Saturday, January 5, 2013

Published:

'Fiscal cliff' crisis barely over, Obama presses for action on raising US borrowing limit

HONOLULU (AP) -- President Barack Obama is hailing a last-minute deal that pulled the country back from the "fiscal cliff," but warned that he "will not compromise" over his insistence that Congress lift the federal debt ceiling.

Obama said in his radio and Internet address Saturday that the fiscal cliff deal, approved by Congress on New Year's Day and signed Thursday, raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans while preventing a middle-class tax increase that could have thrown the economy back into recession.

With one crisis behind him, Obama faces new battles in Congress over raising the country's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit, as well as scaling back more than $100 billion in automatic spending cuts for the military and domestic programs. The cuts are delayed by two months under the compromise.

Lawmakers promise to replace those across-the-board cuts with more targeted steps that could take longer to implement.

Obama, speaking from Hawaii, where he is on vacation with his family, said he is willing to consider more spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the deficit.

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Fresh internal clashes among Republicans are public, vicious -- just as GOP looks to regroup

BOSTON (AP) -- The Republican Party seems as divided and angry as ever.

Infighting has penetrated the highest levels of the House GOP leadership. Long-standing geographic tensions have increased, pitting endangered Northeastern Republicans against their colleagues from other parts of the country. Enraged tea party leaders are threatening to knock off dozens of Republicans who supported a measure that raised taxes on the nation's highest earners.

"People are mad as hell. I'm right there with them," Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, said late last week, declaring that she has "no confidence" in the party her members typically support. Her remarks came after GOP lawmakers agreed to higher taxes but no broad spending cuts as part of a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff."

"Anybody that voted 'yes' in the House should be concerned" about primary challenges in 2014, she said.

At the same time, one of the GOP's most popular voices, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, blasted his party's "toxic internal politics" after House Republicans initially declined to approve disaster relief for victims of Superstorm Sandy. He said it was "disgusting to watch" their actions and he faulted the GOP's most powerful elected official, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

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Some guns shows limiting displays, canceling in wake of scrutiny after Conn. school shooting

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) -- Several gun shows, all about an hour's drive from Newtown, Conn., have been canceled.

A show in White Plains, N.Y. -- brought back a few years ago after being called off for a decade because of the Columbine shooting -- is off because officials decided it didn't seem appropriate now, either. In Danbury, Conn. -- about 10 miles west of Newtown -- the venue backed out. Same with three other shows in New York's Hudson Valley, according to the organizer.

Gun advocates aren't backing down from their insistence on the right to keep and bear arms. But heightened sensitivities and raw nerves since the Newtown shooting have led to toned-down displays at gun shows and prompted some officials and sponsors to cancel the well-attended exhibitions altogether.

Some of the most popular guns will be missing from next weekend's gun show in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., after show organizers agreed to bar the display and sale of AR-15 military-style semiautomatic weapons and their large-clip magazines.

"The majority of people wanted these guns out of the city," said Chris Mathiesen, Saratoga Springs' public safety commissioner. "They don't want them sold in our city, and I agree. Newtown, Conn., is not that far away."

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Venezuela keeps same legislative chief amid uncertainty about ailing leader

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Allies of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez on Saturday chose to keep the same National Assembly president -- a man who could be in line to step in as a caretaker leader in some circumstances.

The vote to retain Diosdado Cabello as legislative leader signaled the ruling party's desire to stress unity and continuity amid growing signs the government plans to postpone Chavez's inauguration for a new term while he fights a severe respiratory infection nearly a month after cancer surgery in Cuba.

The opposition and some legal experts have argued that if Chavez is unable to be sworn in as scheduled on Thursday, the president of the National Assembly should take over on an interim basis.

Cabello's selection quashed speculation about possible political reshuffling in the midst of Chavez's health crisis, and it came as Vice President Nicolas Maduro joined other allies in suggesting that Chavez could remain president and take the oath of office before the Supreme Court later on if he isn't fit to be sworn in on the scheduled date.

"It strikes me that the government has decided to put things on hold, to wait and see what happens with Chavez's health and other political factors, and figure out the best way to insure continuity," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. "Maduro and Cabello are clearly the key players within Chavismo today, each heading separate factions, but for the time being the idea is to reaffirm both and project a sense of unity."

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Salvage operators, Coast Guard prepare for attempt to pull Shell drill ship off Alaska island

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Royal Dutch Shell PLC will try to move its grounded drill ship out of the worst of the North Pacific's fury with a towing attempt when conditions allow.

Shell incident commander Sean Churchfield said at a press conference Saturday that naval architects have pronounced the Kulluk fit to be towed. The attempt will depend on weather, tides and readiness, he said.

"I can't offer you firm times. Right now, the preparation for the tow depends on the weather and operational constraints," Churchfield said. "We will be looking to move the vessel as soon as we are ready and able."

If the drill ship can be pulled from the rocks off Sitkalidak Island, it will be towed 30 miles to shelter in Kodiak Island's Kiliuda Bay, a cove about 43 miles southeast of the city of Kodiak.

The Kulluk is a circular barge 266 feet in diameter with a funnel-shaped, reinforced steel hull that allows it to operate in ice. One of two Shell ships that drilled last year in the Arctic Ocean, it has a 160-foot derrick rising from its center and no propulsion system of its own.

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Son of Missoni fashion patriarch among 6 aboard small plane missing off Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Rescue crews used boats and aircraft on Saturday to search for a small plane that disappeared off Venezuela carrying the CEO of Italy's iconic Missoni fashion house and five other people.

But more than a day after the BN-2 Islander aircraft disappeared from radar screens on its short flight from the Venezuelan resort islands of Los Roques to Caracas, no sign of the plane had been found, officials said.

"We have no other news" about the plane carrying 58-year-old Vittorio Missoni, the head of the company; his wife, Maurizia Castiglioni; two of their Italian friends; and two Venezuelan crew members, said Paolo Marchetti, a Missoni SpA official. He spoke briefly to reporters as he left company headquarters in the northern Italian town of Sumirago on Saturday afternoon.

Missoni's younger brother, Luca, who is active in the family-run business, was reportedly traveling to Venezuela on Saturday to monitor search efforts.

"We're holding onto a glimmer of hope," said Oswaldo Scalvenzi , a relative of Elda Scalvenzi, one of the Missoni friends aboard the flight. "Until we can see the wreckage" hope will remain, Scalvenzi told Italian state TV on Saturday night.

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Rare photo of teenage princess-to-be Diana with young friend set for auction in NH

AMHERST, N.H. (AP) -- A photo marked "not to be published" that shows a teenage Diana Spencer before she became Princess of Wales, with a young friend seated beside her, will be featured in an auction this month in New Hampshire.

The photograph might never have been seen publicly until now, RR Auction said.

Stamped February 1981 on the back, the photo was taken around the time Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer ended months of speculation and announced they were to be married.

The photo came from the Caren Archive, a major private collection of rare newspapers and other publications, and was purchased seven years ago from the Daily Mirror newspaper.

Bobby Livingston, vice president of RR Auction, said Saturday that neither the auction house nor Caren Archive, knew the identity of the young man in the photo. However, he said he understood that a British newspaper had been able to identify him.

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South Carolina woman listed as oldest US citizen, Mamie Rearden, dies at 114

A 114-year-old South Carolina woman who was the oldest living U.S. citizen has died, two of her daughters said Saturday.

Mamie Rearden of Edgefield, who held the title as the country's oldest person for about two weeks, died Wednesday at a hospital in Augusta, Ga., said Sara Rearden of Burtonsville, Md., and Janie Ruth Osborne of Edgefield. They said their mother broke her hip after a fall about three weeks ago.

Gerontology Research Group, which verifies age information for Guinness World Records, listed Mamie Rearden as the oldest living American after last month's passing of 115-year-old Dina Manfredini of Iowa. Rearden's Sept. 7, 1898, birth was recorded in the 1900 U.S. Census, the group's Robert Young said.

Rearden was more than a year younger than the world's oldest person, 115-year-old Jiroemon Kimura of Japan.

"My mom was not president of the bank or anything, but she was very instrumental in raising a family and being a community person," said Sara Rearden, her youngest child. "Everybody can't go be president of a bank or president of a college, but we feel just as proud of her in her role as housewife and particularly as mother and homemaker."

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Foster runs for 140 yards & TD; defense shuts down Bengals as Texans get 19-13 playoff win

HOUSTON (AP) -- J.J. Watt swatted away passes, Arian Foster ran away from tacklers and the Houston Texans did just enough to knock Cincinnati out of the playoffs for the second straight year.

Matt Schaub made his first postseason start a successful one when Foster's 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter helped the Texans to a 19-13 AFC wild-card win over the Bengals on Saturday.

"The whole stadium knew we had to line up and run the ball and boy, he was at his best there at the end," coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's become a fine, fine player, and it just seems like the bigger it gets, the better Arian gets."

Now comes the big test. The Texans (13-4) move on to the second round on Jan. 13, when they visit the New England Patriots, who beat them 42-14 in Week 14. This time they're 9 ½-point underdogs.

"It's one step," Watt said of the win. "We know what it means, and we have bigger goals than that."

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Rodgers sharp, short TD runs by Harris, Kuhn put Packers up 24-3 over Vikings after 3

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn had short touchdown runs, Kuhn caught a scoring pass from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers took a 24-3 lead over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night into the fourth quarter in their NFC wild-card playoff game.

Christian Ponder was inactive for the Vikings because of a right elbow injury so Joe Webb started at quarterback for the first time all season, and Rodgers made the passing gap between the two teams even wider. Rodgers went 19 for 26 for 260 yards and no turnovers, leading touchdown drives of 82, 62 and 80 yards.

With Adrian Peterson being boxed in by a fired-up Packers defense that he gashed for 409 yards rushing over the previous two meetings this season, Webb had to go to work in his first start of the season.

The results weren't pretty. Webb tripped over Clay Matthews to give the Packers star an easy sack early in the second quarter, and he was called for intentional grounding while being swarmed behind the line of scrimmage on the next play.

Webb ran five times for 60 yards, but he completed only seven of his first 20 attempts for a measly 61 yards. Peterson gained 69 yards on 19 carries.