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World briefly for Oct. 24

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Prime Time Specialty Mini Grid WIDGET

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POSTED: October 24, 2012 7:30 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Locked in a stubbornly tight race, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are demonstrating the urgency of the campaign's final stretch, with the incumbent alone set to cover 5,300 miles in the busiest single day of his re-election bid. Both men claimed a growing edge even as voters showed little give.

From Colorado to Iowa to ever-important Ohio, bigger crowds and late October scenery offered the feel of a campaign starting to finally crackle. Obama centered on a closing theme that voters simply cannot trust Romney, while the challenger warned of the bleak times that four more Obama years would bring.

At the majestic Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado late Tuesday, Romney said Obama's promise of more of the same is "why he's slipping and it's why we're gaining."

He cast the race as moving his way during a rally of up to 10,000 at the amphitheater, a stunning setting cut into mountain rocks outside Denver. Blue lights and the Romney "R'' logo lit the rocks rising on either side of the venue, and the crowd wore colored T-shirts that, viewed from afar, formed the Colorado state flag.

Romney wasn't staying in Colorado long. With just two weeks left and all three of their debates behind them, the candidates turned to travel — a lot of it.

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Return to sender? Presidential campaigns, allies hit swing-state voters with mail ad barrage

MANITOWOC, Wis. (AP) — Around lunchtime each day, the latest missives promoting or pillorying Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney arrive in Diane Ouradnik's mailbox. Before long, they're in her trash.

Tearing and tossing has become routine for battleground-state voters drenched in caustic mail ads from the presidential candidates, political parties and their allied groups.

Television commercials may be king, but millions of dollars a week are fueling the pinpointed mail ads: Gun owners are told Obama is a threat and Romney is "the clear choice." Bilingual ads going to Latino voters are questioning Romney's commitment to opportunities for "regular people." Senior citizens are getting dueling pieces from Obama and Romney casting the other as detrimental to Medicare.

"I don't even read it. It's just too overwhelming. It's too much — from all sides," says Ouradnik, a customer service representative in this lakeside Wisconsin city. She voted for Obama four years ago but is leaning toward Romney this time because she feels the incumbent has let her down and is too willing to blame others.

Political mail at all levels is big business. Some 1.8 billion political mail pieces were sent in 2010, resulting in $338 million in revenue for the U.S. Postal Service, a spokesman said. The Postal Service expects to significantly surpass those marks in 2012.

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Jordan's king steers Arab nation through Mideast turbulence, hoping to survive

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The foiling of a planned al-Qaida terror plot in Jordan underscores a new subplot in the story of the Arab Spring: Things are heating up for King Abdullah II, a Western-oriented monarch who has run a business-friendly, pragmatic monarchy with some trappings of democracy.

Jordan, a key U.S. ally that sits at a strategic crossroads between neighboring Syria, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Israel and Saudi Arabia, has so far weathered 22 months of street protests calling for a wider public say in politics.

But this week's announcement that Jordanian authorities had thwarted an al-Qaida plan to attack shopping malls and Western diplomatic missions in the country has raised fears that extremists could take advantage of growing calls for change to foment violence.

The king also has been working overtime to fend off a host of domestic challenges, including a Muslim Brotherhood boycott of parliamentary elections, increasing opposition from his traditional Bedouin allies and an inability to keep the Syrian civil war from spilling over the border.

So far, Abdullah has largely maintained control, partly by relinquishing some of his powers to parliament and amending the country's 60-year-old constitution. His Western-trained security forces have been able to keep protests from getting out of hand. And most in the opposition remain loyal to the king, pressing for reforms but not his removal.

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In Pyongyang, finding history and comfort in 'Gone with the Wind'

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — The former black marketeer has read it. So has the beautiful young librarian, and the aging philosophy professor who has spent his life teaching the ruling doctrine of this isolated outpost of totalitarian socialism. At times it seems as if everyone in Pyongyang, a city full of monuments to its own mythology, has read the book.

In it they found a tortured love story, or a parable of bourgeois decline. Many found heroes. They lost themselves in the story of a nation divided by war, its defeated cities reduced to smolder and ruins, its humbled aristocrats reduced to starvation.

The book is "Gone With the Wind."

To come across Margaret Mitchell's 1936 Civil War epic in North Korea is to stumble over the unlikeliest of American cultural touchstones in the unlikeliest of places.

What does antebellum plantation life have to do with North Korea, where three generations of rulers — grandfather, father and now the young son, Kim Jong Un — have been worshipped as omniscient? What appeal does Scarlett O'Hara's high-society ruthlessness hold for people only a few years past a horrific famine?

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Soaked Jamaica braces as Sandy bears down for possible pass as hurricane, then on to Cuba

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Jamaicans hunkered down at home as the front edge of Tropical Storm Sandy buffeted the Caribbean island with pelting rain and howling winds early Wednesday before possibly crossing the country as a hurricane.

The island's international airports prepared to close, cruise ships changed their itineraries and police ordered 48-hour curfews in major towns to keep people off the streets and deter looting as the late-season storm was expected to rake Jamaica from south to north at midday.

The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was forecast to pass over or near Jamaica and then spin on into eastern Cuba by Wednesday evening. It was expected to pass west of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where pretrial hearings are being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen.

Across Jamaica, poor people in ramshackle shantytowns and moneyed residents in gated communities were jittery about Sandy's approach. Many sections of the debt-shackled country have crumbling infrastructure, and a lack of building codes has resulted in some middle-class homes and tin-roofed shacks being built close to steep embankments and gullies.

Dangerous flash floods and mudslides set off by Sandy were a threat for the island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, Jamaica's meteorological service said.

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State officials find problems at Mass. pharmacy linked to meningitis outbreak

BOSTON (AP) — Water from a leaking boiler collected just outside a room that was supposed to be sterile. Floor mats used by technicians were filled with dirt and debris. Drugs were shipped out before the company even confirmed they were sterile.

State officials said Tuesday that they found these and other problems at the New England Compounding Center during a preliminary investigation into the company, linked to a deadly outbreak of meningitis.

The probe can't yet conclusively prove what caused the outbreak, a top health official said. In the meantime, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said he wants to tighten oversight at similar companies, including with surprise inspections — the first of which happened Tuesday.

The state has also moved to permanently revoke the company's operating license, as well as the licenses of its top three pharmacists.

"Those whose laboratory practices caused this outbreak should never practice pharmacy or manufacture in Massachusetts again," Patrick said.

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Federal Reserve officials meeting amid low expectations for any major moves to help economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Six weeks after rolling out a bold plan to boost the U.S. economy, the central bank is meeting again amid low expectations for further help.

Private economists believe the Fed will send a simple message after its two-day meeting that it wants to give its previous actions time to work before doing more.

"They have done enough right now. There is no reason to do any more at the moment," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. She said she expects the Fed to deliver further help to the economy but not until the last meeting of the year on Dec. 11-12.

The Fed's meeting will conclude with a brief announcement at mid-afternoon Wednesday. But there will be no news conference by Federal Chairman Ben Bernanke.

The Fed announcement is expected to affirm officials' plan to keep buying $40 billion per month in mortgage bonds as long as necessary to make home buying more affordable. The Fed is also expected to reaffirm its intention to keep short-term interest rates at record lows through mid-2015 and hold out the prospect of further action if hiring doesn't pick up.

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College tuition costs up again this fall but signs unsustainable trends may be slowing

The sticker price of in-state tuition at four-year public universities climbed about $400 this fall, an increase of nearly 5 percent that brought the average to $8,655. That's a modest increase compared to recent years but still painful for families with stagnant incomes after a prolonged economic slump.

Room-and-board charges grew by a comparable amount, raising the full cost for students living on campus to $17,860.

The latest annual figures from the College Board, out Wednesday, show only about one-third of full-time students pay that published price. The estimated net price — what students pay on average after accounting for grants and tax credits — remains considerably lower than the list price: about $2,910 for tuition at public four-year universities, and $12,110 including room and board.

But after several years when a wave of student aid from Washington held net prices mostly in check, real costs for students have now jumped two straight years, as that wave washes back from its high-water mark.

At private colleges, enrolling about one-quarter of four-year college students, list prices remained substantially higher: $39,518 on average, including room and board. During the previous three years, net prices at private colleges had declined. But this year net tuition and fees increased about $780. Including room and board, but factoring in aid, the typical student at a private college is paying $23,840.

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Secrecy surrounding Ukrainian president's home stirs controversy ahead of election

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — When Ukraine's president opened up his home to TV cameras, he presented a cozy place with a small office just big enough for his grandchildren to play in. But his critics point to strong evidence he actually lives in very different digs: a luxurious, marble-columned mansion with a golf course, a helipad and even an ostrich enclosure.

The reported grandeur is becoming a campaign issue in a country quickly getting fed up with widespread corruption. Critics call Viktor Yanukovych's home an emblem of the secrecy and arrogance that defines his presidency, painting him as a leader who basks in splendor while his main political opponent, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, is locked up in prison on charges the West has called politically motivated.

Yanukovych has refused to answer questions about the house or the vast park where it sits, once darkly suggesting that an investigative journalist back off. An opposition activist looking for answers broke into the property James Bond-style, scaling the walls with a tow rope. She was detained, but still managed to salvage photographs of a golf course and glitzy buildings, describing an opulent palace guarded by heavy security.

Political commentator Vitaly Portnikov, who has compared Yanukovych's government to a "mafia" jeopardizing Ukraine's desire for greater integration with the European Union, cited Yanukovych's clandestine residence as an example of the corruption and lack of transparency unacceptable in the West.

"Viktor Yanukovych's main goal is not to be the president of Ukraine but to be the No. 1 oligarch in Ukraine," said Portnikov. "He fought for power ... specifically in order to consolidate in his hands a huge amount of resources and property, in order to make his family the first family in the country."

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Giants' Sandoval, Cain and Cabrera earned home World Series start with All-Star performances

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The World Series starts in San Francisco because the All-Star game was a Giant blowout. Pablo Sandoval, Matt Cain and Melky Cabrera made sure of it.

"I don't think you really think about it that much," Cain said, "but it is kind of cool when you do."

Cain pitched two shutout innings, Sandoval connected off Detroit's Justin Verlander for the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star history and Cabrera hit a two-run home run in the NL's 8-0 rout on that July night at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium.

Since 2003, the All-Star-winning league has gained homefield advantage for the World Series. The Giants host the Tigers in the opener Wednesday night.

"When you go to the All-Star game, you have to take that thing serious," Sandoval said. "That's what we do. Cain, our guys, do our thing to try to bring this to the National League."

 

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