AP Exclusive: A year of strife hardens Syrian rebel brigade into fierce, Islamist fighters
MAARET MISREEN, Syria (AP) — A year ago, a soft-spoken sweet shop owner from this poor Syrian town got together with his little brother and eight friends to declare war on President Bashar Assad.
They didn't have enough guns to go around. Their leader, 35-year-old Mustafa Filfileh, had no real military experience and little idea how to face one of the Mideast's strongest armies. He didn't even know how to drive.
They learned fast. On Nov. 17, the brigade called "The Beloved of Allah" braced for its biggest challenge yet, making it clear how far its members had come and how far the war had brought them from their former lives.
Men who once sold real estate, laid bricks, wore suits and treated sick farm animals armed themselves with vests laden with ammunition, hand grenades and pocket-sized copies of the Quran. After a two-month siege, they planned to storm a major military base in one of the larger coordinated attacks of the uprising.
It was late 2012, the year that Syria's uprising outpaced the other Arab Spring revolts to become the longest, deadliest and most brutal, killing more than 40,000 people and chasing more than 1 million from their homes.
Egypt's highest court joins judicial strike in protest against Islamist president's decrees
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's highest court joined a judicial rebellion against President Mohammed Morsi on Sunday by declaring an open-ended strike on the day it was supposed to rule on the legitimacy of two key assemblies controlled by allies of the Islamist leader.
The strike by the Supreme Constitutional Court and opposition plans to march on the presidential palace on Tuesday take the country's latest political crisis to a level not seen in the nearly two years of turmoil since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising.
Judges from the country's highest appeals court and its sister lower court were already on an indefinite strike, joining colleagues from other tribunals who suspended work last week to protest what they saw as Morsi's assault on the judiciary.
The last time Egypt had an all-out strike by the judiciary was in 1919, when judges joined an uprising against British colonial rule.
The standoff began when Morsi issued decrees on Nov. 22 giving him near-absolute powers that granted himself and the Islamist-dominated assembly drafting the new constitution immunity from the courts.
Geithner says next move up to Republicans, who must accept higher tax rates on top earners
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans have to stop using "political math" and say how much they are willing to raise tax rates on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans and then specify the spending cuts they want, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said in an interview that aired Sunday.
Just four weeks from the proverbial "fiscal cliff," House Speaker John Boehner countered that Republicans have a plan for providing as much as $800 billion in new government revenue over the next decade and would consider the elimination of tax deductions on high-income earners. But when pressed on "Fox News Sunday" for precise details, the Ohio Republican declined to say.
There are "a lot of options in terms of how to get there," Boehner said.
Both Boehner's and Geithner's latest remarks indicate it could be some time before serious negotiations begin between the White House and Republicans on how to avert economic calamity expected in less than a month when President George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire and automatic, across-the-board spending cuts kick in.
Last week, the White House delivered to Capitol Hill its opening plan: $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade, hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending, a possible extension of the temporary Social Security payroll tax cut and enhancing the president's power to raise the national debt limit.
5 states to extend classroom time for almost 20,000 students in bid to boost achievement
WASHINGTON (AP) — Open your notebooks and sharpen your pencils. School for thousands of public school students is about to get quite a bit longer.
Five states were to announce Monday that they will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will take part in the initiative, which is intended to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level.
The three-year pilot program will affect almost 20,000 students in 40 schools, with long-term hopes of expanding the program to include additional schools — especially those that serve low-income communities. Schools, working in concert with districts, parents and teachers, will decide whether to make the school day longer, add more days to the school year or both.
A mix of federal, state and district funds will cover the costs of expanded learning time, with the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning also chipping in resources. In Massachusetts, the program builds on the state's existing expanded-learning program. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy is hailing it as a natural outgrowth of an education reform law the state passed in May that included about $100 million in new funding, much of it to help the neediest schools.
Spending more time in the classroom, education officials said, will give students access to a more well-rounded curriculum that includes arts and music, individualized help for students who fall behind and opportunities to reinforce critical math and science skills.
AP IMPACT: China passes US as top trade partner for much of world, changing lives globally
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Shin Cheol-soo no longer sees his future in the United States.
The South Korean businessman supplied components to American automakers for a decade. But this year, he uprooted his family from Detroit and moved home to focus on selling to the new economic superpower: China.
In just five years, China has surpassed the United States as a trading partner for much of the world, including U.S. allies such as South Korea and Australia, according to an Associated Press analysis of trade data. As recently as 2006, the U.S. was the larger trading partner for 127 countries, versus just 70 for China. By last year the two had clearly traded places: 124 countries for China, 76 for the U.S.
EDITOR'S NOTE — This is the first installment in "China's Reach," a project that will analyze China's influence with its trading partners over three decades, and explore how that is changing business, politics and daily life.
Syrian war planes hit rebellious Damascus suburbs as fighting rages near capital
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian warplanes and artillery blasted parts of the capital Damascus and its rebellious suburbs on Sunday, part of what activists described as intense fighting as rebels try to push their way into the center of President Bashar Assad's power base.
In central Syria, a car bomb killed at least 15 people, the official news agency reported.
The fighting over the past few weeks in Damascus is the most serious in the capital since July, when rebels captured several neighborhoods before a swift government counteroffensive swept them out.
The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighter jets struck twice in the suburb of Daraya as regime artillery pounded other districts just south of Damascus.
The Syrian air force also launched airstrikes on the northern city of Aleppo, some cities in the northern province of Idlib and the Mediterranean city of Latakia, the Observatory said. The group relies on reports from activists on the ground.
Damage less than expected as third storm in less than week drenches Northern California
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Residents of Northern California endured the brunt of another powerful storm that drenched the area with yet another round of pounding rain and strong winds, but damage from the storm was less than expected, officials said.
The latest storm system — the third to hit the area in less than a week — moved across the region late Saturday and early Sunday dropping as much as an inch of rain per hour in some areas, toppling trees and knocking out electrical service to tens of thousands of people, officials said.
Rivers across Northern California swelled from the deluge, but did not flood as extensively as had been expected, officials said.
Forecasters had issued flood warnings for the Napa and Russian rivers, two rivers north of San Francisco with a history of flooding, as well as the Truckee River, near Lake Tahoe, but by Sunday afternoon had canceled the warning for the Russian River.
"It (the storm) moved through a lit bit faster than it was looking like it would, so it didn't plant on top of us and keeping raining," said Austin Cross, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "The period of heavy rain didn't last as long."
Palestinian president returns home triumphantly after achieving acceptance from United Nations
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian president returned triumphantly to the West Bank on Sunday, receiving a boisterous welcome from thousands of cheering supporters at a rally celebrating his people's new acceptance to the United Nations.
An Israeli decision to cut off a cash transfer to the financially troubled Palestinian Authority, following an earlier decision to build thousands of new homes in Jewish settlements, failed to put a damper on the celebrations.
But Palestinian officials acknowledged they were undecided on what to do with their newfound status, and were waiting for upcoming Israeli elections and new ideas from President Barack Obama before deciding how to proceed.
Outside the headquarters of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, some 5,000 people thronged a square, hoisted Palestinian flags and cheered their leader's return from New York. Large posters of the Palestinian leader, whose popularity had plummeted in recent months, adorned nearby buildings.
"We now have a state," Abbas said to wild applause. "The world has said loudly, 'Yes to the state of Palestine.'"
Study: Carbon dioxide emissions worldwide up again, 2-degree limit to global warming unlikely
WASHINGTON (AP) — The amount of heat-trapping pollution the world spewed rose again last year by 3 percent. So scientists say it's now unlikely that global warming can be limited to a couple of degrees, which is an international goal.
The overwhelming majority of the increase was from China, the world's biggest carbon dioxide polluter. Of the planet's top 10 polluters, the United States and Germany were the only countries that reduced their carbon dioxide emissions.
Last year, all the world's nations combined pumped nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, according to new international calculations on global emissions published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change. That's about a billion tons more than the previous year.
The total amounts to more than 2.4 million pounds (1.1 million kilograms) of carbon dioxide released into the air every second.
Because emissions of the key greenhouse gas have been rising steadily and most carbon stays in the air for a century, it is not just unlikely but "rather optimistic" to think that the world can limit future temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), said the study's lead author, Glen Peters at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway.
Day after murder-suicide rocks KC, Chiefs beat Panthers 27-21 to end 8-game losing streak
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Romeo Crennel stood in the middle of the Kansas City Chiefs' locker room Sunday, the emotion threatening to overcome the good-natured coach.
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt was at his side, offering support. Members of the team hugged each other, the mud smearing with tears on their cheeks. And over along the wall stood the empty locker that once belonged to Jovan Belcher, his jersey still hanging from a hook.
Just one day after the linebacker killed his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself, the Chiefs banded together to play their finest game of the season, an inspired 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers that ended an eight-game losing streak suddenly rendered trivial.
"As far as playing the game, I thought that was the best for us to do, because that's what we do," Crennel said, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. "We're football players and football coaches and that's what we do, we play on Sunday."
According to authorities, Belcher shot his girlfriend multiple times early Saturday at a residence near Arrowhead Stadium, then sped to the team's practice facility and turn the gun on himself as Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli watched in the parking lot.