AP News in Brief

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2009 6:06 PM

Obama to detail plan to add as many as 35,000 troops in Afghanistan with US exit strategy

WASHINGTON (AP) _ After months of debate, President Barack Obama will spell out a costly Afghanistan war expansion to a skeptical public Tuesday night, coupling an infusion of as many as 35,000 more troops with a vow that there will be no endless U.S. commitment. His first orders have already been made: at least one group of Marines who will be in place by Christmas.

Obama has said that he prefers "not to hand off anything to the next president" and that his strategy will "put us on a path toward ending the war." But he doesn't plan to give any more exact timetable than that Tuesday night.

The president will end his 92-day review of the war with a nationally broadcast address in which he will lay out his revamped strategy from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He spent part of Monday briefing foreign allies in a series of private meetings and phone calls.

Before Obama's call to Britain's Gordon Brown, the prime minister announced that 500 more U.K. troops would arrive in southern Afghanistan next month _ making a British total of about 10,000 in the country. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose nation has more than 3,000 in Afghanistan, said French troops would stay "as long as necessary" to stabilize the country.

Obama's war escalation includes sending 30,000 to 35,000 more American forces into Afghanistan in a graduated deployment over the next year, on top of the 71,000 already there. There also will be a fresh focus on training Afghan forces to take over the fight and allow the Americans to leave.


Senate plunges into debate over sweeping health care bill riven by partisanship

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Riven by partisanship, the Senate plunged into a widely anticipated debate Monday over sweeping health care legislation that President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have vowed to approve and Republicans sworn to block.

Debate is expected to last for weeks over the legislation, which includes a first-time requirement for most Americans to carry insurance and would require insurers to cover any paying customer regardless of their medical history or condition.

"We must avoid the temptation to drown in distractions and distortions," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in the first moments of the first speech of the day, a jab at Republicans that was reciprocated minutes later.

"Well, I don't know what's more preposterous: saying that this plan 'saves Medicare' or thinking that people will actually believe you," Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said of Reid's oft-made statement.

At a cost of nearly $1 trillion, the legislation is designed to extend health care to millions of American who lack it, abolish insurance industry practices such as denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and cut back on the rise of health care spending overall.


Congress calls for Secret Service director and party crashers to testify about security breach

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Secret Service director and the couple who crashed the Obama administration's first state dinner have been called to testify before Congress on Thursday about the incident.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security committee, said he wants answers about the Secret Service's security deficiencies that allowed Michaele and Tareq Salahi into the Nov. 24 White House dinner, even though they were not on the guest list.

"This is a time for answers," Thompson said in a statement Monday. "This is not the time for political games or scapegoating to distract our attention from the careful oversight we must apply to the Secret Service and its mission."

Some lawmakers have called for criminal charges to be brought against the couple, but the Secret Service has yet to do so.

The Secret Service declined to comment on whether Director Mark Sullivan would testify on Thursday.


Police storm Seattle home but find no sign of man wanted in killings of 4 officers

SEATTLE (AP) _ Using search dogs and going door to door, hundreds of police intensified the hunt Monday for the man wanted in the coffeehouse killings of four officers after a SWAT team came up empty-handed in a raid on a house where he was thought to be holed up.

The realization that the suspect had not been cornered after all further rattled people in the Seattle area, many of them unnerved by the thought of a mentally unstable killer in their midst.

Police canvassed the neighborhood around the Seattle house and fanned out across the city, looking for any sign of Maurice Clemmons, 37. Authorities posted a $125,000 reward for information leading to his arrest in the Sunday morning shooting rampage.

The manhunt came as authorities in two states took heat for the fact that Clemmons was allowed to walk the streets despite a teenage crime spree in Arkansas that landed him a 95-year prison sentence. He was released in 2000 after then-Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted his sentence.

"This guy should have never been on the street," said Brian D. Wurts, president of the police union in Lakewood, where all four slain officers worked. "Our elected officials need to find out why these people are out."


UK says 5 Britons are being held by Iran after their yacht was intercepted, oil prices spike

LONDON (AP) _ Iran is holding five British sailors after stopping their racing yacht in the Persian Gulf, the British government said Monday. The move could heighten tensions between Iran and major world powers, including Britain, that are demanding a halt to its nuclear program.

Oil prices spiked 2 percent to $77.45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as the news broke before settling slightly at $77.28.

The yacht owned by Sail Bahrain was stopped on its way from the tiny island country to the Gulf city of Dubai on Wednesday when it "may have strayed inadvertently into Iranian waters," Britain's Foreign Office said. Sail Bahrain's Web site identified the yacht as the "Kingdom of Bahrain" and said it had been due to join the 360-mile (580-kilometer) Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race, which was to begin Nov. 26.

The event was to be the boat's first offshore race, the Web site said, adding that the vessel had been fitted with a satellite tracker.

Attempts to reach representatives of the raceboat's owner were not immediately successful.


Iran's plans for 10 new enrichment plants largely bluster, but draw calls for more sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iran's announcement of plans to build 10 more uranium enrichment facilities is largely bluster after a strong rebuke from the U.N.'s nuclear agency, analysts said Monday. Nonetheless, the defiance is fueling calls among Western allies for new punitive sanctions to freeze Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. and European officials were swift to condemn the plans, warning that Iran risked sinking ever deeper into isolation. Iran responded that it felt forced to move forward with the plans after the International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution Friday demanding that it halt all enrichment activities.

Iran's bold announcement Sunday appears to be largely impossible to achieve as long as sanctions continue to throw up roadblocks and force Iran to turn to black markets and smuggling for nuclear equipment, said nuclear expert David Albright.

"They can't build those plants. There's no way," he said. "They have sanctions to overcome, they have technical problems. They have to buy things overseas ... and increasingly it's all illegal."

A more worrisome escalation in the standoff would be if Iran reduced its cooperation with the IAEA, as some Iranian officials have threatened to do if the West continues its pressure. The U.N. inspectors and monitoring are the world's only eyes on Tehran's program. The head of Iran's nuclear agency on Monday ruled out an even more drastic move, saying Tehran does not intend to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


Online retailers rev up deals to keep momentum, but 'Cyber Monday' just another shopping day

NEW YORK (AP) _ Retail Web sites kept amping up the deals Monday, the first day after Thanksgiving weekend's strong online sales, to try to maintain the momentum.

Meanwhile, a research firm that tracks business at stores reported tepid sales and customer traffic for Friday and Saturday that confirmed a so-so start to the season for the bricks-and-mortar world.

Though the Web is only about 10 percent of the holiday shopping pie, it's seen most of the growth so far this year _ an encouraging sign after last year's first online sales decline.

Coremetrics, a Web analytics company in San Mateo, Calif., said that as of 1 p.m. Monday, sales for the day that the industry still pitches as "Cyber Monday" were up 19.6 percent over a year ago.

The bright spot offers hope after traditional retail sales came in just above flat for Black Friday, with shoppers packing stores but sticking to their lists, going for deep discounts and practical items.


Clinton daughter, Chelsea, engaged to longtime boyfriend, who is son of former lawmakers

NEW YORK (AP) _ Turns out those discredited rumors of a possible Chelsea Clinton wedding last summer were mostly just premature: The 29-year old daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has become engaged to her longtime boyfriend, 31-year old investment banker Marc Mezvinsky.

The couple sent an e-mail to friends Friday announcing the news, saying they were looking at a possible wedding next summer. Matt McKenna, a spokesman for the former president, confirmed the engagement Monday.

Mezvinsky is a son of former Pennsylvania Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky and former Iowa Rep. Ed Mezvinsky, longtime friends of the Clintons. Ed Mezvinsky was released from federal prison last year after serving a nearly five-year sentence for wire and bank fraud.

Margolies-Mezvinsky served just one term in Congress before losing her seat in 1994 after voting in favor of President Clinton's 1993 budget, which was controversial at the time.

At the State Department Monday, Hillary Clinton had one brief encounter with reporters but took no questions. Later, her spokesman, Ian C. Kelly, was asked about the reported engagement but said it would be inappropriate for him to comment.


Tiger Woods withdraws from his own golf tournament citing injuries from car crash

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) _ Tiger Woods withdrew Monday from his own golf tournament, citing injuries from a car crash near his Florida home. He said he would not compete again until next year.

Woods said in a statement on his Web site that his injuries prevented him from playing in the Chevron World Challenge, which he hosts annually for a small, invited, field.

"I am extremely disappointed that I will not be at my tournament this week," Woods said. "I am certain it will be an outstanding event and I'm very sorry that I can't be there."

His decision to withdraw comes after a car crash left him with cuts and bruises when his SUV hit a fire hydrant and a tree at 2:25 a.m. Friday outside his home in an exclusive, gated community near Orlando. Woods was treated and released from a hospital after the accident, and has not been seen in public since.

By skipping the tournament, Woods will escape having to face TV cameras and a horde of media seeking more details about the smashup. The tournament was to be the last of the year for Woods anyway, but he did not say just when he would make his return next year.


Charlie Weis is out at Notre Dame after yet another dismal season

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ Charlie Weis arrived at Notre Dame flashing Super Bowls rings and talking about outscheming opponents. He leaves one of college football's most prestigious programs without even matching the record of the two men who were fired before him.

Athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced the decision to fire Weis on Monday, saying in a news release: "We have great expectations for our football program, and we have not been able to meet those expectations"

"As an alumnus, Charlie understands those goals and expectations better than most, and he's as disappointed as anyone that we have not achieved the desired results."

Swarbrick said he recommended to university president the Rev. John Jenkins on Sunday night that Weis be let go with six years left on his contract. Weis finishes with a 35-27 record in five seasons, among the worst of any Fighting Irish coach.

Assistant head coach Rob Ianello will step in for Weis until a new coach is hired.