Friday December 28, 2012

Consumer confidence drops for 2nd straight month over fears of fiscal cliff

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers peering over the "fiscal cliff" don’t like what they see.

Fears of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect next week sent consumer confidence tumbling in December to its lowest level since August.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its consumer confidence index fell for the second straight month in December to 65.1, down from 71.5 in November.

The survey showed consumers’ outlook for the next six months deteriorated to its lowest level since 2011 -- a signal to Lynn Franco, the board’s director of economic indicators, that consumers are worried about the tax hikes and spending cuts that take effect Jan. 1 if the White House and Congress can’t reach a budget deal.

Earlier this week a report showed consumers held back shopping this holiday season, another indication of their concerns about possible tax increases.

Bush family seeks privacy, releases no new information on former president’s condition

HOUSTON (AP) -- Former President George H.W. Bush’s family sought privacy and provided no new details Thursday about his medical condition, a day after his spokesman said he’s in intensive care after being hospitalized for treatment of a bronchitis-related cough.

Bush spokesman Jim McGrath said he would put out another statement "when events warrant it," citing the family’s right to and desire for privacy.


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Bush, 88, entered Methodist Hospital in Houston on Nov. 23 for treatment of what McGrath has described as a "stubborn" cough. He had spent about a week there earlier in November for treatment of the same condition.

It was hoped Bush would be well enough to spend Christmas at home. But while his cough improved, he developed a persistent fever. McGrath disclosed Wednesday that Bush, the oldest living former president, had been transferred to the intensive care unit Sunday and his condition was downgraded to "guarded."

"He needs to rally," McGrath said. "We continue to be cautiously optimistic."

Egypt opposition leaders probed over allegations of incitement to overthrow president

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s chief prosecutor ordered an investigation on Thursday into allegations that opposition leaders committed treason by inciting supporters to overthrow Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The probe by a Morsi-appointed prosecutor was launched a day after the president called for a dialogue with the opposition to heal rifts opened in the bitter fight over an Islamist-drafted constitution just approved in a referendum. The opposition decried the investigation as a throwback to Hosni Mubarak’s regime, when the law was used to smear and silence opponents.

The probe was almost certain to sour the already tense political atmosphere in the country.

The allegations were made initially in a complaint by at least two lawyers sent to the chief prosecutor earlier this month. They targeted opposition leaders Mohammed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate and former head of the U.N. nuclear agency, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, and Hamdeen Sabahi. Both Moussa and Sabahi were presidential candidates who competed against Morsi in the last election.

There was no immediate comment by any of the three opposition leaders named but the opposition dismissed the allegations.

Roadkill: College student’s project to save turtles yields glimpse of human nature’s dark side

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -- Clemson University student Nathan Weaver set out to determine how to help turtles cross the road. He ended up getting a glimpse into the dark souls of some humans.

Weaver put a realistic rubber turtle in the middle of a lane on a busy road near campus. Then he got out of the way and watched over the next hour as seven drivers swerved and deliberately ran over the animal. Several more apparently tried to hit it but missed.

"I’ve heard of people and from friends who knew people that ran over turtles. But to see it out here like this was a bit shocking," said Weaver, a 22-year-old senior in Clemson’s School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences.

To seasoned researchers, the practice wasn’t surprising.

The number of box turtles is in slow decline, and one big reason is that many wind up as roadkill while crossing the asphalt, a slow-and-steady trip that can take several minutes.

’Time to tame the city’: Makeover of Mexico City moves forward with renovation of roundabout

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- The plan is as big as this mammoth city: Turn a seedy metro hub into Mexico City’s Times Square; clear swarms of feisty vendors and remodel the historic Alameda Central; illuminate the plazas and walkways of a park twice the size of New York’s Central Park.

Mexico City’s government is trying to transform one of the world’s largest cities by beautifying public spaces, parks and monuments buried beneath a sea of honking cars, street hawkers, billboards and grime following decades of dizzying urban growth.

Despite the challenges, the ambitious, multimillion-dollar program carried out by former center-left Mayor Marcelo Ebrard and continued by his successor, Miguel Angel Mancera, is winning praise from urban planners and many residents. And it’s turning the metropolis into an experiment in how to soften urban sprawl.

"It’s time to tame the city," said Juan Carlos de Leo Gandara, head of the Iberoamerican University’s sustainable urban projects. "Today is about giving the city back to pedestrians."

In the Alameda, made iconic in the Diego Rivera mural "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda," concrete sidewalks were replaced by marble, and makeshift vendor stands were kicked out -- a renovation that cost about $18.7 million. Instead of a motley patchwork of folding tables and tarps, the newly opened park, anchored by the art nouveau Palacio de Bellas Artes theater, is a sea of greenery and calm in the midst of racing traffic.

Newtown keeping kids busy with activities in attempt to restore normalcy after school massacre

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- The children at the Sandy Hook Elementary school won’t be returning to classes for another week, but officials from the town, school district and local agencies are doing their best in the meantime to keep them occupied following a massacre at their school two weeks ago.

The students have not attended school since a gunman killed 20 of their schoolmates and six adults on Dec. 14. They are slated to return to a different school next Thursday.

In the meantime, they’ve been treated to field trips, toy giveaways and some organized play time.

"A couple of the teachers have done pizza parties," said Janet Robinson, Newtown’s school superintendent. "Another met her kids at the library so they could have a little reading time together. The most important thing has been connecting the students back to their teacher and their classmates."

The Newtown Youth Academy, a nonprofit sports center, opened its doors to all kids in town at no cost shortly after the shooting. But from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. last week, the building’s turf field, basketball and tennis courts, and giant inflatable obstacle course were reserved just for Sandy Hook Elementary students.

Obama’s top environmental watchdog, EPA chief Lisa Jackson, resigns after nearly 4 years

WASHINGTON (AP) -- EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the Obama administration’s chief environmental watchdog, is stepping down after nearly four years marked by high-profile brawls over global warming pollution, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, new controls on coal-fired plants and several other hot-button issues that affect the nation’s economy and people’s health.

Jackson constantly found herself caught between administration pledges to solve thorny environmental problems and steady resistance from Republicans and industrial groups who complained that the agency’s rules destroyed jobs and made it harder for American companies to compete internationally.

The GOP chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, said last year that Jackson would need her own parking spot at the Capitol because he planned to bring her in so frequently for questioning. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called for her firing, a stance that had little downside during the GOP primary.

Jackson, 50, the agency’s first black administrator and a chemical engineer, did not point to any particular reason for her departure. Historically, Cabinet members looking to move on will leave at the beginning of a president’s second term.

Despite the opposition, which former EPA chiefs have said is the worst they have seen against the agency, Jackson still managed to take significant steps that will improve air quality and begin to curb global warming.