AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

 
 
Posted10/11/2018 7:00 AM
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Hurricane Michael slams into Florida, charges into Southeast

PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods before continuing its destructive charge inland across the Southeast. It was the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in nearly 50 years and at least one death was reported during its passage.

Supercharged by abnormally warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Category 4 storm crashed ashore in the early afternoon near Mexico Beach, a tourist town about midway along the Panhandle, a 200-mile (320-kilometer) stretch of white-sand beach resorts, fishing towns and military bases.

After it ravaged the Panhandle, Michael barreled into south Georgia as a Category 3 hurricane - the most powerful ever recorded for that part of the neighboring state. It later weakened to a Category 1 hurricane, and there were reports it spawned possible tornadoes in central Georgia.

In north Florida, Michael battered the shoreline with sideways rain, powerful gusts and crashing waves, swamping streets and docks, flattening trees, shredding awnings and peeling away shingles. It set off transformer explosions and knocked out power to more than 388,000 homes and businesses.

A Panhandle man was killed by a tree that toppled on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower said. But she added emergency crews trying to reach the home were hampered by downed trees and debris blocking roadways. The man wasn't immediately identified.

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Q&A: Why rising interest rates are shaking financial markets

NEW YORK -- The foundation at the center of the investment world is shaking.

U.S. Treasury bonds are considered among the closest approximations to a "safe" investment in the financial system, which makes them a benchmark for most other investments. A pronounced move in Treasury prices ripples through to stock and bond markets around the world.

Lately, those prices have been heading sharply lower, meaning the bonds' yields have been spiking. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed above 3.23 percent at one point on Wednesday, up from 3.05 percent last Tuesday, and is close to its highest level in seven years.

A jump in yields tends to rattle investors, and the S&P 500 dropped 3.3 percent on Wednesday for its biggest loss since February - and clinched its first five-day losing streak since 2016. Among the hardest hit areas of the market were those that had earlier been the biggest winners, such as technology stocks.

It's the latest sign that markets may be struggling to adjust to a new era, where returns are no longer juiced by the ultra-low rates that prevailed in the years following the Great Recession. Going back even further, it's another piece of evidence that the long run of declining interest rates, which began in the early 1980s, is over.

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Trump campaigns in Pennsylvania as hurricane pounds Florida

ERIE, Pa. -- As Hurricane Michael pounded Florida on Wednesday, President Donald Trump took shelter at a campaign event in Pennsylvania, where he sought to boost Republicans before the midterms.

Trump acknowledged the hurricane at the top of his rally in Erie, offering his "thoughts and prayers" to those in the storm's path and promising to "spare no effort" in the response. He promised to travel to Florida "very shortly."

He added: "We will always pull through. ... We will always be successful at what we do."

Then Trump turned back to politics. With weeks to go before the critical November elections, Trump and his fellow Republicans are engaged in an all-out midterms blitz. They have been invigorated by the successful nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and are seeking to use the contentious moment to unify the GOP and stave off Democratic energy at the polls.

That Trump kept his appointment in Erie underscored the importance of this effort to Republicans. Earlier in the day, Trump received a hurricane briefing at the White House on the Category 4 storm. He told reporters he faced a "quagmire" about whether to attend the Pennsylvania rally because "thousands of people" were already lined up for the event.

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US increases pressure on Saudis over writer's disappearance

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump demanded answers Wednesday from Saudi Arabia about the fate of a missing Saudi writer as lawmakers pushed for sanctions and a top Republican said the man was likely killed after entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Trump said he didn't know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and expressed hope that the 59-year-old writer, who went missing a week ago, was still alive. But senior members of Congress with access to U.S. intelligence reporting feared the worst.

More than 20 Republican and Democratic senators instructed Trump to order an investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance under legislation that authorizes imposition of sanctions for perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross human rights violations.

While no suspects were named, and the lawmakers' letter to the president is only a preliminary step toward taking punitive action, it marked a departure from decades of close U.S.-Saudi relations that have only intensified under Trump. Riyadh has supported the administration's tough stance toward Iran, a key rival of Saudi Arabia in the volatile Middle East.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has reviewed the U.S. intelligence into what happened to Khashoggi, said "the likelihood is he was killed on the day he walked into the consulate." He said that "there was Saudi involvement" in whatever happened with the journalist, who wrote columns for The Washington Post.

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Tennessee Senate candidates exchange barbs in final debate

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn repeatedly attempted to tie her Democratic opponent Phil Bredesen to national Democrats in their second and final debate on Wednesday, while the former Tennessee governor deflected the attacks by once again promising to improve bipartisanship in Congress.

The two candidates exchanged barbs and went on the aggressive during Wednesday's hour-long event - based at the University of Tennessee's Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy - on topics ranging from health care, sexual misconduct allegations to gun control.

With election day less than a month away, the outcome of the competitive red-state race has attracted the national spotlight due to a 51-49 Republican majority in the balance. The race has become so high-profile that even pop superstar Taylor Swift broke her political silence by going on Instagram to endorse Bredesen and encourage people to vote Nov. 6.

Despite Bredesen kicking off the debate pleading for civil discourse, Blackburn immediately jumped into attacking Bredesen for attending a fundraiser that headlined ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, "That was possibly the shortest civil debate we've had in a long time," Bredesen responded.

Bredesen later said he didn't seek out Bloomberg's assistance but that Bloomberg called and offered his help. Blackburn said after the debate Bredesen and Bloomberg probably talked about "taking guns away from Tennesseans" or being a running mate with the gun control advocate in 2020.

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Limousine service operator charged in crash that killed 20

COBLESKILL, N.Y. -- A limousine service operator was charged Wednesday with criminally negligent homicide in a crash that killed 20 people, while police continued investigating what caused the wreck and whether anyone else will face charges.

Nauman Hussain, 28, showed little emotion as he was arraigned Wednesday evening in an Albany-area court, and he ignored shouted questions from reporters as he left after posting $150,000 bond. A judge had entered a not guilty plea for him.

Earlier, his lawyer said that Hussain wasn't guilty and that police were rushing to judgment in investigating Saturday's stretch limo wreck .

But State Police Superintendent George Beach said Hussain hired a driver who shouldn't have been behind the wheel of such a car, and the vehicle shouldn't have been driven after state inspectors deemed it "unserviceable" last month.

"The sole responsibility for that motor vehicle being on the road on Saturday rests with Nauman Hussain," Beach said, though he noted that investigators continue looking into whether anyone else should be held accountable in the crash.

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Russian suspect in UK poisoning is hero to his home village

LOYGA, Russia -- As the recipient of Russia's highest award, Alexander Mishkin is the pride of his home village, his photo even decorating a local school.

Several residents of this remote hamlet located amid marshlands and deep forests in Russia's northwestern Arkhangelsk region easily recognized him in photos Wednesday as one of two men accused by British officials of poisoning a former Russian spy.

But to them he is just a warm-hearted local boy, a "Hero of Russia" who has made a successful career as a military doctor thanks to his hard work and courage.

"He studied at school here," said Yuri Poroshin, an amateur painter who lives in Loyga. "His picture even hangs on the wall there because he's a Hero of Russia."

Poroshin said he heard that Mishkin received Russia's highest medal for saving the life of his commanding officer during fighting with Islamist rebels in Chechnya.

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Cuban constitutional reform spawns unusual public debate

HAVANA -- In a country with no opinion polls, campaigns or independent mass media, a series of meetings on reforming Cuba's constitution has spawned a highly unusual debate on the island's political system and values.

At a half-dozen public forums attended by Associated Press journalists this month, Cubans repeatedly called for direct election of the president and other officials. And many objected to a constitutional amendment that would allow gays and lesbians to marry, a project promoted by the highly influential daughter of Communist Party head Raul Castro.

The government convened thousands of block-level meetings over a nearly two-month period of "popular consultation" on a draft of the new constitution already approved by the Communist Party and National Assembly. The single-party government is now supposed to review public comments and incorporate suggestions into a final version before putting it to a popular referendum on Feb. 24.

The extent to which suggestions will be included in the final document presents a test for a government that is at once autocratic, highly opaque and sensitive to shifts in public opinion.

"The president of the country should be elected by direct vote of the population, choosing between various candidates," Reinaldo Gonzalez said during a meeting in Havana's relatively prosperous Vedado neighborhood. "We don't need multiparty democracy, but we should have direct elections." Like others who spoke at the meetings, he provided his name but no other personal details.

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Finding answers for patients with rarest of rare diseases

WASHINGTON -- The youngster's mysterious symptoms stumped every expert his parents consulted: No diagnosis explained why he couldn't sit up on his own, or why he'd frequently choke, or his neurologic and intestinal abnormalities.

Then they turned to a new national network that aims to diagnose the rarest of rare diseases - and learned Will Kilquist is the only person known in the world, so far, to harbor one particular genetic mutation that triggered all those health problems.

"It kind of put me at peace with myself, knowing there is absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent this," said Kari Kilquist of Murphysboro, Illinois, Will's mother.

The Undiagnosed Diseases Network , set up by the National Institutes of Health, turns scientists into detectives to attack medicine's cold cases - the patients left in diagnostic limbo because their symptoms didn't match any known diseases. The idea: Offer them access to cutting-edge research, at no cost, in hopes that uncovering unique ailments would improve overall medical knowledge.

Wednesday, the network published a snapshot of its early findings that highlight the desperate demand for help.

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Senate Dems lose health care vote, hope it's campaign fodder

WASHINGTON -- Days after ending a turbulent Supreme Court confirmation fight, the Senate turned back to health care - with a battle squarely aimed at coloring next month's crucial elections for control of Congress.

In a return to its characteristically more unruffled mode of work, the Senate on Wednesday rejected a Democratic attempt to stop President Donald Trump from expanding access to short-term health care plans, which offer lower costs but skimpier coverage. It was clear Democrats would lose, and a real victory was never feasible since the measure would have died anyway in the Republican-run House.

But by pushing ahead, Democrats made Republicans cast a health care vote that Democrats could wield in campaign ads for next month's midterm elections, in which they hope to topple the GOP's 51-49 Senate majority. The vote was also aimed at refocusing people away from the Senate's nasty battle over confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, which both sides say has transformed indifferent conservative voters into motivated ones - for now.

Wednesday's vote was about showing whether Congress will "allow insurance companies to scam Americans with cut-rate health insurance," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of that vote."

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado insisted it was actually the Democrats who had done themselves no favors with the vote.

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