Saturday, April 7, 2012

Published:

Growing consensus among GOP party leaders: It's over, Romney will be nominee for president

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's over, and Mitt Romney is going to be the GOP nominee for president.

That's the growing consensus among Republican National Committee members who will automatically attend the party's national convention this summer and can support any candidate they choose.

Even some RNC members who support other candidates begrudgingly say the math doesn't add up for anyone but the former Massachusetts governor.

"I would be surprised if Romney doesn't get the number he needs," said Jeff Johnson, an RNC member from Minnesota who supports former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Bob Bennett, an RNC member from Ohio, was more blunt.

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Jet crash in crowded Va tourist town leaves 7 injured, many wondering how wasn't worse

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) -- Zooming along at 170 mph in a fighter jet carrying thousands of pounds of volatile fuel, two Navy pilots faced nothing but bad choices when their aircraft malfunctioned over Virginia's most populated city.

"Catastrophic engine system failure right after takeoff, which is always the most critical phase of flying, leaves very, very few options," said aviation safety expert and decorated pilot J.F. Joseph. "You literally run out of altitude, air speed and ideas all at the same time," he said.

Somehow, however, the student pilot and his instructor and everyone on the ground survived Friday when the men ejected from their F/A-18D jet moments before it crashed in a fireball in an apartment complex courtyard. The pilots and five on the ground were hurt, but all but one aviator were out of the hospital hours later.

Crews had carefully checked 95 percent of the apartments under the charred rubble and only three people remained unaccounted for early Saturday, said fire department Capt. Tim Riley.

Crews would continue searching just in case.

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Thomas Kinkade, highly popular painter of idyllic scenes, dies at California home

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Artist Thomas Kinkade once said that he had something in common with Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell: He wanted to make people happy.

And he won success with brushwork paintings that focused on idyllic landscapes, cottages and churches -- highly popular works that became big sellers for dealers across the United States.

The self-described "Painter of Light," who died Friday at age 54, produced sentimental scenes of country gardens and pastoral landscapes in dewy morning light that were beloved by many but criticized by the art establishment.

Kinkade died at his home in Los Gatos in the San Francisco Bay Area of what appeared to be natural causes, said family spokesman David Satterfield.

He claimed to be the nation's most collected living artist, and his paintings and spin-off products were said to fetch some $100 million a year in sales, and to be in 10 million homes in the United States.

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Iran lawmaker: Country has capability to produce nuclear weapons but won't do so

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran has the knowledge and scientific capability to produce nuclear weapons but will never do so, a prominent lawmaker said.

Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghadam said Iran can easily produce the highly enriched uranium that is used to build atomic bombs but it is not Tehran's policy to go that route.

"Iran has the scientific and technological capability to produce (a) nuclear weapon, but will never choose this path," Moghadam told the parliament's news website, icana.ir, late Friday.

Moghadam is a parliamentarian not a government official and his views do not represent the Iranian government's policy. It is the first time that a prominent Iranian politician has publicly stated that Iran has the technological capability to produce a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charges, saying its program is peaceful and geared toward generating electricity and producing radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.

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Seeking the middle, Obama argues former Republican presidents would be GOP outsiders today

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is embracing an unlikely group of political icons as he tries to paint Mitt Romney as extreme: He's praising Republican presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

The Democratic president typically offers up GOP leaders of the past as evidence of how both parties can work together in Washington to pursue big ideas and rebuild the economy. With Election Day seven months away, Obama hopes to convince voters that he, like his Republican predecessors, is a reasonable moderate. At the same time, he's casting Romney as a candidate who would embrace too-conservative policies out of step with most Americans and with his own party in years past.

Obama invoked Reagan's name four times in a speech this week to The Associated Press annual meeting. He said the conservative hero, never accused of being a "tax-and-spend socialist," still recognized the need for tax increases as well as spending cuts to tame federal deficits. Obama's verdict: "He could not get through a Republican primary today."

Painting Romney as an ideological extremist might seem a curious strategy for Obama, given that the GOP nomination front-runner has been considered the moderate candidate in the Republican primary field and has struggled to consolidate support among conservatives in the party. But Obama's team hopes to define Romney in a negative light before the former Massachusetts governor has a chance to pivot toward the general election and emphasize his past positions that could appeal to moderates of both parties and the independent voters who can decide close races in polarized America.

Obama has cited Reagan more than 40 times in speeches and public events since 2009, according to an analysis of public statements and transcripts by the AP. But Eisenhower is Obama's favorite Republican for name-dropping -- the president has referenced him more than 90 times. Lincoln is right behind, with 80 mentions in public comments covered by the transcripts.

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Opposition groups say at least 24 killed in shelling, clashes in central Syria

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian opposition groups say government shelling and firefights between troops and army defectors have killed at least 24 in a village in central Syria.

The Local Coordination Committees activist network said the violence took place Saturday in the village of al-Latamneh in the suburbs of the restive city of Hama.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the number of deaths at 27. It said most were killed by shells fired as troops tried to storm al-Latamneh following clashes with defectors there over the past two days.

Syrian forces have launched offensives across the country as a cease-fire deadline brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan nears.

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Plus or minus? Jobs report leaves Obama, Romney campaigns unsure where vital issue is headed

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's steady-but-modest job growth presents political challenges for both of November's all-but-certain presidential rivals.

Republican Mitt Romney needs an ailing economy to fully exploit his image as a "Mr. Fix-It" who can restore the nation's financial health, as he turned around the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics. President Barack Obama needs job-creation momentum to convince voters that things are moving in the right direction, even if millions of people remain unemployed.

Friday's neither-hot-nor-cold jobs report leaves both campaigns unsure of whether they can sell their narratives. Employers added 120,000 jobs last month, about half the December-February pace and well short of the 210,000 economists were expecting. Still, the unemployment rate declined from 8.3 percent in February to 8.2 percent, the lowest since about the time Obama took office.

GOP leaders were quick to note that the rate dropped largely because many Americans stopped looking for work and were not counted in the government survey.

The U.S. jobs picture was bleaker when Romney began his second presidential bid a year ago, emphasizing his experience in running the Olympic Games and reorganizing companies while at Bain Capital. He said jobs grew during his four years as Massachusetts governor, but critics note that other states had more robust growth.

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School founder: Calif. shooting suspect returned to campus because of tuition dispute

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- The suspect in a shooting rampage at a California Christian university that killed seven people was on campus because of a tuition dispute, but previously had not shown any signs of violence, the school's founder says.

One Goh became upset when administrators refused to grant him a full tuition refund after he dropped out of the nursing program last fall, Jongjin Kim told The Associated Press Friday.

He said that Goh came to campus Monday morning looking for the person in charge of handling tuition.

Goh hadn't exhibited violent tendencies before that and seemed "normal," Kim said.

Goh is charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder with a special circumstance allegation that could make him eligible for the death penalty. He has not entered a plea.

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Chinese teenager sells kidney to buy iPhone, iPad; authorities charge 5 people

BEIJING (AP) -- Authorities have indicted five people in central China for involvement in illegal organ trading after a teenager sold one of his kidneys to buy an iPhone and an iPad.

The case has prompted an outpouring of concern that not enough is being done to guard against the negative impact of increasing consumerism in Chinese society, particularly among young people who have grown up with more creature comforts than the generations before them.

Prosecutors in the city of Chenzhou charged the suspects with intentional injury for organizing the removal and transplant of a kidney from a 17-year-old high school student surnamed Wang, the official Xinhua News Agency said late Friday.

A woman on duty Saturday at the Chenzhou Beihu District People's Procuratorate in Hunan province confirmed that prosecutors are handling the case and that the defendants are facing charges of intentional injury.

She refused to give her name and referred further questions to the city-level procuratorate's media office, where phone calls rang unanswered.

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One for the aged: Couples turns back clock, finds himself with share of Masters' lead at 52

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- The heating pad and painkillers are as key to this 52-year-old's game as the smooth swing and easygoing stride he uses to amble around the course these days.

But before people pass off Freddie Couples and his aching back as nothing more than a nice story for a Friday at the Masters, the co-leader at the midway point wants to clear things up.

"Can I win?" Couples said after turning back the clock and playing his way to a surprising second-round lead at Augusta National. "Yeah, I believe I can. Yes."

On a day of sublime, spin-filled shotmaking at his favorite golf course, Couples made seven birdies and shot 5-under 67 to share the lead with PGA runner-up Jason Dufner.

They'll tee off in the final pairing Saturday, one who played the chilly second round in a stocking cap, the other as recognizable to golf fans as Tiger, Phil or Rory, even if that thick shock of hair has morphed from black, to salt-and-pepper, and now all the way to gray.