Saturday, October 6, 2012

Published:

Activists hope to turn Romney's debate, Obama's jobs news, into votes in campaign's last month

FISHERSVILLE, Va. (AP) -- The presidential race enters its final month enlivened by two events with the potential to reshape the contest or perhaps negate each other. Soon after Mitt Romney's strong debate performance came Friday's encouraging economic news, not a minute too soon for President Barack Obama.

Strategists say the race is tightening, which was largely expected even before Obama's flat appearance on the debate stage Wednesday night, when his Republican challenger had arguably the best 90 minutes of his candidacy thus far.

Republican volunteers and strategists in the nine most competitive states are encouraged as never before, saying Romney is squarely back in a contest that was threatening to slip away.

Thirty-six hours later after the candidates' first face-to-face meeting, however, Obama crossed a huge psychological barrier. The government reported that unemployment fell to 7.8 percent in September, down from 8.1 percent. It was the first time since the opening days of Obama's presidency in 2009 that the rate dipped below 8 percent.

Now, with one month left until the Nov. 6 election and millions of people already voting, the question is whether Romney can spin his 90 minutes of debate gold into a path toward a four-year presidency.

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5 terror suspects, including preacher al-Masri, appear in US courts after extradition from UK

NEW YORK (AP) -- An extremist Egyptian-born preacher entered a U.S. courtroom Saturday for the first time to face multiple terrorism charges, complaining that his prosthetic hooks, medication and special shoes were taken away from him. The preacher was one of five terror defendants rounded up in Britain and extradited overnight to the U.S.

Abu Hamza al-Masri was surrounded by several marshals in a Manhattan courtroom as he faced charges he conspired with Seattle men to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and helped abduct 16 hostages, two of them American tourists, in Yemen in 1998.

The 54-year-old, white-haired Al-Masri exposed both of his arms through his short-sleeved prison shirt. His court-appointed lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, asked that al-Masri, indicted under the name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, have his prosthetics immediately returned "so he can use his arms."

In the 1990s, al-Masri turned London's Finsbury Park Mosque into a training ground for extremist Islamists, attracting men including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and "shoe bomber" Richard Reid.

Al-Masri -- jailed since 2004 in Britain on separate charges -- was flown overnight to New York from London along with four others accused of U.S. embassy bombings in Africa and with helping terror operations in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The men, who could all face life in prison, have been battling extradition for between eight to 14 years.

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Syria's defense minister vows to 'crush' rebels as troops widen attacks

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria's military will "crush" armed rebels, President Bashar Assad's defense minister warned Saturday, as the regime shelled rebel positions in two cities and near the Lebanese border in a widening offensive.

Neighboring Turkey, meanwhile, set new rules of engagement after three shells from Syria hit Turkish territory Saturday. Turkey retaliated with artillery, as it has for the past four days, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this would now be the standard response.

Davutoglu insisted that "we haven't taken a step toward war," but Turkey's threat to fire back for each errant Syrian shell was bound to keep border tensions high. Turkey is one of Assad's harshest critics and a key supporter of Syria's opposition.

The latest Syria-Turkey crisis erupted earlier this week, after a Syrian shell killed five civilians in a Turkish border town.

The Syrian regime has apologized and tried to defuse tensions by pulling some tanks back from the border, according to a Turkish Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.

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People who got steroid shots but not sick left to wait, worry, watch for meningitis symptoms

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Patsy Bivins tossed and turned all night after finding out the steroid shot she received to ease her chronic back pain could instead threaten her life.

For now, all the 68-year-old retired waitress can do is hope she doesn't develop the telltale signs of a rare form of fungal meningitis that health officials say has sickened more than 60 people in nine states: a splitting headache, fever, stiff neck, difficulty walking or worsening back pain. There may be hundreds or even thousands more like her.

She called her doctors Friday, right after her first cup of coffee, hoping to relieve the anxiety stirred a day earlier when she learned she might be at risk. Bivins was told only that she didn't need to be checked unless she developed symptoms.

"I'm not sure if I like it," Bivins, of Sturgis, Ky., said Friday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Seems like there should be some way to tell it before you get the symptoms. Honestly, it makes me worse than I was."

Federal health officials say seven people have died so far, and they fear thousands more could have been exposed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the outbreak may have been caused by a steroid made by a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts, where inspectors found at least one sealed vial that was contaminated. It's not yet clear how the fungus got into the steroid, which is commonly used to treat back pain. But officials have told health professionals not to use anything made by the pharmacy.

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Israeli military says it shot down a drone that entered Israeli airspace in the south

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel scrambled fighter jets to intercept a drone Saturday that crossed deep into Israeli airspace from the Mediterranean Sea, shooting the aircraft down over the country's southern desert, the military said.

The incident marked the first time in at least six years that a hostile aircraft has penetrated Israel's airspace, and Israeli officials said they were taking the incident seriously, raising the possibility of retaliatory action.

It was not immediately clear who launched the drone, but suspicion quickly fell on the Lebanese Islamic militant group Hezbollah. The Iranian-backed group is known to have sent drones into Israeli airspace on several previous occasions.

Tensions are running high between Iran and Israel over Tehran's nuclear program, which the West believes is cover for the development of atomic weapons. The Islamic Republic denies the allegations, and says its program is for peaceful purposes only. Israel has threatened to carry out a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent Iran from acquiring such weapons.

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said Israeli ground systems detected the drone, which flew over the Gaza Strip but did not originate there, Saturday morning. They alerted the air force, which scrambled the jets to intercept the aircraft. She said Israel was still trying to determine where the drone took off from. Nobody was hurt in the incident.

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Sandusky jurors plan to attend sentencing; some hoping former Penn State assistant gets life

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Jerry Sandusky should be sent to prison for life when a judge sentences him Tuesday, according to several of the jurors who convicted the former Penn State assistant coach of molesting several boys over a period of years.

None of the jurors interviewed by The Associated Press said they have had second thoughts about their June verdict, and several plan to attend the sentencing.

"There isn't a sentence that I believe is harsh enough for what he has done and how it has affected the university," said Joan Andrews, a juror who has worked for Penn State for 41 years and held football season tickets since 1969. "I don't think there's been one individual in this entire campus that has not been affected by this."

Four jurors said they plan to be in the courtroom when Sandusky, 68, learns the penalty for sexually abusing boys he met through a charity for at-risk children. Sandusky's own attorney expects his client to be handed a long sentence from Judge John Cleland after conviction on 45 counts.

Although a list of jurors has not been released by Cleland, the AP was able to contact five of them. They said they recently received a letter from the court informing them about the sentencing and offering to have a court official meet them outside the courthouse.

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As nation suffers 2000th death in Afghan War, Gold Star mother wonders why troops still there

Lisa Freeman was cradling her 6-day-old grandson in her left arm and watching the news on her iPad while her daughter and son-in-law caught some much-needed sleep. The retired teacher was taking notes with her free hand when she heard the news: The nation had suffered its 2,000th casualty in the Afghan war.

On Sept. 29, Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Metcalfe was on patrol in the country's rugged Wardak Province when his unit came under small-arms fire.

As the announcer droned on, all Freeman could do was shake her head and stare at little Matthew -- named for an uncle he would never know. Marine Capt. Matthew C. Freeman fell to a sniper's bullet on Aug. 7, 2009, northeast of Kabul, not far from where Metcalfe perished.

It is almost certain that Metcalfe and Freeman -- both 29 when they died -- never met. Freeman grew up in the Savannah suburb of Richmond Hill, Ga.; Metcalfe was from the village of Liverpool, N.Y., population about 2,400, a few miles north of Syracuse.

Nonetheless, they were brothers, casualties in what has become America's longest war.

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Ga. Rep. Paul Broun calls evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory lies 'from the pit of hell'

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Georgia Rep. Paul Broun said in videotaped remarks that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell" meant to convince people that they do not need a savior.

The Republican lawmaker made those comments during a speech Sept. 27 at a sportsman's banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell. Broun, a medical doctor, is running for re-election in November unopposed by Democrats.

"God's word is true," Broun said, according to a video posted on the church's website. "I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior."

Broun also said that he believes the Earth is about 9,000 years old and that it was made in six days. Those beliefs are held by fundamentalist Christians who believe the creation accounts in the Bible to be literally true.

Broun spokeswoman Meredith Griffanti told the Athens Banner-Herald (http://bit.ly/Us4O0Zhttp://bit.ly/Us4O0Z ) that Broun was recorded speaking off-the-record to a church group about his religious beliefs. He sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

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Calif. gas prices hit all-time high; prices might still rise before falling next week

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It's a record, though just barely. The price of gasoline hit an all-time average high in California of $4.6140 a gallon Saturday, fueled by a reduced supply and a volatile market.

The record was set by a fraction of a penny, according to AAA spokesman Michael Green. The previous high was $4.6096 on June 19, 2008.

Prices throughout the state were expected to increase for several more days before leveling off, after a temporary reduction in supply triggered a price spike that saw fuming motorists paying $5 or more per gallon in some locations and station owners shutting down pumps in others.

AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report released Saturday said the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded across California rose 12 cents from its Friday mark of about $4.49.

Saturday's price was the highest in the nation, with the Golden State leapfrogging Hawaii this week as the state with the most expensive fuel. The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded across California was 47 cents more than a week ago, according to the AAA report.

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A pop fly drops, mayhem ensues: New wild-card era begins with more calls for expanded replay

ATLANTA (AP) -- The NFL replacement refs are not there to kick around anymore.

Not to worry.

A familiar target has emerged.

Instead of guys wearing stripes, it's the men in blue.

Major League Baseball found itself embroiled in another postseason maelstrom over umpires -- and renewed calls for increased use of instant replay -- after a disputed infield fly call led to mayhem in the stands in the one-game, winner-take-all playoff in Atlanta.