TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Mitt Romney's Republican National Convention sputters to life with the lonely banging of a gavel in a mostly empty hall, hardly the opening splash intended for the nation. With a sprawling and strengthening storm bearing down on the region, the party hastily rewrote the convention script to present the extravaganza's prime rituals and headline speakers later in the week — Tropical Storm Isaac willing.
Nothing was certain Monday as the storm carved an unpredictable path toward the Gulf of Mexico, forcing planners to compress four days of events into three and otherwise improvise.
It was a complication, at best, for a party determined to cast the close election as a referendum on President Barack Obama's economic stewardship and Romney as the best hope for jobs and prosperity.
From New Hampshire, where he and his wife, Ann, rehearsed their convention speeches in a high school auditorium, Romney expressed worry about the people in Isaac's way while predicting a "great convention" nonetheless. Other officials put on a brave face, too.
But Sally Bradshaw, a Florida Republican and longtime senior aide to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was not so sanguine. "It's a mess all around and it's fraught with risk," she said. "It's not good for anybody — particularly the people impacted by the storm."
Tropical Storm Isaac forecast to hit north Gulf Coast as Cat 2 hurricane after raking Fla.
KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — Tropical Storm Isaac churned toward the northern Gulf Coast early Monday and promised to give the Republican National Convention a good drenching after lashing the Florida Keys and Miami area with wind and rain.
The National Hurricane Center predicted Isaac would grow to a Category 2 hurricane over the warm Gulf of Mexico and possibly hit late Tuesday somewhere along a stretch that starts west of New Orleans and runs to the edge of the Florida Panhandle. That would be one day shy of seven years after Hurricane Katrina struck catastrophically in 2005.
A Category 2 hurricane has sustained winds of between 96 and 110 mph (154 to 177 kph) and a strong storm surge. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called a state of emergency, and 53,000 residents of St. Charles Parish near New Orleans were told to leave ahead of the storm.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley also declared states of emergency, while oil companies began evacuating workers and cutting production at Gulf offshore rigs in Isaac's projected path.
Several area governors have altered their plans for this week's GOP convention in Tampa. Bentley has canceled his trip, and Jindal said he's likely to do so unless the threat from the storm subsides. Florida Gov. Rick Scott gave up a chance to speak.
Circumcision benefits outweigh risks and insurers should pay; pediatricians revise stance
CHICAGO (AP) — The nation's most influential pediatricians group says the health benefits of circumcision in newborn boys outweigh any risks and insurance companies should pay for it.
In its latest policy statement on circumcision, a procedure that has been declining nationwide, the American Academy of Pediatrics moves closer to an endorsement but says the decision should be up to parents.
"It's not a verdict from on high," said policy co-author Dr. Andrew Freedman. "There's not a one-size-fits-all-answer." But from a medical standpoint, circumcision's benefits in reducing risk of disease outweigh its small risks, said Freedman, a pediatric urologist in Los Angeles.
Recent research bolstering evidence that circumcision reduces chances of infection with HIV and other sexually spread diseases, urinary tract infections and penis cancer influenced the academy to update their 13-year-old policy.
Their old stance said potential medical benefits were not sufficient to warrant recommending routinely circumcising newborn boys. The new one says, "The benefits of newborn male circumcision justify access to this procedure for those families who choose it." The academy also says pain relief stronger than a sugar-coated pacifier is essential, usually an injection to numb the area.
WATCHING THE SHOW: With outcomes known, are conventions still worth keeping around?
The conventional wisdom about national political conventions is that they have outlived their purpose.
Once, they were the place where the parties actually picked their candidates for president and vice president. But for at least 30 years now, conventions have been the place where the nominees, long since selected, try to bind up their party's internal wounds and reach out over the heads of the delegates to woo the less partisan voters who usually decide the election.
They have become the largest, most expensive infomercials in human experience.
So why are we even still having them?
As the parties convene, there will be much chattering that conventions don't matter anymore, that they are a waste of money (some of it taxpayer money) and should be abandoned. "Total anachronisms. Parties should scrap 'em," sniffs Mark McKinnon, former media adviser to George W. Bush and a co-founder of No Labels, a group devoted to purging "hyper-partisanship" from politics.
HP, Dell have fallen on hard times as PC business falters amid shifting technology trends
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Hewlett-Packard Co. used to be known as a place where innovative thinkers flocked to work on great ideas that opened new frontiers in technology. These days, HP is looking behind the times.
Coming off a five-year stretch of miscalculations, HP is in such desperate need of a reboot that many investors have written off its chances of a comeback.
Consider this: Since Apple Inc. shifted the direction of computing with the release of the iPhone in June 2007, HP's market value has plunged by 60 percent to $35 billion. During that time, HP has spent more than $40 billion on dozens of acquisitions that have largely turned out to be duds so far.
"Just think of all the value that they have destroyed," ISI analyst Brian Marshall said. "It has been a case of just horrible management."
Marshall traces the bungling to the reign of Carly Fiorina, who pushed through an acquisition of Compaq Computer a decade ago despite staunch resistance from many shareholders, including the heirs of HP's co-founders. After HP ousted Fiorina in 2005, other questionable deals and investments were made by two subsequent CEOS, Mark Hurd and Leo Apotheker.
Fried chicken, pizza and milkshakes: Mideast entrepreneurs create fast food boom in Baghdad
BAGHDAD (AP) — Baghdad's embattled residents can finally get their milkshakes, chili-cheese dogs and buckets of crispy fried chicken. Original recipe or extra spicy, of course.
A wave of new American-style restaurants is spreading across the Iraqi capital, enticing customers hungry for alternatives to traditional offerings like lamb kebabs and fire-roasted carp.
The fad is a sign that Iraqis, saddled with violence for years and still experiencing almost daily bombings and shootings, are prepared to move on and embrace ordinary pleasures — like stuffing their faces with pizza.
Iraqi entrepreneurs and investors from nearby countries, not big multinational chains, are driving the food craze. They see Iraq as an untapped market of increasingly adventurous eaters where competition is low and the potential returns are high.
"We're fed up with traditional food," said government employee Osama al-Ani as he munched on pizza at one of the packed new restaurants last week. "We want to try something different."
Attacks kill 27 Afghans, 2 US soldiers die in apparent accidental shooting by Afghan colleague
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Attackers hit international forces, the Afghan army and Afghan civilians in two days of violence that by Monday morning had left 29 people dead — two of them Americans soldiers killed by an Afghan colleague.
In the deadliest attack, insurgents beheaded 17 Afghan civilian for taking part in a music event in a Taliban-controlled area of southern Afghanistan, officials said. The attack happened Sunday night in Helmand province's Musa Qala district, said provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi. All of the bodies were decapitated but it was not clear if they had been shot first, Ahmadi said.
The victims were part of a large group that had gathered for a celebration involving music and dancing, said Musa Qala government chief Neyamatullah Khan. He said the Taliban slaughtered them to show their disapproval of the event. Information was only trickling out slowly because the area where the killings occurred is completely Taliban controlled, Khan said.
Then on Monday morning, two American soldiers were shot and killed by one of their Afghan colleagues in the east, military officials said, bringing to 12 the number of international troops — all Americans — to die at the hands of their local allies this month.
But Afghan officials said Monday's attack in Laghman province was a separate case from the rash of recent insider attacks on international forces, because it appeared to have been an accidental shooting.
American Taliban Lindh says Ind. prison's ban on daily group prayer violates religious freedom
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The U.S. government claims it has the ultimate proof that American-born Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh might foment hate and violence among fellow Muslim inmates if they're allowed to pray together daily. He has already tried, it argues.
But Lindh, 31, accuses the government of going too far in its drive for security and trampling on his freedom of religion by restricting group prayers among Muslim inmates in the Terre Haute, Ind., prison unit where he has been housed since 2007.
Lindh is expected to testify Monday in federal court in Indianapolis during the first day of a trial that will examine how far prison officials can go to ensure security in the age of terrorism.
Muslims are required to pray five times a day, and the Hanbali school to which Lindh belongs requires group prayer if it is possible. But inmates in the Communications Management Unit are allowed to pray together only once a week except during Ramadan. At other times, they must pray in their individual cells. Lindh claims that doesn't meet the Quran's requirements and is inappropriate because he is forced to kneel in close proximity to his toilet.
Thomas Farr, a former diplomat who now teaches at Georgetown University and studies religion and terrorism, said common sense suggests that the prison's need for security would outweigh Lindh's religious rights.
State by state and region by region, a look at the toll of Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene and its remnants raked the Caribbean, the eastern U.S. and Canada for more than a week a year ago. Though it never hit the U.S. as anything stronger than a minimal hurricane, it killed at least 67 people in all and ranks as the costliest Category 1 storm on record since at least 1980. It caused an estimated $15.8 billion in total damage.
Below is a look at Irene's toll, region by region, in the order the storm hit, based on official statistics, private estimates and Associated Press reports. Power outage figures are per customer, which is defined as one home or business.
State-by-state damage figures are estimates; they do not add up to $15.8 billion because many states do not calculate some losses, such as uninsured property damage.
Looking for a repeat, Stosur hopes bright lights of US Open are solution to early exits
NEW YORK (AP) — None of this quite makes sense to Samantha Stosur.
There she was, center stage in the biggest tennis stadium in the world, taking on one of the game's most intimidating players, and making it look so easy.
But in so many ways, that 6-2, 6-3 victory over Serena Williams in the U.S. Open feels like it happened much more than a year ago.
So far in 2012, Stosur has lost in the first round in front of the home fans at the Australian Open. She has lost in the second round at Wimbledon, then again in the first round at the London Olympics. Sandwiched in between, she made a run to the semifinals of the French Open, but fell apart by committing 21 of her 48 unforced errors during an ugly third set loss to Sara Errani.
The questions that came up after all these losses: Did nerves get to her? Quite a strange thing to ask given the setting and the opponent for her first Grand Slam final victory last year.