Hundreds of thousands of Americans have a throwback Fourth of July: Hot and without power
MOUNT VERNON, Va. (AP) — George Washington never had air conditioning, but he knew how to keep cool: a mansion with lots of windows elevated on the banks of a wide, rolling river and lots of ice cream, maybe with a little brandy.
It was a little like the old days without electricity Wednesday, as the nation's capital region celebrated Independence Day the better part of a week into a widespread blackout that left millions of residents sweltering in 90-plus degree heat without air conditioning. Utilities have slowly been restoring service knocked out by a freak storm Friday from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic, and at least 26 people have died in the storm or its aftermath.
At George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, one of the most popular Fourth of July attractions was a demonstration of 18th-century ice cream making, one of Washington's favorite desserts. Historical interpreters Gail Cassidy and Anette Ahrens showed the crowds how cocoa beans were roasted and ground into a paste for chocolate ice cream, made using ice hauled up in massive blocks from the Potomac River and stored underground to last as long into the summer as possible.
As for beverages, Washington was no stranger to alcohol, enjoying imported Madeira wine from Portugal, distilling his own whiskey and enjoying a fruity brandy cocktail called Cherry Bounce.
Washington was his own architect at Mount Vernon, "and he was very good at it," said Dennis Pogue, associate director for preservation at Mount Vernon. The piazza, which runs the length of the mansion, is "kind of California living in the 18th century," Pogue said.
Rain cools Colorado wildfires, but others in the West grow as firefighters battle wind, heat
DENVER (AP) — Rains cooled Colorado's wildfires Wednesday, but more than a dozen wildfires elsewhere in the West continued chewing through bone-dry pine and brush as firefighters working through the holiday kept a nervous eye for fireworks and other hazards.
Wildfires in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado sent haze and smoke across Colorado's Front Range, prompting air-quality health advisories as firefighters warned of growing fires in sparsely populated areas.
In Colorado Springs, there was good news in the fight against the most destructive fire in state history.
Light rains that fell overnight helped calm the Waldo Canyon Fire, which has scorched 28 square miles, killed two and destroyed almost 350 homes. Firefighters predicted full containment of the fire by Sunday, with more rain, cooler temperatures and higher humidity predicted through the weekend.
The forecast wasn't as kind in eastern Montana, where a mammoth 380-square-mile in Custer National Forest was gobbling up pine, juniper and sage with help from gusty winds. The fire has burned 16 homes.
Mid-Atlantic struggles to get back to normal from blackout, mid-week holiday; death toll at 26
BALTIMORE (AP) — The Mid-Atlantic region is struggling to get back to normal after deadly, power-cutting storms and sweltering heat.
And the death toll blamed on storms and the ensuing blackout across the eastern U.S. is now at 26 after two accidents in Virginia.
Utility and municipal crews worked through the July 4 holiday to restore power and remove downed tree limbs.
Pepco said it had restored power to 90 percent of those affected by last week's storms in D.C. and two Maryland suburbs, beating its own estimate for getting the lights and more importantly, the air conditioning back on. BGE said about 78,000 customers in central Maryland remained without power.
More than 146,000 Virginia homes and businesses remained without power after, down from a peak of about 1.2 million after the storms.
Romney says Obama health care mandate is a tax, maintains that Mass. mandate is not a tax
WOLFEBORO, N.H. (AP) — Mitt Romney on Wednesday said requiring all Americans to buy health insurance amounts to a tax, contradicting a senior campaign adviser who days ago said the Republican presidential candidate viewed President Barack Obama's mandate as anything but a tax.
"The majority of the court said it's a tax and therefore it is a tax. They have spoken. There's no way around that," Romney told CBS News. "You can try and say you wish they had decided a different way but they didn't. They concluded it was a tax."
Romney's comments amounted to a shift in position. Earlier in the week, senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney viewed the mandate as a penalty, a fee or a fine - not a tax.
The Supreme Court last week ruled that the federal requirement to buy health insurance or pay a penalty is constitutional because it can be considered a tax. The requirement is part of the broad health care overhaul that Obama signed into law in March 2010.
An identical requirement was part of the state health care law that Romney enacted when he was governor of Massachusetts.
As attacks mount, with US troops gone and government flailing, Iraqis see a future of fear
BAGHDAD (AP) — Whenever he leaves his home, Mohammed Jabar, a Sunni Muslim, carries his cellphone so his family can find out quickly whether he is safe if a deadly bomb attack hits. Shukria Mahmud, another Sunni, rarely ventures from her house because of the rash of violence that is gripping Iraq.
Laith Hashim, a young Shiite Muslim, is considering moving away from Iraq if security continues to disintegrate. Such a breakdown, he fears, would spark a new round of bitter sectarian fighting of the kind that brought the nation to the brink of civil war just a few years ago.
Tensions simmer between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite communities, yet they share an increasingly widespread despair. Al-Qaida-style attacks are on the rise, faith in the government's ability to keep people safe is on the wane and a fatalistic acceptance of a life of fear is perniciously settling in.
Nine years after the U.S. led an invasion of Iraq that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein — purging the leadership and military of his supporters and leading to a fight against insurgents in a bloody guerrilla war that left more than 100,000 dead — Iraq's outlook is increasingly bleak in summer 2012.
Instead of a Western-style democracy functioning in peace and cooperation, what's been left behind is dysfunctional and increasingly violent. Many of the attacks of the past month have targeted Shiites on annual religious pilgrimages, raising fears of a return to the deadly cycle of destructive violence between Sunni and Shiite communities.
Discovery of deadly agent revives debate of Arafat death
JERUSALEM (AP) — The discovery of traces of a radioactive agent on clothing reportedly worn by Yasser Arafat in his final days reignited a cauldron of conspiracy theories Wednesday about the mysterious death of the longtime Palestinian leader.
Arafat's widow, who ordered the tests by a Swiss lab, called for her husband's body to be exhumed, and Arafat's successor gave tentative approval for an autopsy. But experts warned that even after the detection of polonium-210, getting answers on the cause of death will be tough.
Arafat was 75 when he died Nov. 11, 2004, in a French military hospital. He had been airlifted to the facility just weeks earlier with a mysterious illness, after being confined by Israel for three years to his West Bank headquarters.
At the time, French doctors said Arafat died of a massive stroke. According to French medical records, he had suffered inflammation, jaundice and a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC.
But the records were inconclusive about what brought about the DIC, which has numerous causes including infections, colitis and liver disease. Outside experts who reviewed the records on behalf of The Associated Press were also unable to pinpoint the underlying cause.
AP survey: High US unemployment to persist well into next presidential term
WASHINGTON (AP) — A majority of economists in the latest Associated Press Economy Survey expect the national unemployment rate to stay above 6 percent — the upper bounds of what's considered healthy — for at least four more years.
If the economists are correct, the job market will still be unhealthy seven years after the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009. That would be the longest stretch of high unemployment since the end of World War II.
And it means the job market and the economy — President Barack Obama's main political threats — would remain big challenges in either a second Obama term or President Mitt Romney's first term.
"The election isn't going to be a miracle cure for the unemployment rate — that's for sure," says Sean Snaith, an economics professor at the University of Central Florida. He thinks unemployment, which is 8.2 percent now, won't drop back to 6 percent until after 2016.
Economists consider a "normal" level to be between 5 percent and 6 percent.
Murder of student, musicians stoke fears in Egypt about intentions of Islamists
CAIRO (AP) — Three bearded men approached a university student and his girlfriend during a romantic rendezvous in a park and ordered them to separate because they weren't married, according to security officials. An argument broke out, ending with one of the men fatally stabbing the student.
The June 25 attack has alarmed Egyptians concerned that with an Islamist president in office, vigilante groups are feeling emboldened to enforce strict Islamic mores on the streets.
Islamists, including members of one-time violent groups, were empowered after last year's ouster of Hosni Mubarak's secular regime by a popular uprising. They formed political parties and won about 70 percent of parliament seats in elections held some six months ago, although a court dissolved the legislature.
Moderate Muslims along with liberal and women's groups now worry that Mohammed Morsi's presidency will eradicate what is left of Egypt's secular traditions and change the social fabric of the mainly Muslim nation of 82 million people.
Some activists say Islamists already are flexing their muscles in areas outside Cairo and other main cities, taking advantage of the absence of civil society groups and tenuous security in the areas.
Eureka! After long quest, top physicists celebrate evidence of subatomic 'God particle'
GENEVA (AP) — Scientists at the world's biggest atom smasher hailed the discovery of "the missing cornerstone of physics" Wednesday, cheering the apparent end of a decades-long quest for a new subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, or "God particle," which could help explain why all matter has mass and crack open a new realm of subatomic science.
First proposed as a theory in the 1960s, the maddeningly elusive Higgs had been hunted by at least two generations of physicists who believed it would help shape our understanding of how the universe began and how its most elemental pieces fit together.
As the highly technical findings were announced by two independent teams involving more than 5,000 researchers, the usually sedate corridors of the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, erupted in frequent applause and standing ovations. Physicists who spent their careers in pursuit of the particle shed tears.
The new particle appears to share many of the same qualities as the one predicted by Scottish physicist Peter Higgs and others and is perhaps the biggest accomplishment at CERN since its founding in 1954 outside Geneva along the Swiss-French border.
Rolf Heuer, director of CERN, said the newly discovered particle is a boson, but he stopped just shy of claiming outright that it is the Higgs boson itself — an extremely fine distinction.
Joey Chestnut wins 6th straight hot dog-eating title in Coney Island by downing 68
NEW YORK (AP) — Joey Chestnut won his sixth straight Fourth of July hot dog-eating contest at Coney Island, downing 68 dogs and buns on Wednesday to tie his personal best in a sweaty, gag-inducing spectacle.
Last year, the 28-year-old San Jose, Calif., man nicknamed "Jaws" won with 62 hot dogs. He bested his main rival this year by 16 dogs, scarfing down all 68 in 10 minutes in the sweltering summer heat to take home $10,000 and the mustard yellow belt.
"I feel good, it was a great win," Chestnut said after the contest, adding he wished he could have eaten a record number of hot dogs for the audience. "I tried my best. I'm looking forward to next year already."
Second place went to Tim Janus of New York with 52 hot dogs, who received $5,000. Third place went to Patrick Bertoletti of Chicago with 51, who won $2,500.
Chestnut was neck-and-neck with competitors during the first half of the contest, but he pulled ahead in the remaining minutes, choking down dog after dog, while other competitors slowed as the clock wound down.