Where's Assad? Mystery deepens as Syrian leader appeals -- in writing -- for army to boost fight
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad urged his military Wednesday to boost its fight against rebels, but his written call to arms only deepened a mystery over his whereabouts two weeks after a bomb penetrated his inner circle.
Assad has not spoken publicly since the July 18 bombing killed four of his top security officials -- including his brother-in-law -- during a rebel assault on the capital, Damascus. The president's low profile has raised questions about whether he fears for his personal safety as the civil war escalates dramatically.
The United States called the Syrian president a coward for marshaling his forces from the pages of the army's official magazine.
"We think it's cowardly, quite frankly, to have a man hiding out of sight, exhorting his armed forces to continue to slaughter the civilians of his own country," said U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.
Sausan Ghosheh, the spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Syria, said Wednesday that international observers witnessed warplanes firing in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, where intense fighting has been raging for 12 days.
Stocks turn lower after Fed decides not to take new action; technical glitch scrambles shares
NEW YORK (AP) -- There was more than one story line playing out in the stock market Wednesday.
The market wavered between gains and losses for much of the day, yanked around by technical problems, an ambiguous statement from the Federal Reserve, and mixed reports on U.S. companies that made it difficult to decipher just where the economy is headed.
By the time it was all over, all the key indexes were down, their third straight day of losses. The euphoria of late last week, when investors celebrated after European leaders promised to keep the euro zone intact, seemed a distant memory.
The Dow Jones industrial average shed 37.62 points to 12,971.06. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell four points to 1,375.32. And the Nasdaq composite index lost 19.31 points to 2,920.21.
Here's a look at the key developments Wednesday:
Fiscal cliff: Republicans vote to extend all tax cuts; Pentagon warns of spending cut impact
WASHINGTON (AP) -- With the government heading toward a year-end "fiscal cliff," House Republicans approved a full plate of Bush-era tax cuts Wednesday that they said could help shore up a still-frail national economy. At the same time, the Obama administration warned that threatened budget cuts could send some of America's troops into battle with less training.
For all the action and talk, however, both taxes and spending were deeply enmeshed in campaign politics, with no resolution expected until after the elections.
Democrats are demanding that any compromise to avoid the $110 billion in budget cuts that are scheduled to kick in Jan. 2 include a tax increase on high-income earners. Republicans reject the idea of raising rates on anyone as the economy struggles to recover fully from recession.
"There are five months remaining for Congress to act," acting White House Budget Director Jeff Zients told the House Armed Services Committee. "What is holding us up right now is the Republican refusal to have the top 2 percent pay their fair share."
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the committee that if Congress fails to come up with a compromise, nearly all elements of the military will be affected by cuts mandated by last year's deficit deal. Training would be scaled back and flying hours for Air Force pilots would be reduced. The Navy would buy fewer ships and the Air Force fewer aircraft.
Olympic Viewing: NBC says it will break even on London Games
RATINGS: A month ago, NBC executives were convinced they would lose money telecasting the London Olympics. Five nights into it, they now report the company will at least break even. The games have been far more successful than they dreamed, and the viewership of 38.7 million people Tuesday is just the latest example. The games have averaged 35.6 million viewers through five nights, up from 31.3 million through five nights in Beijing. Some viewers detach themselves from the news so the results of NBC's tape-delayed prime time are a surprise to them. Yet it seems clear that many people do the opposite -- they seek out the results and base their viewing decisions on them. Tuesday's coverage, showing the American female gymnasts winning gold, had 7 million more viewers than the night before, when the men's team fell flat.
FORMULA: Start out with some diving, mix in a Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings beach volleyball match, some swimming and gymnastics. There's a formula to NBC's prime time, and it makes the Olympics seem smaller than it is. Hard to argue with success, though.
HOME TEAM: Nice tribute by Bob Costas to the first British gold medal winners, the rowing team of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, and cyclist Bradley Wiggins, also the Tour de France champion. It was a spoiler, though. You knew the British contenders wouldn't be winning any subsequent competitions NBC showed Wednesday night.
QUOTE: "This Bradley Wiggins bloke ought to be knighted by the end of the summer." -- Costas.
HEARTBREAK: Impossible not to feel for Bronx-born gymnast John Orozco, who wore his heartbreak on his face after a poor performance on the pommel horse eliminated him from medal contention. NBC's Tim Daggett was at his best in recognizing where Orozco's routine went wrong and explaining it to viewers.
EYES ON LONDON: Snooze at your peril, Obama's been busy calling athletes -- and Titanic tennis
LONDON (AP) -- Around the 2012 Olympics and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of the games to you:
'HE GOT ME PRETTY GOOD'
U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay has learned his lesson: Never fall asleep at an Olympic basketball game.
Gay nodded off while watching LeBron James and Team USA beat France. As Gay slept in his seat, 400-meter runner Tony McQuay captured the moment on camera and posted a picture on Twitter.
Full-on tech, social media turn avoiding Olympic spoilers into a sport of its own
NEW YORK (AP) -- Mandy Hauck turned 25 on Wednesday, but she's avoiding Facebook and her happy birthday messages to steer clear of Olympic spoilers about her favorite sport, fencing.
Hauck has also deleted her iPhone apps for CNN and ESPN, opting for news from the London Games the old-fashioned way, via TV coverage that's time-delayed by NBC for prime time.
The network is making live streams of the action available in real time online. Hauck's hanging tough, though, in favor of doing actual work during the day as the marketing communications manager for a software company in Atlanta, a job that requires her to stay on Twitter while she attempts to stay away from its main page and trending topics.
"I enjoy the experience of sitting with my family and friends in front of the television and cheering for the athletes as if they were competing live," said Hauck, a former college fencer who has been following two-time American gold medalist Mariel Zagunis in London. "It's much more entertaining and enjoyable that way!"
It's also incredibly difficult with social media in full flower. Olympic spoilers have people turning off phone alerts, hiding their iPads and shushing co-workers in search of simpler times, when screaming at the TV during nail-biting competition was a sport unto itself.
Victory of conservative Cruz in Texas will boost tea party lawmakers' clout in the US Senate
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ted Cruz's Senate primary victory in Texas will provide a boost for tea party-backed, no-compromise conservatives in Congress.
His all-but-sure win in November will increase the number of tea party-aligned senators to six, and as many as seven more could win election. That will ensure a bigger impact on both politics and policy on Capitol Hill, even if Democrats manage to retain a Senate majority and the White House.
Dozens of tea party-supported candidates won House seats two years ago, but only four were elected to the Senate: Marco Rubio of Florida, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah. They joined South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, an ideological godfather of a movement born in the aftermath of Congress enacting President Barack Obama's health care overhaul two years ago.
As a result of those small numbers, the tea party's impact in the Senate has been less than in the House -- for both parties.
Republicans speak optimistically of possibly taking Senate control -- though Cruz will take a safely Republican seat -- and most GOP senators tout their own conservative credentials. But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has generally not had to contend with conservative insurrections, while House Speaker John Boehner regularly faces fierce resistance from blocks of conservatives at the mere mention of compromise with Democrats.
Calif. professor's email describes school massacre plot to avenge son's suicide
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- Rainer Reinscheid was into his second bottle of wine when he wrote a chilling email titled, "a good plan," detailing violent revenge on the people he blamed for his teen son's suicide.
His son hanged himself after being disciplined at high school in March, sending the University of California, Irvine, professor into a downward spiral that authorities said led to setting fires and venting his anger in graphic emails describing plans for a mass murder, sexual assaults and his own death.
Reinscheid fantasized about buying a dozen machine guns, killing 200 University High School students, raping a school counselor and killing the assistant principal who disciplined his 14-year-old son, Claas Stubbe.
"I will make him cry and beg, but I will not give him a chance, just like he did to Claas," Reinscheid wrote. "I will make him die, slowly, surely. Next I will set fire to Uni High and try to burn down as much as I can, there should be nothing left that gives them a reason to continue their miserable school."
Reinscheid never acted on his most violent musings and police have no evidence he was preparing for a shooting, but prosecutors charged him with a series of small arsons that targeted the high school, the assistant principal's home and the park where Claas hanged himself.
Obama pitching middle-class tax cuts in Ohio as part of pocketbook argument with Republicans
AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- President Barack Obama made his rival's personal millions a front-and-center issue in the race for the White House on Wednesday, telling a swing-state audience that Mitt Romney "is asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut."
"In order to afford just one $250,000 tax cut for somebody like Mr. Romney, 125 families like yours would have to pay another $2,000 in taxes each and every year," Obama added, citing a report that his opponent's aides immediately denounced as deeply flawed.
The president leveled his charge as Romney, back from an overseas trip, looked ahead to an intensive campaign stretch that will culminate in his selection of a vice presidential running mate as early as next week and the Republican National Convention at month's end.
There were hints that Republicans might soon seek to expand the political playing field into Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, states that traditionally vote Democratic in a presidential race. Campaign activity has been relatively modest in all three since the end of the GOP primaries.
Officials familiar with campaign advertising said Restore our Future, a super Pac aligned with the former Massachusetts governor, is airing television ads in all three states that retrace Romney's successful stewardship of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. "After Sept.11, Romney delivered the Olympics safe and sound," the announcer says, referring to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of more than a decade ago.
San Antonio airport reopens after bomb threat, bomb-sniffing dogs find no suspicious packages
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- A bomb threat temporarily cleared out San Antonio International Airport on Wednesday after officials said someone called alleging that three packages had been left inside a parking garage.
About 2,000 passengers in the terminal were herded onto the tarmac for about 1 1/2 hours after the unknown person called around 2:30 p.m. warning about the packages, and flights were not allowed to land at the airport, fire and airport officials said.
No suspicious items were found in an intensive search aided by bomb-sniffing dogs, airport spokesman Rich Johnson said. He said the "all clear" was declared about 5 p.m., allowing flights to resume and roads leading to and from the airport to reopen.
"The K-9s (initially) had hits in the garage. But they have not found any devices. Sometimes they get false positives," San Antonio Fire Department spokeswoman Deborah Foster said.
The investigation is ongoing.