Friday, February 24, 2012

Published:

Gas prices nearing $4 a gallon could slow recovery, undercut Obama's re-election prospects

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Soaring gasoline prices are threatening to undercut President Barack Obama's re-election prospects and offering Republicans an easy target. With prices pushing $4 a gallon and threatening to go even higher, Obama sought Thursday to confront rising public anxiety and strike back at his GOP critics.

"Only in politics do people root for bad news, do they greet bad news so enthusiastically," Obama said of Republicans. "You pay more; they're licking their chops."

Obama said dismissively that all the Republicans can talk about is more drilling -- "a bumper sticker ... a strategy to get politicians through an election" -- when the nation's energy challenges demand much more. In a speech in Miami, he promoted the expansion of domestic oil and gas exploration but also the development of new forms of energy.

For all the political claims, economists say there's not much a president of either party can do about gasoline prices. Certainly not in the short term. But it's clear that people are concerned -- a new Associated Press-GfK poll says seven in 10 find the issue deeply important -- so it's sure to be a political issue through the summer.

"Right now, we're experiencing yet another painful reminder of why developing new energy is so critical to our future," the president said. At an average of $3.58 a gallon, prices are already up 25 cents since Jan. 1, and experts say they could reach a record $4.25 a gallon by Memorial Day.

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Poll: Millionaire tax popular, but people prefer spending cuts over tax hikes to cut deficits

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Most people like President Barack Obama's proposal to make millionaires pay a significant share of their incomes in taxes. Yet they'd still rather cut spending than boost taxes to balance the federal budget, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows, giving Republicans an edge over Democrats in their core ideological dispute over the nation's fiscal ills.

The survey suggests that while Obama's election-year tax plan targeting people making at least $1 million a year has won broad support, it has done little to shift people's basic views in the long-running partisan war over how best to tame budget deficits that lately have exceeded $1 trillion annually.

"Everybody should be called to sacrifice. They should be in the pot with the rest of us," Mike Whittles, 62, a Republican and retired police officer from Point Pleasant, N.J., said of his support for Obama's tax proposal for the wealthy. But Whittles said he still prefers cutting government spending over raising taxes because of federal waste and what he calls "too many rules, too many regulations."

Sixty-five percent of the people in the AP-GfK poll favor Obama's plan to require people making $1 million or more pay taxes equal to at least 30 percent of their income. Just 26 percent opposed Obama's idea.

Yet by 56 percent to 31 percent, more embraced cuts in government services than higher taxes as the best medicine for the budget, according to the survey, which was conducted Feb. 16 to 20. That response has changed only modestly since it was first asked in the AP-GfK poll last March. The question on Obama's tax on the rich was not asked previously.

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Romney says Santorum's Senate compromises prove he's just another give-and-take politician

MILFORD, Mich. (AP) -- One day after a feisty debate, Mitt Romney criticized Republican rival Rick Santorum and courted tea party voters Thursday in a pair of primary states separated by nearly 2,000 miles.

"I appreciate the work you're doing. I appreciate your willingness to get out of your homes," he told an audience of tea party members in suburban Detroit, an appearance designed to let him reach out to a part of the electorate that tends to favor his campaign rivals over him.

Romney drew applause when he attacked President Barack Obama as uninformed about the workings of the American economy and called him "a man comfortable living with trillion-dollar deficits."

But he largely sidestepped when asked how he could be able to counter Obama in a debate in the fall campaign if the president brought up similarities between the health care law Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts and the health care overhaul passed by Congress that Republican contenders have vowed to repeal.

That was an evident reference to a requirement for individuals to purchase coverage -- at the heart of both laws -- but Romney's answer omitted that topic. Instead, he said, "The first thing I'd say to him is, 'You say you copied (the Massachusetts law), how come you didn't give me a call? I'd have told you what worked what did not work.'"

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Opposition says 2 killed in renewed shelling of besieged Syrian city

BEIRUT (AP) -- At least two people were killed as Syrian troops renewed their shelling of a rebel-held area in the city of Homs on Friday, activists said, as the United States, Europe and Arab nations met in Tunisia to seek ways to ease the crisis.

More than 70 countries will participate in Friday's "Friends of Syria" meeting, which is expected to press Syrian President Bashar Assad to agree to a cease-fire and allow for humanitarian aid to reach the areas that have been hardest-hit by his security forces.

In the run up to the conference, American, European and Arab officials said the group would likely impose harsher sanctions if Assad rejects the cease-fire and predicted that his opponents would grow stronger if he remained in power.

And in an effort to bring an end to the violence, the U.N. announced that former Secretary General Kofi Annan will be the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to deal with the crisis.

The Tunisia meeting is the latest international effort to end the crisis, which began when protesters, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere, took the streets in some of Syrian impoverished provinces nearly a year ago to call for political change.

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AP IMPACT: Indian lender SKS' own probe links it to borrower suicides, despite company denials

MUMBAI, India (AP) -- First they were stripped of their utensils, furniture, mobile phones, televisions, ration cards and heirloom gold jewelry. Then, some of them drank pesticide. One woman threw herself in a pond. Another jumped into a well with her children.

Sometimes, the debt collectors watched nearby.

More than 200 poor, debt-ridden residents of Andhra Pradesh killed themselves in late 2010, according to media reports compiled by the government of the south Indian state. The state blamed microfinance companies -- which give small loans intended to lift up the very poor -- for fueling a frenzy of overindebtedness and then pressuring borrowers so relentlessly that some took their own lives.

The companies, including market leader SKS Microfinance, denied it.

However, internal documents obtained by The Associated Press, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, independent researchers and videotaped testimony from the families of the dead, show top SKS officials had information implicating company employees in some of the suicides.

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7 Marines die in one of Marine Corps' deadliest aviation training accidents in years

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- An aviation training accident that killed seven Marines -- one of the Corps' deadliest aviation training accidents in years -- left the military community shaken and was a solemn reminder that preparing for war poses some of the same risks as the real thing.

"It's an unfortunate consequence of the high tempo of operations," said retired Marine Col. J.F. Joseph, an aviation safety consultant. "They're out there working on the edge trying to exploit the maximum capabilities of the aircraft and their tactics. Just by the virtue of that, in becoming combat ready, these unfortunately are not uncommon occurrences."

The Marine Corps and Navy, nonetheless, stand out in their efforts to mitigate that risk and make training as safe as possible, he said.

Officials said it could weeks to determine what caused two helicopters, an AH-1W Cobra and a UH-1 Huey, to crash in midair during a routine exercise Wednesday night, killing all aboard the aircraft. Skies were clear and the weather was mild.

The accident occurred near the Chocolate Mountains along the California-Arizona border -- a sprawling desert range favored by the U.S. military because its craggy mountains and hot, dusty conditions are similar to Afghanistan's harsh environment.

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Experts say deep, complex causes of obesity may be beyond reach of weight loss drugs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The battle of the bulge has been a big, fat failure for U.S. drugmakers. But that hasn't stopped them from trying.

For nearly a century, scientists have struggled to make a diet pill that helps people lose weight without side effects that range from embarrassing digestive issues to dangerous heart problems.

But this week, federal health advisers endorsed the weight loss pill Qnexa even though the FDA previously rejected it over concerns that it can cause heart palpitations and birth defects if taken by pregnant women.

The vote of confidence raises hopes that the U.S. could approve its first anti-obesity drug in more than a decade. It also highlights how challenging it is to create a pill that fights fat in a variety of people without negative side effects.

"Having a drug for obesity would be like telling me you had a drug for the fever," said Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of bariatric surgery at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York. "There can be millions of different reasons why someone is obese; it's really a symptom of various underlying mechanisms."

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Emails show Palin wanted to leave Alaska governor's job months before she resigned

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- Fed up with mounting legal bills and rattled by intense scrutiny of her family and work, Sarah Palin was ready to step down as Alaska's governor months before she left office in July 2009.

Emails released Thursday, most from the last 10 months of her time in office, show she told her husband in April, "I can't take it anymore" and complained to spokeswoman Sharon Leighow and aide Kris Perry in March that she had been the target of "many frivolous suits and charges since the DAY I became VP candidate."

"I can't afford this job," she wrote.

The emails illustrate what Palin has said all along: After running for vice president unsuccessfully with John McCain, she returned to Alaska to find that the financial and emotional drain of her gubernatorial job was too much. She flirted with a presidential run last year, but told supporters she instead was dedicating herself to "God, family and country." She currently serves as a commentator on Fox News.

In a March 19, 2009, email, Palin complained that more than 150 freedom of information requests had cost the state more than $1 million, adding: "and who knows what all the bogus ethics charges have cost the state."

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'American Idol' unveils Top 24 with a twist: Another male singer to be added to the contest

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It's good news for 25 -- not just 24 -- singers on "American Idol."

After the "Hollywood Week" and Las Vegas performance rounds, "Idol" judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler narrowed the field from 42 contestants to 24 semifinalists on Wednesday's installment of the Fox singing competition, but they apparently cut too many.

At the end of the episode, "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest revealed in a voiceover that "the judges felt compelled to reinstate another guy." He teased that either Jermaine Jones, Johnny Keyser, Richie Law or David Leathers would be among the male semifinalists next week.

"You did a great job, and you got so far," Lopez told a weeping Jones after he was dismissed on a stage surrounded by bubbling water at the Wynn Las Vegas resort.

The semifinalists unveiled Wednesday were: Deandre Brackensick, 17, San Jose, Calif.; Adam Brock, 27, Washington, Pa.; Hollie Cavanaugh, 18, McKinney, Texas; Hallie Day, 24, Baltimore; Eben Franckewitz, 15, Loveland, Ohio; Skylar Laine, 18, Brandon, Miss.; Chase Likens, 21, Point Pleasant, W.W.; Shannon Magrane, 16, Tampa, Fla.; Aaron Marcellus, 27, Atlanta; and Jeremy Rosado, 19, Valrico, Fla.

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Ryan Braun's 50-game suspension overturned by baseball arbitrator Shyam Das

NEW YORK (AP) -- NL MVP Ryan Braun said all along that his 50-game suspension for a positive drug test would be overturned. He was right.

Arbitrator Shyam Das threw out Braun's ban on Thursday, making the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder the first Major League Baseball player to successfully challenge a drug-related penalty in a grievance.

"It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation," Braun said. "We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side."

Braun tested positive in October for elevated testosterone, which was revealed by ESPN in December. He reports Friday to spring training with the threat of suspension lifted.

"Since joining our organization in 2005, Ryan Braun has been a model citizen and a person of character and integrity. Knowing Ryan as I do, I always believed he would succeed in his appeal," Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said. "It is unfortunate that the confidentiality of the program was compromised, and we thank our fans and everyone who supported Ryan and did not rush to judgment."