Monday, November 26, 2012

Published:

Averting fiscal cliff elusive as lawmakers return to talk of compromise

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Talk of compromise on a broad budget deal greeted returning lawmakers Monday, but agreement still seemed distant as the White House and congressional Republicans ceded little ground on a key sticking point: whether to raise revenue through higher tax rates or by limiting tax breaks and deductions.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pressed his case for revenue derived by reducing tax loopholes rather than raising tax rates on wealthy taxpayers, as President Barack Obama insists.

Boehner, voicing the Republican stance, said: "The American people support an approach that involves both major spending cuts and additional revenue via tax reform with lower tax rates."

At the White House, Obama spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the president's pledge not to sign legislation that extends current tax rates to the top 2 percent of income earners -- households with incomes over $250,000. "That is a firm position," Carney said.

Congress and Obama have until the end of the year to avoid across-the-board tax increases that would do away with rates set during the administration of President George W. Bush and restore higher tax rates in place during President Bill Clinton's administration when the economy was robust and the federal government had a budget surplus.

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Is Norquist's influence fading? Some Republicans split with anti-tax activist over budget deal

WASHINGTON (AP) -- For decades, conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist vowed to drive Republicans out of office if they didn't pledge to oppose tax increases. Many lawmakers signed on.

But now, several senior Republicans are breaking ranks, willing to consider raising more money through taxes as part of a deal with Democrats to avoid a catastrophic budget meltdown.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker says the only pledge he will keep is his oath of office. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says no one in his home state of Virginia is talking about what leaders in Washington refer to simply as "The Pledge," a Norquist invention that dates to 1986. Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss says he cares more about his country than sticking to Norquist's pledge.

It's quite an about-face for senior members of a party that long has stood firmly against almost any notion of tax increases. And while GOP leaders insist they still don't want to see taxes go up, the reality of a nation in a debt crisis is forcing some to moderate their opposition to any movement on how much Americans pay to fund their government. Republican legislators and Democratic President Barack Obama's White House are haggling vigorously as they look for ways to reach agreement on detailed tax adjustments and spending cuts before automatic, blunt-force changes occur at the new year.

"Oh, I signed it," Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said on Fox News about Norquist's pledge, adding he still supports its goals. "But we've got to deal with the crisis we face. We've got to deal with the political reality of the president's victory."

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10 Things to Know for Tuesday

1. EGYPT'S PRESIDENT DEFENDS HIS SEIZURE OF NEW POWERS

Morsi tells the nation's top judges that he won't compromise as anger over his moves mounts.

2. WAL-MART DISTANCES ITSELF FROM BANGLADESH FIRE

The garment factory where a blaze killed 112 people had been making clothes for the retail giant without its knowledge, the company says.

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Egypt president stands by edicts giving him sweeping powers, says he acted within his rights

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi struck an uncompromising stand Monday over his seizure of near absolute powers, refusing in a meeting with top judicial authorities to rescind a package of constitutional amendments that placed his edicts above oversight by the courts.

Morsi's supporters, meanwhile, canceled a massive rally planned for Tuesday to compete with a demonstration by his opponents, citing the need to "defuse tension" at a time when anger over the president's moves is mounting, according to a spokesman for the president's Muslim Brotherhood.

The opposition rally was going ahead as scheduled at Cairo's Tahrir square, birthplace of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak's regime nearly two years ago.

The meeting between Morsi and members of the Supreme Judiciary Council was a bid to resolve a four-day crisis that has plunged the country into a new round of turmoil, with clashes between the two sides that have left one protester dead and hundreds wounded.

Morsi, according to a presidential statement, told the judges that while the constitutional declaration he announced Thursday grants him immunity from any oversight, he intended to restrict that to what it described as "sovereignty issues."

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Cuomo: Sandy cost NY, NYC $32B in damage and loss; state leaders prepare aid requests

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Top political leaders in New York put their heads together Monday on big requests for federal disaster aid as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Superstorm Sandy ran up a bill of $32 billion in the state and the nation's largest city.

The cost is for repairs and restoration and does not include an additional accounting of over $9 billion to head off damage in the next disastrous storm, including steps to protect the power grid and cellphone network.

"It's common sense; it's intelligent," Cuomo said. "Why don't you spend some money now to save money in the future? And that's what prevention and mitigation is."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had announced earlier in the day that Sandy caused $19 billion in losses in New York City -- part of the $32 billion estimate Cuomo used.

New York taxpayers, Cuomo said, can't foot the bill.

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Nobel winner Dr. Joseph Murray, who performed 1st successful kidney transplant, dies in Boston

BOSTON (AP) -- Dr. Joseph E. Murray, who performed the world's first successful kidney transplant and won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work, has died at age 93.

Murray suffered a stroke at his suburban Boston home on Thanksgiving and died at Brigham and Women's Hospital on Monday, hospital spokesman Tom Langford said.

Since the first kidney transplants on identical twins, hundreds of thousands of transplants on a variety of organs have been performed worldwide. Murray shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1990 with Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who won for his work in bone marrow transplants.

"Kidney transplants seem so routine now," Murray told The New York Times after he won the Nobel. "But the first one was like Lindbergh's flight across the ocean."

Murray's breakthroughs did not come without criticism, from ethicists and religious leaders. Some people "felt that we were playing God and that we shouldn't be doing all of these, quote, experiments on human beings," he told The Associated Press in a 2004 interview in which he also spoke out in favor of stem cell research.

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Northern Calif. community mourns family swept to sea; search for missing teenager stopped

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Howard Kuljian and his family were out for a walk on a damp, overcast morning at Big Lagoon beach, playing fetch with their dog Fran as 10-foot surf churned the water just feet away like a washing machine.

Signs near the beach warned of "sneaker waves," the kind that suddenly roar ashore.

Kuljian tossed a stick that took the dog down to the water's edge, and in an instant, authorities said, a wave swallowed it, setting off a nightmarish scramble.

"Everything kind of snowballed from there," Coast Guard Lt. Bernie Garrigan said.

Kuljian's 16-year-old son, Gregory, ran to save the dog, only to be captured by the surging surf himself. Kuljian, 54, followed, and then his wife, Mary Scott, 57. On shore, their 18-year-old daughter, Olivia, and Gregory's girlfriend could only watch.

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Mexican state beauty queen killed in shootout between suspected traffickers, soldiers

CULIACAN, Mexico (AP) -- A 20-year-old state beauty queen died in a gun battle between soldiers and the alleged gang of drug traffickers she was traveling with in a scene befitting the hit movie "Miss Bala," or "Miss Bullet," about Mexico's not uncommon ties between narcos and beautiful pageant contestants.

The body of Maria Susana Flores Gamez was found Saturday lying near an assault rifle on a rural road in a mountainous area of the drug-plagued state of Sinaloa, the chief state prosecutor said Monday. It was unclear if she had used the weapon.

"She was with the gang of criminals, but we cannot say whether she participated in the shootout," state prosecutor Marco Antonio Higuera said. "That's what we're going to have to investigate."

The slender, 5-foot-7-inch brunette was voted the 2012 Woman of Sinaloa in a beauty pageant in February. In June, the model competed with other seven contestants for the more prestigious state beauty contest, Our Beauty Sinaloa, but didn't win. The Our Beauty state winners compete for the Miss Mexico title, whose holder represents the country in the international Miss Universe.

Higuera said Flores Gamez was traveling in one of the vehicles that engaged soldiers in an hours-long chase and running gun battle on Saturday near her native city of Guamuchil in the state of Sinaloa, home to Mexico's most powerful drug cartel. Higuera said two other members of the drug gang were killed and four were detained.

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Wal-Mart says it tried to cut ties to garment factory in Bangladesh before blaze killed 112

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- The garment factory in Bangladesh where a weekend fire killed at least 112 people had been making clothes for Wal-Mart without the giant U.S. retailer's knowledge, Wal-Mart said.

Wal-Mart said the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for Wal-Mart but that a supplier subcontracted work to it "in direct violation of our policies."

"Today, we have terminated the relationship with that supplier," America's biggest retailer said in a statement Monday. "The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh."

The blaze on Saturday was one of the deadliest fires at a garment factory in Bangladesh and highlighted how the country's garment factories often ignore safety in the rush to supply major retailers in the U.S. and Europe. More than 300 people have died over the past six years in garment factory fires in the South Asian country.

Survivors of the weekend fire said an exit door was locked, fire extinguishers didn't work and apparently were there just to impress inspectors, and that when the fire alarm went off, bosses told workers to return to their sewing machines. Victims were trapped or jumped to their deaths from the eight-story building, which had no emergency exits.

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Teenage 'Two and a Half Men' actor calls his show 'filth,' urges viewers to stay away

NEW YORK (AP) -- The teenage actor who plays the half in the hit CBS comedy "Two and a Half Men" says in a video posted online by a Christian church that the show is "filth" and that viewers shouldn't watch it.

Nineteen-year-old Angus T. Jones has been on the show, which used to feature bad-boy actor Charlie Sheen and remains heavy with sexual innuendo, since he was 10 but says he doesn't want to be on it anymore.

"Please stop watching it," Jones said. "Please stop filling your head with filth."

Jones plays Jake, the son of Jon Cryer's uptight divorced chiropractor character, Alan, and the nephew of Sheen's hedonistic philandering music jingle writer character, Charlie. Sheen, who has publicly criticized CBS, was fired and replaced by Ashton Kutcher, who plays billionaire Walden.

In the video posted by the Forerunner Christian Church in Fremont, Calif., Jones describes a search for a spiritual home. He says the type of entertainment he's involved in adversely affects the brain and "there's no playing around when it comes to eternity."