Monday December 31, 2012

Obama wants gun violence measures passed next year, voices doubts about armed school guards

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Recalling the shooting rampage that killed 20 first graders as the worst day of his presidency, President Barack Obama on Sunday pledged to put his "full weight" behind legislation aimed at preventing gun violence.

Obama voiced skepticism about the National Rifle Association’s proposal to put armed guards in schools following the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The president made his comments in an interview with NBC’s "Meet the Press."

Instead, the president vowed to rally the American people around an agenda to limit gun violence, adding that he still supports increased background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity bullet magazines. He left no doubt it will be one of his top priorities next year.

"It is not enough for us to say, ‘This is too hard so we’re not going to try,"’ Obama said.

"I think there are a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there who recognize that we can’t have a situation in which somebody with severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high capacity weapons that this individual in Newtown obtained and gun down our kids," he added. "And, yes, it’s going to be hard.


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Republican governors face unpredictable politics as they deal with Obama’s health care law

ATLANTA (AP) -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who made a fortune as a health care executive, long opposed President Barack Obama’s remake of the health insurance market. After the Democratic president won re-election, the Republican governor softened his tone. He said he wanted to "have a conversation" with the administration about implementing the 2010 law. With a federal deadline approaching, he also said while Florida won’t set up the exchange for individuals to buy private insurance policies, the feds can do it.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie held his cards before saying he won’t set up his own exchange, but he’s avoided absolute language and says he could change his mind. He’s also leaving his options open to accept federal money to expand Medicaid insurance for people who aren’t covered. The caveat, Christie says, is whether Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius can "answer my questions" about its operations and expense.

Both Republican governors face re-election in states that Obama won twice, Christie in 2013 and Scott in 2014. And both will encounter well-financed Democrats.

Their apparent struggles on the issue, along with other postures by their GOP colleagues elsewhere, suggest political uncertainty for Republicans as the Affordable Care Act starts to go into effect two years after clearing Congress without a single Republican vote. The risks also are acute for governors in Democratic-leaning or swing-voting states or who know their records will be parsed should they seek the presidency in 2016 or beyond.

"It’s a tough call for many Republican governors who want to do the best thing for their state but don’t want to be seen as advancing an overhaul that many Republicans continue to detest," said Whit Ayers, a consultant in Virginia whose clients include Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, a Republican who didn’t announce his rejection of a state exchange until days before Sebelius’s Dec. 14 deadline.

In gun debate, vast communication gulf leaves two sides speaking starkly different languages

WEXFORD, Pa. (AP) -- Inside the Big Buck Sport Shop, where mounted moose and deer heads loom over rifles, handguns, targets and ammunition, the customers have no doubt: More gun laws will not save lives.

Fifteen miles south, in the city of Pittsburgh, many confronted by a steady stream of gun violence are just as certain: To reduce the carnage, stricter gun control is needed.

This divide has existed for decades, separating America into hostile camps of conservative vs. liberal, rural vs. urban. As the nation responds to the massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., the gulf has rarely felt wider than now.

After the gunman invaded an elementary school with a Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and magazines of 30 bullets each, there was a brief moment of unity amid the nation’s grief. Across partisan divides, politicians said something must be done about weapons based upon military designs. Many wondered if even the National Rifle Association would adjust its staunch opposition to gun control.

Then both sides regrouped. With President Barack Obama pushing for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and memory lingering of Obama’s divisive 2008 comment that some Americans "cling to guns and religion," positions hardened. Family pleas for pregnant, ailing American woman missing in Afghanistan with Canadian husband

KABUL (AP) -- The family of an ailing, pregnant American woman missing in Afghanistan with her Canadian husband has broken months of silence over the mysterious case, making public appeals for the couple’s safe return.

James Coleman, the father of 27-year-old Caitlan Coleman, told The Associated Press over the weekend that she was due to deliver in January and needed urgent medical attention for a liver ailment that required regular checkups. He said he and his wife, Lyn, last heard from their son-in-law Josh on Oct. 8 from an Internet cafe in what he described as an "unsafe" part of Afghanistan. The Colemans asked that Josh be identified by his first name only to protect his privacy.

The couple had embarked on a journey last July that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then finally to Afghanistan.

Neither the Taliban nor any other militant group has claimed it is holding the couple, leading some to believe they were kidnapped. But no ransom demand has been made.

An Afghan official said their trail has gone dead.

Violence in Afghanistan falls in 2012, but more Afghan troops dying and insider attacks rise

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Violence in Afghanistan fell in 2012, but more Afghan troops and police who now shoulder most of the combat were killed, according to statistics compiled by The Associated Press.

At the same time, insider killings by uniformed Afghans against their foreign allies rose dramatically, eroding confidence between the two sides at a crucial turning point in the war and when NATO troops and Afghan counterparts are in more intimate contact.

"The overall situation is improving," said a NATO spokesman, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Lester T. Carroll. He singled out Afghan special forces as "surgically removing insurgent leaders from the battle space."

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said Afghan forces were now charged with 80 percent of security missions and were less equipped to face the most lethal weapon of the militants -- roadside bombs.

"Our forces are out there in the battlefields and combat areas more than at any other time in the past," he said, citing reasons for the spike in casualties.

Police: 5 people killed, about 20 injured in tour bus crash on icy Ore. interstate highway

LA GRANDE, Ore. (AP) -- A tour bus crash crashed Sunday on an icy stretch of interstate in Oregon, killing five people and injuring about 20 others, authorities said.

Police say the bus lost control around 10:30 a.m. on the snow- and ice-covered lanes of Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon. The bus crashed through a guardrail and went down an embankment a few hundred feet.

Rescue workers were using ropes to help retrieve people from the crash scene. State police said the charter bus was carrying about 40 people, but they did not say where the vehicle was traveling to or from.

The bus crash was the second fatal accident in Oregon on Sunday morning due to icy conditions. A 69-year-old man died in a rollover accident

State police have not released information on the company that owns the bus.

’Hobbit’ stays atop box office with $33M, capping a record-setting $10.8 billion year

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" continues to rule them all at the box office, staying on top for a third-straight week and capping a record-setting $10.8 billion year in moviegoing.

The Warner Bros. fantasy epic from director Peter Jackson, based on the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien novel, made nearly $33 million this weekend, according to Sunday studio estimates, despite serious competition from some much-anticipated newcomers. It’s now made a whopping $686.7 million worldwide and $222.7 million domestically alone.

Two big holiday movies -- and potential Academy Awards contenders -- also had strong openings. Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti Western-blaxploitation mash-up "Django Unchained" came in second place for the weekend with $30.7 million. The Weinstein Co. revenge comedy, starring Jamie Foxx as a slave in the Civil War South and Christoph Waltz as the bounty hunter who frees him and then makes him his partner, has earned $64 million since its Christmas Day opening.

And in third place with $28 million was the sweeping, all-singing "Les Miserables," based on the international musical sensation and the Victor Hugo novel of strife and uprising in 19th century France. The Universal Pictures film, with a cast of A-list actors singing live on camera led by Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe has made $67.5 million domestically and $116.2 worldwide since debuting on Christmas.

Additionally, the smash-hit James Bond adventure "Skyfall" has now made $1 billion internationally to become the most successful film yet in the 50-year franchise, Sony Pictures announced Sunday. The film stars Daniel Craig for the third time as the iconic British superspy.