AP News in Brief at 11:58 p.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on August 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM

Updated Friday, Aug 17 at 1:01 AM

Romney: Always paid at least 13 percent of my income in taxes; Obama campaign says 'prove it'

GREER, S.C. (AP) — Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney declared Thursday he has paid at least 13 percent of his income in federal taxes every year for the past decade, offering that new detail while still decrying a "small-minded" fascination over returns he will not release. President Barack Obama's campaign shot back in doubt: "Prove it."

Campaigning separately, Romney and running mate Paul Ryan also scrambled to explain their views on overhauling Medicare, the health care program relied on by millions of seniors.

Romney, the former company CEO, set up a whiteboard to make his case with a marker, while lawmaker Ryan resorted to congressional process language to explain why his budget plan includes the same $700 billion Medicare cut that he and Romney are assailing Obama for endorsing.

Essentially, Ryan said, he had to do it because Obama did it first.

Politically, both topics tie into major elements of the presidential race less than three months before the election: how well the candidates relate to the daily concerns and to the life circumstances of typical voters. Democrats are using the tax issue to raise doubts about Romney's trustworthiness — or, as Republicans contend, to distract from a weak economic recovery under Obama.

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Chinese state media say senior North Korean holds talks with President Hu Jintao

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese state media say the powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has met with President Hu Jintao after Beijing agreed to help Pyongyang revamp two trade zones near the Chinese border.

The official China Radio International said the Friday morning meeting comes toward the end of six-day visit by Jang Song Thaek, the chief of the central administrative department of the Workers' Party of Korea.

Jang is the uncle of Kim and his visit to China marks one of the highest-level diplomatic exchanges between the North and its most important ally since Kim took over following his father's death last year.

Jang is a vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission. He also is seen as a leading economic policy official.

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Ecuador grants asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but embassy standoff continues

LONDON (AP) — He's won asylum in Ecuador, but Julian Assange is no closer to getting there.

The decision by the South American nation to identify the WikiLeaks founder as a refugee is a symbolic boost for the embattled ex-hacker. But legal experts say that does little to help him avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations.

Instead, with British officials asserting they won't grant Assange safe passage out of the country, the case has done much to drag the two nations into an international faceoff.

"We're at something of an impasse," lawyer Rebecca Niblock said. "It's not a question of law anymore. It's a question of politics and diplomacy."

The silver-haired Australian shot to international prominence in 2010 after he began publishing a huge trove of American diplomatic and military secrets — including a quarter million U.S. Embassy cables that shed a harsh light on the backroom dealings of U.S. diplomats. Amid the ferment, two Swedish women accused him of sexual assault; Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden ever since.

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AP IMPACT: CO2 emissions in US drop to 20-year low; some experts optimistic on global warming

PITTSBURGH (AP) — In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said the shift away from coal is reason for "cautious optimism" about potential ways to deal with climate change. He said it demonstrates that "ultimately people follow their wallets" on global warming.

"There's a very clear lesson here. What it shows is that if you make a cleaner energy source cheaper, you will displace dirtier sources," said Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado.

In a little-noticed technical report, the U.S. Energy Information Agency, a part of the Energy Department, said this month that energy related U.S. CO2 emissions for the first four months of this year fell to about 1992 levels. Energy emissions make up about 98 percent of the total. The Associated Press contacted environmental experts, scientists and utility companies and learned that virtually everyone believes the shift could have major long-term implications for U.S. energy policy.

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Obama and Romney agree there has to be a limit on Medicare; worlds apart on how to do that

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney agree there has to be a limit to how much seniors pay for Medicare, but they're worlds apart on how to make that happen.

You wouldn't know it from the accusations they hurl on the campaign trail, but that is the real heart of the argument between the two leaders and their political parties.

There will be consequences for seniors and the nation's health care industry no matter which way the debate is decided, because both sides agree Medicare spending must be controlled.

Obama relies heavily on cutting payments, the amount hospitals might get for a heart bypass or how much a radiologist is reimbursed for reading an MRI.

Romney would give future retirees a fixed amount of money to pick their health insurance from competing private plans or a government program, thereby limiting taxpayers' financial exposure.

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They're not coming: Some big political names will be absent from the political conventions

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sarah Palin and George W. Bush won't be in Tampa, Fla. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al Gore won't make the trip to Charlotte, N.C. And scores of other Republican and Democratic stars are taking a pass as their parties gather for this year's national conventions.

The reasons are varied — and often, of course, political.

In some cases, high-wattage politicians weren't invited to have speaking roles. Advisers to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are selecting people to stand at the podiums who most fit the message each candidate will try to send. And who won't steal the spotlight. Other party rock stars are choosing to be on the sidelines because they're in hard-fought campaigns of their own.

One of the biggest names in the Democratic Party — Secretary of State Clinton — isn't allowed to attend under the law. But her husband, the former president, will be a featured speaker.

Final preparations are under way for both conventions. Republicans will gather Aug. 27-30 in Florida, where Romney will officially accept the GOP nomination. Democrats convene Sept. 4-6 in North Carolina, where Obama will get the party nod for a second time.

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Black Hawk crash kills 7 Americans and 4 Afghans; Taliban claim they shot it down

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A U.S. military helicopter crashed during a firefight with insurgents in a remote area of southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing seven Americans and four Afghans in one of the deadliest air disasters of a war now into its second decade. The Taliban claimed they gunned down the Black Hawk.

American service personnel in Afghanistan are dying at a rate of about one per day so far this year despite a drawdown of troops. That death rate has risen recently with the summer fighting season in full gear and a rash of attacks by Afghan security forces on their foreign trainers and partners.

NATO forces said they could not confirm what caused Thursday's crash and stressed that it was still being investigated. The Black Hawk was operating in support of an ongoing assault on the ground but initial indications were that it was not shot down, according to U.S. officials who spoke anonymously because the investigation was continuing.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said insurgent fighters struck the helicopter in Kandahar province on Thursday morning. He declined to give further details in a phone call with The Associated Press.

The Kandahar provincial government backed the Taliban claim. It said the helicopter was shot down in Shah Wali Kot district, a rural area north of Kandahar city where insurgents move freely and regularly launch attacks. Provincial spokesman Ahmad Jawed Faisal did not provide details or say how the province had confirmed the information.

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APNewsBreak: Kennedy says Jackson has long way to go in recovery from bipolar disorder

CHICAGO (AP) — U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is in a "deep" depression and has "a lot of work" ahead of him on the road to recovery, former Rhode Island U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy said Thursday after visiting the hospitalized Chicago Democrat.

Jackson has been on a secretive medical leave since June 10, when family members said he collapsed at their home in Washington. He is currently being treated for bipolar disorder at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. But neither his office nor family members have said much about his medical condition.

The visit from Kennedy — who has suffered with bipolar disorder and been treated at Mayo — gave one of the first outside glimpses of Jackson's health.

"I don't think people understand the depth of his depression. It's deep. He has a lot of work to continue to do to be able to learn how to treat this illness in the most effective way possible," Kennedy told The Associated Press. "Depression is a serious thing, and I'm glad that he's taking it seriously."

Kennedy also suggested Jackson had an initial reluctance to receive help for his illness.

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10-year-old boy dead, 6-year-old missing after being swept away in Yosemite's Merced River

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A 10-year-old boy died and his 6-year-old brother was missing after they were swept away along a popular but treacherous boulder-strewn stretch of the Merced River, Yosemite National Park officials said Thursday.

The two victims were part of a family visiting from Southern California that was hiking near the Vernal Fall Footbridge. Group members were cooling off in the river Wednesday when a current carried the boys away.

The older boy was pronounced dead around 3 p.m. Wednesday. Park visitors were able to pull him from the river about 150 yards downstream, but efforts to resuscitate him failed.

Authorities were still searching for the younger boy, who is presumed dead. Their mother was hospitalized after being pulled from the river with a back injury, park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said.

"She went into the river but made it out," Cobb said.

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Motorists help save woman, disabled sister pinned inside burning car along Miss. highway

HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. (AP) — Passing motorists who saw smoke billowing Thursday from a stand of pine trees along southern Mississippi's Interstate 10 rescued a woman and her disabled sister trapped inside a wrecked, burning sport utility vehicle.

Fifteen to 20 motorists, including a photographer for The Associated Press, came to the aid of the women Thursday afternoon in Hancock County.

Photographer Gerald Herbert said the rescuers pulled the disabled woman from the wreck first, but getting the driver out was difficult.

"No one had fire extinguishers," Herbert said. "We were all sure she was going to perish. The sounds of her screams and the sight of the fire inching closer to her, that was the most horrible and helpless feeling I've ever felt in my life."

As flames spread in the SUV and the driver screamed in panic, those who'd stopped flagged down motorists in a desperate search for fire extinguishers, water — anything that could be used to douse the flames while others tried to find a way to extricate the driver.

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