AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Dec 04, 2009 6:41 PM

Obama plans new jobs bill to 'jump-start' hiring, sees 'better days' ahead for employment

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) _ Even as he heralded the first unemployment drop in months, President Barack Obama began putting the finishing touches Friday on a fresh job creation proposal he's planning to send to Congress next week.

"I still consider one job lost one job too many," Obama told a community college crowd in Allentown. "Good trends don't pay the rent."

The president plans to outline his list of ideas for a new jobs bill in a speech from Washington on Tuesday. Among the plans he's likely to endorse is an expansion of a program that gives people cash incentives to fix up their homes with energy-saving materials, senior administration officials said.

Obama also is leaning toward new incentives, either through the tax code or some other means, for small businesses that hire new workers and toward new spending for building roads, bridges and other infrastructure, said the officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the package, and Obama's speech, are still being crafted and could change.

The president also is open to a federal infusion of money to cash-strapped state and local governments, considered among the quickest and most effective _ though expensive _ ways to stem layoffs. Officials stressed that Obama probably won't mention in his speech every job-stimulating idea he will eventually support.

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Senate keeps long-term care in health overhaul; Dem leaders scramble to line up moderates

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Keeping faith with the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Senate voted Friday to preserve within its health overhaul bill a long-term care insurance program to help seniors and the disabled avoid nursing homes.

But the vote exposed the difficulties Democratic leaders face in persuading their own moderates to remain united behind sweeping legislation they hope to deliver to President Barack Obama. Eleven Democrats voted with Republicans, who warned that the new program would turn into a drain on the federal budget.

Republicans fell short in a bid to strike the long-term care plan on a 51-47 vote. They needed 60 votes to prevail.

Two leading Democrats who shaped the health care bill, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota, voted with the GOP _ underscoring the gravity of the fiscal concerns.

Known as the CLASS Act, short for Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, the idea was originally championed by Kennedy, the Massachusetts liberal who pursued the goal of health care for all through decades in public service until his death from brain cancer in August.

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Knox convicted in Italy murder trial, gets 26-year sentence; ex-boyfriend gets 25

PERUGIA, Italy (AP) _ A jury in Italy convicted American college student Amanda Knox of murdering her British roommate and sentenced her to 26 years in prison shortly after midnight Saturday.

Her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito was also convicted and sentenced to 25 years.

The 22-year-old Knox and 25-year-old Sollecito were charged with murder and sexual assault in the slaying of Meredith Kercher more than two years ago. All three were studying in Perugia in Italy's central Umbria region at the time.

Kercher's body was found in a pool of blood with her throat slit on Nov. 2, 2007, in the bedroom of the house she shared with Knox. Prosecutors contended the 21-year-old Leeds University student was murdered the previous night.

Knox, who is from Seattle, and Sollecito, had been jailed since shortly after the slaying.

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Russian news reports: More than 100 killed in nightclub in blast caused by pyrotechnics

MOSCOW (AP) _ An explosion apparently caused by pyrotechnics tore through a nightclub in the Russian city of Perm early Saturday, killing more than 100 people, according to emergency officials quoted by state television.

It was not immediately clear if the pyrotechnics were kept in storage at the club or being used as part of a show like in the fire that killed 100 people at a rock club in the U.S. state of Rhode Island in 2003.

Ten people died when a so-called "fire show" went out of control at a Moscow club in March 2007.

In the chaotic aftermath of the blast and subsequent fire, casualty figures differed. State television news channel Vesti cited the Investigative Committee, Russia's top investigative body, as saying the death toll was higher than 100. Reports citing other officials ranged from 86 to more than 90.

Perm, a city of about 1 million people, is about 700 miles (1,200 kilometers) east of Moscow in the Ural Mountains.

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Taliban carry out massacre at mosque used by army brass in Pakistan, showing their strength

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) _ A Taliban suicide squad targeted Pakistani military officers and their families praying at a mosque Friday close to army headquarters in a gruesome display of the militants' ability to strike at the center of power in this U.S.-allied, nuclear-armed nation.

The barrage of bombs and bullets left 37 people dead, including seven senior officers and 17 children.

The deaths of so many top brass inside a heavily fortified area a few miles from the capital was a major coup for the Pakistani insurgents, who are under pressure as the army pushes an offensive against their stronghold of South Waziristan along the Afghan border.

Friday's carnage also dramatized the risks Pakistan faces if it steps up its support for the United States in the war against Islamic extremists on its side of the border with Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama believes Pakistan is a key partner in that war, but critics contend that Pakistan, hedging its bets in the event the Taliban eventually regain power in Kabul, has held back against Afghan insurgents who use the lawless border region as a safe haven.

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US Marines launch first offensive in Afghanistan since Obama announced troop surge

KABUL (AP) _ U.S. Marines swooped down behind Taliban lines in helicopters and Osprey aircraft Friday in the first offensive since President Barack Obama announced an American troop surge.

About 1,000 Marines and 150 Afghan troops were taking part in "Operation Cobra's Anger" in a bid to disrupt Taliban supply and communications lines in the Now Zad Valley of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, the scene of heavy fighting last summer, according to Marine spokesman Maj. William Pelletier.

Hundreds of troops from the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines and the Marine reconnaissance unit Task Force Raider dropped by helicopters and MV-22 Osprey aircraft in the northern end of the valley while a second, larger Marine force pushed northward from the main Marine base in the town of Now Zad, Pelletier said.

A U.S. military official in Washington said it was the first use of Ospreys, aircraft that combine features of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, in an offensive involving units larger than platoons.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to detail the operation, said that Ospreys have previously been used for intelligence and patrol operations.

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Drugmakers tell FDA that increased education could curb misuse and abuse of painkillers

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Pharmaceutical executives laid out plans Friday to prevent the misuse of prescription painkillers, under pressure from regulators trying to stop hundreds of fatal overdoses each year.

But Food and Drug Administration officials said industry's proposals were short on specifics and that more work is needed before any measures are put in place.

Johnson & Johnson, King Pharmaceuticals and other drugmakers proposed using patient medication guides, letters to doctors and additional physician training to curb inappropriate use and prescribing of painkillers.

The FDA sent letters to 16 companies in February ordering them to design so-called risk management plans for their drugs. The drugmakers are presenting their joint proposal to the agency after several months of discussion.

The companies at Friday's meeting produce 24 opioid drugs _ including morphine, oxycodone and methadone _ which are often abused for their euphoric effect.

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Jobless rate drops to 10 percent in Nov.; employers shed 11,000 jobs, fewest since Dec. 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A surprising drop in the unemployment rate and far fewer job losses last month raised hopes Friday for a sustained economic recovery.

The rate unexpectedly fell to 10 percent, from 10.2 percent in October, as employers cut the fewest number of jobs since the recession began. The government also said 159,000 fewer jobs were lost in September and October than first reported.

If part-time workers who want full time jobs and laid-off workers who have given up looking for jobs are included, the so-called underemployment rate also fell, to 17.2 percent from 17.5 percent in October.

The better-than-expected figures provided a rare dose of good news for a labor market that's lost 7.2 million jobs in two years. The unemployment rate hadn't fallen since July. Still, the respite may be temporary.

Job creation is expected to remain far too weak in coming months to absorb the 15.4 million unemployed people who are seeking work _ and the 11.5 million others who are underemployed. As more people begin seeking work, the jobless rate is likely to resume rising.

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Roman Polanski joins family in luxury Alpine chalet: Big upgrade after 2 months in Swiss jail

GSTAAD, Switzerland (AP) _ Roman Polanski's life took a dramatic turn for the better Friday as he traded a Swiss jail for house arrest surrounded by family in his luxury Alpine chalet.

It's not clear how long this splendid captivity will last _ the threat of extradition to the United States and a possible prison term there still hang over the 76-year-old director.

But surely there are worse fates than being stuck in the tony resort of Gstaad, gazing up at the snow-covered Swiss Alps with your wife and two children by your side _ especially after two months in a Swiss jail.

Polanski cannot leave the three-story house and its garden while Swiss authorities decide whether to send him to Los Angeles to face sentencing in a 32-year-old sex case.

He will miss the pleasures of walking in the snow, skiing or Christmas shopping on the main street. Still, it's a vast improvement over his small detention cell in Winterthur, near Zurich, which had only a sink, bed, toilet, television and storage compartment.

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'If you come out, you're seen as soft': NFL players grateful for changes on concussions

New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Fujita is glad to see the NFL changing its concussion policies. Why? Because, he figures, the league is finally getting around to saving players from themselves.

"You almost have to take it out of the players' hands, because we're not going to make the most responsible decision," Fujita said.

"If I was in that situation in a playoff game, and I was kind of dinged and not functioning very well on the sideline, I'd like to think that someone might look out for my best interest," he said, "because I don't think I'd do that for myself."

In dozens of interviews across the NFL this week, The Associated Press found that players voiced nearly unanimous support for the league's latest moves on head injuries. Like Fujita, they're grateful to have extra sets of eyes looking out for them _ and they're relieved to have a buffer against peer pressure about missing games or practices.

Put another way: With league- and union-approved independent neurologists now assigned to all 32 clubs, and stricter return-to-play guidelines instituted Wednesday, players hope teammates will be less likely to question their tenacity when they're kept on the sideline with a concussion.