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December 28, 2012

AP News in Brief

— Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, known to many as ’Stormin’ Norman,’ dead at 78

WASHINGTON (AP) — Truth is, retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf didn’t care much for his popular “Stormin’ Norman” nickname.

The seemingly no-nonsense Desert Storm commander’s reputed temper with aides and subordinates supposedly earned him that rough-and-ready moniker. But others around the general, who died Thursday in Tampa, Fla., at age 78 from complications from pneumonia, knew him as a friendly, talkative and even jovial figure who preferred the somewhat milder sobriquet given by his troops: “The Bear.”

That one perhaps suited him better later in his life, when he supported various national causes and children’s charities while eschewing the spotlight and resisting efforts to draft him to run for political office.

He lived out a quiet retirement in Tampa, where he’d served his last military assignment and where an elementary school bearing his name is testament to his standing in the community.

Schwarzkopf capped an illustrious military career by commanding the U.S.-led international coalition that drove Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait in 1991 — but he’d managed to keep a low profile in the public debate over the second Gulf War against Iraq, saying at one point that he doubted victory would be as easy as the White House and the Pentagon predicted.

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Obama invites Congress’ leaders to Friday meeting on fiscal cliff as deadline looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — A deadline looming, President Barack Obama will meet with congressional leaders at the White House on Friday in search of a compromise to avoid a year-end “fiscal cliff” of across-the-board tax increases and deep spending cuts.

The development capped a day of growing urgency in which Obama returned early from a Hawaiian vacation while lawmakers snarled across a partisan divide over responsibility for gridlock on key pocketbook issues. Speaker John Boehner called the House back into session for a highly unusual Sunday evening session.

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.

Four days before the deadline, the White House disputed reports that Obama was sending lawmakers a scaled-down plan to avoid the fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts.

Administration officials confirmed the Friday meeting at the White House in a bare-bones announcement that said the president would “host a meeting.”

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Chief of staff: George H.W. Bush receiving great treatment, will likely be in hospital a while

HOUSTON (AP) — Former President George H.W. Bush, who has been hospitalized for more than a month, is getting excellent medical treatment and would advise people to “put the harps back in the closet,” his longtime Houston chief of staff said Thursday evening.

But Jean Becker also pointed out in her statement that the 88-year-old Bush is sick and likely will be in the hospital for a while after a “terrible case of bronchitis which then triggered a series of complications.”

Bush, the oldest living former president, has been in intensive care since Sunday. He was admitted to Methodist Hospital in Houston on Nov. 23 for treatment of what his spokesman Jim McGrath described as a “stubborn” cough. He had spent about a week there earlier in November for treatment of the same condition.

Becker said “most of the civilized world” contacted her Wednesday after disclosures Bush had been placed in the intensive care unit after physicians were having difficulty bringing a fever under control.

“Someday President George H.W. Bush might realize how beloved he is, but of course one of the reasons why he is so beloved is because he has no idea,” Becker said in the at-times lighthearted statement that made multiple references to jokes and the former president’s sense of humor.

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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.

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Central African Republic calls for foreign help fighting rebels, but no sign of major help

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — The president of Central African Republic on Thursday urgently called on France and other foreign powers to help his government fend off rebels who are quickly seizing territory and approaching the capital, but French officials declined to offer any military assistance.

The developments suggest Central African Republic could be on the brink of another violent change in government, something not new in the history of this resource-rich, yet deeply impoverished country. The current president, Francois Bozize, himself came to power nearly a decade ago in the wake of a rebellion.

Speaking to crowds in Bangui, a city of some 600,000, Bozize pleaded with foreign powers to do what they could. He pointed in particular to France, Central African Republic’s former colonial ruler.

About 200 French soldiers are already in the country, providing technical support and helping to train the local army, according to the French defense ministry.

“France has the means to stop (the rebels) but unfortunately they have done nothing for us until now,” Bozize said.

———

’Stop right there!’: Utah gun group trains teachers to use guns, after Conn. shooting

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) — Jessica Fiveash sees nothing wrong with arming teachers. She’s one herself, and learned Thursday how to safely use her 9 mm Ruger with a laser sight.

“If we have the ability to stop something, we should do it,” said the elementary school teacher, who along with nearly 200 other teachers in Utah took six hours of free gun training offered by the state’s leading gun lobby.

It is among the latest efforts to arm or train teachers to confront assailants after a gunman killed his mother and then went on a rampage through Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 children and six adults before killing himself.

In Ohio, a firearms group said it was launching a test program in tactical firearms training for 24 teachers. In Arizona, the attorney general is proposing a change to state law that would allow an educator in each school to carry a gun.

The moves to train teachers come after the National Rifle Association proposed placing an armed officer at each of the nation’s schools, though some schools already have police officers. Parents and educators have questioned how safe the proposal would keep kids and whether it would be economically feasible.

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Time runs short for agreement to avert costly longshoremen’s strike that could cripple ports

NEW YORK (AP) — In just a few days, a walkout by thousands of dock workers could bring commerce to a near standstill at every major port from Boston to Houston, potentially delivering a big blow to retailers and manufacturers still struggling to find their footing in a weak economy.

More than 14,000 longshoremen are threating to go on strike Sunday — a wide-ranging work stoppage that would immediately close cargo ports on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico to container ships.

The 15 ports involved in the labor dispute move more than 100 million tons of goods each year, or about 40 percent of the nation’s containerized cargo traffic. Losing them to a shutdown, even for a few days, could cost the economy billions of dollars.

“If the port shuts down, nothing moves in or out,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation. And when the workers do return, “it’s going to take time to clear out that backlog, and we don’t know how long that it’s going to take.”

Shipments of such varied products as flat-screen TVs, sneakers and snow shovels would either sit idle at sea or get rerouted, at great time and expense. U.S. factories also rely on container ships for parts and raw materials, meaning supply lines for all sorts of products could be squeezed.

———

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.

 

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