AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Nov 23, 2009 6:06 PM

Sen. Schumer vows Democrats will pass health care bill with or without GOP support

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Failure is not an option on health care, a leading Democratic senator said Monday, even as Republicans turned up the heat on moderates who hold the fate of the legislation in their hands.

"We're not going to not pass a bill," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. With or without Republican support, Democrats will get it done, Schumer said, because a health care system that leaves nearly 50 million uninsured and spends more than any other is clearly broken.

Republicans wasted no time Monday going after Democratic moderates who delivered a Senate victory Saturday for President Barack Obama. The 60-39 vote overcame a procedural hurdle and allowed floor debate to start after Thanksgiving. Senate Democrats hope to finish their bill by Christmas, but it remains to be seen whether Obama gets final health care legislation this year.

A state Republican Party leader accused Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., of trying to have it both ways by talking conservative back home and voting with liberals in Washington.

"Nebraskans are finally wising up that there are two Ben Nelsons," said Nebraska GOP Chairman Mark Fahleson. "There's the Washington Ben Nelson ... who gave Democrats the vote they wanted. Then there's the Nebraska Ben Nelson ... who comes back here to Nebraska and tries to portray himself as a conservative."

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AP-GfK Poll: More like Scrooge than Santa: Stress over debts could hold back holiday shoppers

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A lot more Americans are feeling stressed out by debt this holiday season, raising the glum likelihood they'll behave like Scrooge rather than Santa.

In fact, fully 93 percent say they'll spend less or about the same as last year, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Half of all those polled say they're suffering at least some debt-related stress, and 22 percent say they're feeling it greatly or quite a bit. That second figure is up from 17 percent just last spring, despite all the talk about economic recovery.

Most people _ 80 percent _ say they'll use mostly cash to pay for their holiday shopping, and that generally means buying less.

For example, Joy McGavin, 26, of Pittston, Pa., says she will cut back on holiday gifts by a few hundred dollars this year and pay for everything with cash.

"Family _ nieces and nephews _ we won't be able to afford this year," says the stay-at-home mother of three. They now shop at Big Lots _ not Wal-Mart. "They're too expensive this year," she says.

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Attacks kill 12 in Afghanistan; Obama convenes war council to discuss strategy to beat Taliban

KABUL (AP) _ Bombings and shootings killed 12 people across Afghanistan, including four American troops and three children, as President Barack Obama convened his war council again Monday to fine-tune a strategy to respond to the intransigent violence.

Obama is considering sending tens of thousands more troops to fight an increasingly virulent insurgency, and pressure has been mounting for a decision. NATO is also calling on allied nations to add to their military presence.

The violence has continued unabated despite the tens of thousands of foreign troops already in the country since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Three U.S. troops were killed in southern Afghanistan on Sunday _ two in a bombing and a third in a separate firefight _ while another was killed in the east of the country in a bombing on Monday, NATO said in a statement.

The deaths bring the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan in November to 15. October was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the eight-year war, with 59 dead.

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Sens. Reid and Dodd may pay a price for their clout on health care, financial regulation

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two Senate leaders trying to steer a pair of President Barack Obama's high-stakes initiatives through Congress are being dogged by re-election worries, and it's not clear whether their legislative prominence will help or hurt them.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., are trailing in early polls, and Republicans are eager to topple them in next year's elections.

They also are central players in two of the most ambitious and hotly contested agenda items in decades. Reid is scratching and clawing to find enough Senate votes to overhaul the nation's health care system. And Dodd, as chairman of the banking committee, is pushing a massive bill to re-regulate the nation's financial institutions following the mortgage meltdown and economic crisis.

Policy-making in Congress has long mixed with rawboned politics. But seldom does the focus fall so clearly on two powerful lawmakers who, despite their seniority and influence, are in real danger of being voted out of office.

Obama is well aware that two of his top priorities are being shepherded by Democratic senators who badly need to have home-state voters view them more favorably. Administration aides say the president is responding in two ways: Helping Reid and Dodd raise early campaign money; and, especially with Dodd, giving them leeway to deviate from administration proposals for now, knowing there is time to bend the bills more to Obama's liking before final votes occur.

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Embattled SC Gov. Mark Sanford faces 37 charges he broke state laws on travel, campaign cash

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, whose tryst with an Argentine lover blossomed into a wide-ranging scandal, is accused of breaking ethics laws by using taxpayer money for pricey airline seats, taking state planes for personal and political trips and occasionally tapping his campaign chest to reimburse himself for travel.

The details of charges against the second-term Republican governor were released Monday. He has been under scrutiny since he vanished for five days over the summer, reappearing to tearfully admit to an extramarital affair with a woman he later called his "soul mate."

The civil charges, which carry a maximum $74,000 in fines, stem from a three-month investigation by the State Ethics Commission and could be pivotal in a push by some lawmakers to remove him from office. The state attorney general is deciding whether the governor would face any criminal charges.

The ethics charges include 18 instances in which Sanford is accused of improperly buying first- and business-class airline tickets, violating state law requiring lowest-cost travel; nine times of improperly using state-owned aircraft for travel to political and personal events, including a stop at a discount hair salon; and 10 times he improperly reimbursed himself with campaign cash.

The travel allegations were uncovered in a series of Associated Press investigations. Some of the allegations about his use of campaign funds were revealed by The State newspaper in Columbia.

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Belgian man, thought to be in a stupor for 23 years, says he was alert but unable to cry out

BRUSSELS (AP) _ For 23 torturous years, Rom Houben says he lay trapped in his paralyzed body, aware of what was going on around him but unable to tell anyone or even cry out.

The car-crash victim had been diagnosed as being in a vegetative state but appears to have been conscious the whole time. An expert using a specialized type of brain scan that was not available in the 1980s finally realized it, and unlocked Houben's mind again.

The 46-year-old Houben is now communicating with one finger and a special touchscreen on his wheelchair.

"Powerlessness. Utter powerlessness. At first I was angry, then I learned to live with it," he said, punching the message into the screen during an interview with the Belgian RTBF network, aired Monday. He has called his rescue his "renaissance."

Over the years, Houben's family refused to accept the word of his doctors, firmly believing their son knew what was happening around him, and gave no thought to letting him die, said his mother, Fina. She was vindicated when the breakthrough came.

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CERN: Big Bang atom smasher gets 1st proton collisions as beams stream in both directions

GENEVA (AP) _ The world's largest atom smasher made another leap forward Monday by circulating beams of protons in opposite directions at the same time and causing the first particle collisions in the $10 billion machine after more than a year of repairs, organizers said.

The true test of the Large Hadron Collider will come in the first two months of 2010, when scientists plan to start deliberately crashing protons into each other to see what they can discover about the makeup of the universe and its tiniest particles.

The collisions _ seen by massive detectors _ were a side effect of the quick advances being made by the LHC during its startup phase, which began Friday night, said Rolf Heuer, director-general of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN.

"It's a great achievement to have come this far in so short a time," said Heuer. "But we need to keep a sense of perspective _ there's still much to do before we can start the LHC physics program."

Collisions were recorded in all four of the main detectors at "experiments" in rooms the size of cathedrals about 100 meters (300 feet) underground around the collider.

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Palin's book tour hits NC's Fort Bragg as Army concerned about anti-Obama politics

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) _ Sarah Palin brought her book-signing tour to North Carolina's Fort Bragg on Monday as thousands greeted the former Republican vice presidential candidate in a campaign-like gathering that tested military rules involving politicians.

The Department of Defense typically prohibits politicians from using installations as a platform, so Palin didn't give a speech and simply thanked soldiers individually. She was allowed to hold the event as a private citizen who was not campaigning, a Fort Bragg spokesman said.

Army officials initially feared the book signing might turn political and negative comments would be directed at President Barack Obama, so they barred media from attending. The Army later relented and allowed coverage, and many people who attended voiced their opposition to the commander in chief.

Palin's tour bus parked nearby, splashed with her photo, encouraged donations to her political action committee, while supporters made clear that she should run for president.

Palin's father, who greeted visitors as his daughter signed copies of the book, said in an interview that Obama's handling of the military was "scary."

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Stocks move sharply higher on weak dollar, jump in home sales; Dow touches fresh 13-month high

NEW YORK (AP) _ The stock market ended a three-day losing streak Monday, closing broadly higher as a weaker dollar and upbeat home sales numbers encouraged investors to take on more risk.

Major stock indexes soared more than 1 percent, including the Dow Jones industrials, which rose 133 points to a 13-month high. Volume was light as Thanksgiving approached, and that likely padded some of the market's advance.

Investors who fled to the safety of the dollar and Treasurys in recent days found plenty of reasons to return to stocks Monday. The day's developments pointed to two key trends, a recovering economy and interest rates that are expected to stay low:

_ The dollar resumed its long slide, sending prices for commodities including gold and oil higher and in turn, the stocks of companies that produce them.

_ The National Association of Realtors reported that October home sales rose more than 10 percent revived investors' optimism after disappointing data on the housing industry last week raised concerns about the strength of the economic recovery.

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Twins catcher Joe Mauer near-unanimous pick as American League Most Valuable Player

NEW YORK (AP) _ Joe Mauer became only the second catcher in 33 years to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award, finishing first in a near-unanimous vote Monday. The Minnesota Twins star received 27 of 28 first-place votes and 387 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Yankees teammates Mark Teixeira (225 points) and Derek Jeter (193) followed. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera drew the other first-place vote and was fourth with 171 points, one point ahead of the Angels' Kendry Morales.

Mauer became the second Twins player to win in four years, following Justin Morneau in 2006. Morneau gave Mauer a bottle of champagne Monday at the Metrodome.

"Hopefully we can pop that open here a little later," Mauer said.

Mauer set a major league record for highest batting average by a catcher and won his third batting title, becoming the first repeat batting champion since Nomar Garciaparra in 1999-00.