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POSTED: October 3, 2012 7:30 a.m.

DENVER (AP) — President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney come face to face for the first time in this presidential campaign Wednesday night for a nationally televised debate that will give millions of Americans a chance to size up two fierce competitors in a moment of high-risk theater.

Romney, trailing in polls in a number of key states and running short on time to reverse his fortunes, is angling for a breakout performance in the three 90-minute presidential debates scheduled over the next three weeks.

Obama, well aware that the remaining five weeks of the race still offer enough time for tectonic shifts in his prospects, is determined to avoid any campaign-altering mistakes as he presses his case for a second term.

A pre-debate skirmish Tuesday over Vice President Joe Biden's passing reference to "a middle class that has been buried the last four years" demonstrated how just a few words can mushroom into something larger during a heated contest for the White House.

Wednesday's 9 p.m. EDT faceoff between Obama and Romney on domestic policy at the University of Denver is sure to offer a blend of choreography and spontaneity: Both men have spent hours rehearsing smart lines and pithy comebacks with proxy opponents — yet know to expect the unexpected.

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Analysis: Romney looking for an edge in debate with Obama to set tone of race for next 34 days

WASHINGTON (AP) — As millions of Americans watch, President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney will be chasing opposite goals in their first debate. The key for Obama is to sit on his narrow lead without mishap, while Romney's challenge is to shake up the race and connect with voters.

And while debates are seldom determinative, they can alter the direction or pause the momentum of a presidential contest. Five weeks before the election, the public's attention is becoming more focused, opinions are gelling and in some states votes are already being cast.

First debates have not been kind to incumbent presidents seeking re-election. So to the extent that history holds lessons, they can only be cautionary for Obama and encouraging for Romney when they meet Wednesday night in Denver.

Obama is vulnerable and Romney will seek to wound him. Joblessness stands above 8 percent, the economy is growing at a snail's pace and Obama's health care law remains a contentious topic with voters.

Romney's message: The country can't afford another four years of an Obama administration.

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Suicide bombings near officers' club in northern Syrian city kill at least 27, official says

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Three suicide bombers detonated their explosives-packed cars near an officers' club in Syria's northern city of Aleppo on Wednesday, killing at least 27 people and causing massive destruction that trapped scores under the rubble, a government official said.

The three blasts went off at a main square in a government-controlled district of the city, while a fourth explosion detonated a few hundred meters (yards) away near the Chamber of Commerce, the official said.

Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub and largest city, has seen intensified fighting between regime forces and rebels trying to oust President Bashar Assad, especially after the fighters launched a new offensive last week. But it has not been the target of frequent suicide attacks, and Wednesday's stunning wave of explosions caused panic and fear among residents.

Syrian TV said the triple bombings targeted Saadallah al-Jabri square, describing them as the work of "terrorists," and said there were "multiple" casualties. Authorities refer to rebels fighting to topple Assad as terrorists and armed gangs.

The TV did not provide further details but another state-run channel, Ikhbariya, showed footage of massive damage around the square, which also houses a famous hotel. One building appeared leveled to the ground. The facade on other buildings was heavily damaged.

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As post-9/11 program grew, info on Americans, not terrorists was collected; price tag huge

WASHINGTON (AP) — A multibillion-dollar information-sharing program created in the aftermath of 9/11 has improperly collected information about innocent Americans and produced little valuable intelligence on terrorism, a Senate report concludes. It portrays an effort that ballooned far beyond anyone's ability to control.

What began as an attempt to put local, state and federal officials in the same room analyzing the same intelligence has instead cost huge amounts of money for data-mining software, flat screen televisions and, in Arizona, two fully equipped Chevrolet Tahoes that are used for commuting, investigators found.

The lengthy, bipartisan report is a scathing evaluation of what the Department of Homeland Security has held up as a crown jewel of its security efforts. The report underscores a reality of post-9/11 Washington: National security programs tend to grow, never shrink, even when their money and manpower far surpass the actual subject of terrorism. Much of this money went for ordinary local crime-fighting.

Disagreeing with the critical conclusions of the report, Homeland Security says it is outdated, inaccurate and too focused on information produced by the program, ignoring benefits to local governments from their involvement with federal intelligence officials.

Because of a convoluted grants process set up by Congress, Homeland Security officials don't know how much they have spent in their decade-long effort to set up so-called fusion centers in every state. Government estimates range from less than $300 million to $1.4 billion in federal money, plus much more invested by state and local governments. Federal funding is pegged at about 20 percent to 30 percent.

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Border Patrol agent shot and killed on duty in southern Arizona; another agent wounded

NACO, Ariz. (AP) — Investigators were scouring a rugged area near the U.S.-Mexico line looking for evidence in the fatal shooting of a Border Patrol agent.

Nicholas Ivie and a colleague were on patrol in the desert near Naco, about 100 miles from Tucson, when gunfire broke out shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Border Patrol.

Ivie, 30, was killed. The other agent, whose name hasn't been released, was hospitalized after being shot in the ankle and buttocks.

It was the first fatal shooting of an agent since a deadly 2010 firefight with Mexican bandits that spawned congressional probes of a botched government gun-smuggling investigation.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon in Naco, an FBI official said the agency was still processing the crime scene and that it might take several days to complete. The FBI and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, which was also investigating, declined to say whether investigators have recovered guns or bullet casings.

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APNewsBreak: Coke, Samsung pull ads from Vietnam site, citing concerns over music downloads

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Coca-Cola and Samsung have pulled their advertising from a popular Vietnamese website notorious for providing unlicensed downloads of Western and local songs, in a rare victory against online piracy in a country where it has grown unchecked.

The companies abandoned Zing.vn after The Associated Press alerted them to local and international concerns about the website, which is the sixth-most visited in the nation of 87 million people.

Zing's audience of young, tech-savvy web users has made it attractive to companies wanting to promote their products in a fast-growing Asian market where some 30 million people are online. It was unclear if the companies were ignorant of the content of the site or chose to ignore it.

Besides Coca-Cola Co. and South Korea's Samsung, other multinationals that have advertised on Zing include Canon, Yamaha, Intel and Colgate Palmolive. Zing said in a statement it couldn't comment.

The presence of international advertising added to the legitimacy of Zing, causing particular anger among Vietnamese artists who felt the site was profiting from their work without compensating them. After being contacted by The AP, Samsung and Coca-Cola said in separate statements they had withdrawn their ads.

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Rare century-old $5 bill issued in Fairbanks, Alaska, expected to bring up to $300,000

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The $5 bill displayed for decades on Charles Fairbanks IV's wall was long a treasured family heirloom from Alaska. Now, to the surprise of the grandson of a turn-of-a-century vice president, it's also become a likely treasure trove.

The rare find is expected to fetch as much as $300,000 at auction this month when a Texas auctioneer plans to put it up for bids in Dallas and online as part of the American Numismatic Association National Money Show.

The bill was presented in 1905 to Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks — Theodore Roosevelt's No. 2 — and was from the First National Bank of Fairbanks, Alaska. The family has had it in their possession ever since and recently decided to auction it off through Dallas-based Heritage Auctions.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful find," said Dustin Johnston, director of Heritage's currency auctions.

Auction officials say the Fairbanks bill that features an image of President Benjamin Harrison is a highlight that's expected to sell for $200,000 to $300,000. The minimum starting bid is $120,000.

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Judge blocks Pa. photo ID rule for Election Day; governor leaning against appealing decision

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A judge has ruled that Pennsylvania voters won't have to show photo identification to cast ballots on Election Day, a move that could help President Barack Obama in a presidential battleground state.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on Tuesday delayed Pennsylvania's controversial voter ID requirement from taking effect this election, saying he wasn't sure the state had made it possible for voters to easily get IDs before Nov. 6.

"I am still not convinced ... that there will be no voter disenfranchisement" if the law took effect immediately, Simpson wrote.

Gov. Tom Corbett, who had championed the law, said he was leaning against an appeal of the decision, which was widely viewed to favor Obama in Pennsylvania, one of the nation's biggest electoral college prizes. Obama has been leading in recent polls over Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

The law could still take full effect next year, although Simpson could also decide to issue a permanent injunction.

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As final trial approaches in '07 NJ schoolyard slayings, families' long road nearing an end

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — In a Newark courtroom this week, 12 jurors and a packed gallery will hear how four college-bound friends gathered at a schoolyard one summer night to drink sodas and listen to music, their young lives full of promise and potential.

Then they'll hear about the aftermath, the carnage that followed: Three of the four friends slumped against a wall where they'd been forced to kneel, pools of blood surrounding their bodies; deep slash marks from a machete crisscrossing one victim's head and face.

Six suspects were arrested within two weeks of the murders. Three have been convicted at trial with the help of testimony from the survivor, who has earned a college degree since the attacks. Two other defendants have pleaded guilty.

Opening statements are expected Thursday morning in the trial of Gerardo Gomez, who turned 15 on the night of the slayings but is being tried as an adult, as were two other juveniles.

In the more than five years since Shalga Hightower lost her daughter, Iofemi, in the brutal slayings in this violence-scarred city, she and the other victims' families have doggedly sat through three lengthy trials as well as hearings, guilty pleas and sentencings almost too numerous to count.

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Defending champ Cardinals clinch final playoff spot, set up final hectic day to regular season

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rather than spraying champagne in every direction, the defending World Series champions talked about holding a subdued party if they squeezed into the postseason.

When it finally happened, the St. Louis Cardinals just couldn't help themselves.

First-year manager Mike Matheny, wearing a uniform top over an undershirt that was soaked and aromatic from the bubbly that flowed, addressed the media outside the clubhouse around 1 a.m. local time after the Cardinals clinched the second NL wild card when Los Angeles lost to San Francisco.

The Dodgers' elimination set up a final hectic day to the regular season in which the AL West and AL East crowns are up for grabs, and Miguel Cabrera can become baseball's first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

Just before Matheny emerged, raucous cheering could be heard.

 

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