CO2 emissions in U.S. drop to
20-year low; some experts optimistic on global warming
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.
Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.
Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said the shift away from coal is reason for "cautious optimism" about potential ways to deal with climate change. He said it demonstrates that "ultimately people follow their wallets" on global warming.
"There’s a very clear lesson here. What it shows is that if you make a cleaner energy source cheaper, you will displace dirtier sources," said Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado.
In a little-noticed technical report, the U.S. Energy Information Agency, a part of the Energy Department, said this month that total U.S. CO2 emissions for the first four months of this year fell to about 1992 levels. The Associated Press
Syrian foreign minister says rebel victory only ‘dreaming’
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria’s foreign minister defiantly dismissed rebel forces and their international backers on Thursday as incapable of toppling the military defending Bashar Assad’s regime, even as condemnation grew over expanded offensives that activists say have claimed dozens of civilian lives in recent days.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem’s confident tone contrasted sharply with a series of recent blows to Assad, including high-level military and political defections and the ability of rebel guerrillas to stage bombings and abductions in the heart of the capital, Damascus.
The timing of al-Moallem’s interview on Syrian state TV also suggested attempts to reassure Assad’s supporters at a time when Damascus has few reliable allies remaining. Iran stands firmly behind Assad, but the critical bonds are with U.N. Security Council members China and Russia, which have blocked efforts to impose sanctions and other measures to pressure Syria.
A Syrian envoy, Bouthaina Shaaban, was in Beijing on Thursday and described talks with China’s foreign minister as "really great."
"Those who think that the Syrian Arab army will be defeated are dreaming," al-Moallem said.
Army had 26 suicides in July, its highest monthly total on record and double the June total
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Suicides among active-duty soldiers in July more than doubled from June, accelerating a trend throughout the military this year that has prompted Pentagon leaders to redouble efforts to solve a puzzling problem.
The Army, which is the only branch of the military that issues monthly press statements on suicides, said 26 active-duty soldiers killed themselves in July, compared with 12 in June. The July total was the highest for any month since the Army began reporting suicides by month in 2009, according to Lt. Col. Lisa Garcia, an Army spokeswoman.
The Marine Corps had eight suicides in July, up from six in June. The July figure was its highest monthly total of 2012 and pushed its total for the year so far to 32 -- equal to the Marines’ total for all of 2011. The Marines’ July figure is being posted on its website but was provided first to The Associated Press.
The Air Force said it had six in July, compared with two in June. The Navy had four in July but its June figure was not immediately available.
The Army’s suicide numbers have been higher than the other services, in part because it is substantially larger than the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force. The Army also has had more members in combat over the past decade. It was the main ground force in Iraq and has a preponderance of the U.S. troops today in Afghanistan.
Romney: Always paid at least 13 percent of my income in taxes; Obama campaign says ‘prove it’
GREER, S.C. (AP) -- Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney declared Thursday he has paid at least 13 percent of his income in federal taxes every year for the past decade, offering that new detail while still decrying a "small-minded" fascination over returns he will not release. President Barack Obama’s campaign shot back in doubt: "Prove it."
Campaigning separately, Romney and running mate Paul Ryan also scrambled to explain their views on overhauling Medicare, the health care program relied on by millions of seniors.
Romney, the former company CEO, set up a whiteboard to make his case with a marker, while lawmaker Ryan resorted to congressional process language to explain why his budget plan includes the same $700 billion Medicare cut that he and Romney are assailing Obama for endorsing.
Essentially, Ryan said, he had to do it because Obama did it first.
Politically, both topics tie into major elements of the presidential race less than three months before the election: how well the candidates relate to the daily concerns and to the life circumstances of typical voters.
Democrats are using the tax issue to raise doubts about Romney’s trustworthiness -- or, as Republicans contend, to distract from a weak economic recovery under Obama.
They’re not coming: Some big political names will be absent from the political conventions
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sarah Palin and George W. Bush won’t be in Tampa, Fla. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al Gore won’t make the trip to Charlotte, N.C. And scores of other Republican and Democratic stars are taking a pass as their parties gather for this year’s national conventions.
The reasons are varied -- and often, of course, political.
In some cases, high-wattage politicians weren’t invited to have speaking roles. Advisers to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are selecting people to stand at the podiums who most fit the message each candidate will try to send. And who won’t steal the spotlight. Other party rock stars are choosing to be on the sidelines because they’re in hard-fought campaigns of their own.
One of the biggest names in the Democratic Party -- Secretary of State Clinton -- isn’t allowed to attend under the law. But her husband, the former president, will be a featured speaker.
Final preparations are under way for both conventions. Republicans will gather Aug. 27-30 in Florida, where Romney will officially accept the GOP nomination. Democrats convene Sept. 4-6 in North Carolina, where Obama will get the party nod for a second time.
Black Hawk crash kills 7 Americans and 4 Afghans; Taliban claim they shot it down
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A U.S. military helicopter crashed during a firefight with insurgents in a remote area of southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing seven Americans and four Afghans in one of the deadliest air disasters of a war now into its second decade. The Taliban claimed they gunned down the Black Hawk.
American service personnel in Afghanistan are dying at a rate of about one per day so far this year despite a drawdown of troops. That death rate has risen recently with the summer fighting season in full gear and a rash of attacks by Afghan security forces on their foreign trainers and partners.
NATO forces said they could not confirm what caused Thursday’s crash and stressed that it was still being investigated. The Black Hawk was operating in support of an ongoing assault on the ground but initial indications were that it was not shot down, according to U.S. officials who spoke anonymously because the investigation was continuing.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said insurgent fighters struck the helicopter in Kandahar province on Thursday morning. He declined to give further details in a phone call with The Associated Press.
The Kandahar provincial government backed the Taliban claim. It said the helicopter was shot down in Shah Wali Kot district, a rural area north of Kandahar city where insurgents move freely and regularly launch attacks. Provincial spokesman Ahmad Jawed Faisal did not provide details or say how the province had confirmed the information.
Police seeking to notify family of Indiana crash victim find mom, 2 kids dead at Michigan home
VAN BUREN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- Officers found a woman and her two young sons dead in their suburban Detroit home Thursday when they went there to notify the woman that her husband had died in a fiery crash in Indiana.
Police said they went to the home after being notified of a man’s death in a crash near Michigan City, Ind., which is just over the state line. When no one responded they entered through an unlocked door and found the three bodies in separate bedrooms.
Investigators didn’t say how the three died but said the case was being investigated as homicide. The boys, ages 4 and 7, were found in their own beds at the home in Wayne County’s Van Buren Township, police said.
Their mother was found in her bedroom.
"There was no sign of forced entry. No sign of robbery," Van Buren Township Police Capt. Gregory Laurain.
Colo. shooting prompts large states to push gun control bills, fill void left by Congress
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Democratic leaders in three big states have used this summer’s Colorado mass shooting to push bills that would crack down on assault weapons and ammunition sales, rekindling a debate that has not gained much traction in Congress or the presidential campaign.
In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed that his state enact a strict ban on assault weapons, similar to California’s. New York lawmakers have proposed wide-ranging legislation that would limit weapons purchases.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Democratic state Senate leader back a bill that would make it more difficult and time-consuming to reload assault weapons. The chairmen of public safety committees in California’s Assembly and Senate co-authored a bill that would require dealers to report purchases of large quantities of ammunition to law enforcement authorities.
The suspect in the July 20 Colorado shooting, James Holmes, legally bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition online without raising authorities’ attention. He had four weapons, including an assault rifle, on him after the rampage that killed 12 people and injured 58 at a midnight movie screening.
"California sets the pace for the country. If there’s no action in Congress, we better do something here and hope it catches fire in other states," said state Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat who authored the legislation that would slow down the process of reloading an assault weapon with a new magazine.
Ecuador grants asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but embassy standoff continues
LONDON (AP) -- He’s won asylum in Ecuador, but Julian Assange is no closer to getting there.
The decision by the South American nation to identify the WikiLeaks founder as a refugee is a symbolic boost for the embattled ex-hacker. But legal experts say that does little to help him avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations.
Instead, with British officials asserting they won’t grant Assange safe passage out of the country, the case has done much to drag the two nations into an international faceoff.
"We’re at something of an impasse," lawyer Rebecca Niblock said. "It’s not a question of law anymore. It’s a question of politics and diplomacy."
The silver-haired Australian shot to international prominence in 2010 after he began publishing a huge trove of American diplomatic and military secrets -- including a quarter million U.S. Embassy cables that shed a harsh light on the backroom dealings of U.S. diplomats. Amid the ferment, two Swedish women accused him of sexual assault; Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden ever since.