Tuesday December 11, 2012

Obama says he ‘won’t compromise’ on taxes for wealthy but holds back on GOP criticism

REDFORD, Mich. (AP) -- President Barack Obama warned Monday that he "won’t compromise" on his demands that the wealthiest Americans pay higher tax rates, digging in on the chief sticking point between the White House and Republicans as they seek a way to avert the "fiscal cliff."

Obama brought his pressure-Congress campaign to the heart of industrial America, ripping lines from his own re-election bid as the nation inched closer to a perilous economic cliff. He said the country couldn’t afford a "manufactured" crisis and pledged to cheering auto workers that he would fight to extend tax cuts for the middle class before they expire at year’s end.

"That’s a hit you can’t afford to take," Obama declared.

Obama’s campaign-style trip to Michigan came one day after he and House Speaker John Boehner met privately at the White House. While neither side would characterize the meeting, the mere fact that the two leaders talked face-to-face was seen as progress in negotiations to avoid a series of year-end tax hikes and spending cuts.

Republicans have long opposed Obama’s call for higher tax rates on the wealthy, but some GOP lawmakers are suggesting the party relent on taxes in order to win concessions from the president on changes to benefit programs such as Medicare. Still, Boehner’s office indicated Monday that the speaker wasn’t ready to take that step.

Jenni Rivera, soulful, troubled superstar of Mexican-American music

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jenni Rivera launched her career hawking cassette recordings of her songs at flea markets, but a powerful voice, soulful singing style and frank discussion of personal troubles powered her to the heights of a male-dominated industry, transforming her into the one of the biggest stars of the genre known as grupero.

Her life was cut short at its peak on Sunday by an airplane crash in northern Mexico that also killed six friends and co-workers.

The 43-year-old mother of five and grandmother of two became a symbol of resilience for millions of fans on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. Her fame grew as she branched out into acting, appearing in independent film, reality TV and the televised singing competition "La Voz Mexico."

She had recently filed for divorce from her third husband, was once detained at a Mexico City airport with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, and publicly apologized after her brother assaulted a drunken fan who verbally attacked her in 2011.

"I am the same as the public, as my fans," she told The Associated Press in an interview last March.

Strauss-Kahn, hotel maid ink settlement in her lawsuit claiming sexual assault

NEW YORK (AP) -- Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a hotel maid settled her lawsuit Monday over sexual assault allegations that sank his political career and spurred scrutiny of his dealings with women on two continents.

State Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon announced that after lengthy negotiations in the suit brought by Nafissatou Diallo, the parties "came together and put terms of a settlement on the record." The amount of the settlement was kept confidential.

Strauss-Kahn did not attend the hearing on Monday at a Bronx courthouse. Diallo, her hair covered by a leopard-print scarf, looked composed and resolute as the deal was announced.

"I thank everybody all over the world and everybody at the court, and God bless you all," Diallo said afterward.

Her attorney, Kenneth Thompson, called her "a strong and courageous woman who never lost faith in the justice system. With this resolution, she can move on with her life."

Egypt’s military assumes temporary powers ahead of vote as country braces for more rallies

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s military assumed responsibility Monday for protecting state institutions and maintaining security ahead of a Dec. 15 constitutional referendum, as the country braced for another round of mass demonstrations by the supporters of the country’s Islamist president and the liberal opposition over the disputed charter.

The referendum on a contentious new constitution lies at the heart of a bitter political battle that has deeply polarized Egypt and triggered some of the worst street violence between backers and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi since he took power in June as the country’s first democratically elected leader.

So far, Morsi has stood firm on the referendum, refusing to yield to opposition demands that he scrap the vote scheduled for Saturday. The opposition, meanwhile, was still trying to decide late Monday whether to boycott the referendum or rally Egyptians to vote "no" to the draft constitution, and hoping that a massive turnout for a rally Tuesday would force the president to cancel the balloting.

"We still have a chance, with popular rejection, to stop the referendum," said Basil Adel, a former lawmaker and liberal activist.

Egypt’s political crisis began on Nov. 22 when Morsi issued a decree granting himself -- and the Islamist-dominated panel writing the constitution -- immunity from judicial oversight or challenge. Those decrees sparked mass demonstrations, with opponents saying they were issued initially to protect the draft charter from the judiciary.

Pot legalized in Colo. with proclamation; adults can possess up to an ounce

DENVER (AP) -- Marijuana for recreational use became legal in Colorado Monday, when the governor took the procedural step of declaring the voter-approved change part of the state constitution.

Colorado became the second state after Washington to allow pot use without a doctor’s recommendation. Both states prohibit public use of the drug, and commercial sales in Colorado and Washington won’t be permitted until after regulations are written next year.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, opposed the measure but had no veto power over the voter-approved amendment to the state constitution. He tweeted his declaration Monday and sent an executive order to reporters by email after the fact. That prevented a countdown to legalization as seen in Washington, where the law’s supporters gathered to smoke in public.

"Voters were loud and clear on Election Day," Hickenlooper said in his statement. The law allowed him until Jan. 5 to declare marijuana legal.

Adults over 21 in Colorado may now possess up to an ounce of marijuana, or six plants. Public use and sale of the drug remain illegal.

Employers grumble about ‘sleeper’ fee to stabilize insurance market

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Your medical plan is facing an unexpected expense, so you probably are, too. It’s a new, $63-per-head fee to cushion the cost of covering people with pre-existing conditions under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

The charge, buried in a recent regulation, works out to tens of millions of dollars for the largest companies, employers say. Most of that is likely to be passed on to workers.

Employee benefits lawyer Chantel Sheaks calls it a "sleeper issue" with significant financial consequences, particularly for large employers.

"Especially at a time when we are facing economic uncertainty, (companies will) be hit with a multi-million dollar assessment without getting anything back for it," said Sheaks, a principal at Buck Consultants, a Xerox subsidiary.

Based on figures provided in the regulation, employer and individual health plans covering an estimated 190 million Americans could owe the per-person fee.

Judge sentences Wash. man to life in prison for 1957 slaying of 7-year-old Illinois girl

SYCAMORE, Ill. (AP) -- A former Washington state policeman convicted of kidnapping and murdering a young Illinois girl more than a half century ago was sentenced Monday to life in prison.

Jack McCullough, 73, was convicted in September in one of the oldest unsolved crimes in American history to make it to trial. Life in prison was the maximum sentence he faced.

The sentencing took place in Sycamore, the small community where 7-year-old Maria Ridulph was abducted and killed in December of 1957. Like McCullough’s trial, it was expected to be emotional for members of Ridulph’s and McCullough’s families, as well as 63-year-old Kathy Chapman, a childhood friend of Ridulph’s who was with her until moments before she was abducted.

Judge James Hallock admonished an unrepentant McCullough for turning to face Ridulph’s family and friends as he spoke before sentencing. The judge ordered McCullough to face the bench, but McCullough kept pivoting toward the gallery.

"I did not, did not, kill Maria Ridulph," said McCullough, who grew up in Sycamore. "It was a crime I did not, would not, could not have done."