Friday December 21, 2012

Obama, Boehner ‘cliff’ differences aren’t really so great

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In the "fiscal cliff" standoff, President Barack Obama wants to raise taxes by about $20 billion a year more than House Speaker John Boehner. The president wants to spend about that much more yearly than Boehner does, too.

That’s real money by most measures. Yet such numbers are hardly noticeable compared to the $2.6 trillion the government expects to collect in taxes next year, and to the $3.6 trillion it plans to spend.

Going over the "cliff" could bring economy-shaking tax increases and spending cuts that start hitting in early January unless lawmakers act first. Their inability to compromise so far shows that their problem is far more than arithmetic -- it’s also about the difficult politics that Obama and Boehner face when it comes to lining up votes.

First responders at Conn. school massacre carry heavy burdens

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- While the people of Newtown do their best to cope with loss and preserve the memories of their loved ones, another class of residents is also finding it difficult to move on: the emergency responders who saw firsthand the terrible aftermath of last week’s school shooting.

Firefighter Peter Barresi was driving through Newtown on Friday when police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring raced toward his oldest son’s elementary school. After he was sent to Sandy Hook school himself, he saw things that will stay with him forever.

With anguished parents searching for their children, he prepared to receive the wounded, but a paramedic came back empty-handed, underscoring the totality of the massacre. Barresi, whose own son escaped unharmed, later discovered that among the 26 dead were children who played baseball with his son and had come to his house for birthday parties.

"For some of us, it’s fairly difficult," said Barresi, of the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue Co. "Fortunately most of us did not go in."

Newtown and environs weathered a fourth day of funerals Thursday, six days after a 20-year-old gunman killed his mother at home, 20 children and six adults at the school and himself for reasons still unknown. Mourners laid to rest Catherine Hubbard, Benjamin Wheeler, Jesse Lewis and Allison Wyatt, all 6 years old; and Grace McDonnell, 7.

Mass shootings edge election as editors’ pick for top story of 2012

NEW YORK (AP) -- The horrific massacre of 26 children and staff at a Connecticut elementary school, along with other mass shootings, was the top news story of 2012, narrowly edging out the U.S. election, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

The results followed a rare decision by the AP to re-conduct the voting. The initial round of balloting had ended Dec. 13, a day before the shootings in Newtown, with the election ranked No. 1, followed by Superstorm Sandy. The original entry for mass shootings, focused on the rampage at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, placed sixth in that voting.

In the new poll, updated to account for Newtown, the mass shootings received 68 first-place votes out of 173 ballots cast for the top 10 stories, compared to 65 first-place votes for the election -- one of the closest results since the AP launched the poll in 1936. On a scale of points ranging from 10 for first place to one for 10th place, the shootings tallied 1448 points, compared to 1417 for the election. The second balloting ran Dec. 17-19.

Superstorm Sandy was third, far ahead of the next group of stories.

"After we completed our poll the news agenda was reshaped, tragically, by the Newtown shootings," said Michael Oreskes, AP’s senior managing editor for U.S. news. "To chronicle that we conducted the poll again before releasing both results."

Extreme forecast dead-on in 2012: Hot and either too dry or too wet

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As 2012 began, winter in the U.S. went AWOL. Spring and summer arrived early with wildfires, blistering heat and drought. And fall hit the eastern third of the country with the ferocity of Superstorm Sandy.

This past year’s weather was deadly, costly and record-breaking everywhere -- but especially in the United States.

If that sounds familiar, it should. The previous year also was one for the record books.

"We’ve had two years now of some angry events," said Deke Arndt, U.S. National Climatic Data Center monitoring chief. "I’m hoping that 2013 is really boring."

In 2012 many of the warnings scientists have made about global warming went from dry studies in scientific journals to real-life video played before our eyes: Record melting of the ice in the Arctic Ocean. U.S. cities baking at 95 degrees or hotter. Widespread drought. Flooding. Storm surge inundating swaths of New York City.

Thousands of Syria’s wounded, will need long-term care after war ends

ATMEH, Syria (AP) -- A baby boy joined the ranks of Syria’s tens of thousands of war wounded when a missile fired by Bashar Assad’s air force slammed into his family home and shrapnel pierced his skull.

Four-month-old Fahed Darwish suffered brain damage and, like thousands of others seriously hurt in the civil war, he will likely need care well after the fighting is over. That’s something doctors say a post-conflict Syria won’t be able to provide.

Making things worse, there has been a sharp spike in serious injuries since the summer, when the regime began bombing rebel-held areas from the air, and doctors say a majority of the wounded they now treat are civilians.

This week, Fahed was recovering from brain surgery in an intensive care unit, his head bandaged and his body under a heavy blanket, watched over by Mariam, his distraught 22-year-old mother.

She said that after her first-born is discharged from the hospital in Atmeh, a village in an area of relative safety near the Turkish border, they will have to return to their village in a war zone in central Syria.

Storm dumps foot of snow in Midwest, leads to fatal 25-vehicle pileup in Iowa, power outages

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The first widespread snowstorm of the season crawled across the Midwest on Thursday, with whiteout conditions stranding holiday travelers and sending drivers sliding over slick roads -- including into a fatal 25-vehicle pileup in Iowa.

The storm, which dumped a foot of snow in parts of Iowa and Wisconsin, was part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week before trekking into the Midwest. It was expected to move across the Great Lakes overnight before moving into Canada.

On the southern edge of the system, a tornado destroyed several homes in Arkansas, and strong winds peeled roofs off buildings and toppled trucks in Alabama and led to flight cancellations in Texas.

In Iowa, drivers were blinded by blowing snow and didn’t see vehicles that had slowed or stopped on Interstate 35 about 60 miles north of Des Moines, state police said. A chain reaction of crashes involving semitrailers and passenger cars closed down a section of the highway. At least one person was killed.

"It’s time to listen to warnings and get off the road," said Iowa State Patrol Col. David Garrison.

A big sell order at the New York Stock Exchange: Little-known rival will buy it for $8B

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Big Board just isn’t so big anymore.

In a deal that highlights the dwindling stature of what was once a centerpiece of capitalism, the New York Stock Exchange is being sold to a little-known rival for $8 billion -- $3 billion less than it would have fetched in a proposed takeover just last year.

The buyer is IntercontinentalExchange, a 12-year-old exchange headquartered in Atlanta that deals in investing contracts known as futures.

Intercontinental Exchange, known as ICE, said Thursday that little would change for the trading floor at the corner of Wall and Broad streets, in Manhattan’s financial district.

But the clout of the two-centuries-old NYSE has gradually been eroded over decades by the relentless advance of technology and regulatory changes. Its importance today is mostly symbolic.