Thursday, February 23, 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 to 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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From battered Syrian city, cries of suffering that Homs is being destroyed 'inch by inch'

BEIRUT (AP) -- Medics stitch wounds with thread used for clothing. Hungry residents risk Syrian government sniper fire or shelling to hunt for dwindling supplies of bread and canned food on the streets of the besieged city of Homs.

The opposition stronghold was being destroyed "inch by inch," by government forces, with collapsed walls and scorched buildings, according to accounts Thursday, while Western and Arab leaders hoped to silence the guns long enough to rush in relief aid.

The pressure for "humanitarian corridors" into the central Syrian city of Homs and other places caught in President Bashar Assad's crushing attacks appeared to be part of shifts toward more aggressive steps against his regime after nearly a year of bloodshed and thousands of deaths in an anti-government uprising.

In back-to-back announcements, U.N.-appointed investigators in Geneva said a list for possible crimes against humanity prosecution reaches as high as Assad, and international envoys in London -- including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton -- made final touches to an expected demand for Assad to call a cease-fire within days to permit emergency shipments of food and medicine.

Washington and European allies remain publicly opposed to direct military intervention. But there have been growing signs that Western leaders could back efforts to open channels for supplies and weapons to the Syrian opposition, which includes breakaway soldiers from Assad's military.

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Gingrich: Obama apology for Quran burning in Afghanistan an 'outrage' in light of deaths

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Thursday a U.S. apology to Afghan authorities for burned Qurans on a military base was "astonishing" and undeserved.

Gingrich lashed out at President Barack Obama for the formal apology after copies of the Muslim holy book were found burned in a garbage pit on a U.S. air field earlier in the week

Obama's apology was announced Thursday morning. A few hours later, news organizations reported that an Afghan soldier had killed two U.S. troops and wounded others in retaliation for the Quran burning.

Campaigning in Washington state, Gingrich said Afghan President Hamid Karzi owes the U.S. an apology for the shootings.

"There seems to be nothing that radical Islamists can do to get Barack Obama's attention in a negative way and he is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States period," Gingrich said.

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Copter collision kills 7 Marines in Calif. in one of Corps' deadliest crashes in years

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A collision that killed seven Marines in one of the Marine Corps' deadliest aviation training accidents in years occurred over 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.

Officials were scrambling Thursday to determine what caused the AH-1W Cobra and UH-1 Huey to crash during a routine exercise Wednesday night when skies were clear and the weather was mild.

There were no survivors in the accident near the Chocolate Mountains along the California-Arizona border.

It was the fifth aviation accident since March involving the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing headquartered at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego. Throughout the Navy and Marine Corps, there have only been two other aviation training accidents in the past five years involving seven or more deaths, according to the military's Naval Safety Center.

"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."

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In emails, Palin tells husband 'I can't take it anymore' before stepping down as governor

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- In the final months before she resigned as Alaska's governor, Sarah Palin displayed growing frustration over deteriorating relationships with state lawmakers and outrage over ethics complaints that she felt frivolously targeted her and prompted her to write: "I can't take it anymore."

The details are included in more than 17,000 records released Thursday by state officials -- nearly 3 1/2 years after citizens and news organizations, including The Associated Press, first requested Palin's emails. The emails, most from Palin's final 10 months in office, illustrate what Palin has said all along: The intense scrutiny of her family and work was a financial and emotional drain that forced her to step down as governor.

In a March 19, 2009, email to spokeswoman Sharon Leighow and aide Kris Perry, she 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."

She expressed anger at having to pay for her own defense, with a bill that at that point totaled more than $500,000, saying her husband had to go back to work on the North Slope because of it.

"We've all had to pay for our OWN legal defense in this political bloodsport -- it's horrendous -- why do you think Todd is on the slope today?" Palin wrote. "I am paying to defend in my capacity as GOVERNOR -- actions taken in my official position. This is unheard of anywhere else."

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Florida lawmaker admits sending suggestive, harassing texts to married, female prosecutor

MIAMI (AP) -- A contrite Florida state lawmaker who admitted using a hidden identity to send numerous inappropriate, harassing texts to a married federal prosecutor is facing a federal investigation into possible stalking.

Rep. Richard Steinberg, a married Miami Beach Democrat, returned home from Tallahassee even though both legislative chambers were in session, said his spokesman Christian Ulvert. Steinberg, 39, and his wife have a young daughter.

"It's a family matter. That's the No. 1 priority," Ulvert.

Steinberg, responding to inquiries about the probe from The Miami Herald, issued a statement acknowledging that he sent "inappropriate and unsolicited messages" to Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos, an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami he said he has known for 15 years. Steinberg's spokesman also provided a copy to The Associated Press.

"I deeply regret and wholeheartedly apologize for the disrespect that I have shown her, her husband and my constituents," Steinberg said in the statement. "Most importantly, words cannot express how sorry I am to my wife, for the disrespect I have shown her, and my entire family."

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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 Jr. 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, Adam Brock, Hollie Cavanaugh, Hallie Day, Eben Franckewitz, Skylar Laine, Chase Likens, Shannon Magrane, Aaron Marcellus and Jeremy Rosado.

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

NEW YORK (AP) -- National League MVP Ryan Braun's 50-game suspension was overturned Thursday by baseball arbitrator Shyam Das, the first time a baseball player successfully challenged a drug-related penalty in a grievance.

The decision was announced Thursday by the Major League Baseball Players Association, one day before the 28-year-old outfielder was due to report to spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Braun's urine tested positive in October for elevated testosterone, and ESPN revealed the positive test in December.

Braun has insisted that he did not violate baseball's drug agreement.

"I am very pleased and relieved by today's decision," he said in a statement. "It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side."