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Friday, April 27, 2012,AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Posted: Apr 26, 2012 4:01 PM

Updated: Apr 27, 2012 4:02 AM

White House issues new protections for military families, veterans targeted by diploma mills

WASHINGTON (AP) The Obama administration wants to trademark the term "GI Bill" in an effort to shield veterans and military families being swindled or misled by schools that target their federal education benefits.

President Barack Obama is signing a wide-ranging order on Friday that partially addresses growing complaints about fraudulent marketing and recruiting practices aimed at military families eligible for federal education loans under the GI Bill.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama were expected to talk to troops at the Fort Stewart Army post in Georgia, where Obama will sign an executive order mandating several new education protections for military service members.

There is little the federal government can do to shut down diploma mills, but the new protections would make it harder for post-secondary and technical schools to misrepresent themselves to military students.

The main target of the White House action is for-profit colleges and universities that market heavily to military families because of the easy availability of federal loan money under the GI Bill.

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Growth likely dipped in January-March quarter, but outlook for all of 2012 appears brighter

WASHINGTON (AP) The U.S. economy probably grew more slowly at the start of the year than at the end of last year. But it's expected to grow faster for all of 2012 than in 2011.

The government on Friday will make its first estimate of growth for the January-March quarter. The consensus forecast is that gross domestic product the output of all goods and services, from cars to electricity to manicures grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate, according to a survey of economists by FactSet.

That would be slower than the 3 percent GDP growth in the final three months of 2011. Much of the growth in the October-December quarter was due to businesses aggressively restocking their supplies. The pace of restocking is expected to have declined last quarter.

Trade probably also slowed growth last quarter. U.S. manufacturers are finding it harder to sell products overseas because of Europe's debt crisis and weaker growth in Asia.

On the other hand, the January-March quarter likely benefited from the milder-than-normal winter. It probably led consumers and businesses to step up spending earlier in the year than they typically do. Consumer spending, in particular, is critical because it accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity.

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In shift, Israeli leaders say it is time for Syria's Assad to step down

JERUSALEM (AP) Israeli officials have become increasingly outspoken in their belief that Syria's President Bashar Assad should relinquish power after a 13-month uprising that has killed thousands of his citizens a surprising turnaround that risks backfiring and potentially strengthening the embattled Syrian leader.

These calls mark an important shift in Israel, where leaders initially reacted to the uprising with barely disguised concern and alarm. As the Arab Spring remakes the fabric of the Middle East, Israel has been torn between support for democratic change and a surprising comfort with the established order.

This early dominant thinking was that while Assad was no friend of Israel, he remained a known quantity whose family had kept the shared border quiet for nearly four decades and occasionally pursued peace talks with Israel. With Islamic parties on the rise throughout the region, there was no telling who might replace him.

But as the Syrian uprising has dragged on and the death toll mounted in recent months, a number of Israeli officials have concluded that the Middle East would be a better place without Assad.

This new Israeli thinking is based on both moral and strategic grounds.

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CDC: Most Alabama outbreak victims knew twisters were coming, but for many, it didn't matter

ATLANTA (AP) Most of the victims of last year's epic tornado outbreak in Alabama had at least one thing in common: They knew the storm was coming.

A year after the onslaught of dozens of twisters killed at least 250 people in Alabama and more elsewhere in the South, federal researchers are completing a study of who died and where they were when it happened. Among the conclusions so far: Nearly half of the people who died had been advised to take shelter. Indeed, most of them did.

But many of the tornadoes were so fierce that few structures were able to withstand them.

"These were catastrophic winds that could destroy pretty much anything in its path," Cindy Chiu, an epidemic intelligence service officer, said in reporting preliminary findings this month at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conference in Atlanta.

Unlike in other tornado outbreaks, the largest group of people who died were in single-family houses not mobile homes the CDC analysis found.

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Suddenly Someone: Nobodies get their 15 minutes of fame in the presidential campaign

WASHINGTON (AP) Wanna be famous?

Forget reality TV. The presidential campaign could be just the ticket from nowhere to notoriety.

It can be done with a heartfelt story. An off-hand remark. Or simply by having a distant connection to someone who's Somebody.

Think Sandra Fluke. She was just another outspoken college student before her defense of insurance coverage for birth control drew biting ridicule from conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh and then a sympathetic phone call from the president. Now she's got more than 35,000 Twitter followers.

Think Joe the Plumber, aka Samuel Wurzelbacher. The Ohio worker rocketed to the center of the 2008 presidential campaign after John McCain decided to play up his encounter with candidate Barack Obama over taxes. A poll at the height of the campaign found 84 percent of Americans knew that Joe the Plumber was campaigning for McCain. Now he's running for Congress.

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'And Then They Came Home:' Marine turned filmmaker documents own experiences during Iraq war

LOS ANGELES (AP) An ex-Marine filmmaker whose unit carried pocket digital cameras into some of the worst fighting in Iraq is using that footage, and post-war interviews, to open viewers' eyes about combat and help himself deal with the lasting emotional impact.

The videos are stark. One Marine is so badly hurt he filmed himself giving himself the Last Rites.

Some of the fighters seem unaffected years later in civilian life, while others have gone through severe bouts of post-traumatic stress and one man, who in Iraq saved fellow Marines' lives, wound up in prison back home.

Garrett Anderson hopes to show this all up close with "And Then They Came Home," a documentary he is making from footage he and his comrades gathered on Nov. 22, 2004, one of the bloodiest days of fighting during Iraq's second battle of Fallujah.

One of Anderson's comrades died that day and six others in his platoon were wounded as they fought building to building in the city of Fallujah, searching for snipers. One of those shot was so badly wounded that he pulled out his digital camera and hit the record button as he gave himself the Last Rites so his family would have a record of it. Anderson plans to include that footage in his film.

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House GOP set to curb student loan costs, put Democrats in bind over health care cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) Republican leaders are ready to try pushing legislation through the House holding down interest rates on federal loans to millions of college students.

Democrats say that's a goal the GOP has adopted only lately, but the top House Democrat is opposing the measure anyway in a fight that highlights how election-year politics is coloring Congress' work.

The House planned to vote Friday on the bill, which would keep interest rates at 3.4 percent for subsidized Stafford loans, instead of rising as scheduled to 6.8 percent on July 1. The GOP-written package would cover its $5.9 billion cost by plucking money from a preventive health fund established in President Barack Obama's 2010 health care overhaul law a cut many Democrats are reluctant to make.

Friday's vote comes with congressional Republicans and Democrats, as well as Obama and his near-certain GOP opponent this fall, Mitt Romney, competing at every turn over who has the best prescription to wring jobs out of the still-struggling economy. The student loan battle fits nicely into that theme, with 7.4 million low- and middle-income students and their parents reliant on Stafford loans and a college education symbolizing the ticket to economic success.

The vote also follows days of campaign-style road trips that Obama used to get in front of the issue and portray Republicans as foot-draggers on it. The week began with Romney saying he favored keeping loan rates low, remarks he hopes will prevent Obama from making the matter a campaign fight but may have helped prod congressional Republicans into action.

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Secret Service investigating news reports of agents using prostitutes, strippers on other trip

WASHINGTON (AP) Expanding the prostitution investigation, the Secret Service acknowledged Thursday it is checking whether its employees hired strippers and prostitutes in advance of President Barack Obama's visit last year to El Salvador.

The disclosure came not long after the Homeland Security secretary assured skeptical senators that the recent prostitution scandal in Colombia appeared to be an isolated incident.

A spokesman for the Secret Service, Edwin Donovan, said the agency was investigating allegations raised in news reports about unprofessional behavior that have emerged in the aftermath of the Colombia incident. The latest, by Seattle television station KIRO-TV (http://bit.ly/IeN6bv), quoted anonymous sources as saying that Secret Service employees received sexual favors from strippers at a club in San Salvador and took prostitutes to their hotel rooms ahead of Obama's visit to the city in March 2011.

Prostitution is legal in both Colombia and El Salvador.

Separately, The Washington Post this week cited unnamed "confidants" of the Secret Service officers implicated in Colombia saying senior managers had tolerated similar behavior during previous official trips. The Post described a visit to Buenos Aires in 2009 by former President Bill Clinton, whose protective detail it said included agents and uniformed officers. During that trip, the Post said, members of the detail went out for a late night of partying at strip clubs.

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USDA says Holstein in Calif. mad cow case was euthanized after becoming lame, lying down

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The California dairy cow found to have mad cow disease had been euthanized after it became lame and started lying down, federal officials revealed in their latest update on the discovery.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also said Thursday that the animal was 10 years and seven months old.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes of California had said Wednesday that the sick cow was 5 years old. It came from a dairy farm in Tulare County, the nation's No. 1 dairy-producing county.

The USDA didn't elaborate on the cow's symptoms other than to say it was "humanely euthanized after it developed lameness and became recumbent." Outward signs of the disease can include unsteadiness and incoordination.

Routine testing at a transfer facility showed the dead Holstein, which was destined for a rendering plant, had mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The results were announced Tuesday. It was the fourth case of mad cow disease ever discovered in the U.S.

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NFL draft turns into 'Let's make a deal' after Luck, RG3 go 1-2 as expected

NEW YORK (AP) Once the NFL draft got past quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, it was like a day on Wall Street. Everybody wanted to make a trade.

The wheeling and dealing started even before the Colts opened the proceedings as expected Thursday night by taking Luck and the Redskins followed by selecting RG3.

Behind closed doors, general managers around the league were gabbing away, jockeying to position their teams to land the most coveted player on their draft board.

When it was over, there were eight trades involving 12 of the league's 32 teams and draftniks breathlessly trying to keep up with the organized mayhem. It all started when Minnesota swapped its No. 3 choice for Cleveland's No. 4 pick. The Browns, who also gave up a fourth, fifth and seventh-rounder, desperately wanted Alabama running back Trent Richardson. The Vikings still got the guy they sought in Southern California tackle Matt Kalil.

"Unfortunately, we had to make a little trade to secure the pick," said Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who later added quarterback Brandon Weeden with the No. 22 selection. "We knew as we went through the process that he was our guy and so we did what we had to do to secure it. We had pretty good knowledge that there were teams behind that wanted him as well, so we gave up a couple of picks to make sure we got him. We're thrilled a bunch about Trent."

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