Eager to focus on Obama, Romney seeks a GOP primary-battle breaking point with Illinois win
CHICAGO (AP) -- His confidence surging, Mitt Romney pointedly ignored his Republican rivals on the eve of Tuesday's high-stakes primary election in Illinois and turned his fire instead on the Democrat he hopes to oust in the fall.
Romney pushed into President Barack Obama's home territory, assailing Obama's economic credentials on the Chicago campus where the president taught for more than a decade. At the same time, GOP contender Rick Santorum struggled to explain why the nation's unemployment rate is not his top concern and why the economy isn't the issue that defines the race even as he tried to rally anti-Romney conservatives.
The contrasts offered a look inside two campaigns seemingly moving in different directions, just one day before Illinois voters decided what could be the most significant Republican contest through the end of the month.
"Freedom is on the ballot this year," Romney told students and supporters at the University of Chicago, contending that the nation's recovery from recession was being limited by an "assault on our economic freedom" by Obama. "I am offering a real choice and a very different beginning," he said.
Romney was trying to show he was more than ready to rise above the grinding GOP primary battle and move toward a general election matchup against Obama. The front-runner, he has secured more delegates than his opponents combined, and his nomination seems more assured each week as Santorum's shoestring campaign struggles under the weight of continued disorganization.
Motorcycle gunman kills 4 at French Jewish school; same handgun used in attacks on soldiers
TOULOUSE, France (AP) -- A gunman on a motorbike opened fire Monday at a Jewish school, killing a rabbi and his two young sons as they waited for a bus, then chased down a 7-year-old girl, shooting her dead at point-blank range. It was the latest in a series of attacks on minorities that have raised fears of a racist killer on the loose.
Authorities said the same weapon, a powerful .45-caliber handgun, was used in two other recent shootings in southwestern France, also involving an assailant who fled by motorbike. Those attacks left three people dead -- military paratroopers of North African and Caribbean origin.
The shootings echoed across a nation that has been focused on an upcoming presidential race in which issues about religious minorities and race have gained prominence. President Nicolas Sarkozy -- facing a hard re-election battle -- raised the terrorism alert level in the region to its highest level, while also noting a possible racist motive.
"This act is despicable, it cannot go unpunished," Sarkozy said in a prime-time address to the nation. "Each time this man acts, he acts to kill, giving his victims no chance."
Monday's attack was as quick and methodical as it was terrifying.
Lawyer: Afghanistan shooting suspect has sketchy memory of night of massacre
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) -- The lawyer for the Army staff sergeant accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians in a nighttime shooting rampage met his client for the first time Monday and said the solider has a sketchy memory of the night of the massacre.
Lawyer John Henry Browne said Robert Bales remembers some details from before and after the killings, but very little or nothing from the time the military believes he went on a shooting spree through two Afghan villages.
"He has some memory of some things that happened that night. He has some memories of before the incident and he has some memories of after the incident. In between, very little," Browne told The Associated Press by telephone from Fort Leavenworth, where Bales is being held.
Pressed on whether Bales can remember anything about the shooting, Browne said, "No," but added, "I haven't gotten that far with him yet." In an earlier interview with CBS News, Browne said unequivocally that Bales couldn't remember the shootings.
Bales, 38, has not been charged yet in the March 11 shootings, though charges could come this week. The killings sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered relations between the two countries and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war.
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.
FAA looks for ways to ease safety testing of airline passengers' personal electronic devices
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government is taking a tentative step toward making it easier for airlines to allow passengers to use personal electronic devices such as tablets, e-readers and music players during takeoffs and landings.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it is "exploring ways to bring together all of the key stakeholders involved" -- including airlines, aircraft manufacturers, consumer electronics makers, and flight attendant unions -- to discuss whether there are practical ways to test devices to see if they are safe for passengers to use during critical phases of flight.
Technically, FAA rules already permit any airline to test specific makes and models to determine if they generate enough power that they could interfere with sensitive cockpit radios, navigation instruments and other critical equipment. But few airlines have done that kind of extensive testing because there are so many devices, and testing them all -- or even many -- isn't practical.
Instead, the fallback position has been to comply with FAA rules requiring passengers to turn off all electronic devices while the aircraft's altitude is below 10,000 feet.
Even if a device were tested and approved for use today, later iterations of the same machine might be different enough that they'd have to be tested again. Today's Apple iPad, for example, isn't the same as the original iPad developed three years ago.
QB Peyton Manning selects Denver Broncos, work underway on finalizing deal
DENVER (AP) -- The Denver Broncos got their Man. Make that Peyton Manning.
Pending final contract negotiations, Manning will join John Elway's Broncos with hopes of winning another Super Bowl.
So much for Tebowmania.
Still to be decided is what happens to last season's quarterback sensation, Tim Tebow.
The Broncos and Manning agent Tom Condon spent Monday working out parameters of a deal expected to be worth about $95 million over five years after the NFL's only four-time MVP called Elway, the Broncos' revered QB-turned-executive, and told him he had decided to come to Denver.
Scientists track rare western Pacific gray whale along West Coast in apparent return to Russia
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- An endangered western Pacific gray whale tracked from Russia to Alaska and along the West Coast to Baja Mexico is on the move again, apparently preparing to cross the Pacific Ocean again.
The 9-year-old western gray whale dubbed Varvara, the Russian version for Barbara, had passed California, Oregon and Washington and was off northwest Vancouver Island, as of Saturday. She is moving about 100 miles per day.
She is expected to turn left to head back to feeding grounds off Russia's Sakhalin Island, said Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University.
"That's going to be real exciting soon," he said by phone. "One of the big questions is, will she retrace the route she came on, or will she take a different route home?"
If she backtracks, Mate said, she will reinforce scientists' theory that gray whales learn migration routes from their mothers as they move from a calving area to the mother's foraging area.
Struggling Oprah Winfrey Network lays off one-fifth of staff, restructures NY, LA operations
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Oprah Winfrey's struggling television network, OWN, said Monday it is laying off one-fifth of its workers and restructuring its operations in New York and Los Angeles.
The decision to let 30 employees go is a "tough" one, but the economics of a start-up cable network didn't fit with OWN's cost structure, Winfrey said in a statement.
"As CEO, I have a responsibility to chart the course for long-term success for the network. To wholly achieve that long-term success, this was a necessary next step," Winfrey said.
The responsibilities of the laid-off workers will be distributed among people with the network and its venture partners, Discovery Communications and Winfrey's Harpo Studios, according to OWN.
The cable channel, which launched Jan. 1, 2011, endured a freshman year of executive turnover and missteps that proved OWN lacked a solid foundation on which to build. This was despite a Discovery Communications investment of a reported $250 million and counting.