Monday October 1, 2012

Obama within reach of electoral votes for 2nd term; Romney could still win but path narrower

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Five weeks to Election Day, President Barack Obama is within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term. Republican Mitt Romney’s path to victory is narrowing.

To overtake Obama, Romney would need to quickly gain the upper hand in nearly all of the nine states where he and Obama are competing the hardest.

Polls show the president with a steady lead in many of them as Romney looks to shift the dynamics of the race, starting with their first debate Wednesday in Denver.

"We’d rather be us than them," says Jennifer Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman.

But Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan says there’s time for the GOP ticket to win. "In these kinds of races people focus near the end, and that’s what’s happening now," he told "Fox News Sunday."

U.S. and Afghan forces clash, killing 2 Americans, 3 Afghans; 2,000 U.S. troops dead in war

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A firefight broke out between U.S. forces and their Afghan army allies in eastern Afghanistan Sunday, killing two Americans and three Afghan soldiers and pushing the number of U.S. troops killed in the long-running war 2,000.

The fighting started Saturday when what is believed to have been a mortar fired by insurgents struck a checkpoint set up by U.S. forces in Wardak province, said Shahidullah Shahid, a provincial government spokesman. He said the Americans thought they were under attack from a nearby Afghan army checkpoint and fired on it, prompting the Afghan soldiers to return fire.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said the gunbattle was the result of a "misunderstanding" between international forces and Afghan soldiers manning a checkpoint in the Sayd Abad district.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, commonly referred to as ISAF, provided a different account.

"After a short conversation took place between (Afghan army) and ISAF personnel firing occurred which resulted in the fatal wounding of an ISAF soldier and the death of his civilian colleague," the coalition said in a statement. It said the three Afghan soldiers died "in an ensuing exchange of fire."

Shell still optimistic on Arctic offshore drilling

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- The stars lined up -- almost -- for Shell Oil to drill exploratory wells this year in waters off Alaska’s north coast.

The Arctic Ocean was on record pace for low sea ice. The Obama administration gave a qualified green light to drilling. Two drill ships and a flotilla of support vessels were staged off prospects.

But as the open water season wound down, Shell announced last week it would limit drilling to time-consuming preparation for an offshore well. The final straw for the decision: damage during testing Sept. 15 to an undersea containment dome, a key to the company’s spill response system.

Environmentalists cheered the setback. Shell Oil President Marvin Odum says he considers it a temporary impediment in the long-term quest to open a petroleum frontier.

Iraq explosions shatter Shiite areas, target
security forces following
al-Qaida prison break

BAGHDAD (AP) -- A series of coordinated bombings shattered Shiite neighborhoods and struck at Iraqi security forces Sunday, killing at least 26 in attacks that one official described as a rallying call by al-Qaida just days after dozens of militants escaped from prison.

The blasts brought September’s death toll from sectarian violence to nearly 200 people -- a grim, above-average monthly total for the period since U.S. troops left last year. The steady pace of attacks has worked to undermine confidence in the government.

"The people are fed up with the killings in Iraqi cities," said Ammar Abbas, 45, a Shiite and government employee who lives in a Baghdad neighborhood near one of the bombings. "The government officials should feel shame for letting their people die at the hands of terrorists."

Police said the wave of explosions stretched from the restive but oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the north to the southern Shiite town of Kut, wounding at least 94 people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but bombings are a hallmark of al-Qaida in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency that has been struggling for years to goad Shiite militias back toward civil war.

A key Shiite lawmaker said the bombings likely sought to galvanize al-Qaida in the wake of a prison break last Friday in Saddam Hussein’s northern hometown of Tikrit. Scores of inmates escaped -- including as many as 47 convicted al-Qaida militants -- in a massive security lapse that the government acknowledged had help from inside.

Iran greets outcry over Web squeeze with fresh promises for Tehran-centric cyber world

TEHRAN (AP) -- Iran’s cyber monitors often tout their fight against the West’s "soft war" of influence through the Web, but trying to block Google’s popular Gmail appeared to be a swipe too far.

Complaints piled up -- even from email-starved parliament members -- and forced authorities Sunday to double down on their promises to create a parallel Web universe with Tehran as its center.

The strong backlash and the unspecific pledges for an Iran-centric Internet alternative to the Silicon Valley powers and others highlight the two sides of the Islamic Republic’s ongoing battles with the Web. It’s spurred another technological mobilization that fits neatly into Iran’s self-crafted image as the Muslim world’s showcase for science, including sending satellites into orbit, claiming advances in cloning and stem cell research and facing down the West over its nuclear program.

But there also are the hard realities of trying to reinvent the Web. Iran’s highly educated and widely tech-savvy population is unlikely to warm quickly to potential clunky homegrown browsers or email services. And then there’s the potential political and economic fallout of trying to close the tap on familiar sites such as Gmail.

"Some problems have emerged through the blocking of Gmail," Hussein Garrousi, a member of a parliamentary committee on industry, was quoted Sunday by the independent Aftab-e Yazd daily. What he apparently meant was that many lawmakers were angry and missing their emails.

Convicted D.C. sniper Malvo tells paper he felt like ‘worst piece of scum’ over Va. shooting

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Convicted D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo said in a newspaper interview published Sunday that the devastated reaction of a victim’s husband made him feel like "the worst piece of scum."

Malvo expresses remorse in the interview with The Washington Post and urged the families of victims to try and forget about him and his partner John Allen Muhammad so they can move on. Tuesday marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the deadly spree in the Washington area carried out by Malvo and John Allen Muhammad. The pair has been linked to 27 shootings across the country, including 10 fatal attacks in the Washington area.

Malvo, 27, told the Post in a rare interview that the look on the face of victim Linda Franklin’s husband right after she was shot stands out in his memory of the rampage. Franklin, a 47-year-old FBI analyst, was killed as she and her husband loaded supplies outside a Home Depot in Falls Church, Va.

"They are penetrating," Malvo said of Ted Franklin’s eyes. "It is the worst sort of pain I have ever seen in my life. His eyes ... Words do not possess the depth in which to fully convey that emotion and what I felt when I saw it. ... You feel like the worst piece of scum on the planet."

Malvo is serving a life sentence with no parole at a prison in southwest Virginia for killing Franklin. Muhammad was executed in Virginia in 2009

Evidence being presented in Missouri sex abuse case raise questions about consent vs. crime

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Advocates for people who engage in rough but consensual sex say they fear an abuse case unfolding in Missouri ultimately could criminalize their lifestyle.

Ed Bagley faces a federal trial early next year on 11 counts of abuse against a woman authorities say he groomed to be his sex slave. Now prosecutors plan to present consensual, though violent, acts between Bagley and his own wife as evidence that Bagley has a history of sexually assaulting women.

The case will include evidence of "sadistic sexual assaults" committed by Bagley against his wife, Marilyn, prosecutors say.

"Marilyn Bagley’s ‘consent’ to the sexual assaults by Defendant Edward Bagley does not change whether the acts legally constitute assault or not. Pursuant to the Missouri state assault statute ... consent is not a defense to assault resulting in serious physical injury," prosecutors wrote in court documents filed last month.

Some worry the government’s assertion could open up people who practice bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism -- or BDSM -- to criminal charges for consensual acts they’re already performing, said Susan Wright, founder of the Baltimore-based National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. Official: Lindsay Lohan grabbed or thrown in NYC hotel room run-in; Calif. man is charged

NEW YORK (AP) -- Lindsay Lohan got into an argument early Sunday with a 25-year-old man in her New York City hotel room over photos on a cellphone and she was physically grabbed or thrown, a law enforcement official said.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the encounter Sunday morning and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Christian LaBella of Valley Village, Calif., was taken into custody around 6 a.m., authorities confirmed. He faces a misdemeanor assault charge and a harassment charge. He was still in custody Sunday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

Police acknowledged that LaBella was arrested but did not identify the other party because that person is the alleged victim of assault.

The official said Lohan and LaBella had encountered each other earlier in the night at a club. It was unclear whether they had met before.