AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on December 31, 2012 at 4:30 AM

Dems, GOP try resolving tax and spending disputes with 'fiscal cliff' deadline hours away

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House and Senate Republicans sorted through stubborn disputes over taxing the wealthy and cutting the budget to pay for Democratic spending proposals as Monday's midnight deadline for an accord avoiding the "fiscal cliff" drew to within hours.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spoke repeatedly Sunday to Vice President Joe Biden, a former Senate colleague, in hopes of settling remaining differences and clinching a breakthrough that has evaded the two sides since President Barack Obama's November re-election. In one indication of the eleventh-hour activity, aides said the president, Biden and top administration bargainer Rob Nabors were all working late at the White House, and McConnell was making late-night phone calls as well.

Unless an agreement is reached and approved by Congress by the start of New Year's Day, more than $500 billion in 2013 tax increases will begin to take effect and $109 billion will be carved from defense and domestic programs. Though the tax hikes and budget cuts would be felt gradually, economists warn that if allowed to fully take hold, their combined impact — the so-called fiscal cliff — would rekindle a recession.

"There is still significant distance between the two sides, but negotiations continue," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said shortly before the Senate ended an unusual Sunday session. "There is still time to reach an agreement, and we intend to continue negotiations."

The House and Senate planned to meet Monday, a rarity for New Year's Eve, in hopes of having a tentative agreement to consider. Yet despite the flurry of activity, there was still no final pact.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted to hospital with blood clot following concussion

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is under observation at a New York hospital after being treated for a blood clot stemming from the concussion she sustained earlier this month.

Clinton's doctors discovered the clot Sunday while performing a follow-up exam, her spokesman, Philippe Reines, said. He would not elaborate on the location of the clot but said Clinton was being treated with anti-coagulants and would remain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital for at least the next 48 hours so doctors can monitor the medication.

"Her doctors will continue to assess her condition, including other issues associated with her concussion," Reines said in a statement. "They will determine if any further action is required."

Clinton, 65, fell and suffered a concussion while at home alone in mid-December as she recovered from a stomach virus that left her severely dehydrated. The concussion was diagnosed Dec. 13 and Clinton was forced to cancel a trip to North Africa and the Middle East that had been planned for the next week.

The seriousness of a blood clot "depends on where it is," said Dr. Gholam Motamedi, a neurologist at Georgetown University Medical Center who was not involved in Clinton's care.

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AP IMPACT: As world hesitates, al-Qaida carves out own country in Mali, prepares to defend it

MOPTI, Mali (AP) — Deep inside caves, in remote desert bases, in the escarpments and cliff faces of northern Mali, Islamic fighters are burrowing into the earth, erecting a formidable set of defenses to protect what has essentially become al-Qaida's new country.

They have used the bulldozers, earth movers and Caterpillar machines left behind by fleeing construction crews to dig what residents and local officials describe as an elaborate network of tunnels, trenches, shafts and ramparts. In just one case, inside a cave large enough to drive trucks into, they have stored up to 100 drums of gasoline, guaranteeing their fuel supply in the face of a foreign intervention, according to experts.

Northern Mali is now the biggest territory held by al-Qaida and its allies. And as the world hesitates, delaying a military intervention, the extremists who seized control of the area earlier this year are preparing for a war they boast will be worse than the decade-old struggle in Afghanistan.

"Al-Qaida never owned Afghanistan," said former United Nations diplomat Robert Fowler, a Canadian kidnapped and held for 130 days by al-Qaida's local chapter, whose fighters now control the main cities in the north. "They do own northern Mali."

Al-Qaida's affiliate in Africa has been a shadowy presence for years in the forests and deserts of Mali, a country hobbled by poverty and a relentless cycle of hunger. In recent months, the terror syndicate and its allies have taken advantage of political instability within the country to push out of their hiding place and into the towns, taking over an enormous territory which they are using to stock arms, train forces and prepare for global jihad.

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Venezuelan vice president says Chavez has suffered new complications, in 'delicate' condition

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is confronting "new complications" due to a respiratory infection nearly three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery, his vice president said in Cuba as he visited the ailing leader for the first time since his operation.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro looked weary and spoke with a solemn expression in a televised address from Havana on Sunday. He described Chavez's condition as delicate.

"Several minutes ago we were with President Chavez. We greeted each other and he himself referred to these complications," Maduro said, reading from a prepared statement.

The vice president's comments suggest an increasingly difficult fight for Chavez. The Venezuelan leader has not been seen or heard from since undergoing his fourth cancer-related surgery Dec. 11, and government officials have said he might not return in time for his scheduled Jan. 10 inauguration for a new six-year term.

"The president gave us precise instructions so that, after finishing the visit, we would tell the (Venezuelan) people about his current health condition," Maduro said. "President Chavez's state of health continues to be delicate, with complications that are being attended to, in a process not without risks."

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Asia-Pacific nations greeting 2013 eagerly; Myanmar celebrating with 1st public countdown

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Fiscal cliff? Recession? Not in Asia, where the first countries to see 2013 dawn will enthusiastically welcome the new year.

Increasingly democratic Myanmar will have a public countdown for the first time. Jakarta plans a huge street party befitting Indonesia's powering economy.

In Sydney, eager revelers camped over Sunday night on the shores of the harbor to get the best vantage points as 1.5 million are expected to see the fireworks show centered on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

In Hong Kong, this year's 12.5 million Hong Kong dollar ($1.6 million) fireworks display was being billed by organizers as the biggest ever in the southern Chinese city. Police expect as many as 100,000 people to watch, local news reports said.

The buoyant economies of the Asia-Pacific are prepared to party with renewed optimism despite the so-called fiscal cliff threatening to reverberate globally from the United States and the tattered economy of Europe.

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After fighting in Afghanistan, soldier returns home, re-introduces himself to baby daughter

FOUNTAIN, Colo. (AP) — First Lt. Aaron Dunn deployed to the Afghanistan in early March 2012. His 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, was charged with engaging Taliban fighters in Kunar Province and mentoring Afghan government soldiers. Upon returning, here are some of his views.

Coming home:

"War and coming home are going to mean different things to each soldier. For me it was God and Family. I get my security in life from my hope in God, and my companionship and support from my family. I really didn't worry too much during deployment, because of that faith."

Support for those serving:

"For a lot of soldiers, it's the family back home that drives them. Support from family and friends is very important. Support is also important from the American public. Often times a simple thank you is enough."

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Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco follow different paths towards reform in Arab Spring

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Two years after an itinerant Tunisian fruit-seller set himself on fire to protest government injustice and ignited uprisings across the Middle East, the three nations of the Maghreb — the former French colonies of North Africa — have taken vastly different paths. Tunisia has seen wholesale political change. In oil-rich Algeria, it's business as usual. Somewhere in the middle is Morocco, which has trumpeted what it describes as a third way of controlled change as a model for the region.

These outcomes sum up much of the Middle East's disparate reactions to the Arab Spring — and their success or failure may hold lessons for the whole region.

Morocco and Algeria seem remarkably stable, despite the social tensions boiling beneath their calm facade. Resource-strapped Tunisia seems to have fared poorly, with a struggling economy and dire predictions of chaos. Yet it's also the country that has made the most progress toward a more open society.

MOROCCO:

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Remains of Adam Lanza, Newtown elementary school gunman, claimed for burial

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The body of the man who killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school has been claimed for burial.

Connecticut Medical Examiner Wayne H. Carver II tells the Hartford Courant (http://cour.at/TrQFyH) that the remains of Adam Lanza were claimed several days ago by someone who wanted to remain anonymous.

A spokeswoman at Carver's office told The Associated Press she could not release details about the status of Lanza's remains.

The 20-year-old Lanza killed 20 first-graders and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. He also killed his mother in their Newtown home before going on the rampage and then committing suicide.

A private funeral was held earlier this month in New Hampshire for his mother, Nancy Lanza.

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Column: A very American tension in gun debate — squaring rights for 1 with safety for all

WASHINGTON (AP) — On the eve of a new year, a libertarian strain pulses through America — a get-government-out-of-my-personal-life sensibility that cuts across ideologies and is driven by a younger generation's cultural attitudes.

We've seen it in gay-marriage legalization and marijuana decriminalization. And in the fact that, four decades after Roe v. Wade allowed abortion, there's little appetite among most for overturning it. Perhaps we've also seen this play out with guns, with a more limited role for government in regulating firearms.

But today, a mourning nation must square that shift toward fewer gun restrictions with a soaring number of mass shootings, the latest claiming 20 elementary school students among the dead. And the pendulum may swing just as quickly back toward curbs on gun rights: A country that's become more tolerant on other cultural issues may end up bucking the trend on this subject.

Here's why: It can't be boiled down to "my body, my decisions."

The gun issue doesn't fit neatly into the libertarian lane in which the United States has been driving when it comes to gay marriage, abortion and marijuana — the belief that people have the right to make their own decisions about how they live their lives, as long as they respect the rights of others to do the same. And that's because while it may be your right to own a gun, you can use it to harm others, thereby taking away their right to live their lives as they want.

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Kanye West announces at Atlantic City concert that girlfriend Kim Kardashian is pregnant

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A kid for Kimye: Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are expecting their first child.

The rapper announced at a concert Sunday night that his girlfriend is pregnant. He told the crowd of more than 5,000 at Revel Resort's Ovation Hall in song form: "Now you having my baby."

The crowd roared. And so did people on the Internet.

The news instantly went viral on Twitter and Facebook, with thousands posting and commenting on the expecting couple.

Most of the Kardashian clan also tweeted about the news, including Kim's sisters and mother. Kourtney Kardashian wrote: "Another angel to welcome to our family. Overwhelmed with excitement!"

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