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U.S. Soldier kills 16 Afghan civilians

KABUL — An American soldier wandered outside his base in a remote southern Afghan village shortly before dawn Sunday and allegedly opened fire on civilians inside homes, killing at least 16, Afghan and U.S. officials said.

The attack marked perhaps the grisliest act by a U.S. soldier in the decade-long Afghan war and seemed all but certain to stoke anti-American anger in a crucial battleground as foreign troops start to thin out in the south. Afghan officials said women and children were among those killed inPanjwai district of Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

Coming as Afghan rage over last month’s burning of Korans by U.S. soldiers was beginning to taper off, the killings threatened to spark a new crisis in the strained relationship between Washington and Kabul. The two nations are in the midst of contentious negotiations over an agreement that could extend the presence of U.S. troops in the country beyond 2014.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the shootings an “assassination” and demanded an explanation from U.S. officials, the Associated Press reported. “This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven,” Karzai said in a statement, the AP reported.

U.S. officials shed no light on the motive or state of mind of the staff sergeant who was taken into custody shortly after the alleged massacre.

“It appears he walked off post and later returned and turned himself in,” said Lt. Cmdr. James Williams, a military spokesman.

U.S. military officials stressed that the shooting was carried out by a lone, rogue soldier, differentiating it from past instances of civilians killed accidentally during military operations.

“I cannot explain the motivation behind such callous acts,” Lt. Gen. Adrian J. Bradshaw, the deputy commander of the international troop coalition in Afghanistan said in a statement. “They were in no way part of authorized military activity.”

Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman at the White House, said President Obama had been briefed on the attack but declined to comment on how it might affect the administration’s war strategy or relations with the Afghan government.

“We are deeply concerned by the initial reports of this incident and are monitoring the situation closely,” she said.

The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan expressed shock at the incident and pledged a thorough investigation and full cooperation with Afghan authorities.

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Peyton Manning's visit "productive" but no deal yet

On another glorious weekend in Colorado, the sun shone, the air warmed and the mountains majestically revealed their beauty.

Oh, and Tim Tebow remains the Broncos' quarterback.

Remember when the people here wanted Tebow more than Colorado itself?

When free agent Peyton Manning decided to leave this wondrous state Saturday night — getting dropped off at Centennial Airport by friend and former teammate and ex-Bronco Brandon Stokley — for the hot Arizona desert (80 degrees today, 86 by midweek), the frenetic buzz surrounding Broncos headquarters at Dove Valley was replaced by a somber silence.

"The visit was productive," a Broncos source said. "The team is hopeful and encouraged by the time spent" with Manning. Still, John Elway knows from all those millions he made in the car dealer business that once the customer leaves the showroom, the chances of closing the deal drop significantly.

Then again, there's no sense for the Broncos to drop their daubers. The Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks are trying to get in the Manning sweepstakes, and he hasn't visited them. As long as there's a chance to acquire a player of Manning's caliber, there is reason for optimism. Even though he missed the entire 2011 season because of neck surgeries, Manning has 399 career touchdown passes, 11 Pro Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl title ring.

His release to free agency Wednesday by the Indianapolis Colts was expected and shocking to the NFL masses. His neck injury, coupled with a $28 million option payment that was due late last week and good fortune that resulted in the Colts having the No. 1 overall draft pick at a time when quarterback Andrew Luck is eligible for selection, were the primary factors in pushing Manning to Colorado for a 29-hour visit.


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After Super Tuesday, Romney rivals face uphill battle to nomination

Though Mitt Romney’s opponents continue to insist there is a road to the Republican presidential nomination for them after the Super Tuesday contests, the arithmetic suggests otherwise.

How long it will take for the other contenders and their supporters to figure that out — and to make peace with it — is another question.

There are several reasons that candidates this year may not have to reckon with the inevitable for weeks or even months.

The GOP nomination contest was designed to play out more slowly than in the past. Through the end of this month, states are required to allocate their delegates in proportion to the votes each candidate receives. That means just about everyone comes away from just about every contest with something to show for it — and a rationale for continuing to the next one.

And while the emptying of a campaign’s bank account used to spell the end for a candidate, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have been kept on life support by billionaire supporters who have taken advantage of changes in campaign law to pour millions into independent super PACs that support the candidates.

At the same time, party leaders and rank-and-file Republicans are increasingly anxious to bring the process to a conclusion, to spare their eventual nominee further attacks from within the party fold. It is becoming more apparent that a lengthy primary battle could have a corrosive effect on the GOP’s prospects in the fall against a Democratic incumbent whom most Republicans are desperate to defeat.

“The next couple of weeks will be dominated by different groups of people accepting reality, which is that Mitt Romney will be the nominee,” predicted Steve Schmidt, a political strategist who ran day-to-day operations for GOP nominee John McCain in 2008. “There’s just not going to be much appetite in the Republican Party for a long, drawn-out primary when the outcome is clear.”

Going into Tuesday’s balloting, Romney had just over 200 delegates, according to Associated Press estimates — well short of what he needs to secure the nomination but more than twice as many as Santorum, who was running second at just over 90 delegates. Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) were far behind.

Even if one of them were to begin performing far better than he has to date, it is difficult to see how he could make up the gap.

“Delegate-wise, it’s virtually impossible for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich to get to 1,144,” said Josh Putnam, a Davidson College professor who is an expert on the quirky rules by which Republicans in various states apportion their convention delegates.

Yet even Paul, who has conceded publicly that his “chances are slim,” plans to forge on.

In the coming weeks, despite a path to the nomination that looks surer, Romney may stumble a few times.

Santorum and Gingrich are both optimistic about their prospects in upcoming contests in the South, which is not hospitable territory for Romney. Mississippi and Alabama hold their primaries — which award a total of 90 delegates — next Tuesday.

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FLC trustees vote for discount tuition for undocumented students

DENVER – Fort Lewis College’s Board of Trustees voted Friday to support a bill that would give discounted tuition to children who immigrated illegally to the United States.

Currently, college students who can’t prove their U.S. citizenship have to pay out-of-state tuition at Colorado’s public colleges.

Senate Bill 15 would allow state colleges to offer in-state tuition rates to these students.

Students who are not legal residents would have to attend a Colorado high school for three years, graduate and enroll in college within a year of graduation to qualify for the tuition discount.

However, they would not receive the approximately $1,800 subsidy the state gives every college student.

FLC trustees voted to endorse the bill because it lets each college opt out, and FLC leaders would have ample opportunity to study the issue in-depth if the bill passes, said Trustee Heidi Baskfield.

“There was definitely discussion about wanting to make sure we have the best-educated workforce possible,” Baskfield said.

The bill faces a tough road. Sponsors are confident it can pass in the Senate, but a nearly identical bill failed last year in a House committee.

SB 15 has been waiting on the Senate calendar for several weeks.

Backers want to secure the support of every college governing board in the state before they send it to the House.

Friday’s vote made FLC the 25th out of 28 college boards to back SB 15, said Lynea Hansen, spokeswoman for the Higher Education Access Alliance, which supports SB 15.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, opposed the bill last year and plans to vote against it this year.

“I really believe this is an issue the federal government has to take up,” Roberts said. “These kids would go to college, but they come out and they still can’t get a job. I don’t think that’s the right result, and I don’t think that’s the right goal.”

After election, Putin faces charges of fraud

MOSCOW — A day after claiming an overwhelming victory in Russia’s presidential election, Vladimir V. Putin on Monday faced a range of challenges to his legitimacy, including charges of fraud from international observers and a defiant opposition that vowed to keep him from serving his full six-year term.

While Mr. Putin was still celebrating his win, he received a slap in the face from observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. While finding less of the ballot stuffing and other flagrant violations that they said had marred parliamentary elections in December, the observers said Mr. Putin had faced no real competition and unfairly benefited from lavish government spending on his behalf.

Mr. Putin received milder responses from the European Union and from the United States, which called for an “independent, credible” investigation of fraud allegations but said it was ready to work with him in his new role.

Thousands of antigovernment protesters later gathered in a Moscow square to chant, “Russia without Putin.” Yet the crowd, which the police estimated at 15,000, lacked the giddy optimism that had pervaded earlier rallies.

When the riot police demanded that the crowd disperse after a couple of hours, many refused to leave. The police then swept up the blogger Aleksei Navalny, the most charismatic figure to emerge in this wave of activism, and dozens of other activists and pushed them into police vans. The police said 250 people had been detained, though many were released early Tuesday morning.

Advertizers continue to flee Limbaugh show after weak apology

Advertisers are rushing to the exits of Rush Limbaugh's radio show after customers inundated the Internet with outrage over the conservative commentator's widely criticized "slut" comments about Sandra Fluke.

Online media giant AOL, tax attorney group Tax Resolution Services, weight loss program Sensa and vitamin supplier Vitacost announced Monday that they were pulling their commercials from Limbaugh's program, bringing the total number of companies withdrawing their ads to eleven.

Two radio stations -- KPUA AM 670 in Hilo, Hawaii and WBEC 1420 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts -- announced they will no longer broadcast the show because of Limbaugh's comments.

"It has never been our goal to allow our station to be used for personal attacks and intolerance," Chris Leonard, President and General Manager of New West Broadcasting, KPUA's parent company, said Monday in a statement. "The most recent incident has crossed a line of decency and a standard that we expect of programming on KPUA whether it is locally produced or a syndicated program like the Rush Limbaugh show."

WBEC Vice President Peter Barry said his decision to cut Limbaugh has been met with overwhelming support from the station's listeners.

"We have been inundated with calls and emails of support," Barry told ABC News. "There have been probably 50 calls of support for every one call disagreeing with the decision."

On his show last week Limbaugh dubbed Georgetown University law school student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying before a congressional committee that birth control should be covered under employee health insurance plans.

Limbaugh has been widely criticized by many Democrats and women's rights groups, but the Republican response has been measurably more muted. The GOP presidential candidates have stopped short of all-out condemning Limbaugh's statements. And the pro-Newt Gingrich Super Pac Winning Our Future is running a national radio ad during Limbaugh show.

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Mesa Verde adds $41M to local economy

In yet another promising economic sign, Mesa Verde National Park visitation reached a 12-year high in 2011, according to new numbers from the National Park Service. Last year, 572,329 people visited the park, the most to pass through the park’s gates since 1999 and a 2.5 percent increase over 2010’s numbers.

Park visitation plummeted to around 400,000 in 2002, the lowest number since 1966, because of the Mesa Verde Fire, and slowly rose until dipping again at the onset of the recession in 2007. Numbers have been on a slow incline since.
The increase has equated to more than just a busy park staff.  A report issued by the NPS this week shows that in 2010, the 559,712 visitors to Mesa Verde spent $41.3 million in surrounding communities, supporting more than 575 jobs.
“The people and the business owners in communities near national parks have always known their economic value,” park superintendent Cliff Spencer said in a press release Tuesday.
Most of the spending and jobs were related to lodging and food (52 percent) followed by retail (29 percent); entertainment/amusement (10 percent); gas and local transportation (7 percent); and groceries (2 percent).
The annual independent visitor spending analysis was conducted by Daniel Stynes, of Michigan State University. Visitor spending and local impacts were estimated using 2010 park visits, spending averages from park visitor surveys, and local area economic multipliers.
In 2010, 281 million visitors passed through the country’s 394 national parks, spending an estimated $31 billion and supporting more than 258,000 jobs, according to the report. This was an increase of $689 million and 11,500 jobs over 2009.

Southern Utes first to run clean air program

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe became the nation’s first Native American tribe to run its own Clean Air Act program.

After years of work to create a set of air-quality regulations for large sources of air emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced approval of the tribe’s rules.

Jim Martin, a Denver-based regional administrator for the EPA, called the approval “a significant step forward” for the tribe and the environment.

“EPA’s approval reflects the tribe’s exceptional effort to build the expertise and capacity to manage air quality on the reservation,” Martin said in a news release.

The nearly decade-long effort to obtain the EPA’s permission to implement the program on the tribe’s more than 1,000 square miles of reservation land near Ignacio involved “extensive community and outreach” with the oil and gas industry, the state and communities in the region, officials said. Before approval, the EPA was responsible for permitting projects within the bounds of the checker-board reservation with large sources of air emissions.

Tribal Chairman Jimmy Newton Jr. said in a news release the approval was envisioned by past tribal leaders, and the tribe is looking forward to administering the rules in a way that “ensures protection of the reservation airshed and contributes positively to regional air quality.”

Obama urges Israel to give diplomacy a chance with Iran

President Obama urged Israel and it most ardent American supporters Sunday to refrain from bellicose rhetoric toward Iran and to allow time for stiff economic sanctions to work against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.

As threats of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program increase, Obama argued that a military operation now would only strengthen Iran’s fragile diplomatic position and fail to end its uranium enrichment program permanently.

Acknowledging that Iran’s clerical leadership may not respond to economic pressure, Obama assured the large audience of concerned Israeli supporters that he is willing to use “all elements of American power” to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapon. But, he said, diplomacy must first be allowed to run its course.

“For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster,” Obama told the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, a powerful lobbying group.

“Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built.”

Obama’s public argument for patience stands as a likely preview of the message he will deliver privately on Monday when he meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.

His AIPAC speech begins a critical week for his diplomacy to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions and assure Israel, America’s closest ally in the Middle East, that he can be trusted to act in its security interests.

Israel has concluded that Iran’s leadership has decided to pursue a nuclear weapon, and international inspectors have uncovered evidence to suggest a military intent for a program that Iran claims is only meant for civilian power purposes.

The Obama administration is not convinced that Iran’s leaders have decided to develop a weapon, although U.S. diplomats have worked with its European allies to implement oil and banking sanctions against Iran until it gives up its uranium enrichment program.

Those sanctions will take full effect this summer, and administration officials have said that their intent, in part, is to foment public unrest inside Iran that may force the country’s leadership to rethink the value of its nuclear program.

Obama is managing the Iranian nuclear issue during an election year when his Republican rivals have called his leadership abroad weak and his support for Israel suspect. He is also facing the political threat posed by rising gasoline prices, which analysts say could skyrocket if war breaks out between Israel and Iran in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region.

The Pew Research Center found in a poll last month that a narrow majority of Americans believe the United States should remain neutral in a war between Iran and Israel. Nearly 40 percent said the United States should back Israel, the poll found, in results that broke sharply along partisan lines. By a 2 to 1 margin, Republicans said the United States should take Israel’s side in the war.

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After Rush Limbaugh's "slut" rant, advertizers start to pull commercials

One of Rush Limbaugh's advertisers announced Friday that it was pulling all of its commercials from his radio show in the wake of Limbaugh's incendiary comments about a female law student and contraception.

After being bombarded on Twitter, mattress store Sleep Train said that it would no longer advertise during Limbaugh's top-rated show following days of outrage over Limbaugh's statements about Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown student who was denied a chance to speak at a Congressional hearing about birth control.

"We are pulling our ads with Rush Limbaugh and appreciate the community's feedback," the company wrote in a tweet.

Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," saying that she was having "so much sex" that she wanted the government to pay for her contraception. Then, he went further, saying, " if we're going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

The comments elicited fierce condemnation from politicians and pundits, and a campaign began on Twitter to ask Sleep Train to pull its commercials from Limbaugh's show.

Sleep Train, one of the biggest mattress retailers in the country, has been targeted before for advertising on Limbaugh's show. This time, though, the campaign worked.

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