Sunday, September 30, 2012

Published:

Obama within reach of electoral votes for 2nd term; Romney could still win but path narrower

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Five weeks to Election Day, President Barack Obama is within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term. Republican Mitt Romney's path to victory is narrowing.

To overtake Obama, Romney would need to quickly gain the upper hand in nearly all of the nine states where he and Obama are competing the hardest.

Polls show the president with a steady lead in many of them as Romney looks to shift the dynamics of the race, starting with their first debate Wednesday in Denver.

"We'd rather be us than them," says Jennifer Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman.

But Romney's running mate Paul Ryan says there's time for the GOP ticket to win. "In these kinds of races people focus near the end, and that's what's happening now," he told "Fox News Sunday."

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WHY IT MATTERS: Social Security's financial problems get harder to fix the longer we wait

The issue:

Unless Congress acts, the trust funds that support Social Security will run out of money in 2033, according to the trustees who oversee the retirement and disability program. At that point, Social Security would collect only enough tax revenue each year to pay about 75 percent of benefits. That benefit cut wouldn't sit well with the millions of older Americans who rely on Social Security for most of their income.

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Where they stand:

President Barack Obama hasn't laid out a detailed plan for addressing Social Security. He's called for bipartisan talks on strengthening the program but he didn't embrace the plan produced by a bipartisan deficit reduction panel he created in 2010.

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10 Things to Know for Monday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:

1. WHAT THE SUPREME COURT MAY CONSIDER THIS TERM

The justices return Monday with rulings ahead on affirmative action, gay marriage and voting rights.

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US and Afghan forces clash, killing 2 Americans, 3 Afghans; 2,000 US troops dead in war

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A firefight broke out between U.S. forces and their Afghan army allies in eastern Afghanistan Sunday, killing two Americans and three Afghan soldiers and pushing the number of U.S. troops killed in the long-running war 2,000.

The fighting started Saturday when what is believed to have been a mortar fired by insurgents struck a checkpoint set up by U.S. forces in Wardak province, said Shahidullah Shahid, a provincial government spokesman. He said the Americans thought they were under attack from a nearby Afghan army checkpoint and fired on it, prompting the Afghan soldiers to return fire.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said the gunbattle was the result of a "misunderstanding" between international forces and Afghan soldiers manning a checkpoint in the Sayd Abad district.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force, commonly referred to as ISAF, provided a different account.

"After a short conversation took place between (Afghan army) and ISAF personnel firing occurred which resulted in the fatal wounding of an ISAF soldier and the death of his civilian colleague," the coalition said in a statement. It said the three Afghan soldiers died "in an ensuing exchange of fire."

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Iran greets outcry over Web squeeze with fresh promises for Tehran-centric cyber world

TEHRAN (AP) -- Iran's cyber monitors often tout their fight against the West's "soft war" of influence through the Web, but trying to block Google's popular Gmail appeared to be a swipe too far.

Complaints piled up -- even from email-starved parliament members -- and forced authorities Sunday to double down on their promises to create a parallel Web universe with Tehran as its center.

The strong backlash and the unspecific pledges for an Iran-centric Internet alternative to the Silicon Valley powers and others highlight the two sides of the Islamic Republic's ongoing battles with the Web. It's spurred another technological mobilization that fits neatly into Iran's self-crafted image as the Muslim world's showcase for science, including sending satellites into orbit, claiming advances in cloning and stem cell research and facing down the West over its nuclear program.

But there also are the hard realities of trying to reinvent the Web. Iran's highly educated and widely tech-savvy population is unlikely to warm quickly to potential clunky homegrown browsers or email services. And then there's the potential political and economic fallout of trying to close the tap on familiar sites such as Gmail.

"Some problems have emerged through the blocking of Gmail," Hussein Garrousi, a member of a parliamentary committee on industry, was quoted Sunday by the independent Aftab-e Yazd daily. What he apparently meant was that many lawmakers were angry and missing their emails.

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If the polls prove correct, another battle over the budget may shake markets again

NEW YORK (AP) -- As President Barack Obama widened his lead over Mitt Romney in polls this month, traders at hedge funds and investment firms began shooting emails to clients with a similar theme: It's time to start preparing for an Obama victory.

What many in the market worry about isn't that high earners may pay more in taxes if Obama wins. They worry that federal spending cuts and tax hikes scheduled for 2013 will kick in on Jan. 1 and start pulling the country into another recession. The higher taxes and lower spending would total $600 billion. They take effect automatically unless Congress and the White House reach a deal before then.

If he's re-elected, Obama will still face a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans the rest of the year. And the new Congress that takes office in January may have a Republican House, too. Investors says that's likely to set up a budget battle similar to August of last year, which ended with the country losing its top credit rating and panicked investors fleeing the stock market.

"If you have any kind of gridlock, you run the risk of inaction," says Tom Simons, a market economist at the investment bank Jefferies. "This is a situation where inaction is the worst outcome."

Obama and others like former President Bill Clinton have expressed the belief that House Republicans could be more cooperative once the election is over.

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Slow-growing US economy is flashing conflicting signals about its health

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Anyone puzzled by the most recent U.S. economic data has reason for feeling so: The numbers sketch a sometimes contradictory picture of the economy.

We've learned that:

Consumers are more confident but aren't spending much. Fewer people are losing jobs, but not many are being hired. Home and stock prices are up, but workers' pay is trailing inflation. Auto sales have jumped, but manufacturing is faltering.

This is what an economy stuck in a slow-growth rut can look like, and it's a focal point of the presidential campaign. The U.S. economy grew at a scant 1.3 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter -- too weak to reduce high unemployment. And most economists foresee little if any improvement the rest of the year.

Many Americans are reducing debt loads instead of spending freely. Builders are borrowing less and constructing homes at a modest pace. Businesses are being cautious about hiring and expanding.

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Official: Calif. man's arrest voided, he's released after NY hotel run-in with Lindsay Lohan

NEW YORK (AP) -- A 25-year-old man initially arrested Sunday on an assault charge after Lindsay Lohan claimed he grabbed her in her New York hotel room in an argument over cellphone images was freed hours later and his arrest voided when the charge could not be substantiated, law enforcement officials said.

Instead, Christian LaBella of Valley Village, Calif., and Lohan filed harassment complaints with police against each other after they were interviewed by police about their run-in, law enforcement officials said.

Afterward, Lohan publicist Steve Honig expressed outrage that police did not charge LaBella.

"We think it's both distressing and outrageous," he said in a telephone interview. "Lindsey was assaulted and there needs to be a consequence for that."

LaBella could not be reached for comment.

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Schwarzenegger says he kept many secrets from wife Maria Shriver, causing much pain for family

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Arnold Schwarzenegger says his lifelong penchant for secrecy and ability to put his emotions "on deep freeze" led him to keep many secrets from his wife Maria Shriver, eventually causing the dissolution of their marriage when he was forced to admit he fathered a child with the family's housekeeper years earlier.

Throughout their strained 25-year marriage, Schwarzenegger says he did not want to tell Shriver about crucial life decisions such as major heart surgery and running for California governor because he feared she would overreact and tell her well-connected family and friends.

In his new autobiography, "Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story," and in an interview airing Sunday on "60 Minutes," the former California governor acknowledges that his inability to be honest with people has hurt those closest to him.

"That's the way I handle things. And it always has worked. But, I mean it does not -- it's not the best thing for people around me because I sometimes -- some information I just keep to myself," Schwarzenegger tells reporter Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes."

The former Mr. Universe traces his detachment to his bodybuilding days, where he says emotions make athletes lose.

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With Seve on their sleeves, Europe completes improbable comeback, wins Ryder Cup

MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) -- Europe buried the memory of that American comeback at Brookline in 1999 with one that was even better.

Medinah was filled with sheer madness Sunday, the matches so close for so much of the day that even when Martin Kaymer stood over a 6-foot par putt on the 18th hole to clinch it, the Ryder Cup was up in air.

The putt was pure and the celebration was on.

"It will go down in the history books of the Ryder Cup," said European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.

The size of the comeback was equal to what the Americans pulled off at The Country Club, but at least they had help from endless cheers of the home crowd. Not many gave Europe much of a chance until Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia turned what looked to be certain losses into improbable wins, filling the scoreboard with European blue.