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World briefly on Oct. 2

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POSTED: October 2, 2012 8:07 a.m.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — After countless speeches, meetings and behind-the-scenes discussions, the unending war in Syria remained the unsolved problem that loomed over this year's gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

As the week-long meeting of the U.N. General Assembly ended Monday, there were no breakthroughs on a civil war that has vexed diplomats, paralyzed the Security Council and raised new questions about the relevance of the United Nations.

Anyone willing to look closely, however, might spot a few glints of movement: the new international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi saying he saw an "opening" for a solution and was working on a new approach after visiting Syria, the Emir of Qatar and other leaders in the region calling for some kind of Arab-led intervention. But as the fighting in Syria raged on, and there was no sign of action that could end the escalating war, details on these few nuggets were hard to come by.

Talk about Syria, however, was heard everywhere.

Over seven days of speeches, Syria was discussed by one country after another, from Albania: Syrians "are suffering a primitive bloodshed by a regime that has irreversibly lost its legitimacy to lead;" to Zambia: "Humanity has again been embarrassed by this unnecessary carnage."

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Fearing vote suppression, minority churches use 'souls to polls' to register and rally voters

MIAMI (AP) — It's not just the collection plate that's getting passed around this fall at hundreds of mainly African-American and Latino churches in presidential battleground states and across the nation.

Exhorting congregations to register to vote, church leaders are distributing registration cards in the middle of services, and many are pledging caravans of "souls to the polls" to deliver the vote.

The stepped-up effort in many states is a response by activists worried that new election rules, from tougher photo identification requirements to fewer days of early voting, are unfairly targeting minority voters — specifically, African-Americans who tend to vote heavily for Democrats. Some leaders compare their registration and get-out-the-vote efforts to the racial struggle that led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

"In light of all this, we are saying just let our people vote," said the Rev. Dawn Riley Duval, social justice minister at the Shorter Community A.M.E. Church in Denver. "The people are being oppressed by these measures. It has ignited a sense of urgency and collective power that we can take by engaging in the process."

In key swing states such as Florida and Ohio, proponents of the new election rules deny they are aimed at suppressing the minority vote in hopes of helping Republicans win more races. Reasons for their enactment vary between rooting out fraud and purging ineligible voters to streamlining the voting process.

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Political momentum in Pa. may be on line with voter ID in forthcoming court decision

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Some political momentum could be on the line when a judge rules on whether to keep intact Pennsylvania's tough new law requiring voters to show photo identification in next month's presidential election.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson is under a state Supreme Court order to rule no later than Tuesday, just five weeks before voters decide whether to re-elect President Barack Obama, a Democrat, or replace him with Mitt Romney, a Republican.

Simpson heard two days of testimony last week and said he was considering invalidating a narrow portion of the law for the Nov. 6 election. An appeal to the state Supreme Court is possible.

Up for grabs are Pennsylvania's valuable 20 electoral votes, the sixth most. For now, Republican candidates are trailing in polls on the state's top-of-the-ticket races.

The law, opposed furiously by Democrats, has nevertheless been a valuable Democratic Party tool to motivate volunteers and campaign contributions as other critics, including the NAACP, AARP and the League of Women Voters, hold voter education drives and protest rallies.

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NYPD to bolster gang unit to battle violence fueled by social media

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department is planning to double the size of its gang unit to 300 detectives to combat teen violence fueled by dares and insults traded on social media.

Rather than target established street gangs involved in the drug trade, the reinforcements will focus mainly on "looser associations of younger men who identify themselves by the block they live on, or on which side of a housing development they reside," Police Commissioner Raymond said in prepared remarks.

"Their loyalty is to their friends living in a relatively small area and their rivalries are based not on narcotics trafficking or some other entrepreneurial interest, but simply on local turf," Kelly added. "In other words, 'You come in to my backyard and you get hurt. You diss my crew and you pay the price.'"

The remarks were provided in advance of Kelly's appearance Tuesday in San Diego at a gathering of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Under the new plan, the NYPD gang unit will work more closely with other divisions that monitor social media for signs of trouble.

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Army accountability stays elusive in Pakistan, despite unusually long stretch of civilian rule

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The footage was startling: A group of what appeared to be Pakistani soldiers gunning down several blindfolded men in a forested area. As the clips circulated online and the U.S. threatened to cut aid, Pakistan's army chief promised a full investigation and punishment for any wrongdoers.

Two years later: Silence.

What has the inquiry found? The army won't say. Was anyone punished? Not a word. Some rights activists question whether an investigation even took place.

Pakistan has spent nearly five years under civilian rule, an unusually long stretch for a 65-year-old country prone to military coups. But as the firing squad footage and several other prominent scandals suggest, the army remains largely unwilling to hold itself accountable to the public. This despite some pressure from more active media and judiciary and despite hopes that the military would rethink its ways after the humiliation it suffered following the unilateral U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The army's lack of transparency and resistance to civilian oversight could cripple Pakistan's transition to a healthy democracy, something the United States says the country needs. But the Americans can't protest too much: Washington needs the Pakistani army's cooperation as the war in Afghanistan winds down and it already struggles to balance a strained relationship as it presses the army to root out anti-U.S. insurgents hiding in Pakistan.

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Sign of the times — autographs in baseball go high tech as players and fans connect via iPad

Jim Nash is such a big Yankees fan that he named his son George Mattingly Nash, combining two of his favorite players: George Herman Ruth and Don Mattingly.

So when he noticed Mattingly was participating in a startup venture called Egraphs, which offered an autographed digital picture with a handwritten note and a personalized audio message, he didn't think twice about paying $50. Nash never would have walked up to the Los Angeles Dodgers manager and asked for his signature.

"It's much easier, especially for a grown man," the West Virginia native said. "It's much more personal."

Egraphs launched at the All-Star break, a technological breakthrough that extends the autograph business from the age-old methods of writing to stars, leaning across ballpark railings and hanging around hotel lobbies.

Now, power up the computer and get a prize from the likes of R.A. Dickey, Cliff Lee, Andrew McCutchen and Clayton Kershaw. Or even retired stars that include Pedro Martinez.

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Campaign travel gives Obama unvarnished view of the economy and swing-state voters

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Sometimes all President Barack Obama has to do is look out the window to get a firsthand look at the country's economic woes.

This week in this town, the presidential motorcade speeds past opulent homes lining manmade Lake Las Vegas as he heads to the sprawling luxury development where he's preparing for the upcoming debates with Mitt Romney. But many houses here are empty, victims of Nevada's foreclosure crisis, and others are worth far less than their purchase price.

Farther down the road, a golf course is abandoned — one of two shuttered in the neighborhood. A sparkling shopping center off the main drag has no shops to fill its storefronts.

And if Obama didn't get the message of pocketbook pain, the marquee at a business — one that is open if perhaps not thriving — spells it out: "President Obama, we need lower taxes."

Views like these from the window of his fortified Chevy Suburban or armored limousine give Obama an unvarnished look both at the country he runs and the challenges he faces in winning a second term amid a struggling economic recovery.

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Friends of slain NY college student urge awareness of domestic violence

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — As her family mourned her death, the friends of a college freshman who police say was beaten to death in her dorm room by her boyfriend have rallied people to wear purple to raise awareness of domestic violence.

Alexandra Kogut's body was found early Saturday at the State University of New York College at Brockport, near Rochester. Campus police discovered the 18-year-old Kogut's body after her mother called them concerned because she couldn't reach her, Monroe County sheriff's spokesman John Helfer said.

Kogut's boyfriend, Clayton Whittemore, 21, was arrested at a New York Thruway rest stop near Syracuse, 100 miles east, about an hour later. He told state troopers he intentionally killed Kogut, according to a criminal complaint. No motive was given.

The cause of death was ruled blunt force trauma, Helfer said, but he declined to say whether a weapon was used.

University officials described the slaying as an isolated tragedy that came without warning.

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Appeals court upholds but trims Don Johnson's multimillion verdict over 'Nash Bridges' profits

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A divided appellate court on Monday upheld Don Johnson's multimillion jury award over profits from the series "Nash Bridges" but significantly reduced the amount the actor is eligible to receive.

The California 2nd District Court of Appeal panel voted 2-1 to uphold a verdict that determined the actor was owed millions from the hit series, but the panel cut the amount from $23.2 million down to $15 million.

The appeals court also limited the amount of interest the actor is eligible to receive, erasing an additional award of more than $28 million that a judge granted the actor. Johnson will receive interest on the award, but only an amount calculated from the date of the original verdict in July 2010.

The justices determined that jurors erred when they took into account that Johnson might have earned interest payments while fighting the case, which ended in 2010 with the multimillion verdict. The panel decided to add 5 percent interest to the original $15 million amount they agreed Johnson should receive, according to the opinion released Monday.

Johnson's award was appealed by the series' producers and financiers, Rysher Entertainment, 2929 Entertainment and Qualia Capital.

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National Retail Federation says holiday sales to rise 4.1 percent amid uncertainties.

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans are expected to spend more during what's traditionally the busiest shopping season of the year, but they're not exactly ready to shop 'til they drop like they have been in the past two years.

The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, said Tuesday that it expects sales during the winter holiday shopping period in November and December to rise 4.1 percent this year. That's more than a percentage point lower than the growth in each of the past two years, and the smallest increase since 2009 when sales were up just 0.3 percent.

The projections are an important indicator for retailers that depend on the last two months of the year for up to 40 percent of their annual sales. But the estimates also offer valuable insight for economists who closely watch consumer spending, which accounts for up to 70 percent of economic activity.

The holiday shopping season is one gauge of not only the shopping habits, but also the mindset of the average American during what has turned out to be a slow and uneven economic recovery. Right now, people are feeling better about rising home prices and a rebounding stock market, but job growth is still weak and prices for everything from food to gas are higher. At the same time, there's uncertainty about who the next president will be and some Americans worry that the U.S. debt crisis could lead to another recession.

"In all the years, this is the most challenging year doing a forecast," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, based in Washington, D.C. "There are so many uncertainties."

 

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