Gay couples in NJ in final hours of wedding planning after ruling permits same-sex marriages
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Several gay couples in New Jersey are expected to gather late Sunday to wed in ceremonies to be held shortly after midnight.
The last-minute weddings were planned after the state Supreme Court last week refused to delay a lower court order for the state to begin recognizing same-sex marriages at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Gov. Chris Christie's administration has a pending appeal, but justices said they would not hold up marriages while they consider it. The justices said they did not think the state's arguments were likely to prevail and that delaying the lower court's order would hurt couples who would not become eligible for certain federal benefits until they could legally marry in New Jersey.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio both plan to lead ceremonies for gay couples at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Hoboken, Collingswood and a handful of other towns opened municipal offices Saturday to accept applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples.
Arab League chief says Syria peace conference to be held in Geneva on Nov. 23 and 24
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby says a key international conference aimed at ending Syria's civil war will be held in Geneva on Nov. 23 and 24.
El-Araby made the announcement at a news conference Sunday in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, after talks with the Arab League-U.N. envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
The Geneva conference is an attempt to get sides to agree on a transitional government in Syria based on a plan adopted in that city in June 2012.
Syria's conflict, now into its third year, has left over 100,000 dead.
From English city, clothing store owner serves much of the Western media with news from Syria
COVENTRY, England (AP) — He's practically a one man band, but Rami Abdurrahman's influence extends far beyond his modest home in this small English city.
The bald, bespectacled 42-year-old operates the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights from his house in the cathedral city of Coventry — and a review of recent media coverage suggests its running tally of killings and clashes is the most frequently cited individual source of information on Syria's civil war for the world's leading news organizations.
"He's just everywhere," said Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "He's the go-to guy for figures. ... I can't think of anybody who comes close."
Abdurrahman, who says he makes his living from a local clothing shop, says the Observatory relies on four unnamed activists in Syria and a wider network of monitors across the country to document and verify clashes and killings. But as the Observatory has increasingly found itself at the center of Western reporting on Syria's civil, some say his figures — and his sources — need more scrutiny.
Opponents say Abdurrahman is in cahoots with the opposition forces bankrolled by Gulf Arab states, skewing casualty figures to keep the spotlight off rebel atrocities. Others contend that Abdurrahman is in league with the Syrian regime. They accuse him of overplaying incidents of sectarian violence to blacken the reputation of those trying to topple President Bashar Assad.
For President Obama, a frustrating rollout for his signature health care legislation
WASHINGTON (AP) — Last week, President Barack Obama gathered some of his top advisers in the Oval Office to discuss the problem-plagued rollout of his health care legislation. He told his team the administration had to own up to the fact that there were no excuses for not having the health care website ready to operate on Day One.
The admonition from a frustrated president came amid the embarrassing start to sign-ups for the health care insurance exchanges. The president is expected to address the cascade of computer problems Monday during an event at the White House.
Administration officials say more than 476,000 health insurance applications have been filed through federal and state exchanges. The figures mark the most detailed measure yet of the problem-plagued rollout of the insurance market place.
However, the officials continue to refuse to say how many people have actually enrolled in the insurance markets. And without enrollment figures, it's unclear whether the program is on track to reach the 7 million people projected by the Congressional Budget Office to gain coverage during the six-month sign-up period.
The first three weeks of sign-ups have been marred by a cascade of computer problems, which the administration says it is working around the clock to correct. The rough rollout has been a black eye for Obama, who invested significant time and political capital in getting the law passed during his first term.
With 2 convicted killers in custody, authorities shift investigation to falsified documents
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — With two convicted killers back in police custody, authorities have shifted attention to finding out who made the phony court documents that led to the mistaken inmate releases that rocked Florida's judicial system.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both 34, were captured Saturday night without incident at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City Beach, a touristy area of putt-putt courses and go-kart tracks. Hours earlier, their families had held a news conference in Orlando — some 300 miles away — urging them to surrender.
"Now that we have them in custody, we're hoping to get something from the interviews with them," Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said. "We seized printers from the prisons, now we're going to be able to throw a lot of resources at this part of the investigation. We're already working it."
A woman who answered the phone at the motel said she saw police coming and they went into room 227. After authorities left, the parking lot of the two-story motel next to Big Willy's Swimwear was mostly empty. Authorities think the men had been in the area since Wednesday.
Jenkins and Walker were both serving life sentences at the Franklin Correctional Facility in the Panhandle before they walked free without anyone realizing the paperwork, complete with case numbers and a judge's forged signature, was bogus. The documents seemingly reduced their life sentences to 15 years.
Train on maintenance trip amid SF Bay Area Transit strike hits, kills 2 track workers
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Despite a labor strike keeping trains out of service, two workers inspecting the tracks of a San Francisco Bay Area transit system were hit and killed by a train returning from a routine maintenance trip, officials said.
The four-car train with several people aboard was being run in automatic mode under computer control at the time of the accident, said Paul Oversier, assistant general manager of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, which was in its second full day of a work stoppage and was moving trains only for maintenance.
At a news conference Saturday, Oversier would not say who had been the train operator. In an earlier statement, BART said only that the person was an experienced operator.
One system employee and one contractor were killed in the accident in the East Bay city of Walnut Creek shortly before 2 p.m. The train had been at a yard where workers had been cleaning off graffiti, BART officials said.
"This is a tragic day in BART's history," the system's general manager, Grace Crunican, said. "The entire BART family is grieving."
Brutality of Syria's civil war on display for world to see via YouTube, social media
BEIRUT (AP) — Amid all the bloodshed, confusion and deadlock of Syria's civil war, one fact is emerging after 2½ years — no conflict ever has been covered this way.
Amateur videographers — anyone with a smartphone, Internet access and an eagerness to get a message out to the world — have driven the world's outlook on the war through YouTube, Twitter and other social media.
The tens of thousands of videos have at times raised outrage over the crackdown by the regime of President Bashar Assad and also have sparked concern over alleged atrocities attributed to both sides.
The videos have also made more difficult the task of navigating between truth and propaganda — with all sides using them to promote their cause. Assad opponents post the majority of videos, and nearly every rebel-held area or brigade has a media office that produces and disseminates them. To a lesser degree, regime supporters produce some videos — but they also pick apart opposition videos, trying to show they are fake.
In the Vietnam War, the 1991 Gulf War and the second Gulf War in 2003, foreign media directly covered the conflicts, often with reporters embedded with or accompanying the American military.
Ga. revisits nation's strictest standard for avoiding death penalty due to mental disability
ATLANTA (AP) — The state that was the first to pass a law prohibiting the execution of mentally disabled death row inmates is revisiting a requirement for defendants to prove the disability beyond a reasonable doubt — the strictest burden of proof in the nation.
A state House committee is holding an out-of-session meeting Thursday to seek input from the public. Other states that impose the death penalty have a lower threshold for proving mental disability, and some don't set standards at all.
Just because lawmakers are holding a meeting does not mean changes to the law will be proposed, and the review absolutely is not a first step toward abolishing Georgia's death penalty, said State Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, chairman of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
Georgia's law is the strictest in the U.S. even though the state was also the first, in 1988, to pass a law prohibiting the execution of mentally disabled death row inmates. The U.S. Supreme Court followed suit in 2002, ruling the execution of mentally disabled offenders is unconstitutional.
The Georgia law's toughest-in-the-nation status compels lawmakers to review it, Golick said.
AP PHOTOS: Georgia Bull Run draws 3,000 daredevils
Some 3,000 daredevils decked out in white outfits and red scarves dodged bulls at a Georgia horse park to get a taste of the running of the bulls, as made famous in Spain.
Horse riders herded 18 bulls into a fenced course for the event, dubbed the Great Bull Run. Many stood alongside the fence as the bulls ran by, but some tried to sprint with the animals. A few runners fell or were knocked down, but no serious injuries were reported.
Here are some images from the event.
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AP source: JPMorgan would pay $13B under tentative deal over mortgage-backed securities
WASHINGTON (AP) — JPMorgan Chase & Co. has tentatively agreed to pay $13 billion to settle allegations surrounding the quality of mortgage-backed securities it sold in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, a person familiar with the negotiations between the bank and the federal government said Saturday.
If the agreement is finalized it would be the government's highest-profile enforcement action related to the financial meltdown that plunged the economy into the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been finalized, said Attorney General Eric Holder, Associate Attorney General Tony West, J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and the bank's general counsel, Stephen Cutler, negotiated the tentative settlement in a Friday night phone call.
The person said the tentative agreement does not resolve a criminal investigation of the bank's conduct. It is being handled by federal prosecutors in Sacramento, Calif.
On Friday night, Holder told the bank that a non-prosecution agreement was a non-starter — meaning that the Justice Department will continue to conduct the criminal investigation of the financial institution, said the person. As part of the deal, the Justice Department expects JPMorgan to cooperate with the continuing criminal probe of the bank's issuance of mortgage-backed securities between 2005 and 2007, the person said.