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World briefly for Oct. 18

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POSTED: October 18, 2012 7:30 a.m.

NEW YORK (AP) — A Bangladeshi man snared in an FBI terror sting considered targeting a high-ranking government official and the New York Stock Exchange before authorities say he raised the further bar by picking one New York City's most fortified sites: The Federal Reserve.

In a September meeting with an undercover agent posing as a fellow jihadist, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis explained he chose the Federal reserve "for operational reasons," according to a criminal complaint. Nafis also indicated he knew that choice would "cause a large number of civilian casualties, including women and children," the complaint said.

The plot was phony, but authorities alleged on Wednesday that Nafis' admiration of Osama bin Laden and aspirations for martyrdom were not.

FBI agents grabbed the 21-year-old Nafis — armed with a cellphone he believed was rigged as a detonator — after he made several attempts to blow up a fake 1,000-pound the bomb inside a vehicle parked next to the Federal Reserve in lower Manhattan, the complaint said.

The bank in New York, located at 33 Liberty St., is one of 12 branches around the country that, along with the Board of Governors in Washington, make up the Federal Reserve System that serves as the central bank of the United States. It sets interest rates.

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May the funniest man win: Romney and Obama to face off, this time with a repertoire of jokes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The presidential campaign, which has been a spectacle of finger-pointing and recrimination, is oh so briefly taking a sharp detour so President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney can play politics for laughs.

The rivals are quieting the hostilities Thursday evening to address the venerable Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a white-tie gala at New York City's Waldorf Astoria Hotel that has been a required stop for politicians since the end of World War II.

In keeping with tradition, both candidates have prepared lighthearted fare for the fundraising event organized by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York for the benefit of needy children. That was the case almost precisely four years ago when Obama and Republican presidential contender John McCain poked fun at themselves and each other just a day after an intense presidential debate at Hofstra University on Long Island.

As in 2008, this year's dinner comes in the wake of a fiery and confrontational presidential debate — again at Hofstra — lending an air of drama to the pivot from acrimony to humor.

What's more, the dinner's host is Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has clashed with the Obama administration over contraception provisions in the new health care law. Dolan has said he received "stacks of mail" protesting the dinner invitation to Obama. But Dolan has sought to avoid playing political favorites, even delivering benedictions at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer.

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Under attack in Afghanistan and Pakistan, minority Hazaras risk death to reach Australia

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — As he knelt in prayer to mark one of Islam's holiest days, Ali Raza Qurban saw a childhood friend and dozens of others die in a suicide attack on their Shiite mosque. Sunni militants were again targeting minority ethnic Hazaras in this city of narrow streets and wide-open hatreds.

Qurban decided it was time to leave. He found an agent who would hook him up with a smuggler in Indonesia and, for $8,000, get him to Australia.

But he never made it to Australia. He disappeared on Dec. 17, 2011, aboard an overcrowded, rickety wooden boat that capsized within hours of leaving the Indonesian shore.

Four months had passed since the suicide bombing at the mosque in Quetta, where the violence has spawned a vibrant human smuggling business. The smugglers operate out of small, unidentified shops. Selling promises of a safe and better life in Australia, they largely capitalize on the fear and desperation of the Hazara, a largely Shiite community that is facing attacks not only here but in neighboring Afghanistan.

In Quetta, Shiite leaders say many of the attacks against Hazaras are carried out by the Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Janghvi, which they contend is backed by elements within Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI. Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry and a panel of three judges last month ordered authorities to investigate allegations that vehicles illegally imported by the ISI were used in suicide bombings targeting Shiites.

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Texas judge is expected to rule in lawsuit over football banners with Bible verses

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A group of teenage cheerleaders is expecting to hear Thursday from a Texas district judge whether they will be allowed to continue displaying Bible verses at high school football games.

The cheerleaders at Kountze High School sued district officials told them to stop using scripture — such as, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" — on banners displayed at football games. The district banned the use of religious messages after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained that the messages violated the First Amendment prohibition on government establishing a religion.

State District Judge Steve Thomas issued an injunction allowing the cheerleaders to continue using Bible verses until he made a decision. He set a hearing for Thursday, when he was expected to rule on the cheerleaders' case.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed court papers to intervene in the lawsuit, calling the district's prohibition an unconstitutional infringement on the cheerleaders' rights to free speech. The Texas Education Code also states that schools must respect the rights of students to express their religious beliefs.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is dedicated to the separation of church and state, also intervened saying in the context of a football game it was unclear who was responsible for the messages, the school or the cheerleaders.

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Here's your diploma and a $26,500 bill; debt averages up again for recent college grads

It's the latest snapshot of the growing burden of student debt and it's another discouraging one: Two-thirds of the national college class of 2011 finished school with loan debt, and those who borrowed walked off the graduation stage owing on average $26,600 — up about 5 percent from the class before.

The latest figures are calculated in a report out Thursday by the California-based Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) and likely underestimate the problem in some ways because they don't include most graduates of for-profit colleges, who typically borrow more than their counterparts elsewhere.

Still, while 2011 college graduates faced an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent in 2011, even those with debt remained generally better off than those without a degree. The report emphasized research showing that the economic returns on college degrees remain, in general, strong. It noted the unemployment rate for those with only a high school credential last year was 19.1 percent.

"In these tough times, a college degree is still your best bet for getting a job and decent pay," said TICAS President Lauren Asher. "But, as debt levels rise, fear of loans can prevent students from getting the education they need to succeed. Students and parents need to know that, even at similar looking schools, debt levels can be wildly different. And, if they do need to borrow to get through school, federal student loans, with options like income-based repayment, are the safest way to go."

The latest figures come at a time of increasing alarm about the sheer scope of student debt nationally, which by some measures has surpassed $1 trillion. Recent government figures show nearly 10 percent of borrowers of federal student loans in the most recently measured cohort had already defaulted within two years of starting repayment.

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3 languages, wealth and lots of pride: Royal wedding gives tiny Luxembourg turn in spotlight

LUXEMBOURG (AP) — The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg doesn't get a lot of turns in the spotlight.

It's an independent country tinier than Rhode Island, the smallest U.S. state, and it would fit inside Germany, its neighbor to the east, 138 times with room to spare. It won no medals at the 2012 London Olympics — in fact it hasn't won a medal at the summer Games since 1952.

But this week is Luxembourg's turn to shine. Prince Guillaume, the heir to the throne — the grand duke-to-be — will marry Belgian Countess Stephanie de Lannoy. It will be a two-day affair, including fireworks, concerts, a gala dinner at the grand ducal palace, and two marriages between the betrothed — a civil wedding Friday afternoon and a religious ceremony Saturday morning.

A glittering array of European royalty has been invited. The guest list for the religious ceremony includes kings, queens, princes and princesses from European countries including, among others, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Lichtenstein, Denmark, the Netherlands, Romania and Britain, which is sending Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth's youngest child, and his wife, Sophie.

Non-European royalty plan to attend, as well, from Morocco, Japan and Jordan and elsewhere.

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Scholars say prediction of GOP inroads with Jewish voters premature, Jews to stay with Dems

NEW YORK (AP) — Like Chicago Cubs fans in spring, Jewish Republicans start every presidential election season hoping this will be their year. They hope American Jews, who have voted overwhelmingly Democratic for decades, will start a significant shift to the political right. But scholars who study Jewish voting patterns say it won't happen in 2012.

Although recent studies have found potential for some movement toward the GOP, analysts say any revolution in the U.S. Jewish vote won't occur anytime soon.

"I would be very surprised to find that this is the transformative election," said Jonathan Sarna, an expert in American Jewish history at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

Surveys confirm that growth in socially conservative Orthodox Jewish communities, who tend to be GOP voters, is greater than in Jewish groups from other traditions. Russian-speaking Jews are also emerging as a strong GOP constituency, as evidenced when Republican Bob Turner won the special election to succeed disgraced New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner.

But a generous estimate of the two groups combined would make them only a quarter of American Jews, with many living in heavily Democratic New York. Steven M. Cohen, director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University's Wagner School, predicts "status quo ante" — the way things were before — for a decade or more, at least until the many Orthodox children reach voting age.

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'Perversion' files maintained by Boy Scouts for decades set to be released after court fight

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Confidential files kept by the Boy Scouts of America on men they suspected of child sex abuse are set to be released after a two-year-long court battle.

The anticipated release of the files on Thursday by Portland attorney Kelly Clark will reveal 20,000 pages of documents the Scouts kept on men inside — and in some cases outside — the organization believed to have committed acts of abuse.

The court-ordered release of the so-called perversion files from 1965 to 1985 has prompted the organization to pledge that they will go back into the files and report any offenders who may have not been reported to the police when alleged abuse took place.

That could prompt a new round of criminal prosecutions for offenders who have so far escaped justice.

The Scouts have, until now, argued they did all they could to prevent sex abuse within their ranks by spending a century tracking pedophiles and using those records to keep known sex offenders out of their organization.

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Beltran substitute Carpenter has big hit as Cardinals beat Giants 3-1, take 2-1 NLCS lead

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Matt Carpenter always tries to stay ready, keeping an assortment of gloves nearby. That's his job.

The St. Louis Cardinals' utilityman took on a new role in Game 3 of the NL championship series: game-changer.

Carpenter hit a two-run homer after subbing for Carlos Beltran and the Cardinals chased Matt Cain before a 3½-hour rain delay in the seventh inning of a 3-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night for a 2-1 series lead.

"It was definitely a surprise," Carpenter said. "I didn't even realize Carlos had hurt himself, there was really no thought process.

"I was in the game before I had time to think about it," he said.

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Official proposes tax of 5 cents a bullet in effort to curb heightened Chicago homicide rate

CHICAGO (AP) — As Chicago struggles to quell gang violence that has contributed to a jump in homicides, a top elected official wants to tax the sale of every bullet and firearm — an effort even she acknowledges could spark a legal challenge.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle will submit a budget proposal Thursday that calls for a tax of a nickel for each bullet and $25 for each firearm sold in the nation's second-largest county, which encompasses Chicago.

Preckwinkle's office estimates the tax will generate about $1 million a year, money that would be used for various county services including medical care for gunshot victims. Law enforcement officials would not have to pay the tax, but the office said it would apply to 40 federally licensed gun dealers in the county.

Through last week, the city reported 409 homicides this year compared to 324 during the same period in 2011. Although the violence still doesn't approach the nearly 900 homicides a year Chicago averaged in the 1990s, officials say gang violence was largely to blame for a rash of shootings earlier this year.

Preckwinkle insists the ordinance is far more about addressing gun violence than raising money for a county that faces a deficit of more than $100 million next year.

 

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