Wednesday October 24, 2012

U.S. could overtake Saudi Arabia as
biggest oil producer; output is booming

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. oil output is surging so fast that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest producer.

Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. This will be the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.

The boom has surprised even the experts.

"Five years ago, if I or anyone had predicted today’s production growth, people would have thought we were crazy," says Jim Burkhard, head of oil markets research at IHS CERA, an energy consulting firm.

The Energy Department forecasts that U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons, which includes biofuels, will average 11.4 million barrels per day next year. That would be a record for the U.S. and just below Saudi Arabia’s output of 11.6 million barrels. Citibank forecasts U.S. production could reach 13 million to 15 million barrels per day by 2020, helping to make North America "the new Middle East."

Romney moves from foreign policy hawk
to centrist in an
appeal to moderates

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mitt Romney abruptly moderated his foreign policy positions in this week’s debate on issues like ending the war in Afghanistan and averting another conflict in Iran, hoping to neutralize one of President Barack Obama’s main strengths with the election only two weeks away. But the move toward the political center comes with potential pitfalls.

By abandoning several of his sharpest criticisms of Obama from the past several months, Romney risks upsetting some conservatives and reinforcing the allegation -- levied repeatedly by the president on Monday night -- that his positions lack conviction and leadership.

His aim was to appear sober and serious, a plausible commander in chief, by not engaging in saber-rattling for political points. By narrowing the gap between his positions and those of Obama, he also may have succeeded in giving undecided voters, particularly women, the impression that he would lead a war-weary America into another conflict only reluctantly.

Romney aides said both the tone and substance of their boss’ arguments were intentional and that he carried with him into the debate a key piece of advice: Talk about peace.

The overarching goal, they said, was for Romney to look like a suitable commander. After adopting a more assertively militaristic tone to win the GOP nomination amid challenges from more conservative candidates, he sought at all costs to avoid appearing as a warmonger.

Informant says NYPD paid him to ‘bait’ Muslims, take photos inside mosques

NEW YORK (AP) -- A paid informant for the New York Police Department’s intelligence unit was under orders to "bait" Muslims into saying inflammatory things as he lived a double life, snapping pictures inside mosques and collecting the names of innocent people attending study groups on Islam, he told The Associated Press.

Shamiur Rahman, a 19-year-old American of Bangladeshi descent who has now denounced his work as an informant, said police told him to embrace a strategy called "create and capture." He said it involved creating a conversation about jihad or terrorism, then capturing the response to send to the NYPD. For his work, he earned as much as $1,000 a month and goodwill from the police after a string of minor marijuana arrests.

"We need you to pretend to be one of them," Rahman recalled the police telling him. "It’s street theater."

Rahman said he now believes his work as an informant against Muslims in New York was "detrimental to the Constitution." After he disclosed to friends details about his work for the police -- and after he told the police that he had been contacted by the AP -- he stopped receiving text messages from his NYPD handler, "Steve," and his handler’s NYPD phone number was disconnected.

Rahman’s account shows how the NYPD unleashed informants on Muslim neighborhoods, often without specific targets or criminal leads. Much of what Rahman said represents a tactic the NYPD has denied using.

Teenage brothers charged with death
of N.J. girl missing since weekend

CLAYTON, N.J. (AP) -- Two teenage brothers were charged Tuesday with murdering a 12-year-old girl who had been missing since the weekend, prompting a frantic search by her small hometown until her body was found stuffed into a home recycling bin.

The boys’ mother played a part in cracking the case involving Autumn Pasquale, Gloucester County prosecutor Sean Dalton said at a news conference. She came forward with information about a posting on a son’s Facebook account, leading police to the boys, Dalton said.

The girl appeared to have been strangled, he said. She had been riding her bicycle before she disappeared and was lured to the boys’ house, where belongings including the bike were found, Dalton said.

Authorities did not discuss a motive. There were no signs of sexual assault, Dalton said.

The boys’ names were not released because they are juveniles, but Dalton said his office is considering trying to have it transferred to adult court. The boys will have public defenders, but it wasn’t clear yet who they were.

Caught in months of fighting for Syrian city, Aleppo residents strain for survival

ALEPPO, Syria (AP) -- The rumble of engines in the sky immediately set the Aleppo neighborhood below on edge. Men peeked from shops anxiously at the Syrian warplane circling slowly overhead. Housewives emerged on balconies to gauge whether they were about to be hit. But the kids hanging out on the street were unfazed. One kept dribbling his basketball.

Finally, the jet struck. Engines revving louder, it dove and unleashed a burst of heavy machine-gunfire into a nearby part of the city. It soared back up under a hail of rebel anti-aircraft fire, then swooped back down for a second strafing run.

The women on the balconies broke into tears, fearing for the children in the street. But the boys just pointed at the jet, shouting "God is great" in challenge. "God send you to hell, Bashar," one boy yelled as the jet flew away.

With death lurking around every corner, the survival instincts of Aleppo’s population are being stretched to the limit every day as the battle between Syria’s rebels and the regime of President Bashar Assad for the country’s largest city stretches through its fourth destructive month. Residents in the rebel-held neighborhoods suffering the war’s brunt tell tales of lives filled with fear over the war in their streets, along with an ingenuity and resilience in trying to keep their shattered families going.

And while residents of the rebel-held areas express their hatred of Assad’s regime and their dream of seeing him go, they also voice their worries over the rebels and the destruction that their offensive has brought to their city. Graffiti on the shutter of a closed store declares the population’s sense of resignation: "God, you are all we’ve got."

Calif. surfer killed by shark off Vandenberg Air Force Base

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) -- A California surfer was killed Tuesday by a shark off a beach at coastal Vandenberg Air Force Base, authorities said.

The attack was reported by another surfer about 11 a.m. off the coast of Surf Beach in Lompoc, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

The victim "had a friend who he was surfing with who saw the shark bite or hit the man," said sheriff’s Sgt. Mark A. Williams. "His friend ended up swimming over and pulling him from the water where he received first aid."

The friend started first aid while another surfer called for help, but the male victim was pronounced dead by paramedics at the scene.

The Air Force said only that the victim was 38 years old and was not affiliated with the base, which allows public access to some of its beaches.

Apple reveals iPad Mini, two-thirds the size of full-size model, for $329 and up

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Apple Inc. on Tuesday revealed a smaller version of its hit iPad tablet computer that will start at $329 and comes with a screen that’s about two-thirds the size of the full-size model.

Apple starts taking orders for the new model on Friday Oct. 26 and will ship the Wi-Fi-only models on Nov. 2, said marketing chief Phil Schiller at an event in San Jose, Calif. Later, the company will add models capable of accessing "LTE" wireless data networks.

The iPad mini weighs 0.68 pounds, half as much as the full-size iPad, and is as thin as a pencil, Schiller said.

The screen resolution is 1024 by 768 pixels, the same as the iPad 2 and a quarter of the resolution of the third-generation iPad.

"It’s not just a shrunken down iPad, it’s an entirely new design," Schiller said.

Following dramatic spike, Chicago homicides slow down after police, neighborhoods take action

CHICAGO (AP) -- When the city’s gang war intensified last spring, shootings became so frequent they sometimes seemed like a ghastly game of tennis, with each senseless attack followed by a vengeful response.

The furious rate of the killing drew national attention and even invited comparisons between Chicago and some of the world’s war zones.

But a closer look shows something else: The pace of homicides and shootings has slowed considerably as police step up their presence and residents challenge gang members for control of the streets. In at least one of the city’s most notoriously dangerous neighborhoods, homicides have actually fallen.

"People are taking a stand, that we’re not going to stand for it," said Lisa Williams, a member of a South Side block-watch group where residents installed their own surveillance cameras.

Back in March, the violence killed 52 people -- more than twice as many as died in the previous March. For the first three months of the year, the number of deaths shot up by 60 percent, raising fears that authorities were losing control of some gang-dominated areas.