Tuesday November 27, 2012

Is Norquist’s influence fading? Some Republicans split with anti-tax activist

WASHINGTON (AP) -- For decades, conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist vowed to drive Republicans out of office if they didn’t pledge to oppose tax increases. Many lawmakers signed on.

But now, several senior Republicans are breaking ranks, willing to consider raising more money through taxes as part of a deal with Democrats to avoid a catastrophic budget meltdown.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker says the only pledge he will keep is his oath of office. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says no one in his home state of Virginia is talking about what leaders in Washington refer to simply as "The Pledge," a Norquist invention that dates to 1986. Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss says he cares more about his country than sticking to Norquist’s pledge.

It’s quite an about-face for senior members of a party that long has stood firmly against almost any notion of tax increases. And while GOP leaders insist they still don’t want to see taxes go up, the reality of a nation in a debt crisis is forcing some to moderate their opposition to any movement on how much Americans pay to fund their government. Republican legislators and Democratic President Barack Obama’s White House are haggling vigorously as they look for ways to reach agreement on detailed tax adjustments and spending cuts before automatic, blunt-force changes occur at the new year.

"Oh, I signed it," Sen. Jeff Sessions said on Fox News about Norquist’s pledge. "But we’ve got to deal with the crisis we face. We’ve got to deal with the political reality of the president’s victory."

Egypt president stands by edicts giving him sweeping powers, says he was within his rights

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi struck an uncompromising stand Monday over his seizure of near absolute powers, refusing in a meeting with top judicial authorities to rescind a package of constitutional amendments that placed his edicts above oversight by the courts.

Morsi’s supporters, meanwhile, canceled a massive rally planned for Tuesday to compete with a demonstration by his opponents, citing the need to "defuse tension" at a time when anger over the president’s moves is mounting, according to a spokesman for the president’s Muslim Brotherhood.

The opposition rally was going ahead as scheduled at Cairo’s Tahrir square, birthplace of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime nearly two years ago.

The meeting between Morsi and members of the Supreme Judiciary Council was a bid to resolve a four-day crisis that has plunged the country into a new round of turmoil, with clashes between the two sides that have left one protester dead and hundreds wounded.

Morsi, according to a presidential statement, told the judges that while the constitutional declaration he announced Thursday grants him immunity from any oversight, he intended to restrict that to what it described as "sovereignty issues."

Wal-Mart says it tried to cut ties to garment factory in Bangladesh before blaze killed 112

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- The garment factory in Bangladesh where a weekend fire killed at least 112 people had been making clothes for Wal-Mart without the giant U.S. retailer’s knowledge, Wal-Mart said Monday.

In a statement, Wal-Mart said that the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for Wal-Mart, but that a supplier subcontracted work to it "in direct violation of our policies."

"Today, we have terminated the relationship with that supplier," America’s biggest retailer said. "The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh."

The blaze on Saturday was one of the deadliest fires of its kind in Bangladesh and threw a spotlight on the way the country’s garment factories often ignore safety in the rush to supply major retailers in the U.S. and Europe. More than 200 people have died over the past six years in garment factory fires in Bangladesh, including a blaze that killed 63 in 2006.

Survivors of the latest tragedy said that an exit door was locked, that fire extinguishers didn’t work and apparently were there just to impress inspectors, and that when the fire alarm went off, workers were told by their bosses to go back to their sewing machines. Victims were trapped or jumped to their deaths from the eight-story building, which had no emergency exits.

Cuomo: Sandy cost N.Y., NYC $32B in damage; state leaders prepare aid requests

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Top political leaders in New York put their heads together Monday on big requests for federal disaster aid as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Superstorm Sandy ran up a bill of $32 billion in the state and the nation’s largest city.

The cost does not include more than $32 billion for repairs and restoration and an additional accounting of over $9 billion to head off damage in the next disastrous storm, including steps to protect the power grid and cellphone network.

"It’s common sense; it’s intelligent," Cuomo said. "Why don’t you spend some money now to save money in the future? And that’s what prevention and mitigation is."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had announced earlier in the day that Sandy caused $19 billion in losses in New York City -- part of the $30 billion estimate Cuomo used.

New York taxpayers, Cuomo said, can’t foot the bill.

Calif.community mourns family swept to sea; search for missing teen stopped

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Howard Kuljian and his family were out for a walk on a damp, overcast morning at Big Lagoon beach, playing fetch with their dog Fran as 10-foot surf churned the water just feet away like a washing machine.

Signs near the beach warned of "sneaker waves," the kind that suddenly roar ashore.

Kuljian tossed a stick that took the dog down to the water’s edge, and in an instant, authorities said, a wave swallowed it, setting off a nightmarish scramble.

"Everything kind of snowballed from there," Coast Guard Lt. Bernie Garrigan said.

Kuljian’s 16-year-old son, Gregory, ran to save the dog, only to be captured by the surging surf himself. Kuljian, 54, followed, and then his wife, Mary Scott, 57. On shore, their 18-year-old daughter, Olivia, and Gregory’s girlfriend could only watch.

Judge rejects Ohio inmate’s request to delay execution on obesity grounds

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A condemned killer trying to delay his execution because of his extreme weight hasn’t raised enough new issues to warrant the legal challenge, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Death row inmate Ronald Post, who weighs more than 400 pounds, is asking the courts to stop his January execution on the grounds his weight could cause him to suffer severe pain during the procedure.

Post is prohibited from challenging his execution by injection because he raised similar claims in his first set of federal appeals in 1997, Judge Lesley Wells said Monday in Cleveland.

In general, death row inmates are only allowed one federal appeal when alleging the same set of facts.

Post "has not demonstrated in his new petition that his medical condition has changed so significantly, or that Ohio’s new lethal injection procedures have changed so radically, since he filed his first petition in 1997 that his original core complaints are transformed into something new," Wells wrote.

Teenage ‘Two and a Half Men’ actor calls his show ‘filth,’ urges viewers to stay away

NEW YORK (AP) -- The teenage actor who plays the half in the hit CBS comedy "Two and a Half Men" says in a video posted online by a Christian church that the show is "filth" and that viewers shouldn’t watch it.

Nineteen-year-old Angus T. Jones has been on the show, which used to feature bad-boy actor Charlie Sheen and remains heavy with sexual innuendo, since he was 10 but says he doesn’t want to be on it anymore.

"Please stop watching it," Jones said. "Please stop filling your head with filth."

Jones plays Jake, the son of Jon Cryer’s uptight divorced chiropractor character, Alan, and the nephew of Sheen’s hedonistic philandering music jingle writer character, Charlie. Sheen, who has publicly criticized CBS, was fired and replaced by Ashton Kutcher, who plays billionaire Walden.

In the video posted by the Forerunner Christian Church in Fremont, Calif., Jones describes a search for a spiritual home. He says the type of entertainment he’s involved in adversely affects the brain and "there’s no playing around when it comes to eternity."

Mexican state beauty queen killed in shootout between suspected traffickers, soldiers

CULIACAN, Mexico (AP) -- A 20-year-old state beauty queen was killed during a running gun battle between soldiers and the gang of drug traffickers she was traveling with in northern Mexico, the chief prosecutor of the state of Sinaloa said Monday.

In a scene reminiscent of the 2011 movie "Miss Bala" -- or "Miss Bullet" -- the body of Maria Susana Flores Gamez was found lying near an assault rifle on a rural road in a mountainous area of the drug-plagued state. It was unclear if she had used the weapon.

"She was with the gang of criminals, but we cannot say whether she participated in the shootout," state prosecutor Marco Antonio Higuera said. "That’s what we’re going to have to investigate."

The doe-eyed, slender brunette was voted the 2012 Woman of Sinaloa in a beauty pageant in February. She had earlier competed for the other, more prestigious state beauty contest, Our Beauty Sinaloa, but didn’t win.

Higuera said Flores Gamez was traveling in one of the vehicles that engaged soldiers in an hours-long chase and running gun battle on Saturday. Higuera said two other members of the drug gang were killed and four were detained.