Trading barbs, Obama defends campaign as Romney, Ryan accuse him of making 'victim of truth'
WASHINGTON (AP) — Denounced by his Republican rival for divisiveness, President Barack Obama on Monday defended the tone of his campaign in a combative election year and insisted it's actually Mitt Romney's ads that are "patently false." But Obama did distance himself from a particularly provocative negative ad by a political group that supports him.
Obama also joined the cascade of criticism from both parties for comments on rape and abortion by a Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, using that new controversy to draw sharp distinctions between his views on women's health issues and those of Republicans.
Obama made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room, at least partly upstaging a joint campaign appearance by Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, in New Hampshire. The rally by Romney and Ryan, their first appearance together after a week of vigorous campaigning separately, had been highly anticipated, drawing an enthusiastic crowd and wide media attention.
The president turned the day into a long-distance point-counterpoint debate with his opponent. He took questions from four reporters, the most he has taken from the national press corps in two months, dealing to an extent with complaints about his inaccessibility. What's more, the flap over rape-and-abortion remarks by Republican Rep. Todd Akin gave the president a chance to make a direct appeal to women, who both campaigns say make up a majority of undecided voters.
At issue was Akin's answer in an interview that aired Sunday that women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in "a legitimate rape" and that conception is rare in such cases. He later said he misspoke and apologized, but he said he would not get out of the race despite such urging from several prominent fellow Republicans.
GOP congressman from Missouri fights to save Senate campaign after rape pregnancy comments
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rep. Todd Akin fought to salvage his Senate campaign Monday, even as members of his own party turned against him and a key source of campaign funding was cut off in outrage over the Missouri congressman's comments that women are able to prevent pregnancies in cases of "legitimate rape."
Akin made no public appearances but went on former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's national radio show to apologize. He vowed to continue his bid for higher office.
"The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I'm not a quitter," Akin said. "To quote my old friend John Paul Jones, I have not yet begun to fight."
But Akin seemed to be losing political support by the hour as fellow Republicans urged him to abandon a race the party had long considered essential in their bid to regain control of the Senate. Incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill is seen as vulnerable in public opinion polls and because she has been a close ally of President Barack Obama.
An official with the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee said the group's head, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, called Akin on Monday to tell him that the committee had withdrawn $5 million in advertising planned for the Missouri race. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.
Hollywood reacts to the death of filmmaker Tony Scott
With a career that spanned three decades and included hits such as "Top Gun" and "True Romance," filmmaker Tony Scott touched many in the Hollywood community:
— "Tony was my dear friend and I will really miss him. He was a creative visionary whose mark on film is immeasurable. My deepest sorrow and thoughts are with his family at this time." — Tom Cruise.
— "My deepest sympathies go out to Tony's family. He was a great director and wonderful collaborator. He will be deeply missed." — Eddie Murphy.
— "Tony was always sensitive to the needs of an actor. We've lost a wonderful, creative talent." — Gene Hackman.
— "Tony was one of the good guys. He was a man's man who lived life as hard and as full as anyone I've ever met, but there was always a sweetness to his toughness. He was truly in love with his profession, and he is already missed." — Kevin Costner.
Airstrikes, shelling and executions leave 100 dead on major Muslim holiday in Syria
TEL RIFAT, Syria (AP) — Government forces pummeled the battered city of Aleppo with airstrikes and tanks and shelled parts of Damascus and southern Syria Monday, killing at least 100 people during a major Muslim holiday, rights groups and activists said.
The violence escalated dramatically after a one-day lull on Sunday, the start of the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The renewed fighting showed President Bashar Assad's regime is not letting up on its drive to quell the 17-month-old uprising out of respect for the occasion.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said U.S. thinking on military involvement in Syria would change if chemical or biological weapons came into play in the civil war. He told reporters the use of such weapons of mass destruction would widen the conflict considerably.
"It doesn't just include Syria. It would concern allies in the region, including Israel, and it would concern us," Obama said, warning the Assad regime and "other players on the ground" that the use or movement of such weapons would be a "red line" for the United States. The U.S. has been reluctant to intervene militarily so far.
Last month, the Syrian regime confirmed for the first time that it possessed chemical weapons by threatening to use them in case of any foreign aggression. The warning was seen as a sign of desperation as Assad's grip on power slipped. It came shortly after rebels assassinated four of the president's top security officials, the biggest blow to the regime in the entire uprising.
Obama 'deeply concerned' over Afghan insider attacks; a key element of war strategy is at risk
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama declared Monday he is sticking to his war strategy of using U.S. troops to advise and mentor Afghan forces, even as a suddenly growing number of Americans are being gunned down by the very Afghans they are training to take on insurgents.
In just the past 10 days, Afghan forces have attacked their coalition partners seven times, killing nine Americans. For the year there have been 32 such incidents, killing 40, compared to 21 attacks killing 35 troops in all of 2011.
"We are deeply concerned about this, from top to bottom," Obama told a White House news conference. But he said the best approach, with the fewest number of deaths in the long run, would be to stick to the plan for shifting security responsibilities to the Afghans.
"We are transitioning to Afghan security, and for us to train them effectively we are in much closer contact — our troops are in much closer contact with Afghan troops on an ongoing basis," Obama said. "Part of what we've got to do is to make sure that this model works but it doesn't make our guys more vulnerable."
That vulnerability, however, has been exposed in a strikingly deadly way in recent days.
Low water forces closure of 11-mile stretch of the Mississippi River; 97 vessels await passage
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Nearly 100 boats and barges were waiting for passage Monday along an 11-mile stretch of the Mississippi River that has been closed due to low water levels, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
New Orleans-based Coast Guard spokesman Ryan Tippets said the stretch of river near Greenville, Miss., has been closed intermittently since Aug. 11, when a vessel ran aground.
Tippets said the area is currently being surveyed for dredging and a Coast Guard boat is replacing eight navigation markers. He says 40 northbound vessels and 57 southbound vessels were stranded and waiting for passage Monday afternoon.
Tippets said it is not immediately clear when the river will re-open. A stretch of river near Greenville was also closed in 1988 due to low water levels caused by severe drought. The river hit a record low on the Memphis gauge that year.
The Mississippi River from Illinois to Louisiana has seen water levels plummet due to drought conditions in the past three months. Near Memphis, the river level was more than 12 feet lower than normal for this time of year.
Huge wildfire burns to edge of 3 small towns in CA; lightning sparks blazes across West
MANTON, Calif. (AP) — A huge wildfire sparked by lightning in Northern California burned to the edge of three small towns on Monday, threatening thousands of homes as fearful residents sought safety miles away at an emergency shelter.
"All we can do is pray," evacuee Jerry Nottingham told reporters.
The fast-moving Ponderosa Fire was one of many burning across the West, where lightning, dry temperatures and gusting winds have brought an early start to fire season.
More than 1,400 firefighters were battling the Ponderosa Fire in rugged, densely forested terrain as it threatened 3,500 homes in the towns of Manton, Shingletown and Viola, about 170 miles north of Sacramento.
"These are the largest number of homes we've had threatened so far this year," state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. "The grass, brush and timber up here are so dry, and once the lightning with no rain struck, the flames began to spread quickly."
A selection of some of Phyllis Diller's best comic quotes
A selection of comic lines from Phyllis Diller, who died Monday at age 95:
— "I once wore a peekaboo blouse. People would peek and then they'd boo."
— "I never made 'Who's Who,' but I'm featured in 'What's That?' "
— "When I told Fang I was going to have my face lifted, he said, 'Who'd steal it?'"
— "You know you're old when your walker has an airbag."
Justice beyond the Pussy Riot verdict: jail terms for insulting a king, stealing water
MOSCOW (AP) — The two-year prison sentence handed down to punk rock band Pussy Riot for a provocative protest inside a Moscow cathedral called attention to just how hard President Vladimir Putin is clamping down on minor displays of dissent.
But Russia isn't the only country where people are punished for offenses that many in the West might consider trivial. People can spend years in prison for insulting the king in Thailand, slaughtering cattle without government permission in Cuba, selling land to Israelis in the West Bank and having gay sex in Ethiopia. A British man was sent to jail for stealing a bottle of water.
While blasphemy is considered a serious crime in much of the Muslim world, a Christian girl in Pakistan has been arrested after furious neighbors accused her of burning pages of the Quran.
Here's a look around the world at crime and punishment:
After nearly 80 years, Augusta National finally has women in green jackets — 2 of them
NEW YORK (AP) — The home of the Masters now has green jackets for women.
In a historic change at one of the world's most exclusive golf clubs, Augusta National invited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become the first female members since the club was founded in 1932.
"This is a joyous occasion," chairman Billy Payne said Monday.
For some, it was a long time coming.
Martha Burk and her women's advocacy group first challenged the club 10 years ago over its all-male membership. The debate returned this year when IBM, one of the top corporate sponsors of the Masters, appointed Virginia Rometty as its chief executive. The previous four CEOs of Big Blue had all been Augusta National members.