Thursday January 17, 2013

Poll: After Conn. school shooting, strong emotions, broad support for gun laws

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans were angrier about last month’s horrific school shooting in Connecticut than they were about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

And more favor stricter gun laws now than did shortly after the shooting deaths of 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech in April 2007.

Three-quarters of Americans said they reacted to the Connecticut massacre of with deep anger, higher than the 65 percent who said they felt that way in a poll from NORC at the University of Chicago after the 9/11 attacks. A majority, 54 percent, said they felt deeply ashamed that an event like Newtown could happen in the United States, well above the 40 percent who said they felt that way in the wake of the disaster that followed Hurricane Katrina and 35 percent who felt that way after the shootings at Virginia Tech.

The massacre prompted 3 in 10 to give serious thought to whether they could really be safe anywhere these days and 4 in 10 felt strongly that the deaths could have been prevented. Both figures are higher now than after the Virginia Tech shooting deaths.

About a third said that after Newtown, they felt there may be too many guns in this country. A similar share said they worried how the shooting would impact U.S. gun laws.

Report: Emergency room visits tied to energy drinks
double since 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The young man stumbled into the emergency room late one night after a house party, saying his heart wouldn’t stop pounding and he could barely breathe after downing liquor mixed with energy drinks.

Emergency physician Steve Sun soon found the patient was so dehydrated he was going into kidney failure -- one of many troubling cases Sun says he has treated in recent years tied to energy drink consumption.

Sun’s changing caseload appears in line with a new government survey that suggests the number of people seeking emergency treatment after consuming energy drinks has doubled nationwide during the past four years, the same period in which the supercharged drink industry has surged in popularity in convenience stores, bars and on college campuses.

"Five years ago, perhaps I would see one or two cases every three months or so. Now we’re consistently seeing about two cases per month," said Sun, assistant medical director of the emergency department at St. Mary’s Medical Center, on the edge of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

From 2007 to 2011, the government estimates the number of emergency room visits involving the neon-labeled beverages shot up from about 10,000 to more than 20,000. Most of the cases involved teens or young adults, according to the survey of the nation’s hospitals released late last week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Moody’s: Outlook for higher education sector now negative

(AP) -- Ratings agency Moody’s is turning sour on the higher education sector, saying even prestigious, top-tier research universities are under threat from declining enrollments, government spending cuts and growing public doubts about the value of a college degree.

Moody’s says today it’s revising its outlook down to negative for the entire sector. Previously, it had a stable outlook for market-leading research universities, but negative for the rest of higher education.

The agency says colleges and universities still offer a valuable product, but must take bolder action to cut costs. With family incomes stagnant, many are struggling with enrollment and revenue. Moody’s also says any upcoming budget deficit deal in Washington will likely hurt colleges.

Al-Qaida militants seize BP complex in Algeria, take hostages in revenge for Mali

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- In what could be the first spillover from France’s intervention in Mali, Islamist militants attacked and occupied a natural gas complex in southern Algeria on Wednesday. Two people were killed and dozens of others, including several Americans, were reportedly taken hostage.

A militant group claimed responsibility for the rare attack on one of oil-rich Algeria’s energy facilities, saying it came in revenge for the North African nation’s support for France’s military operation against al-Qaida-linked rebels in neighboring Mali. The militants said they were holding 41 foreigners from the energy complex, including seven Americans.

The group -- called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade -- phoned a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its affiliates had carried out the operation at the Ain Amenas gas field, located 800 miles south of Algiers, the Algerian capital.

BP, together with the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach, operates the gas field. A Japanese company, JGC Corp, provides services for the facility as well.

French troops begin land assault in Mali, moving north to jihadist-held Diabaly

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- French soldiers pressed north in Mali territory occupied by radical Islamists on Wednesday, launching a land assault that was to put them in direct combat with al-Qaida-linked fighters "in one to 72 hours," military officials said.

Their presumed destination was the town of Diabaly, where fleeing residents said Islamist extremists had taken over their homes and were preventing other people from leaving. They said the militants were melting into the population and moving only in small groups on streets in the mud-walled neighborhoods to avoid being targeted by the French.

"They have beards. And they wear boubous (a flowing robe). No one approaches them. Everyone is afraid," said Ibrahim Komnotogo, who was out of town when the militants seized Diabaly over the weekend but kept in contact by telephone with other residents.

In apparent retaliation for the French offensive, the same group controlling northern Mali occupied a natural gas complex in neighboring Algeria, taking dozens of people hostage, including Americans. Two foreigners were killed.

French ground operations in Mali began overnight, France’s military chief of staff, Adm. Edouard Guillaud, said on Europe 1 television Wednesday. He stressed that French infantry units "will be fighting directly in the coming hours."

Japanese airlines ground Boeing jets for safety checks after emergency landing

Boeing’s troubles with its newest airplane got worse on Wednesday after an emergency landing prompted Japan’s two biggest airlines to ground all their 787s for safety checks.

It was the second fire-related incident in two weeks involving the 787’s lithium-ion batteries.

All Nippon Airways said pilots detected a burning smell and received a cockpit message showing battery problems. They made an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport in western Japan, and passengers rode emergency slides off the plane.

ANA said an inspection found leaking electrolyte from the battery and burn marks around it. The lithium ion battery is below and slightly behind the cockpit, and experts have said its electrolyte is flammable.

Japan’s transport ministry categorized it as a "serious incident" that could have led to an accident.

Syrian army steps up offensive against rebels in north; nearly 100 people die in blasts

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syrian troops stepped up an offensive against rebels in the north on Wednesday, following explosions targeting security forces and a university campus that killed more than 100 people in two days.

Powerful suicide car bombs that killed about two dozen people in Idlib marked another escalation in the fight for control of northern Syria, a key battlefield in the country’s civil war. The day before, massive blasts heavily damaged the main university in the commercial hub of Aleppo, killing 87 people and wounding scores of others.

The nearly simultaneous bombings in Idlib Wednesday bore the trademarks of Islamic militants, the most organized rebel fighters trying to topple President Bashar Assad’s government. More than 60,000 people have been killed in the 22-month conflict, according to the United Nations.

Assad’s warplanes struck rebel targets in both northern cities, still reeling from the deadly explosions. The Syrian army vowed to crush the armed opposition to "cleanse the homeland of their dirt."

The army said in a statement that its troops killed and wounded dozens of "terrorist mercenaries" in Aleppo following the attacks on the university where students were taking mid-year exams. Assad’s regime regularly refers to rebels as "terrorists."

UK police accused of taking DNA of men convicted 30 years ago under now-defunct gay sex law

LONDON (AP) -- In 1983, Stephen Close was arrested, jailed and expelled from the British army for having sex with a male squad mate.

Three decades later, police tracked him down to the northern England city of Salford and demanded a sample of his DNA.

Close, now 50 and openly gay, said he was shocked.

"I was horrified that after all these years they suddenly decided to bring this up again," Close said in a telephone interview from Salford, 205 miles north of London.

While it is not illegal in the U.K. to collect genetic material from adults, Britain’s DNA database -- one of the largest in the world, with some 6 million samples -- has long been a magnet for controversy. Human rights advocate Peter Tatchell says gay men convicted years ago under Britain’s now-defunct gross indecency law may have had their rights violated recently by British police who ordered them to submit their genetic material to the database.