Intense government shelling in rebellious Syrian city kills 2 Western journalists
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian gunners pounded an opposition stronghold where the last dispatches from a veteran American-born war correspondent chronicled the suffering of civilians caught in the relentless shelling. An intense morning barrage killed her and a French photojournalist -- two of 74 deaths reported Wednesday in Syria.
"I watched a little baby die today," Marie Colvin told the BBC from the embattled city of Homs on Tuesday in one of her final reports.
"Absolutely horrific, a 2-year old child had been hit," added Colvin, who worked for Britain's Sunday Times. "They stripped it and found the shrapnel had gone into the left chest and the doctor said, 'I can't do anything.' His little tummy just kept heaving until he died."
Colvin and photographer Remi Ochlik were among a group of journalists who had crossed into Syria and were sharing accommodations with activists, raising speculation that government forces targeted the makeshift media center, although opposition groups had previously described the shelling as indiscriminate. At least two other Western journalists were wounded.
Hundreds of people have died in weeks of siege-style attacks on Homs that have come to symbolize the desperation and defiance of the nearly year-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Republican Debate No. 20: Romney and Santorum square off in Arizona in roller-coaster race
MESA, Ariz. (AP) -- Struggling for an edge, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum campaigned Wednesday into the 20th and possibly final debate of the roller-coaster race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul rounded out the debate roster six days before primaries in Arizona and Michigan.
In the hours leading to the event, Romney called for a 20 percent across-the-board cut in personal income taxes as part of a program he said would revitalize the economy and help create jobs. The top tax rate would drop from 35 percent to 28 percent, and some popular breaks would be scaled back for upper-income taxpayers. However, aides provided scant details.
"We've got to have more jobs, less debt and smaller government, they go together," Romney said in an appearance in nearby Chandler. "By lowering those marginal rates, we help businesses that pay at the individual tax rate to have more money so they can hire more people."
Romney's proposal sharpened his differences with President Barack Obama, who favors allowing tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush to expire on higher incomes.
Poll: Obama benefits from the economy's slow climb, earns better grades, higher approval
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is reaping political benefits from the country's brighter economic mood. A new poll shows that Republicans and Democrats alike are increasingly saying the nation is heading in the right direction and most independents now approve the way he's addressing the nation's post-recession period.
But trouble could be ahead: Still-struggling Americans are fretting over rising gasoline prices. Just weeks before the summer travel season begins, the Associated Press-GfK survey finds pump prices rising in importance and most people unhappy with how Democratic president has handled the issue.
It's seemingly no coincidence that Obama this week is promoting the expansion of domestic oil and gas exploration and the development of new forms of energy.
It's his latest attempt to show that he, more than any of the Republican presidential contenders, knows that voters' pocketbooks remain pinched even as the economy improves overall. And on that question of empathy, solid majorities continue to view him as someone who "understands the problems of ordinary Americans" and "cares about people like you," the AP-GfK survey found.
There is evidence that the nation is becoming markedly more optimistic, and that Obama benefits from that attitude.
Newark mayor says NYPD misled city on Muslim spying, calls secret report 'deeply offensive'
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The mayor and police director of New Jersey's largest city said Wednesday the New York Police Department misled their city and never told them it was conducting a widespread spying operation on Newark's Muslim neighborhoods. Had they known, they said, they never would have allowed it.
"If anyone in my police department had known this was a blanket investigation of individuals based on nothing but their religion, that strikes at the core of our beliefs and my beliefs very personally, and it would have merited a far sterner response," Newark Mayor Cory Booker said.
In mid-2007, the NYPD's secretive Demographics Unit fanned out across Newark, photographing every mosque and eavesdropping in Muslim businesses. The findings were cataloged in a 60-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, that served as a police guidebook to Newark's Muslims. There was no mention of terrorism or any criminal wrongdoing.
Officials reacted strongly on Wednesday.
"It is deeply offensive for me to do blanket surveillance for no reason other than religious affiliation," said Booker, who called on his state's attorney general to investigate.
Obama: Current tax system unfair, overhaul would make US businesses more competitive
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama rolled out a corporate tax overhaul plan Wednesday that lowers rates but also eliminates loopholes and subsidies cherished by the business world. A long-shot for action in an election year, the plan nevertheless stamps Obama's imprint on one of the most high-profile issues of the presidential campaign.
The president's plan to lower the corporate tax rate to 28 percent came on the same day Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney called for a 20 percent across-the-board cut in personal income tax rates, underscoring the potency of taxes as a political issue, especially during a modest economic recovery.
Obama has not laid out a plan for overhauling personal income taxes. But he has called for Bush era tax cuts to end on individuals making more than $200,000, thus increasing their taxes, and for a 30 percent minimum tax on taxpayers who make $1 million or more.
Obama decried the current corporate tax system as outdated, unfair and inefficient. "It's not right and it needs to change," he said in a statement.
The president would reduce the current 35 percent corporate tax, which is the highest in the world after Japan but which many corporations avoid by taking advantage of deductions, credits and exemptions. Under his plan, manufacturers would receive incentives so that they would pay an even lower effective tax rate of 25 percent.
Federal judge says Washington state cannot force pharmacies to sell emergency contraceptives
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) -- Washington state cannot force pharmacies to sell Plan B or other emergency contraceptives, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying the state's true goal was to suppress religious objections by druggists -- not to promote timely access to the medicines for people who need them.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton heard closing arguments earlier this month in a lawsuit that claimed state rules violate the constitutional rights of pharmacists by requiring them to dispense such medicine. The state requires pharmacies to dispense any medication for which there is a community need and to stock a representative assortment of drugs needed by their patients.
Ralph's Thriftway in Olympia, Wash., and two licensed Washington pharmacists sued in 2007, saying that dispensing Plan B would infringe on their religious beliefs because it can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, an act they equate with taking human life.
The state argued that the requirements are legal because they apply neutrally to all medicines and pharmacies, and that they promote a government interest -- the timely delivery of medicine, including Plan B, which becomes less effective as time passes.
But Leighton ruled that the state allows all sorts of business exemptions to that rule. Pharmacies can decline to stock a drug, such as certain painkillers, if it's likely to increase the risk of theft, or if it requires an inordinate amount of paperwork, or if the drug is temporarily unavailable from suppliers, among other reasons.
Oregon teenage girl dies after inhaling helium from a tank at drinking party
EAGLE POINT, Ore. (AP) -- Last weekend, 14-year-old Ashley Long told her parents she was going to a slumber party. But instead of spending the night watching videos and eating popcorn two blocks away, she piled into a car with a bunch of her friends and rode to a condo in Medford, Ore., where police say the big sister of one of her friends was throwing a party with booze and marijuana.
After drinking on the drive, and downing more drinks in the condo, it came time for Ashley to take her turn on a tank of helium that everyone else was inhaling to make their voices sound funny.
"That helium tank got going around," said Ashley's stepfather, Justin Earp, who learned what happened from talking to Ashley's friends at the party. "It got to my daughter. My daughter didn't want to do it. It was peer pressure. They put a mask up to her face. They said it would be OK. 'It's not gonna hurt you. It'll just make you laugh and talk funny.'"
Instead, she passed out and later died at a hospital, the result of an obstruction in a blood vessel caused by inhaling helium from a pressurized tank.
"It blew her lungs out," Earp said. "It exploded them. It created air pockets in her veins. Then it went up into her brain and blew it up."
Patients dread colonoscopies, but study shows they can cut risk of colon cancer death in half
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Millions of people have endured a colonoscopy, believing the dreaded exam may help keep them from dying of colon cancer. For the first time, a major study offers clear evidence that it does.
Removing precancerous growths spotted during the test can cut the risk of dying from colon cancer in half, the study suggests. Doctors have long assumed a benefit, but research hasn't shown before that removing polyps would improve survival -- the key measure of any cancer screening's worth.
Some people skip the test because of the unpleasant steps need to get ready for it.
"Sure, it's a pain in the neck. People complain to me all the time, 'It's horrible. It's terrible,'" said Dr. Sidney Winawer, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who helped lead the study. "But look at the alternative."
A second study in Europe found that colonoscopies did a better job of finding polyps than another common screening tool -- tests that look for blood in stool. Both studies were published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
Bulk of man's remarkable childhood comic book collection fetches $3.5 million at auction
DALLAS (AP) -- The bulk of a man's childhood comic book collection that included many of the most prized issues ever published sold at auction Wednesday for about $3.5 million.
A copy of Detective Comics No. 27, which sold for 10 cents in 1939 and features the debut of Batman, got the top bid at the New York City auction Wednesday. It sold for about $523,000, including a buyer's premium, said Lon Allen, managing director of comics for Heritage Auctions, the Dallas-based auction house overseeing the sale.
"This really has its place in the history of great comic book collections," said Allen, who added that the auction was high energy, with "a bunch of applause at a couple of the top lots."
Action Comics No. 1, a 1938 issue featuring the first appearance of Superman, sold for about $299,000; Batman No. 1, from 1940, sold for about $275,000; and Captain America No. 2, a 1941 issue with a frightened Adolf Hitler on the cover, brought in about $114,000, Allen said.
Among the 345 well-preserved comics bought decades ago by the Virginia boy with a remarkable knack for picking winners were 44 of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide's top 100 issues from comics' golden age.
Tiger Woods gets past Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano on wild opening day of Match Play
MARANA, Arizona (AP) -- Tiger Woods had to go the distance to get to the second round of the Match Play Championship.
Woods took too many journeys through the desert and was trailing Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano until he drove the 15th green for a birdie to square the match, then took advantage of the Spaniard's struggles with the putter.
It was the fourth time Woods was taken to the 18th hole in the opening round of this fickle event. He next plays Nick Watney, who had no trouble beating British Open champion Darren Clarke.
The top seeds teed off late, with top-ranked Luke Donald trailing Ernie Els at the turn.
Dustin Johnson made the greatest escape, beating Jim Furyk in 20 holes. Ryo Ishikawa also rallied late to beat Riviera winner Bill Haas.