Friday November 9, 2012

Judge sentences man to life in prison for shooting Ariz. Rep. Giffords, killing 6 in January 2011 rampage

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, partially blind, her right arm paralyzed and limp, came face to face Thursday with the man who tried to kill her last year, standing beside her husband as he spoke of her struggles to recover from being shot in the head.

"Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered," said astronaut Mark Kelly, both he and his wife staring at the shooter inside a packed courtroom. "Every day is a continuous struggle to do those things she once was so good at."

Jared Lee Loughner, 24, was then ordered to serve seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years in federal prison for the January 2011 shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords, outside a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz.

Loughner pleaded guilty under an agreement that guarantees he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. He avoids a federal death sentence, and local prosecutors said Thursday they would not seek state charges.

One by one, survivors of the attack at a Giffords political event approached the courtroom podium to address Loughner, each turning toward him where he sat stoic and emotionless at a table with his attorneys.

Frustration and anger mount over lingering power outages after Sandy; Cuomo blasts utilities

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) -- Vincent Pina finally saw a couple of utility trucks coming down his street Thursday and started to wave in anticipation. But they just cruised past his house and kept on going.

He hung his head in resignation.

"The thing that gets me the most is that there is no flood damage. I don’t have any branches down. I have no wires down," said the Long Islander, who put a hand-painted sign out front that read: "Still No Power."

So why, he wondered, was it taking so long to get electricity?

A week and a half after Superstorm Sandy slammed the coast and inflicted tens of billions of dollars in damage, hundreds of thousands of customers in New York and New Jersey are still waiting for the electricity to come back on, and lots of cold and tired people are losing patience. Some are demanding investigations of utilities they say aren’t working fast enough.

Alarming claims about flood-damaged cars inundating nation’s
used-car market aren’t true

DETROIT (AP) -- In the days since Superstorm Sandy, an alarming prediction has flashed across the Internet: Hundreds of thousands of flood-damaged vehicles will inundate the nation’s used-car market, and buyers might not be told which cars have been ruined.

Not true, according to insurance-claims data reviewed by The Associated Press. The actual number of affected vehicles is far smaller, and some of those cars will be repaired and kept by their owners. The dire predictions are being spread by a company that sells vehicle title and repair histories and by the largest group representing American car dealers.

They claim the number of cars marred by Sandy could be larger than when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 and damaged more than 600,000 vehicles. But an AP analysis of claims data supplied by major insurance companies shows the total number of damaged cars is a fraction of that.

The companies -- State Farm, Progressive, New Jersey Manufacturers and Nationwide -- have received about 31,000 car-damage claims.

"It’s not anything near what we’re talking about in the Katrina situation," said James Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, a statewide association of more than 500 dealers.

After investing $380 million in Romney, Republican-leaning outside groups ponder their future

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican-leaning independent groups were supposed to be a key to victory for Mitt Romney. But they ended up being among the big losers of the presidential race, spending an eye-popping $380 million on ads to oust President Barack Obama only to come up woefully short.

Unleashed by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed wealthy individuals and corporations to spend freely to influence elections, these super political action committees and other groups played a big role in GOP victories in 2010 -- only to fall down badly two years later in their first national electoral test. Republican losses from the top of the ticket on down are forcing the groups’ leaders to re-examine their strategy and determine how best to spend their donors’ money going forward.

Among those feeling the sting of defeat:

--American Crossroads and its nonprofit arm, Crossroads GPS. Together, the two groups spent $180 million on ads to oust Obama.

The Crossroads organization, cofounded by former President George W. Bush’s longtime political counselor Karl Rove, also spent $76 million on ads to help Republicans running in competitive Senate seats, but the GOP lost five of seven of those races. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $33 million on ads for losing Republican Senate candidates.

Villagers mourn family among the 52 dead in Guatemalan quake, toll expected to rise

SAN CRISTOBAL CUCHO, Guatemala (AP) -- The 10 members of the Vasquez family were found together under the rubble of the rock quarry that had been their livelihood, some in a desperate final embrace, others clinging to the faintest of dying pulses.

As Guatemalans sought Thursday to pick up the pieces after a 7.4-magnitude quake, one family’s tragic story came to symbolize the horror of a disaster that killed at least 52 people, and left thousands of others huddling in the cold shadows of cracked adobe buildings, most without electricity or water.

On Thursday, neighbors came to pay their respects. They filed past 10 wooden caskets in the Vasquez family living room, and contemplated the unspeakable future that awaits the family’s only surviving son. Justo Vasquez, his wife Ofelia Gomez, six children and two nephews died in the rubble.

Only the oldest son, Ivan, 19, survived. He had stayed in the house when the rest of his family went to the quarry, taking care of some last-minute details to receive his accounting degree -- the first in his family to have a professional career. His father had been saving for a party to celebrate his Nov. 23 graduation.

"He died working," said Antonia Lopez, a sister-in-law of Justo Vasquez. "He was fighting for his kids."

Obama’s health care overhaul now moves quickly to the states, with more hurdles along the way

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The long slog has turned into a sprint. President Barack Obama’s health care law survived the Supreme Court and the election; now the uninsured can sign up for coverage in about 11 months.

"We are out of the political gamesmanship and into the reality," said Sandy Praeger, Kansas’ Republican insurance commissioner. Next week, states have to say if they’re committed to building the framework for delivering health insurance to millions.

Not all hurdles have been cleared.

Republican governors who derided "Obamacare" have to decide whether it’s better for their states to now help carry it out. The administration could stumble carrying out the complex legislation, or get tripped up if budget talks with Congress lead to scaling back the plan.

"We are still going to be struggling through the politics, and there are important policy hurdles and logistical challenges," said Andrew Hyman of the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, helping states carry out the law. "But we are on a very positive trajectory."

Syrian children are the most common sight at refugee camp

ATMEH, Syria (AP) -- Most of the displaced people in the tent camp rising near this village on the Syrian-Turkish border are children.

All have fled the violence of Syria’s civil war farther south. Many have seen violence themselves. Some have lost relatives, and most have trouble sleeping and panic when they hear loud noises or airplanes, their parents say.

Fighting between the forces of President Bashar Assad and rebels seeking to topple him has sent hundreds of thousands Syrians streaming into neighboring countries.

Rebel organizers say the Atmeh camp was born of necessity some three months ago when Turkey began drastically reducing the number of Syrians allowed to enter that country, leaving tens of thousands stranded in the border area.

Turkey says that more than 112,000 Syrian refugees are sheltering in Turkish camps, and that the crossing process has slowed because of stringent security checks.

Iran bans ‘luxury’ imports in bid to boost sanctions-hit economy

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran’s sanctions-fighting "resistance economy" suddenly got a lot leaner, less flashy and perhaps a bit more uncomfortable.

The Islamic Republic announced Thursday a ban on imports of 75 so-called luxury products -- ranging from high-end cars to coffee to toilet paper -- part of efforts to promote domestic products and stem the outflow of dollars and other foreign currency as Western economic pressures increasingly choke off Iran’s commerce and critical oil revenue.

It’s the most sweeping measure so far to batten down the Iranian economy, although the move is not likely to leave showrooms and store shelves empty.

It allows for foreign parts to be shipped in for local assembly plants, which make cars such as Peugeots, European-brand home appliances, laptops and mobile phones -- all covered by the new ban.

There also are many Iranian-made alternatives to the list of now-blocked toiletries and beauty products -- toothpaste, soap, shampoo, cosmetics and even toilet paper -- but many consumers strongly prefer often better-quality imports from Europe, Turkey and the Middle East.

Dolls wet their diapers, flaunt their hourglass bods -- why not one that noisily breastfeeds?

NEW YORK (AP) -- We’ve got dolls that wet, crawl and talk. We’ve got dolls with perfect hourglass figures. We’ve got dolls with swagger. And we’ve got plenty that come with itty bitty baby bottles.

But it’s a breastfeeding doll whose suckling sounds are prompted by sensors sewn into a halter top at the nipples of little girls that caught some flak after hitting the U.S. market.

"I just want the kids to be kids," Bill O’Reilly said on his Fox News show when he learned of the Breast Milk Baby. "And this kind of stuff. We don’t need this."

What, exactly, people don’t need is unclear to Dennis Lewis, the U.S. representative for Berjuan Toys, a family-owned, 40-year-old doll maker in Spain that can’t get the dolls onto mainstream shelves more than a year after introducing the line in this country -- and blowing O’Reilly and others’ minds.

"We’ve had a lot of support from lots of breastfeeding organizations, lots of mothers, lots of educators," said Lewis, in Orlando, Fla. "There also has been a lot of blowback from people who maybe haven’t thought to think about really why the doll is there and what its purpose is. Usually they are people that either have problems with breastfeeding in general, or they see it as something sexual."