AP Top News at 12:44 p.m. EDT

For 8 summer nights, 2 starkly different visions of America
WASHINGTON (AP) - For eight summer nights, there were two starkly different visions of America. At Donald Trump's Republican convention, America was a nation spiraling into chaos and economic ruin. Immigrants were cast as criminals, or in some cases, potential terrorists. The government is rigged for the wealthy and powerful, almost past the point of repair. "I alone can fix it," Trump said as he accepted the GOP nomination in Cleveland. The Democratic convention in Philadelphia was a four-day rebuttal. "America needs every one of us to lend our energy, our talents, our ambition to making our nation better and stronger," Hillary Clinton said as she became the first woman to lead a major U.S.


Trump, Clinton spar for national security upper hand
WASHINGTON (AP) - In their struggle for the upper hand on national security, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are emphasizing strikingly different themes - he as the bold and cunningly unpredictable strongman who will eliminate terrorism; she as the calm, conventional commander in chief who will manage all manner of crises. Terrorism is Trump's national security touchstone, and the Islamic State group is his target. He promises to wipe it out, and quickly. Clinton accuses him of fearmongering and of denigrating the U.S. military as gutted and worn out. She presents herself as the anti-Trump. "America's strength doesn't come from lashing out," she said in accepting the Democratic nomination Thursday.


Officials believe no survivors in Texas balloon crash
LOCKHART, Texas (AP) - No one appeared to survive a hot air balloon crash in Central Texas, authorities said Saturday. At least 16 people were on board the balloon, which Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said caught fire before crashing into a pasture shortly after 7:40 a.m. Saturday near Lockhart. The Caldwell County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that investigators are determining the number of victims and their identities. The FAA is investigating, Lunsford said. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss said that his agency's investigative team should arrive later Saturday. Weiss said the safety agency knows "very, very little right now" about what happened.


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States' flag-burning laws unconstitutional, but persist
URBANA, Ill. (AP) - Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz had just finished walking in a July 4th parade when her assistant told her a central Illinois man had been arrested on suspicion of burning an American flag. Rietz said she knew "immediately" that the Urbana Police Department needed to release Bryton Mellott, who posted a video of the act on Facebook and whom police initially said they arrested to protect from threats. The state law used to jail him, though clear in its prohibition of desecrating either the U.S. or state flags, is unconstitutional. An Associated Press analysis shows at least 40 states still have flag-desecration laws, punishing those who burn or otherwise damage U.S.


John Hinckley's return to normalcy has been years in making
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) - Life for the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan 35 years ago has progressively become more normal, with greater freedom outside a psychiatric hospital, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than the record store where he whiles away so many hours. John Hinckley Jr., now 61, has made purchases at Retro Daddio one might expect from a man of his generation: A book about The Who, the graying rock band currently on a farewell tour, and an album by obscure '60s rockers Ian and the Zodiacs that languished on the shelf for six months.


Former KKK member convicted in deadly bombing up for parole
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. was a young Ku Klux Klansman with a reputation for hating blacks in 1963, when a bomb ripped a hole in the side of 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four black girls during the civil rights movement. Today, Blanton is old and imprisoned, the last survivor among three one-time KKK members convicted of murder in the bombing. Soon, Alabama's parole board will decide whether Blanton deserves to be free after serving 15 years of a life term for murder. The board has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to consider parole for the 78-year-old Blanton.


Syrian civilians begin leaving rebel-held parts of Aleppo
BEIRUT (AP) - Dozens of families and some opposition fighters started leaving besieged rebel-held neighborhoods in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Saturday after the government opened safe corridors for civilians and fighters who want to leave, state media reported. The government completely closed the main road into rebel-held areas of Aleppo on July 17, effectively besieging the 300,000 people living there. Earlier this week, Syrian President Bashar Assad offered an amnesty to rebels who lay down their arms and surrender to authorities in the next three months. About a dozen young men were shown on state TV surrendering to government forces.


Gaza's Hamas hands out land hoping to avoid financial crisis
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) - Earth movers dig into sand dunes on land where once Jewish settlements stood - prime real estate that the Gaza Strip's ruling Hamas group hopes will ease its worsening financial crisis. Hamas has begun handing out plots of the land to 40,000 civil servants loyal to the Islamic militant group, to make up for millions of dollars in salaries it owes them for the past two years. The land giveaway is the latest sign that Hamas is struggling financially after almost a decade of uncontested power in the coastal strip. Gazans grumble about lack of jobs, constant electricity shortages and a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt that has confined the territory's 1.8 million people to the tiny strip.


Skydiver makes final preparations to jump without parachute
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Skydiver Luke Aikins figures his next leap into thin air will start pretty much like the thousands that preceded it, only with one small but significant difference: This time when he steps out of the plane at 25,000 feet he won't take his parachute with him. If all goes according to plan, he will land two minutes later in a trawler-like fishing net 20 stories above the ground and only about a third the size of a football field. If he can pull it off, he will put his name in the history books as the only skydiver to go from plane to planet Earth without a parachute.


Stunt driver school trains for Georgia's film industry needs
DAWSONVILLE, Ga. (AP) - Stuntwoman Natalie Govin found work easily in South Florida - until funds for the state's film incentives program recently went dry. With more movies such as the "Furious" series and "Need for Speed" filmed in Georgia, Govin didn't want to get caught in Florida's drought. So she moved north to the neighboring state like many of her stunt colleagues. "It was like a mass exodus," said Govin, who's been a stunt double on several films and TV shows including HBO's "Ballers" and "Rock of Ages." ''We had a very large community in south Florida, but things tapered off.