AP News in Brief

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Posted: Nov 25, 2009 6:09 PM

AP IMPACT: Lobbyists, health care heavyweights visited White House early and often for revamp

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Barack Obama's top aides met frequently with lobbyists and health care industry heavyweights as his administration pieced together a national health care overhaul, according to White House visitor records obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

The records disclose visits by a broad cross-section of the people most involved in the health care debate, weighted heavily toward those who want to overhaul the system.

The list includes George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Health Plans; Scott Serota, president and CEO of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association; Kenneth Kies, a Washington lobbyist who represents Blue Cross/Blue Shield, among other clients; Billy Tauzin, head of PhRMA, the drug industry lobby; Richard Umbdenstock, chief of the American Hospital Association, and numerous lobbyists.

The AP in early August asked the White House to produce records identifying communications that top Obama aides _ including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, senior advisers David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett and Pete Rouse, and 18 others _ had with outside interests on health care. The AP in late September narrowed its request to White House visitor records for those officials on the topic of health care.

The White House on Wednesday provided 575 visitor records covering the period from Jan. 20, when Obama was inaugurated, through August. The records give the name of each visitor to the White House complex to see people on AP's list, the date of the visit, the White House staffer they were supposed to see and, in some cases, the purpose of the visit. The records do not identify the visitors' employers, say on whose behalf they were there or give any specifics of what was discussed.

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Holiday travel under way, but millions are staying home this year amid tight economic times

CHICAGO (AP) _ There's still family, turkey and football, but one Thanksgiving tradition is taking a hit this year.

Millions of Americans are spending the holiday at home, saying the poor economy has made it unaffordable to hit the road or board a plane.

"It's too expensive," said Benita Hall, 24, a nurse's aide who can't afford to travel from Cincinnati to Atlanta to see her mother and siblings. "It's depressing because you want to be with your family for the holidays."

Nearly 38 million people are expected to take trips this year, slightly more than last year but 20 million fewer than in 2005 when the economy was better, according to AAA auto club. Air travel is expected to drop 6.7 percent this holiday compared with last year, AAA said.

While shopping for food for her holiday meal, Spring Clarke of Lubbock, Texas, said she couldn't afford to travel to Austin to be with family this Thanksgiving. Gas for the 740-mile road trip would take a chunk of change she can't spare.

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Israel proposes 10-month settlement freeze, US welcomes move, Palestinians reject it

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel on Wednesday proposed a 10-month halt to new construction in West Bank settlements as a step toward restarting Mideast peace negotiations. Washington welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer, but the Palestinians swiftly rejected it because it did not include a building freeze in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, the mainly Arab sector of the city they want as the capital of a future state.

The Obama administration welcomed the Israeli decision, but coolly.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement saying the Israeli decision was a helpful move toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The administration's special envoy for Mideast peace, former Sen. George Mitchell, also welcomed the move but said it fell short of a full settlement freeze.

"But it is more than any Israeli government has done before and can help movement toward agreement between the parties," he said, adding that he planned to return to the Mideast "in the near future" to resume his efforts to win agreement from the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded a total halt to settlement construction before peace talks can resume, but the Obama team has struggled in dealing with that demand.

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Obama will commit to US greenhouse emission cuts, personally making US case in Copenhagen

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Putting his prestige on the line, President Barack Obama will personally commit the U.S. to a goal of substantially cutting greenhouse gases at next month's Copenhagen climate summit. He will insist America is ready to tackle global warming despite resistance in Congress over higher costs for businesses and homeowners.

Obama will attend the start of the conference Dec. 9, a week from next Wednesday, before heading to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. He will "put on the table" a U.S. commitment to cut emissions by 17 percent over the next decade, on the way to reducing heat-trapping pollution by 80 percent by mid-century, the White House said.

Cutting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by one-sixth in just a decade would be likely to hike energy bills, but the administration says there would be important health trade-offs.

Carol Browner, Obama's assistant for energy and climate change, cited a $173-per-year estimated cost in a briefing Wednesday _ a figure for a family of four calculated by the Congressional Budget Office. Republicans say costs would be higher.

But slashing carbon dioxide emissions could save millions of lives, mostly by reducing preventable deaths from heart and lung diseases, according to studies published this week in The Lancet British medical journal.

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Activist group posting what it says are 573,000 pager messages sent on Sept. 11, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) _ An activist Web site has posted what it says are 573,000 pager messages sent on Sept. 11, 2001.

Wikileaks says some of the messages were sent by federal and local officials, but most appeared to be from regular people, including frantic people trying to reach loved ones in and around the World Trade Center.

A Wikileaks spokesman says the messages were given to the group anonymously. The messages were being posted through 3 a.m. EST Thursday.

The New York police and fire departments said they could not confirm that the messages were actual department communications. But a pager company, USA Mobility, said it was troubled to learn that messages appear to have been intercepted.

Wikileaks says its goal is to promote transparency by posting leaked documents.

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Good economic news allays fears economy will tip into `double-dip' recession

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A flurry of good news this week _ including falling jobless claims, stronger consumer spending and higher new-home sales _ suggests the economic rebound, modest though it is, might just be here to stay.

While analysts caution that the recovery will be too sluggish to stop the unemployment rate from rising, the reports are at least encouraging enough to calm fears of a dreaded "double-dip" recession.

"This recovery continues to trudge ahead," said economist Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics. "It is not a gallop. But it is still forward movement."

Looked at together, the reports the government issued Wednesday signaled that the final quarter of 2009 at least got off to a decent start. And holiday sales should be slightly better than last year's figures, which were the worst since at least 1969.

The number of newly laid-off workers filing applications for unemployment aid fell by 35,000 last week to 466,000, the Labor Department said. It marked the fewest new filings since September of last year.

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Ex-CNN host Lou Dobbs considers NJ Senate run en route to possible White House bid

HILLSIDE, N.J. (AP) _ Former CNN host Lou Dobbs is seriously considering running for U.S. Senate in New Jersey in 2012 as a stepping stone to a possible White House bid _ a congressional matchup that would pit one of illegal immigration's biggest critics against a champion for immigrant rights.

Dobbs spokesman Robert Dilenschneider told The Associated Press Wednesday that Dobbs may challenge Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, but is considering other offers he's received since his abrupt exit from Time Warner Inc.-owned CNN on Nov. 11 after 29 years on the news network.

"A logical step for Lou, should he choose to go into public life, is to run for the next Senate seat in New Jersey, or to accept some kind of appointed position, nationally or in New Jersey," Dilenschneider said.

A Dobbs candidacy in 2012 would set up a pitched battle over immigration against Menendez, the Senate's only Hispanic member.

Dobbs, who owns a farm in rural northwestern New Jersey, flirted briefly this year with a run for governor. He later ripped Republican nominee Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, over immigration enforcement and gave the independent candidate air time on CNN.

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Ga. nurse suspected of 'taking advantage' of 100 or more patients who were under anesthesia

ATLANTA (AP) _ A metro Atlanta nurse anesthetist has been charged with molesting and sodomizing anesthetized patients in dental and medical offices, and police say the videotaped abuses could involve 100 or more victims.

Paul Patrick Serdula, 47, who worked in dental and medical offices across metro Atlanta, was arrested Monday night on child molestation and sodomy charges. The arrest came after authorities found several videos showing him fondling and groping patients who were under anesthesia at various offices, said Cobb County police officer Joe Hernandez.

And authorities reviewing the videos to find more victims say the assaults could go back years and involve residents of other states who were treated by Serdula while they were in Georgia.

"The magnitude of this is almost surreal," said Cobb County Police Sgt. Dana Pierce.

Serdula, who is being held at the Cobb County Jail without bond, was first arrested Nov. 18 on three counts of unlawful surveillance after a woman found a tiny camera hidden in a bathroom stall at a Cobb County dental office. He was charged with unlawful surveillance and eavesdropping and released on bond.

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Kennedy's widow says husband made sure he had enough strength to attend Obama inauguration

CHICAGO (AP) _ The widow of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy told Oprah Winfrey in an interview broadcast Wednesday that even as her husband knew he was dying of brain cancer he had been "in training" to make sure he had enough strength to attend President Barack Obama's inauguration.

In the most extensive interview since her husband's death in August, Vicki Kennedy said she wouldn't try to run for her husband's former U.S. Senate seat and described how he battled brain cancer _ but she would not talk about the last thing he said to her before dying.

"I think I'll just keep that one to myself," she told Winfrey on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

During the hour-long interview was taped Friday, Kennedy was sometimes joined on stage by her two grown children as well as Ted Kennedy Jr. She described her husband's seizure in May 2008, which led to his diagnosis of the brain cancer that ended his life at the age of 77.

"We went from thinking he had lost his life, to thinking that he'd had a stroke, to thinking that he wouldn't speak to thinking that he was OK, to then finding out that he might have a brain tumor all in the span of about three hours," she said.

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APNewsBreak: Goodell memo to teams says 2 co-chairs of NFL committee on concussions resign

Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a wide-ranging memo about concussions to NFL teams, saying the co-chairmen of the league's committee on brain injuries have resigned and that he is examining potential rule changes "to reduce head impacts."

A copy of the memo was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press before the league issued a press release about its contents.

Goodell wrote that Dr. Ira Casson and Dr. David Viano, who have led the league committee on concussions since 2007, "have graciously offered to resign from those positions and to continue to assist the committee in its important work. We have accepted those resignations and are currently identifying their replacements."

Goodell said he wants to add new members "who will bring to the committee independent sources of expertise and experience in the field of head injuries."

Casson has come under attack recently from the NFL Players Association and members of Congress for criticizing independent and league-sponsored studies linking NFL careers with heightened risk for dementia and cognitive decline.