The Associated Press
Obama takes his fiscal plan to Pennsylvania, pressuring GOP as both sides bristle
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is taking his case for avoiding a potentially unsettling “fiscal cliff” to the Philadelphia suburbs, employing campaign-style tactics in hopes of mobilizing public support. The trip comes amid signs of impatience in the negotiations between Republican leaders and the White House.
Obama was scheduled to go to Hatfield, Pa., to pressure Republicans to allow tax increases on the wealthy while extending current Bush-era tax rates for households earning $250,000 or less.
White House officials believe Friday’s trip will build momentum for the president’s case, even as Republicans describe it as an irritant and an obstacle to fruitful talks.
Obama was to tour and speak at the Rodon Group manufacturing facility, showcasing the company as an example of a business that depends on middle-class consumers during the holiday season. The company manufactures parts for K’NEX Brands, a construction toy company whose products include Tinkertoy, K’NEX Building Sets and Angry Birds Building Sets.
His trip comes a day after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met privately with congressional leaders and presented a proposal calling for $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over 10 years and immediate spending to help the unemployed and struggling homeowners. The proposal, which Democratic officials described as a negotiation’s opening bid, includes plans for legislation in 2013 aimed at saving $400 billion over 10 years from Medicare and other benefit programs.
Egypt’s Islamists approve draft of new constitution in rush vote, stoking crisis
CAIRO (AP) — Islamists approved a draft constitution for Egypt early Friday without the participation of liberal and Christian members, seeking to pre-empt a court ruling that could dissolve their panel with a rushed, marathon vote that further inflames the conflict between the opposition and President Mohammed Morsi.
The vote by the constituent assembly advanced a charter with an Islamist bent that rights experts say could give Muslim clerics oversight over legislation and bring restrictions on freedom of speech, women’s rights and other liberties.
The draft, which the assembly plans to deliver to the president Saturday, must be put to a nationwide referendum within 30 days. Morsi said Thursday it will be held “soon.”
The Islamist-dominated assembly that has been working on the constitution for months raced to pass it, voting article by article on the draft’s more than 230 articles for more than 16 hours. The lack of inclusion was on display in the nationally televised gathering: Of the 85 members in attendance, there was not a single Christian and only four women, all Islamists. Many of the men wore beards, the hallmark of Muslim conservatives.
For weeks, liberal, secular and Christian members, already a minority on the 100-member panel, have been withdrawing to protest what they call the Islamists’ hijacking of the process.
UN General Assembly votes overwhelmingly to recognize state of Palestine; US, Israel object
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations has voted overwhelmingly to recognize a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians still face enormous limitations: They don’t control their borders, airspace or trade, they have separate and competing governments in Gaza and the West Bank, and they have no unified army or police.
In an extraordinary lineup of international support, more than two-thirds of the world body’s 193 member states approved the resolution upgrading the Palestinians’ status from an observer to a nonmember observer state on Thursday. It passed 138-9, with 41 abstentions.
The vote was a victory decades in the making for the Palestinians after years of occupation and war. It was a sharp rebuke for Israel and the United States.
The vote grants Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an overwhelming international endorsement for his key position: establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. A Palestinian flag was quickly unfurled on the floor of the General Assembly, behind the Palestinian delegation, after an electronic screen lit up with the final vote.
Real independence, however, remains an elusive dream until the Palestinians negotiate a peace deal with the Israelis, who warned that the General Assembly action will only delay a lasting solution. Israel still controls the West Bank, east Jerusalem and access to Gaza, and it accused the Palestinians of bypassing negotiations with the campaign to upgrade their U.N. status.
Tiny Mo. town abuzz with $588M Powerball jackpot to be shared with ticket holder in Arizona
FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. (AP) — Sometimes it’s better to dream, particularly when reality means you’re not an instant multimillionaire.
Bob Kangas realized Wednesday night that one of two winning Powerball jackpot tickets — a record $587.5 million — had been bought in Arizona, but he didn’t check his numbers.
“I didn’t want to look because I just wanted to dream about being rich,” Kangas said Thursday while checking his tickets at a 4 Sons Food Store in Fountain Hills, the suburban Phoenix shop where he bought his tickets — and where the winning ticket was sold.
While lottery officials in Missouri verified its state’s ticket after it was presented to them late Thursday, the Arizona winner had yet to come forward. They have 180 days to do so.
A news conference was planned for Friday morning in Missouri. Officials declined to provide details of the winner in advance, not even whether the ticket sold at a Trex Mart gas station in Dearborn was purchased by someone from that state.
Internet and telephones cut in Syria for second day amid sporadic clashes in the capital
BEIRUT (AP) — Activists say Syrian rebels and government troops are clashing south of the capital as Internet and telephones lines remain cut for a second day nationwide.
President Bashar Assad’s regime and opposition activists blamed each other for the blackout, which is the first to hit the whole country since Syria’s 20-month-old uprising began.
Syrian authorities previously have cut Internet and telephones in areas ahead of military operations.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were intense clashes after midnight in villages and towns near the country’s airport but it was quiet Friday morning. It said rebels were able to destroy several army vehicles near the airport.
The group, which has a network of activists around Syria, reported fighting in southern neighborhoods of Damascus including Qaboun and Hajar Aswad.
AP Exclusive: Myanmar launches operation to verify citizenship of Muslims in strife-torn west
SIN THET MAW, Myanmar (AP) — Guarded by rifle-toting police, immigration authorities in western Myanmar have launched a major operation aimed at settling an explosive question at the heart of the biggest crisis the government has faced since beginning its nascent transition to democracy last year.
It’s a question that has helped fuel two bloody spasms of sectarian unrest between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims since June, and it comes down to one simple thing: Who has the right to be a citizen of Myanmar, and who does not?
A team of Associated Press journalists that traveled recently to the remote island village of Sin Thet Maw, a maze of bamboo huts without electricity in Myanmar’s volatile west, found government immigration officials in the midst of a painstaking, census-like operation aimed at verifying the citizenship of Muslims living there, one family at a time.
Armed with pens, stacks of paper and hand-drawn maps, they worked around low wooden tables that sat in the dirt, collecting information about birth dates and places, parents and grandparents — vital details of life and death spanning three generations.
The operation began quietly with no public announcement in the township of Pauktaw on Nov. 8, of which the village of Sin Thet Maw is a part. It will eventually be carried out across all of Rakhine state, the coastal territory where nearly 200 people have died in the last five months, and 110,000 more, mostly Muslims, have fled.
Advocacy groups urge federal Bureau of Prisons to grant early release to more ailing inmates
NEW YORK (AP) — For humanitarian and economic reasons, the federal Bureau of Prisons should grant more early releases to incapacitated and terminally ill prisoners, two advocacy groups say in a report depicting current policies as sometimes “cruel as well as senseless.”
The report, issued Friday by Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, says the Bureau of Prisons oversees more than 218,000 inmates, yet has recommended an average of only two dozen compassionate releases a year since 1992.
Human Rights Watch senior adviser Jamie Fellner, a co-author of the report, said Congress in 1984 granted federal courts the authority to reduce sentences under “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances. However, the report says federal prisoners can’t seek such a sentence reduction from the courts on their own; only the BOP has the authority to file a motion requesting judicial consideration of early release.
“Justice sometimes requires compassion, even for people who have broken the law,” Fellner said. “But prison officials prevent judges from deciding when compassion requires a sentence reduction. This is unfair to the prisoners and costly to the country.”
Responding by email, the BOP said it reviews each early-release request on a case-by-case basis and also takes into consideration information provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
AP source: Strauss-Kahn and NY hotel maid agree to settle her lawsuit claiming sexual assault
NEW YORK (AP) — Word of a settlement agreement between former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a hotel maid who accused him of trying to rape her could bring an end to a saga that has tarnished Strauss-Kahn’s reputation, ended his hopes for the French presidency and renewed a debate about the credibility of sexual assault accusers.
But it might not mean the end of legal troubles for Strauss-Kahn. He is awaiting a ruling on whether he is linked to “pimping” in connection with a French prostitution ring.
A person familiar with the New York case said Thursday that lawyers for Strauss-Kahn and the housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, made the as-yet-unsigned agreement within recent days, with Bronx Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon facilitating that and a separate agreement to end another lawsuit Diallo filed against the New York Post. A court date is expected next week, though the day wasn’t set, the person said.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private agreement.
Details of the deal, which comes after prosecutors dropped related criminal charges last year, weren’t immediately known and likely will be veiled by a confidentiality agreement. That could prevent Strauss-Kahn and Diallo from speaking publicly about a May 2011 encounter that she called a brutally sudden attack and he termed a consensual “moral failing.”
Like rings on a tree, growth rings in lobsters indicate age, scientists find
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — For the first time, scientists have figured out how to determine the age of a lobster — by counting its rings, like a tree.
Nobody knows how old lobsters can live to be; some people estimate they live to more than 100.
But knowing — rather than simply guessing — their age and that of other shellfish could help scientists better understand the population and assist regulators of the lucrative industry, said Raouf Kilada, a research associate at the University of New Brunswick who was the lead author of a scientific paper documenting the process.
Before now, scientists deduced a lobster’s age judging by size and other variables. But it’s now known that lobsters and other crustaceans, such as crabs and shrimp, grow one ring per year in hidden-away internal spots, Kilada said.
“Having the age information for any commercial species will definitely improve the stock assessment and ensure sustainability,” he said after presenting his findings Thursday at a scientific conference in Portland.
Laying an egg: Brees picked off 5 times, Falcons close in on NFC South title with 23-13 win
ATLANTA (AP) — Boy, did Drew Brees lay an egg against the Atlanta Falcons.
Five interceptions for the first time in his career.
The end of his NFL-record touchdown streak.
And a timing mistake that cost the Saints dearly.
The Falcons raced to a 17-0 lead, then turned to their defense to make it stand up. The result was a 23-13 victory Thursday night that pushed Atlanta to the brink of a division championship and may have finished off the Saints’ fading hopes.