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Nation & World briefly

AP News in Brief at 5:58 p.m. EST

AP Sources: House Democratic health care bill to be endorsed by the AARP

WASHINGTON (AP) – In a coup for House Democrats, AARP will endorse sweeping health care overhaul legislation headed for a history-making floor vote, officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

An endorsement from the seniors’ lobby was critical when then-President George W. Bush pushed the Medicare prescription drug benefit through a closely divided Congress in 2003. House Democratic leaders are hoping it will work the same political magic for them as they strive to deliver on President Barack Obama’s signature issue.

An announcement from the 40-million member group is expected Thursday, said officials with knowledge of the group’s decision. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the endorsement is not official yet.

Backing the 10-year, $1.2 trillion House bill is a tricky move for AARP. Many retirees are concerned about cuts in Medicare payments to medical providers, which will be used to finance an expansion of health insurance coverage to millions of working families who now lack it. Also, AARP says its membership is about evenly divided among Democrats, Republicans and independents, meaning its endorsement in today’s highly politicized atmosphere could anger many members.

Floor votes on the House bill could come as early as this weekend. Asked Wednesday if Democratic leaders had the 218 needed for passage, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., responded: “We’re counting. We’re counting.”

Analysis: From Obama’s limited clout to the power of independents, ’09 lessons will shape ’10

WASHINGTON (AP) – Lessons from the off-year elections: The president’s influence is limited, independents rule, incumbents beware, issues trump ideology and, once more, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Also: Republicans can win – even if they lack a leader and their base is cracked. And this certainly isn’t the Democratic-friendly political environment of 2006 and 2008 when the party captured control of Congress and the White House.

The first Election Day of Barack Obama’s presidency was a big night for Republicans, who recaptured governorships in the swing state of Virginia and the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey. Democrats won two races for vacant congressional seats, including one in upstate New York that had been long held by Republicans and that exposed a GOP divide.

So, what did we learn about politics, people and their priorities from the handful of races on Tuesday? And how will those lessons shape the maneuvering of Republicans and Democrats ahead of 2010 midterms, when Obama’s prestige will be put to the test across the country?

The results don’t seem to bode well for Obama and his party heading into a high-stakes year as they look to advance an expensive domestic agenda while protecting the Democrats’ grip on House, Senate and gubernatorial seats nationwide. They’ll try to win over people in a country clouded by a job-killing recession, divided over war and, as Tuesday’s results showed, fed up with the powers that be – no matter the political party.

Authorities say they’ve confirmed at least 11 victims at Cleveland home

CLEVELAND (AP) – Authorities say they have confirmed a total of at least 11 victims whose remains were found in the Cleveland home of a sex offender.

The Cuyahoga County coroner’s office said Wednesday that a skull found in a bucket in Anthony Sowell’s basement belonged to a body they have not yet found.

Authorities also say they have identified one of the victims as 53-year-old Tonia Carmichael, who disappeared a year ago.

Police Chief Michael McGrath says her remains were buried in the back yard and had marks indicating she was strangled.

Carmichael’s daughter Markiesha Carmichael-Jacobs says her mother struggled with drug addiction and frequented Sowell’s neighborhood.

AP IMPACT: New ‘clunker’ data reveal pickup-for-pickup swaps most common under rebate program

WASHINGTON (AP) – The most common deals under the government’s $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program, aimed at putting more fuel-efficient cars on the road, replaced old Ford or Chevrolet pickups with new ones that got only marginally better gas mileage, according to an analysis of new federal data by The Associated Press.

The single most common swap – which occurred more than 8,200 times – involved Ford F150 pickup owners who took advantage of a government rebate to trade their old trucks for new Ford F150s. They were 17 times more likely to buy a new F150 than, say, a Toyota Prius. The fuel economy for the new trucks ranged from 15 mpg to 17 mpg based on engine size and other factors, an improvement of just 1 mpg to 3 mpg over the clunkers.

Owners of thousands more large old Chevrolet and Dodge pickups bought new Silverado and Ram trucks, also with only barely improved mileage in the middle teens, according to AP’s analysis of sales of $15.2 billion worth of vehicles at nearly 19,000 car dealerships in every state. Those deals helped the Ford F150 and Chevy Silverado – along with Ford’s Escape midsize SUV – climb into the Top 10 most-popular vehicles purchased with the government rebates. The most common truck-for-truck and truck-for-SUV deals totaled at least $911 million.

In scores of deals, the government reported spending a total of $562,500 in rebates for new cars and trucks that got worse or the same mileage as the trade-ins – in apparent violation of the program’s requirements. The government said it is investigating those reports and said in some cases they were probably entered incorrectly by dealers or based on outdated fuel economy figures.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is still reviewing the reports, and any dealers that submitted invalid trade-ins will be directed to return the government rebate, spokesman Eric Bolton said Wednesday.

Iran opposition holds first big protests in 2 months as government marks US Embassy takeover

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – The contrasts were vivid: Pro-government supporters chanted “Death to America” and stomped on U.S. flags Wednesday while not far away, hundreds of opposition protesters denounced Iran’s leaders and appealed to America’s president to choose sides.

“Obama, Obama, you are either with them, or with us,” the anti-government protesters chanted in Farsi, in an amateur video clip widely circulated on the Internet.

The new and startling appeal to President Barack Obama came as Iran’s opposition protesters returned to the streets in large numbers for the first time in nearly two months. Authorities were ready with the same sweeping measures they used to quell fierce election-fraud protests this summer and early fall: Sending paramilitary units to key locations to fire tear gas and beat people with batons.

Witnesses said they heard a man, apparently working for a paramilitary group, shout “Beat him up, beat him up,” as he chased a protester in the crowd. “How is it possible to see such cruelty,” another protester cried as he stood on the street, according to the same witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

The protests showed the determination of Iran’s opposition to reassert its voice. But the latest marches drew far fewer demonstrators than in the summer or even in September, suggesting the relentless pressure by authorities could be taking a toll.

Italian judge convicts 23 Americans in absentia of kidnapping in CIA rendition of cleric

MILAN (AP) – An Italian judge found 23 Americans and two Italians guilty Wednesday in the kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect, delivering the first legal convictions anywhere in the world against people involved in the CIA’s extraordinary renditions program.

Human rights groups hailed the decision and pressed President Barack Obama to repudiate the Bush administration’s practice of abducting terror suspects and transferring them to third countries where torture was permitted.

The Obama administration ended the CIA’s interrogation program and shuttered its secret overseas jails in January but has opted to continue the practice of extraordinary renditions.

The Americans, who were tried in absentia, now cannot travel to Europe without risking arrest as long as the verdicts remains in place.

Despite the convictions capping the nearly three-year Italian trial, several Italian and American defendants – including the two alleged masterminds of the abduction – were acquitted due to either diplomatic immunity or because classified information was stricken by Italy’s highest court.

SC man is sentenced to 3 years in prison after pleading guilty to having sex with horse

CONWAY, S.C. (AP) – A South Carolina man caught on video having sex with a horse was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison after pleading guilty for the second time in two years to abusing the creature.

Rodell Vereen was also ordered never to go near the stable where the horse’s owner caught him and held him for authorities at shotgun point over the summer. He apologized to the woman and to himself after admitting to buggery at the Horry County courthouse.

“I’m sorry about what I’ve done. I didn’t mean to do it. It’s my fault. I’m sorry for what I’ve done to myself,” Vereen said during Wednesday’s court hearing.

Vereen was arrested in July after Barbara Kenley caught him entering the barn at Lazy B Stables in Longs, about 20 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach. She had been staking out the stable for more than a week after setting up a surveillance camera and videotaping Vereen’s assault on her 21-year-old horse named Sugar.

Kenley said she became suspicious because her horse was acting strange and getting infections, and she noticed things were moved around the barn and dirt was piled up near the horse’s stall.

Racy promos for ‘Gossip Girl’ spur group to call for CW stations to pre-empt upcoming episode

NEW YORK (AP) – On-air promos for a sexual threesome on an upcoming episode of “Gossip Girl” have spurred the Parents Television Council to ask affiliates of the CW network to pre-empt the show.

Airing the teen tryst, which is being teased in an ad as a “3SOME,” is “reckless and irresponsible,” said PTC president Tim Winter in a statement Wednesday. The threesome involves three main characters in the show but they are not identified in the promos.

The PTC has urged CW affiliate stations not to air the episode, scheduled for Nov. 9.

In a letter to the affiliates, Winter asked: “Will you now be complicit in establishing a precedent and expectation that teenagers should engage in behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films?”

This is not the first time the PTC has complained about the sexy prep-school soap, which Winter said is “expressly targeted to impressionable teenagers.”

Ohio police say man in dressed as Breathlalyzer for Halloween accused of DUI

OXFORD, Ohio (AP) – An Ohio man dressed as a Breathalyzer test for Halloween found himself blowing into one after police stopped him for allegedly driving the wrong way without headlights on a one-way street. Oxford police said they stopped 20-year-old James P. Miller on Halloween night and found beer in his front seat and in the trunk.

Police said Miller blew 0.158 percent on a Breathalyzer test. The legal limit for driving is a blood-alcohol level of .08.

Miller was cited on charges including operating a vehicle while intoxicated, underage possession of alcohol, having an open container and a fake ID, and a one-way street violation.

Miller had no comment when reached at home Wednesday.