Friday November 2, 2012

Five days to go: Romney seeks ‘candidate of change’ banner; Obama resists in closing arguments

DOSWELL, Va. (AP) -- Five days before the election, Republican challenger Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama vied forcefully for the mantle of change Thursday in a country thirsting for it after a painful recession and uneven recovery, pressing intense closing arguments in their unpredictably close race for the White House. Early voting topped 20 million ballots.

A three-day lull that followed Superstorm Sandy ended abruptly, the president campaigning briskly across three battleground states and Romney piling up three stops in a fourth. Romney also attacked with a tough new Spanish-language television ad showing Venezuela’s leftist leader, Hugo Chavez, and Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, saying they would vote for Obama.

The storm intruded once again into the race, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the president in a statement that also said Sandy, which devastated his city, could be evidence of climate change.

Of the two White House rivals, Bloomberg wrote, "One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics."

Syrian opposition figures bristle at new U.S. push
to overhaul leadership

BEIRUT (AP) -- Members of Syria’s opposition-in-exile bristled Thursday at the Obama administration’s suggestion that Washington will handpick more representative leaders at a crucial conference in Qatar next week.

The new U.S. push appears aimed at creating a unified leadership that could work more closely with the West. But there are signs of resistance among deeply fractured opposition groups wary of attempts by foreign backers to dictate strategy in the civil war against President Bashar Assad.

"This direct tutelage and these dictates are not acceptable to the Syrian people anymore," said Zuhair Salem, the London-based spokesman for Syria’s banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group. The Brotherhood is part of the main political opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which is dominated by exiles.

Syrians and the U.S. administration have grown increasingly frustrated as the opposition proved unwilling or unable to coalesce. The U.S. and its allies have long bemoaned the lack of a cohesive leadership, and there is little doubt that this has held back more robust foreign aid and involvement to bolster the opposition in its fight.

After nearly 25 years of secrecy, Israel acknowledges killing Arafat deputy in 1988 Tunis raid

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel acknowledged Thursday it killed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s deputy in a 1988 raid in Tunisia, lifting a nearly 25-year veil of secrecy and allowing a rare glimpse into the shadowy world of its secret operations.

One of the commandos was disguised as a woman on a romantic vacation, and one of the weapons was hidden in a box of chocolates.

Khalil al-Wazir, who was better known by his nom de guerre Abu Jihad, founded Fatah, the dominant faction in the Palestinian Liberation Organization, with Arafat and was blamed for a series of deadly attacks against Israelis.

Two of those involved in the operation that killed al-Wazir now hold high political office in Israel -- Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon. At the time, Barak was deputy military chief, and Yaalon was head of the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal.

Israel has long been suspected of assassinating al-Wazir. But only now has the country’s military censor cleared the Yediot Ahronot daily to publish the information.

Prosecutor: Ill. woman ordered son, another
child to pray before she stabbed them to death

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (AP) -- A suburban Chicago woman stabbed her 7-year-old son 100 times then turned the knife on a 5-year-old girl who witnessed the attack, killing both children as they begged for their lives, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Elzbieta Plackowska, 40, told investigators she stabbed the children and slashed their throats on Tuesday night at a Naperville home because she was angry that her truck driver husband was often away, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said.

Plackowska told investigators she found Justin and Olivia Dworakowski -- whom she was babysitting that night -- jumping on the bed, Berlin said.

"She had grabbed the knife and she made both victims kneel and begin praying. She began stabbing her son Justin and told him he was going to heaven tonight. He pleaded for his life and told her to stop. But she continued stabbing him until he was dead," he said at a news conference after the hearing.

Ford promotes Fields, putting him in line as CEO

DETROIT (AP) -- Ford’s leaders have watched Mark Fields, a brash Harvard MBA, turn the company’s North American business into a profit machine. Now they’re eyeing him for CEO.

Fields, 51, was named chief operating officer Thursday, a sign the board favors him for the top job when CEO Alan Mulally eventually retires. Mulally, 67, plans to stay at least through 2014, a decision that reassured Wall Street.

The announcement puts to rest -- for now -- the swirl of speculation about Ford’s succession plans. Investors have been anxious to learn who will replace Mulally, the sunny, charismatic leader who united Ford’s fractious management and made the 109-year-old company healthy again. Mulally became Ford’s CEO in 2006, when the company was nearly bankrupt, and has presided over three full years of profits.

As COO, Fields will lead day-to-day operations at the world’s sixth-largest carmaker, which sold nearly 5.7 million vehicles in 2011 and generated $136 billion in revenue. All of the company’s business units -- with 70 plants and 164,000 employees worldwide -- will report to him. Mulally will guide Ford’s long-term strategy and mentor a new management team put in place Thursday.

Ford shares rose 4 cents to close at $11.25, their highest level since May.

Astronauts take spacewalk to find ammonia leak, space station dodges junk despite malfunction

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Two spacewalking astronauts worked on a leaky radiator system outside the International Space Station on Thursday, just hours after barely dodging a menacing piece of orbiting junk.

NASA ordered the space station to change position Wednesday evening to avoid a fragment from a communication satellite that was destroyed in a high-speed collision three years ago.

Thrusters on a docked Russian supply ship were fired to move the orbiting lab out of harm’s way. But a computer error caused the thrusters to malfunction and the space station did not reach the desired altitude. NASA officials said the space station and its six residents were safe despite their lower-than-intended orbit.

Space station commander Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide successfully rerouted ammonia coolant lines and bypassed a radiator believed to be leaking. They isolated the suspect radiator to help flight controllers determine in the coming days whether that, indeed, is the source of the ammonia seepage.

"We’ve got smiles all around," Mission Control radioed.

Penn State’s ex-president accused of perjury, endangering children in Jerry Sandusky case.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- The "conspiracy of silence" that protected Jerry Sandusky extended all the way to the top at Penn State, prosecutors said Thursday as they charged former university President Graham Spanier with hushing up child sexual abuse allegations against the former assistant football coach.

Prosecutors also added counts against two of Spanier’s former underlings, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, who were already charged with lying to a grand jury.

"This was not a mistake by these men. This was not an oversight. It was not misjudgment on their part," said state Attorney General Linda Kelly. "This was a conspiracy of silence by top officials to actively conceal the truth."

Spanier’s lawyers issued a statement that asserted his innocence and described the new charges as an attempt by Gov. Tom Corbett to divert attention from the three-year investigation that began under his watch as attorney general.

"These charges are the work of a vindictive and politically motivated governor working through an unelected attorney general ... whom he appointed to do his bidding," the four defense lawyers wrote.