Tuesday October 30, 2012

Obama swaps campaign role for hurricane-response commander; Romney curtails politics

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Eight days before the election, President Barack Obama switched from campaigner to hands-on commander of the federal response to Hurricane Sandy as the sprawling storm roared menacingly toward the Eastern Seaboard. Republican Mitt Romney scaled back his appearances and urged supporters to "do your very best" in donating to relief efforts.

The political pace quickened on Monday even without the customary clash of rallies and rhetoric. Romney’s allies put down $1.2 million for a last-minute television ad campaign designed to make Pennsylvania competitive -- or at least appear so -- and the roll of early voters swelled past 15 million in scattered states.

With the race in its final full week, most national polls showed the two presidential rivals separated by a statistically insignificant point or two, although others said Romney had a narrow lead for the overall popular vote.

But the election will be won or lost in the nine most competitive states. Republicans claimed momentum there, but the president’s high command projected confidence. And Romney’s increasingly narrow focus on Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio suggested he still searched for a breakthrough in the Midwest to deny Obama the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

The president changed roles quickly during the day, highlighting the advantages of the incumbency -- as long as events go smoothly. He scrapped a morning campaign appearance in Florida, boarded Air Force One for a bumpy flight to the nation’s capital and appeared before reporters in the White House not long afterward.

Crane dangles from atop NYC luxury high-rise, forcing inspectors to take harrowing trip up

NEW YORK (AP) -- A construction crane atop a $1.5 billion luxury high-rise in midtown Manhattan collapsed in high winds Monday and dangled precariously, prompting plans for engineers and inspectors to climb 74 flights of stairs to examine it as a huge storm bore down on the city.

The harrowing inspection task was being undertaken by experts who are "the best of the best," city Buildings Department spokesman Tony Sclafani said

Some buildings, including the Parker Meridien hotel, were being evacuated as a precaution and the streets below were cleared, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Authorities received a call about at around 2 p.m. as conditions worsened from the approaching Hurricane Sandy. Meteorologists said winds atop the building could have been close to 95 mph at the time.

The nearly completed high-rise is known as One57 and is in one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods, near Carnegie Hall, Columbus Circle and Central Park.

Syrian regime launches what opposition calls widest campaign of airstrikes yet

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian fighter jets pounded rebel areas across the country on Monday with scores of airstrikes that anti-regime activists called the most widespread bombing in a single day since Syria’s troubles started 19 months ago.

The death toll for what was supposed to be a four-day cease-fire between the regime of President Bashar Assad and rebels seeking his overthrow exceeded 500, and activists guessed the government’s heavy reliance on air power reflected its inability to roll back rebel gains.

"The army is no longer able to make any progress on the ground so it is resorting to this style," said activist Hisham Nijim via Skype from the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Activists said more than 80 people were killed nationwide Monday while videos posted online showed fighter jets screaming over Syrian towns, mushroom clouds rising from neighborhoods and residents searching the remains of damaged and collapsed buildings for bodies. One video from Maaret al-Numan in the north showed residents trying to save a boy who was buried up to his shoulders in rubble. Another showed the dead bodies of a young boy and girl laid out on a tile floor.

The airstrikes focused on rebel areas in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, as well as on restive areas in and around the capital Damascus. The regime has been bombing rebel areas in the north for months, but had sparingly used its air force near the capital, presumably to avoid isolating its supporters there.

AP survey: Next U.S. president
will have limited ability to manage key economic challenges

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Whoever wins the U.S. presidential election will likely struggle to manage the biggest economic threats he’ll face.

That’s the cautionary message that emerges from the latest Associated Press Economy Survey.

Europe’s recession will persist deep into the next presidential term, according to a majority of the 31 economists who responded to the survey. A weaker European economy would shrink demand for U.S. exports and cost U.S. jobs. Yet there’s little the next president can do about it.

An even more urgent threat to the U.S. economy, the economists say, is Congress’ failure so far to reach a deal to prevent tax increases and spending cuts from taking effect next year and possibly triggering another recession. Yet as President Barack Obama has found, the White House can’t force a congressional accord.

And whether Obama or his Republican challenger Mitt Romney wins Nov. 6, he’ll likely have to deal with one chamber of Congress led by the opposing party. Polls suggest the Senate will remain in Democratic hands after the election and the House in Republican control.

Egypt’s Coptic Christian Church narrows candidates to succeed charismatic longtime pope

CAIRO (AP) -- A council of Egypt’s Coptic Christians voted on Monday in a process that will lead to the selection of a new pope for the ancient church, as the community struggles to assert its identity and rights in a rising tide of Islamism that has left many Copts fearful for their future.

The succession follows the March death of the charismatic Pope Shenouda III at the age of 88, after 40 years as the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The congregation represents the majority of Egypt’s Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s 83 million people.

About 2,400 clergymen, community leaders and Egyptian Coptic notables gathered in the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo for the voting. They were choosing a short list of three candidates from a field of five monks and auxiliary bishops.

By late Monday, acting Pope Pachomios said more than 93 percent of the council voted, and selected Bishop Raphael, 54, once an aide to Shenouda; Bishop Tawadros, 59, an aide to the acting pope, and Father Raphael Ava Mina, the oldest among them at 70, a monk in a monastery near Alexandria and a student of the pope who preceded Shenouda.

The final selection of the new pope will take place in a ceremony Sunday, when the three names are put in a box and a blindfolded child picks one out, a step believed to reflect God’s will in the choice. The acting pope asked Copts to fast for three days to aid the selection of the Church’s 118th pope.

Superstorm Sandy causes widespread cancelations of TV tapings, concerts, celebrity appearances

David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon are doing their shows without audiences. Jimmy Kimmel, visiting from his home base in sunny Hollywood, canceled a taping in Brooklyn. "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" are taking the night off, and each of Broadway’s 40 theaters will be dark through Tuesday -- all because of a powerful storm bearing down on the East Coast.

Hurricane Sandy didn’t just halt airline flights and the stock market on Monday, it also caused widespread cancellations across the entertainment industry.

New York City officials said that all film permits for Monday and Tuesday have been revoked because of the hurricane and associated safety precautions.

"There will be no city authorized outdoor filming within the five boroughs," read a statement Monday from the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.

The storm also forced Focus Features officials to cancel the New York premiere of "Anna Karenina," which was set for Tuesday. A studio spokeswoman said they plan to reschedule.