AP News in Brief at 10:58 p.m. EDT

10/29/2014 8:15 PM
By Associated Press

AP IMPACT: Even small clusters of Ebola cases could overwhelm parts of US medical care system

The U.S. health care apparatus is so unprepared and short on resources to deal with the deadly Ebola virus that even small clusters of cases could overwhelm parts of the system, according to an Associated Press review of readiness at hospitals and other components of the emergency medical network.

Experts broadly agree that a widespread nationwide outbreak is extremely unlikely, but they also concur that it is impossible to predict with certainty, since previous Ebola epidemics have been confined to remote areas of Africa. And Ebola is not the only possible danger that causes concern; experts say other deadly infectious diseases — ranging from airborne viruses such as SARS, to an unforeseen new strain of the flu, to more exotic plagues like Lassa fever — could crash the health care system.

To assess America's ability to deal with a major outbreak, the AP examined multiple indicators of readiness: training, staffing, funding, emergency room shortcomings, supplies and protection for health care workers. AP reporters also interviewed dozens of top experts in those fields.

The results were worrisome. Supplies, training and funds are all limited, and there are concerns about whether health care workers would refuse to treat Ebola patients.

Following the death of a man suffering from Ebola in a Texas hospital and the subsequent infection of two of his nurses, medical officials and politicians are scurrying to fix preparedness shortcomings. But remedies cannot be implemented overnight. And fixes will be expensive.


Blue states no longer so friendly for Dems as election nears; rush is on to save incumbents

WASHINGTON (AP) — Desperate Democrats are rushing to save suddenly vulnerable House incumbents, even in states where President Barack Obama cruised to double-digit victories, amid fresh signs of Republican momentum less than a week before the midterm elections.

The once friendly terrain of New York, California, Obama's native state of Hawaii and adopted state of Illinois all now pose stiff challenges to Democrats who are determined to limit their losses next Tuesday. Both parties agree the GOP will hold its House majority; the question is whether Republicans can gain enough seats to rival their post-World War II high water mark of 246.

The current breakdown is 233-199 in favor of the Republicans with three vacancies.

"We're in trench warfare. I'm not going to sugarcoat it," Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview.

In one sign of Democratic concern, Vice President Joe Biden was heading to Massachusetts on Wednesday for a rally with Seth Moulton, who is trying to hold onto a Democratic seat against Republican Richard Tisei. Then Biden was traveling to California on Saturday to campaign in an open-seat contest east of Los Angeles that surprisingly looks closer than a sure-fire Democratic gain.


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The American health care apparatus is so unprepared and short on resources to deal with the deadly virus that even small clusters of cases could overwhelm parts of the system, according to an Associated Press review of readiness at hospitals.


Al-Qaida wants to end infighting with IS; feud tapering off, but reconciliation not expected

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence analysts are closely watching al-Qaida's overtures to the renegade Islamic State to reunite and fight the West, and while a full reconciliation is not on the horizon, there is evidence the two groups have curtailed their feud and are cooperating on the Syrian battlefield.

The al-Qaida global terror network recently has extended olive branches to the rival Islamic State through messages released by its affiliates around the world. The most recent was on Oct. 17 from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based offshoot that denounced the airstrikes and called on rival militant groups to stop their infighting and together train their sights on Western targets. Al-Qaida also has sent emissaries to Syria on unsuccessful missions to get the rival groups working together.

Al-Qaida is saying, "Let's just have a truce in Syria," said Tom Joscelyn, who tracks terror groups for the Long War Journal. "That is what's underway now. ... What we have seen is that local commanders are entering into local truces. There are definitely areas where the two groups are not fighting."

The Islamic State group has seized about a third of Iraq and Syrian territory and is terrorizing civilians to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Their advances led to airstrikes by the United States and a coalition of Western and Persian Gulf nations in both Iraq and Syria.

Reconciling with al-Qaida senior leadership would let IS benefit from al-Qaida's broad, international network but would also leave it restrained in carrying out its own attacks. For its side, al-Qaida would get a boost from the Islamic State group's newfound popularity, which has provided an influx of new recruits and money. The Treasury Department said last week that IS has earned about $1 million a day from selling oil on the black market.


Rocket explosion in Virginia setback for commercial cargo flights after string of successes

CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (AP) — Crews searched for scorched wreckage along the Virginia coast Wednesday in hopes of figuring out why an unmanned commercial rocket exploded in a blow to NASA's strategy of using private companies to fly supplies and, eventually, astronauts to the International Space Station.

The 140-foot Antares rocket, operated by Orbital Sciences Corp., blew up 15 seconds after lifting off for the space station Tuesday, lighting up the night sky and raining flaming debris on the launch site. No one was injured, but the $200 million-plus mission was a total loss.

The blast not only incinerated the cargo — 2½ tons of space station food, clothes, equipment and science experiments dreamed up by schoolchildren — but dealt a setback to the commercial spaceflight effort championed by NASA and the White House even before the shuttle was retired.

It was the first failure after an unbroken string of successful commercial cargo flights to the space station since 2012 — three by Orbital and five by SpaceX, the other U.S. company hired by NASA to deliver supplies.

Although the cause of the blast is still unknown, several outside experts cast suspicion on the 1960s-era Russian-built engines used in the rocket's first stage. Orbital Sciences chairman David Thompson himself said the Russian engines had presented "some serious technical and supply challenges in the past."


Houston drops subpoenas to get speeches from pastors opposed to anti-discrimination ordinance

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston city attorneys have withdrawn subpoenas that sought speeches and other information from five pastors who publicly opposed an ordinance banning discrimination of gay and transgender residents, the mayor said Wednesday.

Mayor Annise Parker said the subpoenas, which the city pursued after opponents filed a lawsuit seeking a vote on repealing the ordinance, inadvertently created a national debate about freedom of religion. The pastors, who aren't plaintiffs but support repeal efforts, argued that their sermons, presentations and other material were protected under the First Amendment.

"I always supported the right of clergy to say what they want even if I disagree with them," Parker said. "It was never our intention to interfere with any members of the clergy and their congregants in terms of sermons, in terms of preaching what they believe is the word of the God that they serve. ... My whole purpose is to defend a strong and wonderful and appropriate city ordinance against local attack."

The Houston City Council passed an ordinance in May that consolidates city bans on discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion and other categories. It also increases protections for gay and transgender residents. Opponents are pushing to repeal the ordinance, saying the issue should be decided by voters.

The mayor, who is openly gay, and other supporters said the measure was about offering protections at the local level against discrimination in housing, employment and services provided by private businesses such as hotels and restaurants. Religious institutions are exempt from the ordinance.


Hundreds feared buried as mudslide in Sri Lanka tea plantation; gov't confused on toll

KOSLANDA, Sri Lanka (AP) — A mudslide triggered by monsoon rains buried scores of workers' houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka, raising fears that hundreds may have been killed.

In the chaos that followed Wednesday morning's disaster, there was confusion about the number of dead and missing because government officials reported different figures and later reduced the number of missing by 100 without explanation.

The mudslide struck at about 7:30 a.m. and wiped out 120 workers' homes at the Koslanda tea plantation, said Lal Sarath Kumara, an official from the Disaster Management Center. The plantation is in the town of Koslanda in Badulla district about 140 miles (220 kilometers) east of Colombo.

He said at least 10 people were killed and more than 250 reported missing.

A 48-year-old truck driver who gave his name only as Raja said he lost all five members of his household — his wife, two sons, daughter-in-law and his 6-month-old grandchild.


In Colorado east African community, girls' attempt to join jihadis is parents' worst nightmare

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — The strange journey of three suburban Denver girls who authorities say tried to join Islamic State militants in Syria has many in their close-knit east African community worried about whether their own children will be the next to be lured to terror.

The girls' voyage has mystified many in the U.S., and has been even more troubling among Aurora's Somali and Sudanese immigrants, thousands of whom fled civil war and forged new lives in the Denver suburbs, where refugees easily find jobs driving cabs or working in the meat industry.

But while the girls' parents were working to give them a better life, being a Muslim teenager isn't easy in an American high school, said Ahmed Odowaay, a community advocate who works with youth. It's easy to feel like an outsider, even as a U.S. citizen.

Even his 10-year-old daughter gets taunts of "terrorist" when she wears her hijab in school, he said.

"This community is outcast. They feel like they don't belong here. They're frustrated," Odowaay said from his seat at Barwaaqo, a restaurant hidden in one of Aurora's low-slung strip malls, where other men dined on goat and spaghetti, a favorite east African dish. "I'm worried their frustrations will lead them in the wrong direction."


Viral video documents woman's experience with street harassment in day walking around New York

NEW YORK (AP) — A video recording the comments a woman hears as she walks around the nation's biggest city is a testament to the pervasiveness of street harassment women face, its creators said Wednesday.

The comments come continuously as the woman walks through the streets of Manhattan — "What's up, Beautiful?" and "Smile!" — and there's even a stretch when a man just silently walks right next to her for several minutes.

The video, shot over 10 hours one day in neighborhoods all over the borough and edited down to a 2-minute final product, has set off a storm of outrage on its way to more than 10 million views since it was released online Tuesday.

"This is having a very serious impact on the way we live our lives," said Emily May, executive director of Hollaback!, the anti-street harassment organization that put out the video.

The footage, which was shot and edited by Rob Bliss, was captured by a camera Bliss had in his backpack as he walked several feet of front of actress Shoshana Roberts, who was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and walked silently along.


Bumgarner relieves, Giants hold 3-2 lead over Royals after 6 innings in Game 7 of World Series

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Madison Bumgarner trotted in from the bullpen and kept San Francisco out of trouble, helping the Giants cling to a 3-2 lead over the Kansas City Royals after six innings in Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday night.

With the score tight, and Giants starter Tim Hudson pulled right away, it was only a matter of when — not if — the Giants would turn to their ace who'd already won twice this Series.

The sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium booed when Bumgarner emerged from the bullpen to pitch the fifth inning, three days after his shutout in Game 5. He worked around a leadoff single by Omar Infante, then the big San Francisco lefty threw a perfect sixth in his first relief appearance since the 2010 NL playoffs.

With the Giants trying to win their third title in five seasons and the Royals hoping to capture their second crown ever, neither manager wanted to be caught waiting too long to make a move.

Home teams had won the last nine Game 7s to clinch the championship, and the Giants were trying to buck the trend by pressing their bullpen. After starter Tim Hudson was pulled in the second, Jeremy Affeldt threw 2 1-3 scoreless innings in his longest stint since 2012.

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