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World briefly for Aug. 15

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Prime Time Specialty Mini Grid WIDGET

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POSTED: August 15, 2012 6:00 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's campaign is launching state-specific efforts to target elements of Paul Ryan's austere budget proposals, expanding beyond its opposition to the Republican vice presidential candidate's Medicare overhaul.

The Democratic campaign is mobilizing its vast network of staffers and volunteers in key states to highlight Ryan's proposals to cut funding for veterans care, clean energy and education — and link presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney directly to them. Democrats say those cuts would be just as damaging as Ryan's proposed overhaul of Medicare, the popular federal health care program that serves tens of millions of seniors.

The Obama strategy comes as Romney and Ryan make clear they plan to campaign aggressively on Medicare, not run away from it. In person and in a television ad, the Republicans argued Tuesday that Obama is the one who cut spending for Medicare to put money toward his divisive health care overhaul.

In states with large military and veteran populations — Florida, Ohio and Virginia among them — the Obama campaign plans to attack Ryan's proposed cuts for veterans' benefits and care, a campaign official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the campaign strategy publicly and requested anonymity.

In Colorado, Ohio and Iowa, the campaign sees opportunities to capitalize on Ryan's proposed cuts to clean energy industries that are taking hold in those states. The Obama team will argue that cutting those investments would essentially cede new energy technologies — and the jobs that could come with them — to countries like China, the official said.

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Explosion hits near hotel used by UN observers in Syrian capital; 3 wounded, state TV says

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A bomb attached to a fuel truck exploded Wednesday outside a Damascus hotel where U.N. observers are staying in the Syrian capital, wounding at least three people, Syria's state TV reported.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad toured the area of the blast and said none of the U.N. staff was hurt. The explosion occurred as U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos was in the Syrian capital but her team is believed to be staying at a different hotel.

The blast was the latest in a series of explosions that have hit Damascus in the past months as clashes between government troops and rebels reached the Syrian capital, which had been relatively quiet since an uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime erupted in March last year.

Wednesday's explosion took place near a parking lot used by the army command in Damascus, about 300 meters (yards) away, the state TV said.

But according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene, the blast went off inside a different parking lot, one belonging to a military compound and not the military command. The lot is near the Dama Rose Hotel, popular with the U.N. observers in Syria and where many of the mission staff are staying.

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Main players among Syrian regime, opposition and rebels in the country's civil war

Here are key players in the Syrian civil war:

—Syrian regime: Despite major defections and a July 18. explosion in Damascus that killed four top generals, including President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law, the regime's inner circle is still powerful and united against the opposition. Assad's inner circle includes his younger brother, Maher, who commands the forces in charge of protecting the capital. It also includes the heads of the four intelligence agencies playing a major role in the crackdown. Although regime forces lost parts of the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest, government troops still control most cities, while the opposition dominates large parts of the countryside.

—Free Syrian Army: The main rebel fighting force for more than a year, the Free Syrian Army includes lightly-armed volunteer militiamen and defectors from Assad's military. Its overall strength and structure is unclear, but tens of thousands are believed be loyal to the group. The rebels have control over some northern areas, allowing movement of fighters and supplies from Turkey and Lebanon. Anti-Assad forces have failed to maintain any strategic footholds in big cities, being driven back from key neighborhoods in Homs earlier this year and now apparently losing ground in the largest urban center, Aleppo. The battles also suggest only weak direction from central commanders — including Turkey-based Free Syrian Army leader Riad al-Asaad.

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Oversight panel's ex-chairman excluded House members' loans in subpoena for VIP mortgage files

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Democratic committee chairman overrode his own subpoena three years ago in an investigation of former subprime mortgage lender Countrywide to exclude records showing that he, other House members and congressional aides got VIP discounted loans from the company, documents show.

The procedure to keep the names secret was devised by Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y. In 2003, the 15-term congressman had two loans processed by Countrywide's VIP section, which was established to give discounts to favored borrowers.

The effort at secrecy was reversed when Towns' Republican successor as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, California Rep. Darrell Issa, issued a second subpoena. It yielded Countrywide records identifying four current House members, a former member and five staff aides whose loans went through the VIP unit. Towns was on the list.

Most of the names had dribbled out to the media by the time Issa issued the committee's final report last month on Countrywide's use of loan discounts to buy influence with government officials. But there was no official confirmation until Issa made his report public.

Towns' effort to keep the loans secret was at odds with statements by Republicans and Democrats alike that full disclosure of lawmakers' financial dealings was the best means for keeping the public aware of congressional perks, unethical conduct and fundraising.

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Dozen cities to see rallies for Russia's anti-Putin punk rockers in wave of global support

MOSCOW (AP) — The global campaign to free Pussy Riot is gaining speed: Supporters of the punk provocateur band mobilize this week in at least a two dozen cities worldwide to hold simultaneous demonstrations an hour before a Russian court rules on whether its members will be sent to prison.

Friday's rallies will ride a wave of support for the three women who have been in jail for more than five months because of an anti-Putin prank in Moscow's main cathedral. Calls for them to be freed have come from a long list of celebrities such as Madonna and Bjork. Protests have been held in a number of Western capitals, including Berlin, where last week about 400 people joined Canadian electro-pop performance artist Peaches to support the band.

In one of the most extravagant displays, Reykjavik Mayor Jon Gnarr rode through the streets of the Icelandic capital in a Gay Pride parade this weekend dressed like a band member — wearing a bright pink dress and matching balaclava — while lip-synching to one of Pussy Riot's songs.

Amnesty International has called the women prisoners of conscience and begun collecting signatures by text message for a petition to be sent to the Russian government, while the U.S. State Department has repeatedly expressed its concern.

Although the band members and their lawyers are convinced that the verdict depends entirely on the will of President Vladimir Putin, and prosecutors have asked for a three-year sentence, activists hope their pressure will ease punishment or even free the women.

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Drew Peterson judge, again, to rule on mistrial motion in murder case

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — A judge Wednesday again is poised to decide whether to cut short former police officer Drew Peterson's murder trial — the third time in as many weeks he is giving serious consideration to declaring a mistrial after a blunder by prosecutors.

Their latest misstep came as proceedings seemed to be going the prosecution's way in recent days as they sought to prove Peterson, 58, killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. He was charged after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007.

Judge Edward Burmila seemed unmoved Tuesday by apologies from an attorney for the state after she broached a subject she was told not to mention to jurors — raising the possibility the trial could end with the judge letting Peterson go free.

Declaring a mistrial and concluding prosecutors intentionally violated his orders could lead to his release — though that would be the most extreme measure Burmila could take.

Burmila also could declare a more standard mistrial, meaning Peterson would be retried later. The judge also could instruct the jury to disregard what the prosecutor said. If he takes that route, it could still signal to jurors that prosecutors have — again — messed up, potentially influencing their deliberations.

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Pew report shows Obama more aggressive than Romney in targeting voters online

WASHINGTON (AP) — Four years ago, then-Sen. Barack Obama got a head start on Arizona Sen. John McCain when it came to reaching voters online, on their mobile phones and on social media. Young voters, the group most likely to tune in digitally to the presidential campaign, broke overwhelmingly for Obama, giving him the biggest margin of victory among that age group ever recorded.

This year, Obama again holds an advantage over his Republican opponent on the digital front, says a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. The group's Project for Excellent in Journalism analyzed both campaigns' efforts between June 4-17 and found Obama far outpacing Mitt Romney.

Obama's team posted almost four times as much content during the period, the report said, and maintained an active presence on almost twice as many platforms. On Twitter, Romney's campaign tweeted about once a day, while Obama's campaign averaged 29 daily tweets. Obama also posted about twice as many YouTube videos and blog entries.

Not content to stick just with Twitter and Facebook, Obama's campaign kept public accounts on Flickr, Google+, Instagram and other social media platforms — nine in all. Romney was active on just five, although his campaign more recently added two more.

"I don't believe that posting more is better," Zac Moffatt, Romney's digital director, said in an interview. "Where I really look at it from an engagement standpoint is a site like Facebook where people are really having a back-and-forth."

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Standard Chartered shares rise following settlement of New York sanction-busting charges

LONDON (AP) — Shares in Standard Chartered PLC opened 4 percent higher in London Wednesday, a day after it agreed to pay $340 million to a New York regulator to settle accusations that it hid illegal transactions with Iran and violated U.S. sanctions law.

New York states' Department of Financial Services had threatened to revoke the bank's license to operate in New York, which would have hit Standard Chartered's dollar-based businesses.

In a brief statement to the market, Standard Chartered said Wednesday that it "continues to engage constructively" with other U.S. agencies including the Department of Justice, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve.

Shares briefly shot up to 1,473 pence, just above the 1,470 pence closing price on Aug. 6, the day the New York agency announced its charges.

Despite the positive bounce on Wednesday, analysts said investors are likely to remain cautious about Standard Chartered shares until the other investigations are resolved.

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Romney's running mate would turn Medicaid over to the states, sharply restrict spending growth

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare gets all the attention, but the GOP vice presidential candidate has proposed more fundamental changes to medical care for the poor and disabled.

Under the Wisconsin congressman's Medicaid plan, states would take over the program. Simultaneously, Ryan's proposed budget would reduce projected federal spending by about $800 billion over 10 years, shrinking Medicaid as a share of the overall national economy. The plan has passed the Republican-led House two years in a row.

Ryan would also repeal President Barack Obama's health care law, expected to add at least 11 million more people to Medicaid.

On both proposals, Ryan is in sync with his new boss, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But such cuts would result in millions of vulnerable people losing health insurance, according to advocates for the poor and some nonpartisan economic analysts.

"Medicaid is already a very lean program," said Edwin Park of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income people. "It is not a program where you can magically glean huge efficiencies by just devolving it to the states. The only way to compensate for funding reductions of this magnitude would be to institute deep, damaging cuts to beneficiaries and the health care providers who serve them."

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Dolphins, Jets among Pick 6 of NFL teams that could use a jolt of Olympic champion Usain Bolt

Now that the Olympics are over, there's one very fast young man looking at one very long layoff before resurfacing in Rio in four years.

Hey, Usain Bolt! You want to play in the NFL?

Bob Hayes, gold medal winner in the 100 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Games and dubbed world's fastest human, did it. So did Renaldo Nehemiah, world record-holder in the 110-meter hurdles who missed the 1980 Moscow Games because of a U.S. boycott.

Sure, money would be an issue. And it's questionable whether you'd be willing to put on pads, practice every day, learn to catch footballs while running at world-record speed, and then deal with getting slammed to the ground by defenders.

Nonetheless, think about this:

 

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