Obama boosted by housing reports, polls as Romney seeks end to his own controversy
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fresh signs of a national housing rebound and growing support in public opinion polls boosted President Barack Obama’s bid for a new term in the White House on Wednesday as Republican rival Mitt Romney struggled to quell his video controversy.
The challenger’s attempts to get his campaign back on track ran into new difficulty in the form of criticism from rank-and-file Republicans concerned about their own election prospects in the fall.
"I have a very different view of the world," said appointed Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, taking issue with Romney’s dismissive comments about the 47 percent of all Americans who pay no income taxes. Separately, Senate GOP leaders avoided answering questions about their presidential candidate at a news conference in the Capitol.
After days of virtually non-stop political damage control on issues foreign and domestic, Romney told an audience at an Atlanta fundraiser: "The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and the middle class. I do. He (Obama) does. The question is who can help the poor and the middle class. I can. He can’t."
The former Massachusetts governor spoke about 48 hours after a video emerged that showed him telling donors last May that as a candidate for the White House, "my job is not to worry about" the millions
Watchdog faults Justice Department over Fast and Furious
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department’s internal watchdog on Wednesday faulted the agency for misguided strategies, errors in judgment and management failures during a bungled gun-trafficking probe in Arizona that disregarded public safety and resulted in hundreds of weapons turning up at crime scenes in the U.S. and Mexico.
A former head of the department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a deputy assistant attorney general in Justice’s criminal division in Washington left the department upon the report’s release -- the first by retirement, the second by resignation.
In the 471-page report, Inspector General Michael Horowitz referred more than a dozen people for possible department disciplinary action for their roles in Operation Fast and Furious and a separate, earlier probe known as Wide Receiver, undertaken during the George W. Bush administration. A former acting deputy attorney general and the head of the criminal division were criticized for actions and omissions related to operations subsequent to and preceding Fast and Furious.
The report did not criticize Attorney General Eric Holder, but said lower-level officials should have briefed him about the investigation much earlier.
The report found no evidence that Holder was informed about the Fast and Furious operation before Jan. 31, 2011, or that the attorney general was told about the much-disputed gun-walking tactic employed by the ATF.
New estimate for health care penalty: Nearly 2M more will pay tax for no coverage
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nearly 6 million Americans -- most of them in the middle class -- will face a tax penalty for not carrying medical coverage once President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law is fully in place, congressional budget analysts said Wednesday.
The new estimate amounts to an inconvenient fact for the administration, a reminder of what critics see as broken promises.
The numbers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office are significantly higher than a previous projection by the same office in 2010, shortly after the law passed.
The earlier estimate found 4 million people would be affected. The difference -- 2 million people-- represents a 50 percent increase.
That’s still only a sliver of the population, given that more than 150 million people currently are covered by employer plans. Nonetheless, in his first campaign for the White House, Obama pledged not to raise taxes on individuals making less than $200,000 a year and couples making less than $250,000.
France ramps up security after magazine caricatures Prophet amid new protests
PARIS (AP) -- France stepped up security Wednesday at its embassies across the Muslim world after a French satirical weekly revived a formula that it has already used to capture attention: Publishing crude, lewd caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Wednesday’s issue of the provocative satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were firebombed last year, raised concerns that France could face violent protests like the ones targeting the United States over an amateur video produced in California that have left at least 30 people dead.
The drawings, some of which depicted Muhammad naked and in demeaning or pornographic poses, were met with a swift rebuke by the French government, which warned the magazine could be inflaming tensions, even as it reiterated France’s free speech protections.
The principle of freedom of expression "must not be infringed," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, speaking on France Inter radio.
But he added: "Is it pertinent, intelligent, in this context to pour oil on the fire? The answer is no."
Child death threat
case shows heightened fears by authorities
in the digital age
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Rants, racist remarks and menacing words permeate the Internet these days, so why did police decide to arrest a Yale dropout for investigation of making online death threats against children and hold him on a bail amount usually reserved for suspected killers?
Authorities said they considered several factors in the case against 21-year-old Eric Yee, who was arrested this week after commenting about a story on ESPN’s website about the cost of new Nike sneakers named after LeBron James.
Authorities claimed Yee said he wouldn’t mind killing children, and there were unregistered weapons in the Santa Clarita, Calif., house overlooking two schools where he lived with his parents.
ESPN is based in Connecticut, where a worker told police about the posting. Authorities said it also referred to a shooting that would be like the one in Aurora, Colo., where 12 people were killed and 58 others injured during a screening of the latest Batman movie.
Arresting Yee and imposing the steep bail was a sign of how seriously investigators in the digital age are taking threats that could escalate, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Low said.
Marijuana legalization could be tax windfall for states, but
DENVER (AP) -- A catchy pro-marijuana jingle for Colorado voters considering legalizing the drug goes like this: "Jobs for our people. Money for schools. Who could ask for more?"
It’s a bit more complicated than that in the three states -- Colorado, Oregon and Washington -- that could become the first to legalize marijuana this fall.
The debate over how much tax money recreational marijuana laws could produce is playing an outsize role in the campaigns for and against legalization -- and both sides concede they’re not really sure what would happen.
At one extreme, pro-pot campaigners say it could prove a windfall for cash-strapped states with new taxes on pot and reduced criminal justice costs.
At the other, state government skeptics warn legalization would lead to costly legal battles and expensive new bureaucracies to regulate marijuana.
Is it a fraud? Scholars question authenticity of Harvard’s ‘Jesus’ Wife’ papyrus
ROME (AP) -- Is a scrap of papyrus suggesting that Jesus had a wife authentic?
Scholars on Wednesday questioned the much-publicized discovery by a Harvard scholar that a 4th century fragment of papyrus provided the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus was married.
And experts in the illicit antiquities trade also wondered about the motive of the fragment’s anonymous owner, noting that the document’s value has likely increased amid the publicity of the still-unproven find.
Karen King, a professor of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the finding Tuesday at an international congress on Coptic studies in Rome. The text, written in Coptic and probably translated from a 2nd century Greek text, contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to "my wife," whom he identifies as Mary.
King’s paper, and the front-page attention it received in some U.S. newspapers that got advance word about it, was a hot topic of conversation Wednesday at the conference.
Houston has bittersweet moment as Endeavour lands on its way to LA museum
HOUSTON (AP) -- Waving American flags and space shuttle toys, hundreds of people lined the streets and crowded the airport Wednesday as they watched space shuttle Endeavour touch down in Houston on its way to be permanently displayed in California.
But for many, the experience was bittersweet, tinged with an aftertaste of having been cheated of something they believe should rightfully have been theirs.
"I think that it’s the worst thing that they can do, rotten all the way," said 84-year-old Mary Weiss, clinging to her walker just before Endeavour, riding piggy back on a jumbo jet, landed after flying low over Gulf Coast towns, New Orleans and then downtown Houston and its airports.
Space City, partly made famous by Tom Hanks when he uttered the line "Houston, we have a problem" in the movie "Apollo 13," has long tied its fortune to a mix of oil and NASA. Astronauts train in the humid, mosquito-ridden city. Many call it home years after they retire. The Johnson Space Center and an adjacent museum hug Galveston Bay.
Yet Houston’s bid for a shuttle was rejected after the White House retired the fleet last summer to spend more time and money on reaching destinations such as asteroids and Mars. Instead, Houston got a replica that used to be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center.
Coloradoan wins $7 million in popcorn lung lawsuit
DENVER (AP) -- A suburban Denver man who was diagnosed with "popcorn lung," possibly from inhaling the artificial butter smell of the microwave popcorn he regularly ate, has won a $7.2 million verdict against various food companies.
Wayne Watson’s attorney, Ken McClain, said a federal jury granted the award Wednesday against Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., The Kroger Co. and Dillon Companies Inc. after he developed respiratory problems in 2007.
Watson previously settled claims against the flavor developer FONA International Inc..
Watson argued the companies failed to warn consumers that inhaling the buttery aroma could put them at risk of lung injury.
Defense attorneys had argued Watson’s health problems stemmed from his years of working with carpet-cleaning chemicals.