastly has denied he doped during his unparalleled career, but the possibility of criminal charges threatened to stain not only his accomplishments, but his cancer charity work as well. Instead, another attempt to prove a star athlete used performance-enhancing drugs has fallen short, despite years of evidence gathering across two continents.
"I am gratified to learn that the U.S. Attorney's Office is closing its investigation," Armstrong said in a statement. "It is the right decision and I commend them for reaching it. I look forward to continuing my life as a father, a competitor, and an advocate in the fight against cancer without this distraction."
The probe, anchored in Los Angeles where a grand jury was presented evidence by federal prosecutors and heard testimony from Armstrong's former teammates and associates, began with a separate investigation of Rock Racing, a cycling team owned by fashion entrepreneur Michael Ball.
Army general orders court-martial of US soldier Pfc. Bradley Manning in WikiLeaks case
HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) -- An Army officer ordered a court-martial Friday for a low-ranking intelligence analyst charged in the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.
Military District of Washington commander Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington referred all charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning to a general court-martial, the Army said in a statement.
The referral means Manning will stand trial for allegedly giving more than 700,000 secret U.S. documents and classified combat video to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks for publication.
The 24-year-old Crescent, Okla., native faces 22 counts, including aiding the enemy. He could be imprisoned for life if convicted of that charge.
A judge who is yet to be appointed will set the trial date.
Hackers intercept confidential conference call between FBI and Scotland Yard, leak info to Web
LONDON (AP) -- Trading jokes and swapping leads, investigators from the FBI and Scotland Yard spent the conference call strategizing about how to bring down the hacking collective known as Anonymous, responsible for a string of embarrassing attacks across the Internet.
Unfortunately for the cyber sleuths, the hackers were in on the call too -- and now so is the rest of the world.
Anonymous published the roughly 15-minute-long recording of the call on the Internet on Friday, gloating in a Twitter message that "the FBI might be curious how we're able to continuously read their internal comms for some time now."
The humiliating coup exposed a vulnerability that might have had more serious consequences had someone else been listening in on the line.
"A law enforcement agency using unencrypted, unsecure communications is a major fumble," said Marcus Carey, who spent years securing communications for the U.S. National Security Agency before joining security-risk assessment firm Rapid7.
Muslims ask groups ask New York attorney-general to investigate NYPD surveillance; hold rally
NEW YORK (AP) -- Thirty-three civil rights groups from around the country complained to the New York attorney general Friday about police documents that showed the New York Police Department recommending increased surveillance of Shiite mosques based on their religion.
The letter urged Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate NYPD's surveillance operations, revealed by an Associated Press investigation, which monitored entire neighborhoods and built databases about everyday life in Muslim communities.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have insisted that police only follow legitimate leads and do not conduct preventative surveillance in ethnic communities. A May 2006 report addressed to Kelly, however, recommended increased spying at mosques and an assessment of the region's Palestinian community to look for potential terrorists.
Even before the AP published the document, Kelly was under fire from Muslim groups who were angry that a controversial movie about Muslims, "The Third Jihad," was shown at NYPD training sessions. Kelly appears briefly in the movie.
About 150 protesters gathered near police headquarters Friday to challenge the NYPD's tactics. "Don't be afraid, stand for justice!" they chanted before holding evening prayers in nearby Foley Square.
Major storm hits Colorado moving east; flights canceled, lawmakers adjourn, highways closed
DENVER (AP) -- The most powerful storm of the winter season pounded Colorado and parts of neighboring states on Friday, creating whiteout conditions on the eastern plains, cancelling more than 600 flights in Denver and closing hundreds of miles of highway between major Colorado cities and the Kansas border.
Snow piled up to 6 feet on some Rocky Mountain foothills -- and it was a welcome boost to several ski resorts that have suffered below-average snowfall this season. But while Echo Mountain and other resorts close to Denver celebrated up to 40 inches of powder, the storm only dusted larger resorts, like Vail, with a few inches in central Colorado's Rockies.
"It's been fantastic," said Scott Gales, a spokesman for Echo Mountain about 25 miles west of Denver. "We only had about 26 or 27 inches this morning. Now we're over 40 and it's still snowing at the rate of an inch or two an hour."
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued warnings for slopes east of the Continental Divide until noon Saturday, saying 2 feet or more of new snow could easily overrun the weak, existing snow pack.
Blizzard conditions hit Colorado's eastern plains, with 5-foot drifts in parts of Elbert County. Severe weather struck parts of southeast Wyoming, western Kansas and Nebraska, where a band of heavy snow stalled, dumping nearly 13 inches in some spots.
INFLUENCE GAME: Big money donors in campaign will have business to discuss with next president
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The millionaires, billionaires and companies giving big sums to political committees supporting Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama have important business with the next president. Some are already in trouble with the government. Some are pressing for new laws or regulations that would benefit their interests in energy, mining and high finance.
The Associated Press reviewed financial reports, regulatory filings, court records, public statements and more to identify favors that the biggest donors so far in the presidential campaign might want in return for their contributions worth $100,000 or more. In some cases, these donors have given $1 million or more to help Obama's challengers or the president.
An exhaustive review of their motives is nearly impossible, since new federal rules governing such contributions allow donors to effectively remain anonymous if they funnel cash into the campaign through corporate partnerships or other mechanisms that can frustrate investigation.
The presidential campaigns all have said they do not trade political favors for election money.
Among AP's findings:
Super matchups: Brady-Manning, Kraft-Mara, Patriots-Giants
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- MVP quarterbacks on marquee franchises. A rematch of a nail-biter from four years ago, featuring many of the same key characters. Madonna and plenty of Manning -- Eli, and Peyton, too.
This Super Bowl certainly has all the makings of another thriller, the perfect finish to a season that began in turmoil and wound up the most successful in league history.
The NFL couldn't have planned it any better.
"It's actually been a very fun week here," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, seeking his fourth Super Bowl ring in 11 seasons, and doing it in the city where archrival Peyton Manning has worked for 13 years -- if not for much longer, given his health issues and disagreements with Colts management. "It's a bit surreal to be playing in Indy's home stadium and to be practicing at their facility."
It's been even weirder for Eli Manning to have led the Giants here, only to find his superb season and chase for a second championship overshadowed by big brother.