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World briefly for Dec. 22

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POSTED: December 22, 2012 10:34 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has throttled back his ambitions for a sweeping budget bargain with Republicans. Instead, he's calling for a scaled-back measure sufficient to prevent the government from careening off the "fiscal cliff" in January by extending tax cuts for most taxpayers and forestalling a painful set of agency budget cuts.

In a White House appearance Friday, Obama also called on Congress to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed that would otherwise be cut off for 2 million people at the end of the year.

Obama's announcement was a recognition that chances for a larger agreement before year's end have probably collapsed. It also suggested that any chance for a smaller deal may rest in the Senate, particularly after the collapse of a plan by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to permit tax rates to rise on million-dollar-plus incomes.

"In the next few days, I've asked leaders of Congress to work towards a package that prevents a tax hike on middle-class Americans, protects unemployment insurance for 2 million Americans, and lays the groundwork for further work on both growth and deficit reduction," Obama said. "That's an achievable goal. That can get done in 10 days."

Maybe, maybe not. The latest plan faces uncertainty at best in the sharply divided Senate. GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who wields great power even in the minority, called Friday for Senate action on a House bill from the summer extending the full menu of Bush-era tax cuts. He promised that it will take GOP votes for anything to clear the Senate, where 60 votes are required to advance most legislation. Democrats control 53 votes.

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Egyptians vote in 2nd phase of referendum on disputed Islamist-backed constitution

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians began voting on Saturday in the second and final phase of a referendum on an Islamist-backed constitution that has polarized the nation, with little indication that the result of the vote will end the political crisis in which the country is mired.

The vote comes a day after clashes between supporters and opponents of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. It was the latest outbreak of street violence in more than four weeks of turmoil, with the country divided first over the president's powers then over the draft constitution.

The clashes — in which opponents of Islamists set fire to cars and dozens of people were hurt — illustrated how the new constitution, regardless of whether it is adopted or not, is unlikely to ease the conflict over the country's future.

Saturday's vote is taking place in 17 of Egypt's 27 provinces with about 25 million eligible voters. The first phase on Dec. 15 produced a "yes" majority of about 56 percent with a turnout of some 32 percent, according to unofficial results.

"I came early to make sure my 'no' is among the first of millions today," oil company manager Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz said as he waited in line outside a polling station in the Dokki district of Giza, Cairo's twin city on the west bank of the Nile. "I am here to say 'no' to Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood," he said.

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New details emerge about gunman and his mother a week after Connecticut school massacre

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — He was the awkward, peculiar kid who wore the same clothes to school every day.

He rarely spoke and even gave a school presentation entirely by computer, never uttering a word.

He liked tinkering with computers and other gadgets, and seemed to enjoy playing a violent video game, choosing a military-style assault rifle as one of his weapons.

New details about Adam Lanza emerged Friday, as the nation paused to mark one week since he slaughtered 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Multiple funerals and visitations were held Friday, and at the hour of the attack, 9:30 a.m., a bell tolled 26 times, once for each victim killed at the school.

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Predicting who is at risk for violence isn't easy, but experts say there are sometimes signs

CHICAGO (AP) — It happened after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colo., and now Sandy Hook: People figure there surely were signs of impending violence. But experts say predicting who will be the next mass shooter is virtually impossible — partly because as commonplace as these calamities seem, they are relatively rare crimes.

Still, a combination of risk factors in troubled kids or adults including drug use and easy access to guns can increase the likelihood of violence, experts say.

But warning signs "only become crystal clear in the aftermath, said James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminology professor who has studied and written about mass killings.

"They're yellow flags. They only become red flags once the blood is spilled," he said.

Whether 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who used his mother's guns to kill her and then 20 children and six adults at their Connecticut school, made any hints about his plans isn't publicly known.

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Mass. voters brace for yet another Senate race as Obama taps Kerry for secretary of state

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts voters weary from one of the nation's costliest and most divisive U.S. Senate races are all but certain to find themselves thrown back into another tumultuous election now that President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry for secretary of state.

If confirmed by the Senate, as expected, Kerry would have to resign the seat he's held for nearly three decades, prompting a special election — the state's third Senate contest since 2010.

Already, jockeying is well under way. The big question is whether Republican Sen. Scott Brown will go for the seat, after losing his last month to Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.

He kept the door wide open to another run during a farewell address on the Senate floor, declaring that both victory and defeat are "temporary" things. "Depending on what happens, and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again."

And perhaps as soon as next year.

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Police trying to verify motive after man fatally shoots woman at church, 2 others in rural Pa.

HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Authorities in central Pennsylvania are trying to determine why a man fatally shot three people along a rural road before being killed in a gunfight with police.

Police were still trying to piece together a timeline in the arduous investigation of the Friday shootings that began in Frankstown Township and spanned five crime scenes within a 1.5-mile radius.

A woman decorating a church hall for a children's Christmas party was among those killed. Three state troopers were injured.

Authorities haven't released a motive for the shootings.

"It's going to take us some time to put this all together ... and know exactly what occurred," said Lt. Col. George Bivens, a deputy state police commissioner.

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NM peanut butter plant shuttered after outbreak can resume harvesting under deal with feds

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A peanut butter plant shuttered by a widespread salmonella outbreak has been given the go ahead to start harvesting a bumper crop of prized eastern New Mexico Valencia peanuts next week under an agreement that ends a tense, monthslong standoff with federal regulators.

A consent decree filed in federal court Friday says Sunland Inc. can reopen its plant in Portales if it hires an independent expert to develop a sanitation plan, which then must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Conditions at the plant, which is the largest organic peanut butter producer in the country, prompted the FDA in November to use new authority for the first time to revoke the company's operating certificate without a court hearing. The action came after the plant was linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened 42 people in 20 states this fall.

Friday's filing reinstates Sunland's food facility registration. But the company cannot process or distribute food from its peanut butter or peanut mill plants in Portales until it has complied with the consent decree's requirements and receives written authorization from the FDA.

"This consent decree prohibits Sunland from selling processed foods to consumers until it fully complies with the law," Stuart F. Delery, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division, said in a statement. "As this case demonstrates, the Department of Justice and FDA will work together to protect the health and safety of Americans by making sure that those who produce and sell the food we eat follow the law."

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Japanese flee Fukushima nuke disaster to faraway Okinawa, plan class-action against radiation

NAHA, Japan (AP) — Okinawa is about as far away as one can get from Fukushima without leaving Japan, and that is why Minaho Kubota is here.

Petrified of the radiation spewing from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant that went into multiple meltdowns last year, Kubota grabbed her children, left her skeptical husband and moved to the small southwestern island. More than 1,000 people from the disaster zone have done the same thing.

"I thought I would lose my mind," Kubota told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "I felt I would have no answer for my children if, after they grew up, they ever asked me, 'Mama, why didn't you leave?'"

Experts and the government say there have been no visible health effects from the radioactive contamination from Fukushima Dai-ichi so far. But they also warn that even low-dose radiation carries some risk of cancer and other diseases, and exposure should be avoided as much as possible, especially the intake of contaminated food and water. Such risks are several times higher for children and even higher for fetuses, and may not appear for years.

Okinawa has welcomed the people from Fukushima and other northeastern prefectures (states) affected by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that set off the nuclear disaster. Okinawa is offering 60,000 yen ($750) a month to help relocating families of three or four pay the rent, and lower amounts for smaller families.

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Person familiar with the outcome of vote says NHL players give board power to dissolve union

NEW YORK (AP) — NHL players gave the executive board the right to take steps to dissolve the union, and they signed off on it in overwhelming fashion.

In a vote this week, union members decisively agreed to give the players' association's board the power to file a "disclaimer of interest" until Jan. 2. A person familiar with the outcome of the vote told The Associated Press on Friday that the measure was approved by a vote of 706-22 (97 percent), easily reaching the two-thirds majority required.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the results of the vote hadn't been announced.

The executive board hasn't made plans yet to meet to discuss whether to file the disclaimer, but if the Jan. 2 deadline passes, another authorization vote could be held to approve a later filing.

If the filing is made, the union would dissolve and become a trade association. That would allow players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL.

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Clippers beat Kings 97-85 to set franchise record with 12th straight victory

LOS ANGELES (AP) — After the Los Angeles Clippers set a record for the longest winning streak in franchise history, Chris Paul was thinking about Ron Harper, Corey Maggette and other former players who endured all that losing.

Paul had 24 points and 13 assists to help the Clippers, for decades synonymous with long losing streaks, break a 38-year-old club mark with their 12th consecutive victory Friday night, 97-85 over the Sacramento Kings.

"Most of those guys have been here through tougher times," Paul said. "I know Ron Harper really well. He's a good friend of mine, and he's excited for us. We just played against Corey Maggette, and he was excited to see how it is now. So it's been exciting for me in the short amount of time I've been here, especially knowing some of the people who have been with the team for 25 or 30 years and the season-ticket holders. But we can't be satisfied. We've got to keep it going."

The previous record was set by the Buffalo Braves during the 1974-75 season, when current Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was 8 years old. The head coach back then was Jack Ramsay, whose formidable roster included Bob McAdoo, Garfield Heard, Randy Smith, Jim McMillian, Jack Marin and Bob Weiss.

That team won 49 games — still a record for a beleaguered organization that has called three different cities home, wasted first-round draft picks on Benoit Benjamin, Terry Dehere, Michael Olowokandi and Darius Miles, and was labeled "the worst franchise in sports history" by Sports Illustrated in an April 17, 2000, cover story.

 

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