AP IMPACT: Ordinary Americans are losing faith in stocks; 'People don't trust the market'
NEW YORK (AP) — Andrew Neitlich is the last person you'd expect to be rattled by the stock market.
He once worked as a financial analyst picking stocks for a mutual fund. He has huddled with dozens of CEOs in his current career as an executive coach. During the dot-com crash 12 years ago, he kept his wits and did not sell.
But he's selling now.
"You have to trust your government. You have to trust other governments. You have to trust Wall Street," says Neitlich, 47. "And I don't trust any of these."
Defying decades of investment history, ordinary Americans are selling stocks for a fifth year in a row. The selling has not let up despite unprecedented measures by the Federal Reserve to persuade people to buy and the come-hither allure of a levitating market. Stock prices have doubled from March 2009, their low point during the Great Recession.
Congress bickers over 'fiscal cliff' as Obama cuts vacation short, returns to White House
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama returned to the White House on Thursday from a vacation shortened by government gridlock while Democrats and Republicans snarled across a partisan divide and showed no sign of compromise to avoid year-end tax increases and spending cuts.
Adding to the woes confronting the middle class was a pending spike of $2-per-gallon or more in milk prices if lawmakers failed to pass farm legislation by year's end.
White House aides disputed reports that Obama was sending lawmakers a scaled-down plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending cuts. They gave no indication he would invite congressional leaders to a White House meeting either late Thursday or possibly on Friday.
Top Senate leaders said they remain ready to seek a last-minute agreement. But a little more than four days from the deadline, there was no legislation pending in either the House or the Senate to prevent the tax hikes and spending cuts that economists say could send the economy into a recession.
Far from conciliatory, the rhetoric was confrontational and at times unusually personal.
Egypt opposition leaders probed over allegations of incitement to overthrow president
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's chief prosecutor ordered an investigation on Thursday into allegations that opposition leaders committed treason by inciting supporters to overthrow Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The probe by a Morsi-appointed prosecutor was launched a day after the president called for a dialogue with the opposition to heal rifts opened in the bitter fight over an Islamist-drafted constitution just approved in a referendum. The opposition decried the investigation as a throwback to Hosni Mubarak's regime, when the law was used to smear and silence opponents.
The probe was almost certain to sour the already tense political atmosphere in the country.
The allegations were made initially in a complaint by at least two lawyers sent to the chief prosecutor earlier this month. They targeted opposition leaders Mohammed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate and former head of the U.N. nuclear agency, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, and Hamdeen Sabahi. Both Moussa and Sabahi were presidential candidates who competed against Morsi in the last election.
There was no immediate comment by any of the three opposition leaders named but the opposition dismissed the allegations.
US consumer confidence drops in December for 2nd straight month over fears of fiscal cliff
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers peering over the "fiscal cliff" don't like what they see.
Fears of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect next week sent consumer confidence tumbling in December to its lowest level since August.
The Conference Board said Thursday that its consumer confidence index fell for the second straight month in December to 65.1, down from 71.5 in November.
The survey showed consumers' outlook for the next six months deteriorated to its lowest level since 2011 — a signal to Lynn Franco, the board's director of economic indicators, that consumers are worried about the tax hikes and spending cuts that take effect Jan. 1 if the White House and Congress can't reach a budget deal.
Earlier this week a report showed consumers held back shopping this holiday season, another indication of their concerns about possible tax increases.
Bush family seeks privacy, releases no new information on former president's condition
HOUSTON (AP) — Former President George H.W. Bush's family sought privacy and provided no new details Thursday about his medical condition, a day after his spokesman said he's in intensive care after being hospitalized for treatment of a bronchitis-related cough.
Bush spokesman Jim McGrath said he would put out another statement "when events warrant it," citing the family's right to and desire for privacy.
Bush, 88, entered Methodist Hospital in Houston on Nov. 23 for treatment of what McGrath has described as a "stubborn" cough. He had spent about a week there earlier in November for treatment of the same condition.
It was hoped Bush would be well enough to spend Christmas at home. But while his cough improved, he developed a persistent fever. McGrath disclosed Wednesday that Bush, the oldest living former president, had been transferred to the intensive care unit Sunday and his condition was downgraded to "guarded."
"He needs to rally," McGrath said. "We continue to be cautiously optimistic."
Roadkill: College student's project to save turtles yields glimpse of human nature's dark side
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson University student Nathan Weaver set out to determine how to help turtles cross the road. He ended up getting a glimpse into the dark souls of some humans.
Weaver put a realistic rubber turtle in the middle of a lane on a busy road near campus. Then he got out of the way and watched over the next hour as seven drivers swerved and deliberately ran over the animal. Several more apparently tried to hit it but missed.
"I've heard of people and from friends who knew people that ran over turtles. But to see it out here like this was a bit shocking," said Weaver, a 22-year-old senior in Clemson's School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences.
To seasoned researchers, the practice wasn't surprising.
The number of box turtles is in slow decline, and one big reason is that many wind up as roadkill while crossing the asphalt, a slow-and-steady trip that can take several minutes.
'Time to tame the city': Makeover of Mexico City moves forward with renovation of roundabout
MEXICO CITY (AP) — The plan is as big as this mammoth city: Turn a seedy metro hub into Mexico City's Times Square; clear swarms of feisty vendors and remodel the historic Alameda Central; illuminate the plazas and walkways of a park twice the size of New York's Central Park.
Mexico City's government is trying to transform one of the world's largest cities by beautifying public spaces, parks and monuments buried beneath a sea of honking cars, street hawkers, billboards and grime following decades of dizzying urban growth.
Despite the challenges, the ambitious, multimillion-dollar program carried out by former center-left Mayor Marcelo Ebrard and continued by his successor, Miguel Angel Mancera, is winning praise from urban planners and many residents. And it's turning the metropolis into an experiment in how to soften urban sprawl.
"It's time to tame the city," said Juan Carlos de Leo Gandara, head of the Iberoamerican University's sustainable urban projects. "Today is about giving the city back to pedestrians."
In the Alameda, made iconic in the Diego Rivera mural "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda," concrete sidewalks were replaced by marble, and makeshift vendor stands were kicked out — a renovation that cost about $18.7 million. Instead of a motley patchwork of folding tables and tarps, the newly opened park, anchored by the art nouveau Palacio de Bellas Artes theater, is a sea of greenery and calm in the midst of racing traffic.
Storm blasts northward, trapping planes as it blows toward Canada; 200K in dark in Arkansas
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A muted version of a winter storm that has killed more than a dozen people across the eastern half of the country plodded across the Northeast on Thursday, trapping airliners in snow or mud and frustrating travelers still trying to return home after Christmas.
The storm, which was blamed for at least 16 deaths farther south and west, brought plenty of wind, rain and snow to the Northeast when it blew in Wednesday night. Lights generally remained on and cars mostly stayed on the road, unlike many harder-hit places including Arkansas, where 200,000 homes and businesses lost power.
By afternoon, the precipitation had stopped in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, though snow continued to fall in upstate New York and northern New England. Parts of snow-savvy New Hampshire expected as much as 18 inches.
Dale Lamprey, who was clearing off the sidewalk outside the legislative office building in Concord, already had several hours of shoveling under his belt by 8:30 a.m. Thursday and didn't expect it to get much better.
"I'm going to be shoveling all day, just trying to keep up with the snow," he said. "Which is impossible."
Newtown keeping kids busy with activities in attempt to restore normalcy after school massacre
NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — The children at the Sandy Hook Elementary school won't be returning to classes for another week, but officials from the town, school district and local agencies are doing their best in the meantime to keep them occupied following a massacre at their school two weeks ago.
The students have not attended school since a gunman killed 20 of their schoolmates and six adults on Dec. 14. They are slated to return to a different school next Thursday.
In the meantime, they've been treated to field trips, toy giveaways and some organized play time.
"A couple of the teachers have done pizza parties," said Janet Robinson, Newtown's school superintendent. "Another met her kids at the library so they could have a little reading time together. The most important thing has been connecting the students back to their teacher and their classmates."
The Newtown Youth Academy, a nonprofit sports center, opened its doors to all kids in town at no cost shortly after the shooting. But from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. last week, the building's turf field, basketball and tennis courts, and giant inflatable obstacle course were reserved just for Sandy Hook Elementary students.
Obama's top environmental watchdog, EPA chief Lisa Jackson, resigns after nearly 4 years
WASHINGTON (AP) — EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the Obama administration's chief environmental watchdog, is stepping down after nearly four years marked by high-profile brawls over global warming pollution, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, new controls on coal-fired plants and several other hot-button issues that affect the nation's economy and people's health.
Jackson constantly found herself caught between administration pledges to solve thorny environmental problems and steady resistance from Republicans and industrial groups who complained that the agency's rules destroyed jobs and made it harder for American companies to compete internationally.
The GOP chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, said last year that Jackson would need her own parking spot at the Capitol because he planned to bring her in so frequently for questioning. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called for her firing, a stance that had little downside during the GOP primary.
Jackson, 50, the agency's first black administrator and a chemical engineer, did not point to any particular reason for her departure. Historically, Cabinet members looking to move on will leave at the beginning of a president's second term.
Despite the opposition, which former EPA chiefs have said is the worst they have seen against the agency, Jackson still managed to take significant steps that will improve air quality and begin to curb global warming.