Confident Romney focuses on Obama; Santorum says 'Romneycare' will cost GOP in November
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- An increasingly confident Mitt Romney called President Barack Obama an "economic lightweight" Monday as the Republican presidential candidate looked beyond Tuesday's Illinois primary to a general election showdown with the incumbent Democrat.
Romney's chief rival -- Rick Santorum -- kept the focus on the GOP front-runner, arguing that nominating the former Massachusetts governor would deprive the party of a defining issue to use against Obama in the November election -- health care. "Obamacare," Santorum said, was based on "Romneycare," Massachusetts' 2006 health care law.
Courting voters in Obama's home state, Romney acknowledged that the economy was moving in the right direction as hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created, the unemployment rate has dropped and consumer confidence has jumped. Romney suggested it was in spite of the president.
"The economy always comes back after a recession of course," said Romney, previewing what could be a general election argument. "There's never been one that we didn't recover from. The problem is this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been."
The former venture capitalist said he's better equipped to steer the economy.
Motorcycle gunman kills 4 at French Jewish school; same handgun used in attacks on soldiers
TOULOUSE, France (AP) -- A motorbike assailant opened fire with two handguns Monday in front of a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse, killing a rabbi, his two young sons and a girl. One witness described him as a man chasing small children and "looking to kill."
One of the guns he used also had been fired in two other deadly motorbike attacks in the area that targeted paratroopers of North African and French Caribbean origin, officials said. French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested one person was responsible for all the killings.
A massive manhunt was under way and the terrorism alert level was raised to its highest level ever across a swath of southern France surrounding Toulouse. Hundreds of officers increased security at schools, synagogues and mosques around the country, and Sarkozy said 14 riot police units "will secure the region as long as this criminal" hasn't been caught.
Monday's attack revolted France and drew strong condemnation from Israel and the United States. Sarkozy called it the worst school shooting in French history.
France has seen a low drumroll of anti-Semitic incidents but no attack so deadly targeting Jews since the early 1980s. This country is particularly sensitive toward its Jewish community because of its World War II past of abetting Nazi occupiers in deporting Jewish citizens.
Lawyer describes 'emotional' meeting with Afghan killings suspect at Kansas military prison
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) -- The lawyer for the Army sergeant accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians met with his client behind bars for the first time Monday to begin building a defense and said the soldier gave a powerfully moving account of what it is like to be on the ground in Afghanistan.
Lawyer John Henry Browne said he and Robert Bales, who is being held in an isolated cell at the military prison, met for more than three hours in the morning at Fort Leavenworth. Browne, co-counsel Emma Scanlan and Bales were expected to talk again in the afternoon.
"What's going on on the ground in Afghanistan, you read about it. I read about it. But it's totally different when you hear about it from somebody who's been there," Browne told The Associated Press by telephone during a lunch break. "It's just really emotional."
Bales, 38, has not been charged yet in the March 11 shootings, which sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered relations between the two countries and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war. Formal charges could be filed within a week.
Browne, a Seattle attorney who defended serial killer Ted Bundy and a thief known as the "Barefoot Bandit," has said he has handled three or four military cases. The defense team includes a military defense lawyer, Maj. Thomas Hurley.
Violence rattles upscale area of Syrian capital amid fears that rebels using insurgent tactics
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian rebels battled regime forces Monday in a heavily protected, upscale area of Damascus, activists said, in a sign that the country's outgunned opposition is increasingly turning to insurgent tactics.
At least three people were killed in the firefight, which was the most serious clash in the Syrian capital since the uprising began a year ago. The battle with machine guns and automatic rifles brought the country's violent conflict to the streets of a neighborhood that houses embassies and senior government officials.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists throughout the country, said 18 government troops were wounded in the fighting and two later were believed to have died.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, described the clash "as the most violent of its kind and closest to security centers in Damascus since the revolution began."
He said several "armed groups of defectors" came from one of the suburbs and fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the house of an army brigadier general. They then entered a building where they were chased by security forces.
Rick Santorum courts conservative Christians as evangelicals embrace him
CENTRAL, La. (AP) -- When a nationally influential evangelical leader gathered dozens of pastors at his home church to hear from a presidential candidate, he had a simple message: Rick Santorum is one of us, and your parishioners should vote for him.
Nearly a hundred pastors from all over Louisiana and from as far away as Texas and Colorado accepted Family Research Council President Tony Perkins' invitation to hear a personal pitch Sunday from the former Pennsylvania senator, who met with them in a private briefing before he addressed the more than 1,400 faithful who crowded into the sanctuary at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church.
"What we need to do in this country is to rebuild that culture of life and rebuild that culture of marriage and families," Santorum said, standing in a small back room as the invited pastors gathered in an informal circle wearing handwritten name tags. "No one else talks about social issues."
After the briefing, Rev. Dennis Terry introduced Santorum to the congregation. "I know Rick really well, and he is the real deal," said Terry, whose fiery opening remarks included an insistence that America is a Christian nation.
"I'm tired of people telling us as Christians that we can't voice our beliefs or we can no longer pray in public. Listen to me: If you don't love America, if you don't like the way we do things, I got one thing to say: get out!" Terry said. "We don't worship Buddha! We don't worship Mohammed! We don't worship Allah!"
APNewsBreak: Rice, Klein panel warns of national security risks if schools don't improve
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's security and economic prosperity are at risk if America's schools don't improve, warns a task force led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City's school system.
The report, obtained by The Associated Press, cautions that far too many schools fail to adequately prepare students. "The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital," it said. "The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security."
The task force said the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies face critical shortfalls in the number of foreign language speakers, and that fields such as science, defense and aerospace are at particular risk because a shortage of skilled workers is expected to worsen as baby boomers retire.
According to the panel, 75 percent of young adults don't qualify to serve in the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records or inadequate levels of education. That's in part because 1 in 4 students fails to graduate from high school in four years, and a high school diploma or the equivalent is needed to join the military. But another 30 percent of high school graduates don't do well enough in math, science and English on an aptitude test to serve in the military, the report said.
The task force, consisting of 30 members with backgrounds in areas such as education and foreign affairs, was organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based research and policy organization focused on international issues. The report was scheduled to be released Tuesday.
Fla. students rally to demand arrest of neighborhood watch leader who shot unarmed black teen
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- College students around Florida rallied Monday to demand the arrest of a white neighborhood watch captain who shot an unarmed black teen last month, though authorities may be hamstrung by a state law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force.
Students held rallies on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, where prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine if charges should be filed. The students demanded the arrest of 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who authorities say shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last month during a confrontation in a gated community in Sanford.
Zimmerman spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood on a rainy evening last month and called 911 to report a suspicious person. Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman then followed Martin, who was walking home from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles in his pocket.
Zimmerman's father has said his son is Hispanic and is not racist. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense.
"I don't think a man who exited his vehicle after the 911 dispatcher told him to stay inside the car can claim self-defense," Carl McPhail, a 28-year-old Barry University law school student, said at the Sanford rally.
Balloon pilot dies in Ga. storm, but passengers parachute to safety; 'You need to get out now'
ATLANTA (AP) -- As a fierce thunderstorm that seemed to come out of nowhere closed in, hot-air balloon pilot Edward Ristaino spotted an open field 4,000 feet below and calmly and tersely warned the five skydivers aboard the craft, "You need to get out now."
He may have saved their lives, but he lost his own.
With lightning spidering across the sky and the wind rocking their parachutes, the skydivers floated safely to the ground, while the balloon was sucked up into the clouds, then sent crashing to earth. Ristaino's body wasn't found until Monday, nearly three days later.
"If we would have left a minute later, we would have been sucked into the storm," said skydiver Dan Eaton.
The group had taken off Friday evening, ascending into a blue sky from a festival in Fitzgerald, Ga., about 175 miles south of Atlanta. From the air, they could see only a haze that soon turned menacing.
People familiar with talks: QB Peyton Manning selects Denver Broncos as destination
DENVER (AP) -- Peyton Manning wants to play for the Denver Broncos in Act II of his outstanding career.
A person with knowledge of the discussions said the NFL's only four-time MVP, and the year's most sought-after free agent, called Broncos executive John Elway on Monday morning and told him he had decided to come to Denver.
Another person briefed on negotiations said Manning also called Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams and told him that he had picked the Broncos. Both people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about teams' efforts to lure Manning.
Adams released a statement Monday confirming the Titans were out of the running and later told The Tennessean: "He called me himself and told me he wasn't coming, that he made his mind up to go with Denver."
Besides the Titans, the San Francisco 49ers also had been a finalist in the chase for Manning.
Rep: Whitney Houston's daughter Bobbi Kristina wearing mother's ring, not engaged
NEW YORK (AP) -- Bobbi Kristina Brown has been spotted wearing a sparkly bauble on her ring finger, but she's not planning on getting married anytime soon.
A rep for Brown's mother, the late Whitney Houston, says the 19-year-old is "simply wearing her mother's ring" and that she's not engaged.
Rumors about a possible engagement flew after Brown was spotted snuggling with friend Nick Gordon while wearing the ring.
Brown has been the subject of intense scrutiny since her superstar mother died last month. Brown's father is Bobby Brown.
Houston left her entire estate to her daughter, her only child.