Annan quits as Syrian envoy, blames violence on the ground and lack of unity at the UN
BEIRUT (AP) -- Kofi Annan announced his resignation Thursday as Syria’s peace envoy and issued a blistering critique of world powers, bringing to a dramatic end a frustrating six-month effort that failed to achieve even a temporary cease-fire as the country plunged into civil war.
In a reflection of that escalation, rebels used a captured tank to shell a military air base near Aleppo -- one of the first known uses of heavy weapons by the insurgents.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Annan blamed the Syrian government’s intransigence, the growing militancy of Syrian rebels and a divided Security Council that failed to forcefully back his effort. Since he took on the job, Russia and China have twice used their veto power to block strong Western- and Arab-backed action against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The White House said Annan’s resignation highlights the failure of Russia and China to support action against Assad and called the regime’s continued violence against its own people "disgusting."
"It is impossible for me or anyone to compel the Syrian government and also the opposition to take the steps to bring about the political process," said Annan, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former U.N. secretary general.
Winning undecided voters tough for both Romney and Obama
Friday’s new jobs report, even if dismal for incumbent President Obama, might do little to help challenger Romney with this group.
Undecided voters interviewed this week said they place little importance on such statistics, even though both campaigns mine them for every possible advantage.
Instead, these voters want more details about Romney’s economic proposals and Bain Capital record, less bickering between the parties and a greater sense of inspiration and leadership from both candidates.
Some of them acknowledge that’s a vague wish list. But with less than a dozen states in play, and polls showing that about 10 percent of the electorate remains undecided, this sliver of hard-to-please Americans could decide the Nov. 6 election.
FAA: 3 commuter jets near DC flew too close but were never on a collision course
WASHINGTON (AP) -- None of the commuter jets that flew too close together near Washington was ever on course to collide head-on with the others, federal officials said Thursday.
During a news conference, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood strongly disputed media reports characterizing what happened as a near-miss.
"At no point were the three aircraft on a head-to-head course. They were not on a collision course," said Michael Huerta, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The jet problem occurred Tuesday after a miscommunication between a manager at Potomac Consolidated Terminal Radar Approach Control and two traffic management coordinators at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Huerta said. Officials are investigating. The exact nature of the miscommunication was not immediately clear, but there was apparently a failure on both ends to follow standard procedure.
Traffic controllers at the time had been changing the direction planes were landing and taking off at the airport because of bad weather including several thunderstorms, the closest about 6 miles south.
Senate panel revives dozens of tax breaks as House slates vote on tax reform
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate’s tax-writing panel voted to renew dozens of tax breaks for businesses like biodiesel and wind energy producers, even as the GOP-controlled House passed symbolic legislation to erase them and create a new tax code with lower rates and fewer special interest tax breaks.
The $200 billion-plus package was approved by the Senate Finance Committee Thursday on a bipartisan 19-5 vote. It was anchored by a two-year provision to protect middle- and upper-income taxpayers from being hit by the alternative minimum tax, shielding them from higher levies originally meant to prevent the rich from escaping taxes altogether.
The bill faces an uncertain future and is likely to get lumped into a year-end debate in which lawmakers tackle the so-called fiscal cliff -- a combination of the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and $110 billion in automatic spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs that, taken together, have the potential to drive the economy back into recession.
The action came as Congress limped out of town for a five-week vacation. The House also passed drought relief legislation and reprimanded one of its members, while a cybersecurity bill ran aground in the Senate. The Senate Appropriations panel approved a $604 billion Pentagon spending bill while rejecting a bid by Republicans to require defense contractors to send out notices of possible job layoffs due to the possible cuts.
The cost of Thursday’s package ballooned by more than $50 billion since its release on Wednesday, including a production tax credit for wind and other renewable energy producers of electricity criticized by presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. That provision was initially targeted for elimination, but garnered critical support from Republicans like Charles Grassley of Iowa.
GOP probe cites missed red flags in failed solar energy company
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans investigating the government’s investment in a bankrupt solar panel manufacturer have concluded that the Obama administration ignored numerous red flags about the company’s financial viability, leaving taxpayers on the hook for more than $500 million.
For months, Republican lawmakers have made the government’s loan to California-based Solyndra Inc. the centerpiece of their criticisms of President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package. The release of the report Thursday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee gave them another opportunity to reinforce that message.
The White House countered that the report showed that none of the accusations that Republicans had made about political interference in approving the loan turned out to be true. Democrats on the committee also released a memorandum taking issue with the findings.
"The Republican report is partisan and one-sided. It does not substantiate the primary allegation that motivated the committee’s Solyndra investigation, which is that the loan guarantee decision was a form of political payoff to a campaign contributor," the Democratic memo said.
The Energy and Commerce investigation lasted 18 months and included the review of more than 300,000 pages of documents. Backers of the loan have said competition from Chinese solar-panel manufacturers was a major factor in Solyndra’s failure. The report said White House Office of Management and Budget staff was aware that China’s effort to penetrate the U.S. market could hurt Solyndra.
Double-decker Megabus crash in Illinois kills at least 1, injures more than 2 dozen others
LITCHFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois State Police say at least one person has died after a double-decker Megabus crashed into a concrete bridge support pillar in Illinois.
Trooper Doug Francis says one person was killed in the Thursday afternoon wreck. He didn’t immediately have other details.
Officials say more than two dozen other passengers in varying conditions are being treated at hospitals. At least four have been flown by helicopter to a trauma center.
Katherine Jackson says she was kept from communicating while reported missing
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The mystery of Michael Jackson’s mother’s disappearance was clarified Thursday with the release of court papers that said she was kept from communicating with outsiders while at a resort and was unaware she had been reported missing.
Katherine Jackson declared in the documents that she learned she was the subject of a search when she accidentally heard a TV report.
Before that, she said, she was kept virtually incommunicado without access to a phone or her iPad. She said her stay at the Tucson resort was unplanned, and she went there after she was told her doctor had ordered her to rest.
Before that, she had intended to take a cross-country RV trip to see her sons perform in concerts.
"While there was a telephone in my room, the telephone was not functioning and I could not dial out," she said in the documents. "In addition, there was no picture on the television in my room."