Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Published:

Lawmakers reach budget pact restoring $63B in automatic spending cuts, avoiding gov't shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Shedding gridlock, key members of Congress reached a modest budget agreement Tuesday to restore about $63 billion in automatic spending cuts from programs ranging from parks to the Pentagon and eliminate the threat of another partial government shutdown early next year.

The increases would be offset by a variety of spending reductions and higher fees elsewhere in the budget totaling about $85 billion over a decade, enough for a largely symbolic cut of more than $20 billion in the nation's debt, now $17 trillion and growing.

Federal civilian and military workers, airline travelers and health care providers who treat Medicare patients would bear much of the cost.

Significantly for Democrats, they failed in their bid to include an extension of benefits for workers unemployed longer than 26 weeks. The program expires on Dec. 28, when payments will be cut off for an estimated 1.3 million individuals.

Bipartisan approval is expected in both houses in the next several days, despite grumbling from liberals over the omission of the unemployment extension and even though tea party-aligned groups have already begun pushing Republican conservatives to oppose it.

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Police crash with protesters in attempt to clear barricades in center of Ukrainian capital

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Security forces clashed with protesters as they began tearing down opposition barricades and tents set up in the center of the Ukrainian capital early Wednesday, in an escalation of the weeks-long standoff threatening the leadership of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Several thousand police in riot gear used their shields to push back protesters and successfully removed some of their tents and barricades. But thousands of protesters, their ranks swelling through the night, put up fierce resistance for hours, shoving back at the police lines to keep them away from the center of the protest camp on Independence Square in downtown Kiev.

The protests began in late November when Yanukovych backed away from a pact that would deepen the former Soviet republic's economic ties with the 28-nation European Union -- a pact that surveys showed was supported by nearly half the country's people. The agreement would make Ukraine more Western-oriented and would represent a significant loss of face for Russia, which has either controlled or heavily influenced Ukraine for centuries.

Demonstrators, waving EU and Ukrainian flags and singing the national anthem, shouted "Shame! Shame!" and "We will stand." Scuffles broke out between police and opposition lawmakers, one of whom laid down on the snow trying to block a vehicle from advancing on the camp. An Orthodox priest sang prayers, and one protester undressed to his waist in the frigid air, got down on his knees and shouted "Stop this ... We are one people!"

Several protesters were injured. Some policemen helped injured activists up from the ground and moved them away.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:

1. GRIDLOCK EASES ON CAPITOL HILL

A budget deal is reached that would avert about $63 billion in automatic spending cuts. It's expected to be approved by both houses.

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Obama hails "last great liberator" as powerful and humble alike pay tribute to Mandela

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Amid cheers and song for the prisoner who became peacemaker, President Barack Obama energized tens of thousands of spectators and nearly 100 visiting heads of state Tuesday with a plea for the world to emulate Nelson Mandela, "the last great liberator of the 20th century."

Obama's eulogy was the rhetorical highlight of a memorial service in which South Africans celebrated Mandela's life with singing and dancing, often during dignitaries' speeches. They also booed their own president and were chided by a top government official who said: "Let's not embarrass ourselves."

Lashing rain lent a freewheeling aspect to the memorial, with people taking shelter in the stadium's wide hallways, where they sang anti-apartheid anthems from the 1970s and 1980s. Foul weather kept many away, and the 95,000-capacity stadium was only two-thirds full.

Obama implored people to embrace Mandela's universal message of peace and justice, comparing the South African leader to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. Mandela spent 27 years in prison under a racist regime, and promoted forgiveness and reconciliation when he was finally freed.

"We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again," Obama said. "But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world -- you can make his life's work your own."

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General Motors taps product chief to be new CEO, making her 1st woman to run major car company

DETROIT (AP) -- Mary Barra has spent the past three years as General Motors' product chief, making cars that drive better, last longer and look good in showrooms.

Now she will take on an even bigger job. On Tuesday, the board tapped the 33-year company veteran to be the next CEO, making her the first woman to lead a major car company.

Barra replaces Dan Akerson, who moved up retirement plans by several months to help his wife, Karin, battle advanced cancer.

When Barra starts her new job Jan. 15, she will lead a company that's made nearly $20 billion since emerging from bankruptcy in 2010, much of it from the cars and trucks she helped develop. But she still faces challenges in paring down GM's costs and winning over buyers in international markets such as India and South America.

Akerson, 65, said he had planned to stay at least until spring, but his wife's diagnosis changed that. He said the board unanimously picked Barra from several internal candidates because of the breadth of her experience, her management record, her people skills and her understanding of GM's operations.

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Thai democracy enters dangerous new crossroads as protest leader bids to seize power

BANGKOK (AP) -- Protesters waging a surreal political fight to oust Thailand's elected prime minister are trying to establish what amounts to a parallel government -- one complete with "security volunteers" to replace the police, a foreign policy of their own and a central committee that has already begun issuing audacious orders.

Among the most brazen: a demand Tuesday that caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra be prosecuted for "insurrection," and another calling on the public to "closely monitor" her family's movements.

Leading academics have slammed the scheme as undemocratic and unconstitutional. Critics have called its leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, delusional. But the ex-lawmaker's bid to seize power is backed by many in Bangkok and could become reality if the military or the judiciary intervenes, as they have in the past. Analysts say this Southeast Asian nation is at a dangerous new crossroads that could drag on, and end with more bloodshed.

"This is a combustible situation. We cannot have two governments in Bangkok running Thailand," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn's Institute of Security and International Studies. "Something will have to give."

Yingluck is desperate to end weeks of political unrest that has killed five people and wounded nearly 300 more. On Monday, she dissolved the lower house of Parliament and called for elections, now set for Feb. 2. But neither move defused the crisis, and a 150,000-strong crowd pressed on with a massive march against her in Bangkok.

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2 adults, 4 children found alive in Nevada after disappearing in frigid weather Sunday

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- A desperate search for a couple and four children missing for two days in the below-zero cold of Nevada's rugged mountains turned jubilant Tuesday when rescuers guided in part by cellphone signals and footprints in the snow found them alive and well near their overturned Jeep.

About 200 people had searched by land and air after the group of six failed to return Sunday from a trip to play in the snow near their hometown of Lovelock, in Nevada's high desert.

"They stayed together and that was the key that allowed them to live through this experience. You don't see that that often in search and rescue," said Paul Burke, search-and-rescue coordinator for the state. "They did some pretty inventive things, heating up rocks and things. Staying together, that was a big deal."

Their Jeep had overturned just off a road. A member of the rescue team said the engine would no longer start, but the group stayed in the upside-down vehicle for shelter, burning the spare tire to keep warm.

"Their father kept them alive and well," said Patty Bianchi, CEO of Pershing General Hospital, where the six were taken. "Everybody is in good shape. There was no frostbite. They are stable. They suffered a little exposure and dehydration, but that is all."

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AP Interview: Egypt's liberal politician Moussa defends draft charter, hopes for 'yes' vote

CAIRO (AP) -- The chairman of a panel that wrote Egypt's draft constitution defended the document Tuesday as guaranteeing democracy and freedoms, but he offered cautious criticism of a recent law restricting street protests.

Amr Moussa, a former longtime Arab League chief and Egyptian foreign minister, spoke with The Associated Press as university students fought pitched street battles with police elsewhere in Cairo. Protesters demanding the reinstatement of Egypt's ousted president pelted security forces with rocks through white clouds of tear gas, rushing their wounded back inside the campus.

But Moussa was optimistic about the country's future.

"This is a constitution that answers to the requirements of the 21st century," he said. "The constitution is very clear on democracy and freedoms."

A copy of the draft charter obtained from Moussa's office states that men and women have equal rights and that the state must ensure "appropriate" representation of women in public jobs and the judiciary. It also criminalizes torture, discrimination and inciting hatred.

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Lawsuit: Heart missing after Marine's death in Greece, then wrong heart sent to Pa. family

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The parents of a Marine sergeant who died while stationed in Greece say that they discovered weeks after his funeral that his body had been sent home without a heart -- and that the Department of Defense later gave them somebody else's heart in its place.

Craig and Beverly LaLoup, who are suing the department, said Tuesday that authorities told them 21-year-old Brian LaLoup had shot himself in the head during a party at the U.S. Embassy compound in Athens, where he worked a security detail.

The Marine was taken to an Athens hospital and died a few hours later. Six days after that, on Aug. 18, 2012, the state-run hospital performed an unauthorized autopsy, according to the family's lawsuit, filed Friday in Pennsylvania.

The LaLoups don't know what happened to their son's heart. They say a heart arrived months later and the Department of Defense and Greek authorities claimed it was their son's. However, a months-long wait for DNA results proved otherwise.

"This is his heart. This is his soul. This is what made Brian who he is," Beverly LaLoup, of Coatesville, said Tuesday in a phone interview.

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Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line clean up at bro-friendly American Country Awards

The fans of country music love Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line and they proved it again Tuesday during the American Country Awards.

Bryan was named artist of the year and Florida Georgia Line was the top winner, with six trophies, including new artist and single of the year for the "Cruise" remix with Nelly.

Blake Shelton was next with four awards, including album of the year for "Based on a True Story ... ."

The "Highway Don't Care" team-up of Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban continued to rake in trophies, winning three, including song of the year. Bryan also won touring artist of the year along with the night's top honor, and his three wins give him 12 ACA awards in the show's four-year history. The win comes about eight months after the Academy of Country Music also gave him its top award.

"It's been the most amazing year of my life," Bryan said. "It started amazingly and it's ending amazingly."