MIAMI (AP) — The U.S. is locking up more illegal immigrants than ever, generating lucrative profits for the nation's largest prison companies, and an Associated Press review shows the businesses have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying lawmakers and contributing to campaigns.
The cost to American taxpayers is on track to top $2 billion for this year, and the companies are expecting their biggest cut of that yet in the next few years thanks to government plans for new facilities to house the 400,000 immigrants detained annually.
After a decade of expansion, the sprawling, private system runs detention centers everywhere from a Denver suburb to an industrial area flanking Newark's airport, and is largely controlled by just three companies.
The growth is far from over, despite the sheer drop in illegal immigration in recent years.
In 2011, nearly half the beds in the nation's civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight, up from just 10 percent a decade ago.
Syrian rebels use captured regime tank in Aleppo; activists report regime raids near Damascus
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels on Thursday bombarded a military air base in Aleppo using a tank captured from government troops as activists reported that the regime has unleashed new raids against opposition fighters near the capital Damascus, killing dozens.
The Aleppo report was one of the first indications the rebels are starting to deploy the heavy weapons they've managed to capture in the past weeks from the Syrian army. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebel-seized tank shelled the Menagh military airport outside Aleppo, which the regime has used to launch attacks on rebel positions in the surrounding area.
Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Observatory, said it was not the first time the rebels have used the tanks they have captured by the regime.
It is, however, rare and represents an escalation in the battles between the two sides. Up to this point, rebel forces have suffered from the huge disparity in armaments with Syria's well-armed military that also has fighter jets and helicopter gunships at its disposal.
Rebel forces in northern Syria attacked the country's largest city of Aleppo two weeks ago and have captured several neighborhoods, mostly lower income areas on the periphery which they have since held despite ground and air assaults by the government.
Put down that Pimms! Games organizers defend sponsors' rights with Olympian muscle
LONDON (AP) — Perhaps we should have seen this coming.
Back in 2007, a butcher at the Fantastic Sausage Factory in the quaint English county of Dorset was told to remove a window sign depicting sausage meat twisted into the shape of the the five Olympic rings.
And last year, competitors in a baking contest in bucolic Shropshire were warned by games organizers to drop plans to place Olympic-themed marzipan figurines atop their cakes.
But those were merely preliminary skirmishes in a multibillion-dollar sponsorship battle that has drawn charges that London organizers have been heavy-handed, and just plain stupid, in their zealous enforcement of branding restrictions.
"The rules were intended to stop the big brands from getting a free ride on the Olympic good will," said Michael Payne, a former IOC marketing director who now works as a consultant.
Internet security bill supporters scramble to overcome GOP opposition before Congress recesses
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate could leave town this week for a monthlong break without passing legislation to protect the U.S. electrical grid, water supplies and other critical industries from cyberattack and electronic espionage.
Congressional sponsors of the bill scrambled Wednesday to overcome Republican resistance to the measure, but they appeared short of the votes needed for passage despite dire warnings from top national security officials about the potential for devastating assaults on the computer networks that control the country's essential infrastructure.
President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to pass the legislation as soon as possible.
"He strongly, strongly believes that this nation's well-being is at risk from cyberattacks and intrusions," John Brennan, the president's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, said. "We find it hard to believe there is any reason or basis to oppose this legislation."
The principal stumbling block on Capitol Hill is what role the government should play in protecting U.S. businesses from cyberattacks. Republicans have argued that the bill would lead to mandatory rules imposed by Washington that would only increase the private sector's costs without substantially reducing the risks.
EYES ON LONDON: Gabby goes for more gymnastics gold; Chinese badminton coach takes blame
LONDON (AP) — Around the 2012 Olympics and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of the games to you:
GABBY GOES FOR MORE GOLD
The United States women's gymnastics team already calls itself the fiercest squad the sport has ever seen.
If they can add some more gold around their necks in the all-around competition on Thursday night, they may be able to call themselves the greatest.
Let all the nations party: Hospitality houses showcase Olympic nations' celebratory side
LONDON (AP) — Russia wants to knock your socks off. Denmark is stylish and sophisticated. Ireland is up for a party — on a budget.
There are more than 200 countries at the Olympics, and they have two ways to stand out. One is on the medal podium — the other is by partying.
Dotted across London, national hospitality houses offer a base for a country's athletes, officials and occasional celebrities. Some are open to the public, showing a festive side to tourists from around the world. Others are strictly invitation only, like the American pavilion at the Royal College of Art.
Here's an eclectic, unscientific guided tour:
Round 2 of Phelps vs. Lochte coming up in the Olympic pool as stars face off in 200 IM
LONDON (AP) — It's time for Round 2 of Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte.
Their first showdown of the London Olympics went to Lochte in a runaway on the opening night of the swimming competition. This one figures to be a lot closer.
The American stars compete against each other for the last time in the 200-meter individual medley on Thursday night. Lochte qualified fastest in 1 minute, 56.13 seconds. Phelps was 98-hundredths of a second back in third.
"We love racing against each other," said Phelps, who plans to retire after the games. "Neither one of us likes to lose. I like to say we bring out the best in one another."
In between them again is Laszlo Cseh of Hungary. He's been the perennial also-ran in the last two Olympics, taking bronze behind Phelps at the 2004 Athens Games and silver four years ago in Beijing when Phelps won and Lochte was third.
Judge in Drew Peterson trial to rule on mistrial motion after blunders by prosecutors
CHICAGO (AP) — A judge is set to decide Thursday whether to declare a mistrial and put an end to Drew Peterson's murder trial just days after it began, and legal experts say the ruling could result in the former suburban Chicago police sergeant going free, though that remains unlikely.
The expected ruling by Judge Edward Burmila follows several blunders by prosecutors, who are seeking to prove the 58-year-old Peterson killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. He also is a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, but has never been charged in her case.
A furious Burmila admonished prosecutors Wednesday after the second witness in just their second day of testimony began talking about finding a .38-caliber bullet on his driveway. Thomas Pontarelli, a former neighbor of Savio's, hinted in his testimony that Peterson may have planted it there to intimidate him.
Prosecutors later admitted under tough questioning by the judge that there was no evidence to support the claim. And Burmila wondered aloud about whether the testimony made Peterson appear menacing in jurors' eyes and undermined his ability to get a fair trial.
In addition to declaring a mistrial, Burmila also could possibly find the state deliberately entered testimony explicitly barred in advance of the trial — a ruling that would mean Peterson can't be tried again for murder in Savio's death and would be freed, according to Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago defense attorney with no ties to the Peterson case.
Romney's corporate style as Massachusetts governor often irked state's Democratic lawmakers
BOSTON (AP) — What worked for Mitt Romney in the corporate boardroom didn't fly in the more raucous corridors of the Massachusetts Legislature.
Now the Republican candidate for president, Romney took over as governor in 2003 after a long, successful career as CEO at the private equity firm Bain Capital.
But his top-down, corporate management style soon rankled Democrats who overwhelmingly controlled the state House and Senate and saw themselves as an equal partner in the government. His approach jolted a clubby political culture where schmoozing over after-hours drinks and cutting backroom deals are well-worn pathways to success.
Unlike his three GOP gubernatorial predecessors, the politically inexperienced Romney was never at ease in the chummy world of trading favors for votes. He bypassed rank-and-file Democrats and dealt mostly with the party's legislative leaders during his four-year term, though he did work with Democrats to pass the state's health care overhaul.
Romney's mostly fraught relations with state lawmakers could provide insight into how he'd handle a Congress that might still be politically divided if he becomes president.
French Alps town famed for extreme sports and danger bans wingsuit flights, weighs new peril
PARIS (AP) — The French town of Chamonix, deep in the shadow of Mont Blanc, has always embraced danger.
Climbers scale Europe's highest peak in dire conditions. Backcountry skiers risk avalanches or falling off cliffs.
But the arrival this summer of the wingsuit flyers offered peril on an entirely new scale. For nearly two months, daredevils in skin-tight suits with batwing sleeves and a flap between their legs hurled themselves off the Brevent cliff, soaring through the Alpine skies. Last week, tragedy struck: A Norwegian wingsuit flyer was killed when his parachute failed to open.
The next day, the mayor of Chamonix-Mont Blanc banned wingsuits.
The decision has triggered a debate about how to weigh the dangers of extreme sport against the passion of the thrill-seekers the Alpine town has famously encouraged. The ban isn't meant to be permanent — local officials hope to come up with a set of rules on wingsuits that will satisfy everyone. But Chamonix remains shaken.