Wednesday, January 2, 2013

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Under fire from fellow Republicans, Boehner agrees to Sandy aid vote Friday

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Under intense pressure from angry Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner agreed Wednesday to a vote this week on aid for Superstorm Sandy recovery.

The speaker will schedule a vote Friday for $9 billion for the national flood insurance program and another on Jan. 15 for a remaining $51 billion in the package, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York said after emerging from a meeting with Boehner and GOP lawmakers from New York and New Jersey. The votes will be taken by the new Congress that will be sworn in Thursday.

King left the session with Boehner without the anger that led him to rip into the speaker Tuesday night.

"It was a very positive meeting," King said, adding that Boehner, R-Ohio, assured the lawmakers present that the money from the two House votes would roughly equal the $60 billion package of aid that passed the Senate.

Since the votes will be taken in the new Congress, the Senate also will have to approve the legislation. If the House, as expected, approves the $9 billion flood insurance proposal, the Senate plans to move quickly in hopes of approving the aid on a voice vote Friday. The flood insurance money will help pay for claims by home and business owners with coverage.

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Cliff averted, next fiscal crisis in 2 months will be over taxes, spending -- plus debt limit

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Onward to the next fiscal crisis. Actually, several of them, potentially. The New Year's Day deal averting the "fiscal cliff" lays the groundwork for more combustible struggles in Washington over taxes, spending and debt in the next few months.

President Barack Obama's victory on taxes this week was the second, grudging round of piecemeal successes in as many years in chipping away at the nation's mountainous deficits. Despite the length and intensity of the debate, the deal to raise the top income tax rate on families earning over $450,000 a year -- about 1 percent of households -- and including only $12 billion in spending cuts turned out to be a relatively easy vote for many. This was particularly so because the alternative was to raise taxes on everyone.

But in banking $620 billion in higher taxes over the coming decade from wealthier earners, Obama and his Republican rivals have barely touched deficits still expected to be in the $650 billion range by the end of his second term. And those back-of-the-envelope calculations assume policymakers can find more than $1 trillion over 10 years to replace automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as a sequester.

"They didn't do any of the tough stuff," said Erskine Bowles, chairman of Obama's 2010 deficit commission. "We've taken two steps now, but those two steps combined aren't enough to put our fiscal house in order."

In 2011, the government adopted tighter caps on day-to-day operating budgets of the Pentagon and other cabinet agencies to save $1.1 trillion over 10 years.

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Clinton leaves hospital after treatment for blood clot in head, doctors expect full recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was released from a New York hospital on Wednesday, three days after doctors discovered a blood clot in her head.

Clinton's medical team advised her Wednesday evening that she was making good progress on all fronts and said they are confident she will fully recover, said Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines. Doctors had been treating Clinton with blood thinners to dissolve a clot in a vein that runs through the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear.

"She's eager to get back to the office," Reines said in a statement, adding that the secretary and her family are grateful for the excellent care she received at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Reines said details of when Clinton will return to work will be clarified in the coming days.

Clinton had been in the hospital since Sunday, when doctors discovered the clot on an MRI test during a follow-up exam stemming from a concussion she suffered earlier in December. While at home battling a stomach virus, Clinton had fainted, fallen and struck her head, a spokesman said.

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Al-Jazeera buys Current TV from Al Gore in bid to gain stronger foothold in US TV market

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Al-Jazeera, the Pan-Arab news channel that has struggled to win space on American cable television, has acquired Current TV, Al Gore confirmed Wednesday.

Gore and his partner Joel Hyatt announced the sale in a statement.

"Current Media was built based on a few key goals: To give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling," Gore and Hyatt said.

"Al-Jazeera has the same goals and, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us."

The acquisition could extend Al-Jazeera's reach beyond a few large U.S. metropolitan areas, where some people can watch Al-Jazeera English.

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UN says more than 60,000 dead in Syrian civil war as rebels, government continue attacks

BEIRUT (AP) -- The United Nations gave a grim new count Wednesday of the human cost of Syria's civil war, saying the death toll has exceeded 60,000 in 21 months -- far higher than recent estimates by anti-regime activists.

The day's events illustrated the escalating violence that has made recent months the deadliest of the conflict: As rebels pressed a strategy of attacking airports and pushing the fight closer to President Bashar Assad's stronghold in Damascus, the government responded with deadly airstrikes on restive areas around the capital.

A missile from a fighter jet hit a gas station in the suburb of Mleiha, killing or wounding dozens of people who were trapped in burning piles of debris, activists said.

Gruesome online video showed incinerated victims -- one still sitting astride a motorcycle -- or bodies torn apart.

"He's burning! The guy is burning!" an off-camera voice screamed in one video over a flaming corpse.

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Budget deal sends markets surging, but unresolved questions lurk on deficit and spending cuts

NEW YORK (AP) -- The "fiscal cliff" compromise, even with all its chaos, controversy and unresolved questions, was enough to ignite the stock market on Wednesday, the first trading day of the new year.

The Dow Jones industrial average careened more than 300 points higher, its biggest gain since December 2011. It's now just 5 percent below its record high close reached in October 2007. The Russell 2000, an index that tracks smaller companies, shot up to 873.42, the highest close in its history.

The reverie multiplied across the globe, with stock indexes throughout Europe and Asia leaping higher. A leading British index, the FTSE 100, closed above 6,000 for the first time since July 2011, at 6,027.37.

In the U.S., the rally was extraordinarily broad. For every stock that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, roughly 10 rose. All 30 stocks that make up the Dow rose, as did 94 percent of the stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500 index.

U.S. government bond prices dipped sharply as investors pulled money out of safe-harbor investments. And the VIX, the "fear index" that measures investors' expectations of future market volatility, plunged more than 18 percent to 14.68, the lowest close since October.

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Pa. governor sues NCAA in bid to block Penn State sanctions, says it overstepped its authority

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- In a bold challenge to the NCAA's powers, Pennsylvania's governor claimed in a lawsuit Wednesday that college sports' governing body overstepped its authority and "piled on" when it penalized Penn State over the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

Gov. Tom Corbett asked that a federal judge throw out the sanctions, which include an unprecedented $60 million fine and a four-year ban on bowl games, arguing that the measures have harmed students, business owners and others who had nothing to do with Sandusky's crimes.

"A handful of top NCAA officials simply inserted themselves into an issue they had no authority to police under their own bylaws and one that was clearly being handled by the justice system," Corbett said at a news conference.

The case, filed under federal antitrust law, could define just how far the NCAA's authority extends. Up to now, the federal courts have allowed the organization broad powers to protect the integrity of college athletics.

In a statement, the NCAA said the lawsuit has no merit and called it an "affront" to Sandusky's victims.

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Kansas sperm donor fighting effort by the state to make him pay child support

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A Kansas man who donated sperm to a lesbian couple after answering an online ad is fighting the state's efforts to suddenly force him to pay child support for the now 3-year-old girl, arguing that he and the women signed an agreement waiving all of his parental rights.

The case hinges on the fact that no doctors were used for the artificial insemination. The state argues that because William Marotta didn't work through a clinic or doctor, as required by state law, he can be held responsible for about $6,000 that the child's biological mother received through public assistance -- as well as future child support.

Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said that when a single mother seeks benefits for a child, it's routine for the department to try to determine the child's paternity and require the father to make support payments to lessen the potential cost to taxpayers.

Marotta, a 46-year-old Topeka resident, answered an online ad in 2009 from a local couple, Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner, who said they were seeking a sperm donor. After exchanging emails and meeting, the three signed an agreement relieving Marotta of any financial or paternal responsibility.

But instead of working with a doctor, Marotta agreed to drop off a container with his sperm at the couple's home and the women successfully handled the artificial insemination themselves. Schreiner become pregnant with a girl.

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On tour of new school, Sandy Hook parents thank teachers for actions during massacre

MONROE, Conn. (AP) -- On a tour Wednesday of his daughter's new school, Vinny Alvarez took a moment to thank her third-grade teacher, who protected the class from a rampaging gunman by locking her classroom door and keeping the children in a corner.

Alvarez was one of many Sandy Hook Elementary School parents expressing gratitude to the teachers during an open house at their school in the neighboring town of Monroe, where their children are resuming classes Thursday for the first time since the Dec. 14 shooting that left 20 students and six educators dead.

Alvarez said each student received a gift box with a toy inside and he expressed thanks to the teacher, Courtney Martin, who kept her door locked until it was safe to leave the building.

"Everybody there thanked her in their own way," he said.

Newtown Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson announced that the Sandy Hook staff decided that the students' new school, the former Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe, would be renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School.

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'Tennessee Waltz' singer Patti Page who transcended genre to rule the '50s dies at 85

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Unforgettable songs like "Tennessee Waltz" and "(How Much Is That) Doggie in the Window?" made Patti Page the best-selling female singer of the 1950s and a star who would spend much of the rest of her life traveling the world.

When unspecified health problems finally stopped her decades of touring, though, Page wrote a sad-but-resolute letter to her fans late last year about the change.

"Although I feel I still have the voice God gave me, physical impairments are preventing me from using that voice as I had for so many years," Page wrote. "It is only He who knows what the future holds."

Page died on New Year's Day in Encinitas, Calif., according to publicist Schatzi Hageman, ending one of pop music's most diverse careers. She was 85 and just five weeks away from being honored at the Grammy Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy.

Page achieved several career milestones in American pop culture, but she'll be remembered for indelible hits that crossed the artificial categorizations of music and remained atop the charts for months to reach a truly national audience.