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POSTED: August 30, 2012 8:28 a.m.

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Mitt Romney is stepping up for the most important speech of his Republican presidential campaign, to an audience of millions, after a rousing warm-up from a running mate who vowed the days of dodging painful budget choices will end if voters toss President Barack Obama from office.

Having grasped the nomination on his second try, after years spent cultivating this moment, Romney will use his speech Thursday night to introduce himself to a large portion of voters and claw for advantage in a race that could scarcely be any closer. As part of that introduction, Romney appeared prepared to discuss his Mormon faith in more direct terms than usual, a direction signaled by running mate Paul Ryan on Wednesday night in several allusions to the duo's differing religions but "same moral creed."

The Wisconsin congressman, a deficit hawk who's become the party's darling since joining the ticket, offered a prime-time testimonial setting up Romney's turn on the stage in the Republican National Convention's finale. If history is a guide, viewership of Romney's speech — and Obama's address to his Democratic convention next week — will be surpassed only by the audience for their coming debates.

The Republican convention's most rah-rah moments were unfolding as Hurricane Isaac, down to a tropical storm, inflicted floodwaters and misery in rural stretches of nearby Gulf states. The slowly unfolding calamity went unmentioned by most key speakers Wednesday night, although a few asked for Red Cross donations to the victims and offered prayers. The GOP had cut the convention's opening day in fear Isaac would strike Tampa, which was spared.

Not that Obama set politicking aside, either, even as he tended to emergency management. Locked in an unpredictable race that shows no clear advantage for either man, Obama implored young people in a crowd of 7,500 in Charlottesville, Va., home to the University of Virginia, to register, vote and make sure their friends do as well. "I need you," he said. "America needs you to close the gap between what is and what might be."

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FACT CHECK: Making case for GOP ticket, VP nominee Ryan takes factual shortcuts in speech

WASHINGTON (AP) — Laying out the first plans for his party's presidential ticket, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan took some factual shortcuts Wednesday night when he attacked President Barack Obama's policies on Medicare, the economic stimulus and the budget deficit.

Sen. Rob Portman, a former U.S. trade representative, glossed over his own problems when critiquing Obama's trade dealings with China. A day earlier, the convention's keynote speaker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, bucked reality in promising that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will lay out for the American people the painful budget cuts it will take to wrestle the government's debt and deficit woes under control.

And former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum stretched the truth in taking Obama to task over his administration supposedly waiving work requirements in the nation's landmark welfare-to-work law.

A closer look at some of the words spoken at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.:

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Hurricane Isaac sidesteps New Orleans but causes significant flooding in rural fishing area

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Isaac's whistling winds lashed this city and the storm dumped nearly a foot of rain on its desolate streets, but the system of levee pumps, walls and gates appeared to withstand one of the stiffest challenges yet. To the north and south, though, people had to be evacuated or rescued as Isaac lingered over Louisiana.

The rain fell almost constantly for more than a day, flooding neighborhoods in a rural part of the state and in neighboring Mississippi. Officials had to respond quickly because the waters were rising fast — even as Isaac meandered slowly northward Thursday on a path toward Arkansas.

President Barack Obama declared federal emergencies in Louisiana and Mississippi late Wednesday, according to a statement from the White House. The disaster declarations free up federal aid for affected areas.

Along the shores of Lake Ponchartrain, officials sent scores of buses and dozens of high-water vehicles to help evacuate about 3,000 people as rising waters lapped against houses and left cars stranded. Floodwaters rose waist-high in some neighborhoods, and the Louisiana National Guard was working with sheriff's deputies to rescue people stranded in their homes.

The floodwaters "were shockingly fast-rising, from what I understand from talking to people," Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said. "It caught everybody by surprise."

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

Late-breaking news, upcoming events and stories of interest:

1. RYAN SAYS ROMNEY 'WILL NOT DUCK THE TOUGH ISSUES'

VP candidate draws on Wisconsin small-town upbringing and his father's advice in convention address.

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WATCHING THE SHOW: Are demographics the prime mover in today's presidential politics?

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — One way to think about this year's election is as a contest between the impact of a sour economy (advantage Romney) and the power of the nation's shifting demographics (advantage Obama).

Put simply, the groups that support President Barack Obama most strongly — blacks, Hispanics, young people, unmarried women — have been growing as a share of the electorate. Those who support Mitt Romney the most — white working men and older people — have not.

This demographic tide is so strong that some Democrats came away from their 2008 victory feeling that a political reordering was in the works that could be as important as the New Deal realignment that ushered in a generation of Democratic strength after the Great Depression.

The Great Recession put a deep dent in that hope of theirs, as it soured most other optimism around America.

But now both Republicans and Democrats see that the demographic tide is still running. But it is running into the effects of the bad economy.

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Police: 100-year-old man drives onto sidewalk, hits 9 children, 2 adults near LA school

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The screams of women and children didn't cause a 100-year-old driver to stop as he backed his large powder blue Cadillac onto a sidewalk across from an elementary school and hit 11 people, including nine children.

So people began pounding on his windows screaming for him to stop, a witness said.

Alma Solache said she was buying her children an afterschool snack Wednesday just before the accident outside a South Los Angeles school.

"He was not paying attention," said Solache, 24, adding that it was at least two or three seconds before the vehicle halted and people began pulling children out from beneath the car.

Four of the children were in critical condition when firefighters arrived but they were stabilized and were in serious condition at a hospital, city fire Capt. Jaime Moore said. Everyone was expected to survive, he said.

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Politicians keep asking for 'civil' discourse, but insults, cheap shots just keep on coming

WASHINGTON (AP) — Addressing the Republican National Convention, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie bemoaned the lack of civility and cooperation in American politics. "We are demanding that our leaders stop tearing each other down, and work together to take action on the big things facing America," Christie said.

Then he proceeded to tear Barack Obama down. The president, Christie said, is not a leader but part of a movement that preys on vulnerabilities, frightens with misinformation, has "failed America" and wants the American people to "live the lie."

Christie wasn't alone. After speakers criticized everything from Obama's healthcare initiatives to Vice President Joe Biden's golf game, Democratic operatives were howling as if political discourse had hit some kind of historical low. But the GOP hardly holds the monopoly on divisive rhetoric.

"What have they said about (GOP nominee Mitt) Romney? Killed a woman?" says Merle Black, an Emory University political scientist, referring to a pro-Obama Super PAC ad featuring a steelworker laid off by a company shut down by Romney's firm, Bain Capital. The man's wife died of cancer after they lost his health insurance.

"The campaign that Obama has put on so far is relentlessly negative," Black says. "It's all attack, attack, attack."

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NASA launches twin satellites to Earth's treacherous radiation belts, space weather the quest

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Twin satellites rocketed into orbit Thursday on a quest to explore Earth's treacherous radiation belts and protect the planet from solar outbursts.

NASA launched the science probes before dawn, sending them skyward aboard an unmanned rocket.

It's the first time two spacecraft will orbit in tandem amid the punishing radiation belts of Earth, brimming with highly charged particles capable of wrecking satellites.

These new satellites — shielded with thick aluminum — are designed to withstand an onslaught of cosmic rays for the next two years.

"We're going to a place that other missions try to avoid and we need to live there for two years. That's one of our biggest challenges," said Richard Fitzgerald, project manager for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

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Isaac brings unwelcome spike in gas prices as Labor Day weekend approaches

NEW YORK (AP) — Drivers are being hit with the biggest one-day jump in gasoline prices in 18 months just as the last heavy driving weekend of the summer approaches.

As Hurricane Isaac swamps the nation's oil and gas hub along the Gulf Coast, it's delivering sharply higher pump prices to storm-battered residents of Louisiana and Mississippi — and also to unsuspecting drivers up north in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

The national average price of a gallon of gas jumped almost five cents Wednesday to $3.80, the highest ever for this date. Prices are expected to continue to climb through Labor Day weekend, the end of the summer driving season.

"The national average will keep ticking higher, and it's going to be noticeable," says Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gasbuddy.com

The wide storm shut down several refineries along the Gulf Coast and others are operating at reduced rates. In all, about 1.3 million barrels per day of refining capacity is affected. So, it's no surprise that drivers in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida saw gas prices rise by a dime or more in the past week.

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Body of Sherman Hemsley to be refrigerated until a West Texas court rules on validity of will

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The embalmed body of actor Sherman Hemsley, who became famous for his role as television's George Jefferson, will be kept in refrigeration at an El Paso funeral home until a local court rules on the validity of his will.

In the will Hemsley signed six weeks before dying of lung cancer July 24 he named Flora Enchinton, 56, whom he called a "beloved partner," as sole beneficiary of his estate, which is estimated in court documents to be more than $50,000.

The will is being contested by Richard Thornton, of Philadelphia, who claims to be Hemsley's brother and says the will might not have been made by the actor.

Enchinton told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she had been friends with Hemsley and had been his manager for more than 20 years. Over the time she, Hemsley and Hemsley's friend Kenny Johnston, 76, lived together, she said he never mentioned any relatives.

"Some people come out of the woodwork — they think Sherman, they think money," Enchinton said. "But the fact it that I did not know Sherman when he was in the limelight. I met them when they (Hemsley and Johnston) came running from Los Angeles with not one penny, when there was nothing but struggle."

 

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