Nation & World briefly Oct. 25
Obama, in first leg of three-day Western trip, offers mortgage relief in struggling Nevada
LAS VEGAS (AP) – President Barack Obama offered mortgage relief on Monday to hundreds of thousands of Americans, his latest attempt to ease the economic and political fallout of a housing crisis that has bedeviled him as he seeks a second term.
“I’m here to say that we can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job,” the president declared outside a family home in Las Vegas, the epicenter of foreclosures and joblessness. “Where they won’t act, I will.”
Making a case for his policies and a new effort to circumvent roadblocks put up by Republican lawmakers, Obama also laid out a theme for his re-election, saying that there’s “no excuse for all the games and the gridlock that we’ve been seeing in Washington.”
“People out here don’t have a lot of time or a lot of patience for some of that nonsense that’s been going on in Washington,” he said.
The new rules for federally guaranteed loans represent a recognition that measures the administration has taken so far on housing have not worked as well as expected.
Bodies and survivors pulled from rubble in Turkey but many still trapped after 7.2-mag quake
ERCIS, Turkey (AP) – Distraught Turkish families mourned outside a mosque or sought to identify loved ones among rows of bodies Monday as rescue workers scoured debris for survivors after a 7.2-magnitude quake that killed at least 279 people.
Rescue teams with generator-powered floodlights worked into the night in the worst-hit city of Ercis, where running water and electricity were cut by the quake that rocked eastern Turkey on Sunday. Unnerved by over 200 aftershocks, many residents slept outside their homes, making campfires to ward off the cold, as aid organizations rushed to erect tents for the homeless.
Victims were trapped in mounds of concrete, twisted steel and construction debris after over a hundred buildings in two cities and mud-brick homes in nearby villages pancaked or partially collapsed in Sunday’s earthquake. About 80 multistory buildings collapsed in Ercis, a city of 75,000 close to the Iranian border that lies in one of Turkey’s most earthquake-prone zones.
Cranes and other heavy equipment lifted slabs of concrete, allowing residents to dig for the missing with shovels.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the quake killed 279 people and injured 1,300, though search-and-rescue efforts could end as early as Tuesday. Authorities said 10 of the dead were students learning about the Quran at a religious school that collapsed.
Libyan leader seeks to calm Western concerns on Islamization of country after Gadhafi
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) – After giving a speech that emphasized the Islamization of Libya, the head of the transitional government on Monday tried to reassure the Western powers who helped topple Moammar Gadhafi that the country’s new leaders are moderate Muslims.
Just as in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, Islamists have emerged from yet another Arab Spring uprising as the most powerful group in the country. How far they will go will be decided at the ballot box – in Tunisia this week, in Egypt in November and in Libya within eight months.
National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil said Sunday that Islamic Sharia law would be the main source of legislation, that laws contradicting its tenets would be nullified, and that polygamy would be legalized.
“I would like to assure the international community that we as Libyans are moderate Muslims,” said Abdul-Jalil, who added that he was dismayed by the focus abroad on his comments Sunday on polygamy. A State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. was encouraged that he had clarified his earlier statement.
The stir created by Abdul-Jalil’s address in Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city where the anti-Gadhafi uprising was born in mid-February, came as international pressure mounted on him to investigate the circumstances of Gadhafi’s death.
US pulls ambassador out of Syria over threats to his safety; Damascus then recalls its envoy
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration has pulled its ambassador home from Syria, arguing that his support for anti-Assad activists put him in grave danger – the most dramatic action so far by the United States as it struggles to counter a Mideast autocrat who is withstanding pressure that has toppled neighboring dictators.
Syria responded quickly Monday, ordering home its envoy from Washington.
American Ambassador Robert Ford was temporarily recalled on Saturday after the U.S. received “credible threats against his personal safety in Syria,” the State Department said, pointing directly at President Bashar Assad’s government. Ford, who already had been the subject of several incidents of intimidation, has enraged Syrian authorities with his forceful defense of anti-Assad demonstrations and his harsh critique of a government crackdown that has now claimed more than 3,000 lives.
Calling Ford back to the U.S. is short of a complete diplomatic break but represents the collapse of the administration’s hopes that it could draw Assad toward government changes and a productive role fostering Mideast peace. Washington held off on a full condemnation of Assad as his crackdown worsened this spring, and waited months to demand that he step aside.
Ford’s presence in Damascus had been an important symbolic part of President Barack Obama’s effort to engage Syria, which was without a U.S. ambassador for years after the Bush administration broke ties over Syria’s alleged role in the 2005 assassination of a political candidate in neighboring Lebanon.
Michele Bachmann’s ex-NH staff says national campaign’s rudeness, cruelty pushed them out
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann’s former New Hampshire staffers say they were deceived and treated as second-class citizens before they quit in frustration last week.
In a news release, the five former staffers said they hold no ill will toward the Minnesota congresswoman, but they could not continue working for her because her national campaign team had been “rude, unprofessional, dishonest, and at times cruel” to them and “abrasive, discourteous, and dismissive” of the state’s voters.
“These are our neighbors and our friends, and some within the national team treated them more as a nuisance than as potential supporters,” the group wrote.
Bachmann’s spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment Monday.
Bachmann has visited New Hampshire just twice since announcing her campaign in late June. During her latest trip earlier this month, she blamed her absence on the August debate in Congress over raising the nation’s debt limit.
Stores already undercutting each other on price, desperately trying to draw holiday shoppers
NEW YORK (AP) – Forget style, quality and customer service. This holiday season, all that matters is price.
A week before Halloween and two full months before Christmas, stores are desperately trying to outdo each other in hopes of drawing in customers worn down by the economy.
Wal-Mart, the biggest store in the nation, joined the price wars Monday by announcing that it would give gift cards to shoppers if they buy something there and find it somewhere else cheaper.
Staples and Bed Bath & Beyond have already said they will match the lowest prices of Amazon.com and other big Internet retailers. Sears is going a step further, offering to beat a competitor’s best price by 10 percent.
“The days of marketing the stuff in your store because it was a hot brand are over,” says Dave Ratner, owner of Dave’s Soda & Pet City, a Massachusetts pet food and supplies chain.
HEALTHBEAT: Know your cholesterol numbers, but some doctors add extra test, confusing some
WASHINGTON (AP) – For heart health, you’re supposed to know your numbers: Total cholesterol, the bad LDL kind and the good HDL kind. But your next checkup might add a new number to the mix.
More doctors are going beyond standard cholesterol counts, using another test to take a closer look at the bad fats – a count of particles that carry LDL through the blood.
Cardiologists are divided over the usefulness of that approach. Proponents contend it might help them spot at-risk patients that regular checks might miss, or get more information about how aggressively to treat them.
But so far, guidelines from major heart organizations don’t recommend these extra tests. They’re pricier than regular cholesterol exams, although Medicare and many other insurers pay for them. And it’s not always clear what the results mean.
“I see a lot of people being confused,” says Dr. Nieca Goldberg of New York University Langone Medical Center and the American Heart Association. Especially when they’re used on lower-risk people, “you don’t know how to make sense of the information.”
Defense lawyers call first witnesses in case of doctor accused in death of Michael Jackson
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Defense attorneys for the doctor accused of killing Michael Jackson began their case Monday after prosecutors presented a portrait of the physician as the inept, distracted engineer of the King of Pop’s death.
Among the first defense witnesses were Dan Myers and Orlando Martinez – two Los Angeles police detectives who worked on the Jackson case.
Defense attorney Nareg Gourjian asked both about statements given by Jackson’s bodyguard Alberto Alvarez, who previously testified that defendant Dr. Conrad Murray told him to place some medical equipment and vials in a bag before calling 911.
The defense has contended that Alvarez may have changed his story to fit details released by coroner’s officials.
The lawyers also noted previously that the bodyguard did not mention that Murray told him to place the items in a bag until more than two months after Jackson’s death.
Authorities say 87-year-old Indiana man stopped with 104 bricks of cocaine on Mich. interstate
DETROIT (AP) – An 87-year-old Indiana man arrested in Michigan with 104 bricks of cocaine in his pickup truck has told a judge he was forced at “gunpoint” to carry the load.
During a boisterous appearance in court Monday, Leo Sharp had trouble keeping quiet. The Michigan City, Ind., man was released on bond, three days after he was stopped for improper lane use while driving alone on Interstate 94 near Chelsea, 60 miles west of Detroit.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration state troopers with the help of a drug-sniffing dog discovered 104 brick-sized objects of cocaine Friday.
A criminal complaint signed by a DEA agent is thin on details, and there was no mention in court about Sharp’s destination.
Outside court, Sharp told The Associated Press that he’s innocent.
NCAA president supports proposal to let conferences OK $2,000 payments to student athletes
WASHINGTON (AP) – NCAA President Mark Emmert backed a proposal to allow conferences to increase grants to student athletes by $2,000, “to more closely approach” the full cost of attending college, beyond the athletic scholarships athletes receive for tuition, fees, room, board and books.
Emmert told the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics on Monday that the proposal will be finalized this week and he’ll ask the NCAA Division I Board of Directors to support it at their meeting Thursday. He noted that student athletes have limited opportunities to work outside the classroom and playing fields, and that the current model of athletic scholarship hasn’t changed for 40 years.
Emmert says he’ll also ask the board to allow colleges and universities to provide multiyear grants, instead of year-to-year scholarships.
“We are going to create a model that would allow – probably … up to $2,000 in addition to” tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies.
Emmert said he expected all of the Bowl Championship Series conferences to adopt it – at least those six that get automatic bids to BCS bowl games – because they have the revenue stream to afford it.