Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Published:

House-Senate talks said to yield agreement on renewing payroll tax cut, jobless benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House-Senate talks on renewing a payroll tax cut that delivers about $20 a week to the average worker yielded a tentative agreement Tuesday, with lawmakers planning to unveil the pact Wednesday and sending the measure to President Barack Obama as early as this week.

Under the outlines of the emerging agreement, a 2 percentage-point cut in the Social Security payroll tax would be extended through the end of the year, with the nearly $100 billion cost added to the deficit. Jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed would be renewed as well, with the $30 billion cost paid for in part through auctioning broadcast spectrum to wireless companies and requiring federal workers to contribute more toward their pensions.

GOP lawmakers leaving a party meeting said they were told a tentative pact had been reached but said some details could change before the compromise was finalized, probably on Wednesday. They described the session as largely positive, and several predicted the House would approve the deal.

The payroll tax cut and renewing jobless benefits were key planks in Obama's jobs program, which was announced in September. The payroll tax cut benefits 160 million Americans and delivers a tax cut of about $20 a week for a typical worker making $50,000 a year. People making a $100,000 salary would get a $2,000 tax cut.

The deal would not only be a win for Obama but would take the payroll tax fight -- which put Republicans on the defensive -- off the table for the fall election campaign.

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US, Europe consider crippling worldwide bank penalty against Iran, though costs could be high

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States and Europe are considering unprecedented punishment against Iran that could immediately cripple the country's financial lifeline. But it's an extreme option in the banking world that would come with its own costs.

The Obama administration wants Iran evicted from SWIFT, an independent financial clearinghouse that is crucial to the country's overseas oil sales. That would leapfrog the current slow-pressure campaign of sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to drop what the U.S. and its allies contend is a drive toward developing and building nuclear weapons. It also perhaps would buy time for the U.S. to persuade Israel not to launch a pre-emptive military strike on Iran this spring.

The last-resort financial effort suggests the U.S. and Europe are grasping for ways to show immediate results because economic sanctions have so far failed to force Iran back to nuclear talks

But such a penalty could send oil prices soaring when many of the world's economies are still frail. It also could hurt ordinary Iranians and undercut the reputation of SWIFT, a banking hub used by virtually every nation and corporation around the world. The organization's full name is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.

Meanwhile, violence is increasing. Explosions in Bangkok on Tuesday -- Israel's defense minister labeled them an "attempted terrorist attack" -- came the day after Israel accused Iran of trying to kill its diplomats in India and Georgia. Those attacks followed the recent killings of Iranian scientists.

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Bangkok blasts wound Iranian, 4 others; Israel blames Tehran for 'attempted terrorist attack'

BANGKOK (AP) -- Israel accused Iran of waging a covert campaign of state terror that stretched this week from the Middle East to the heart of Asia after a bungled series of explosions led to the capture of two Iranian nationals in Bangkok.

Authorities in Israel ratcheted up security at home and abroad following Tuesday's explosions in the Thai capital, escalating a confrontation over Iran's suspect nuclear program and raising fears of war.

On Monday, an Israeli diplomat's wife and driver were wounded in New Delhi when a bomb stuck to their minivan exploded, and another device was defused on an Israeli Embassy car in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Israel has threatened military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, and Iran has blamed the Jewish state for the recent killings of Iranian atomic scientists.

Iran denied responsibility for the New Delhi and Georgia attacks, which appeared to mirror the killings of the Iranian scientists that used "sticky bombs."

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Obama's $3.8 trillion budget attacked by GOP for higher taxes, failure to cut spending more

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Congress Tuesday that the president's new $3.8 trillion spending plan would impose new taxes on only 2 percent of the nation's wealthiest families and the alternative would be to seek more painful cuts in other government programs such as defense, Social Security and Medicare.

Geithner defended the new budget plan in the face of intense attacks from GOP members of the Senate Finance Committee. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told Geithner that the administration's spending plan would give the country a "permanently larger, European-inspired government."

But Geithner said deeper spending cuts now would damage economic growth and push more Americans into poverty at a time when the economy is still struggling to recover from a deep recession.

Geithner told the committee that the administration hopes to send Congress next week a framework for making changes in the country's corporate tax structure.

He said the administration would not offer detailed legislative language but rather broad principles for corporate tax reform. He said the administration would propose eliminating a number of current business tax breaks in an effort to lower the corporate tax rate.

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Santorum revels in sudden rise in GOP race, but he's still lacking big money and organization

BOISE, Idaho. (AP) -- The latest Republican to surge in polls, Rick Santorum is trying to turn his newfound strength into something lasting.

Curious Republicans now pack his rallies. Supporters have funneled nearly $4 million to his formerly empty campaign account over the past seven days. And his staff is plotting an aggressive strategy to challenge Mitt Romney in Romney's native Michigan and beyond.

But things don't look so strong just beneath the surface.

Santorum is underfunded and outmanned. He's still lacking in organization, a month and a half into the primary season. And, after he won three contests in a single day last week, his opponents -- on the right and the left -- have begun their own efforts to tear him down.

An upbeat Santorum faced more than 1,000 people in a Boise high school auditorium Tuesday night and said his ideas would carry him through.

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Funeral for singer Whitney Houston to be held Saturday at NJ church where she sang as a child

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Whitney Houston's funeral will be held Saturday in the church where she first showcased her singing talents as a child, her family choosing to remember her in a private service rather than in a large event at an arena.

The owner of the Whigham Funeral Home said Tuesday that the funeral will be held at noon at Newark's New Hope Baptist Church, which seats up to 1,500 people. Gospel singer Marvin Winans, a Grammy Award winner and longtime family friend, has been chosen to give the eulogy, his son said.

The family said no public memorial service is planned. Officials had discussed the possibility of holding a memorial at the Prudential Center, a major sports and entertainment venue that can seat about 18,000 people, but the funeral home said it had been ruled out.

Funeral home owner Carolyn Whigham said the church service will be by invitation only, reflecting the family's decision to keep the memorial more personal.

"They have shared her for 30-some years with the city, with the state, with the world. This is their time now for their farewell," she said.

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Va House Republicans muscle abortion restrictions to passage over passionate Dem protests

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A Republican supermajority has muscled two of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in years through the Virginia House, including one that would all but outlaw the procedure in the state by declaring that the rights of persons apply from the moment sperm and egg unite.

The bills passed over bitter yet futile objections from Democrats. And one GOP delegate caused the House to ripple when he said most abortions come as "matters of lifestyle convenience."

Del. Bob Marshall's House Bill 1 on personhood at conception passed on a 66-32 vote. And on a 63-36 vote, the House passed a bill that requires women to have a "transvaginal ultrasound" before undergoing abortions.

Opponents said the bills were unprecedented intrusions into the prerogatives and decisions not just of pregnant women but of women trying to avoid conceiving.

"The General Assembly is dangerously close to making Virginia the first state in the country to grant personhood rights to fertilized eggs," said Tarina Keene of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

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Woman receives consecutive prison terms for spiking Utah man's smoothie with antifreeze

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Utah woman was sentenced Tuesday to consecutive prison terms for spiking a 79-year-old man's peach smoothie with antifreeze after taking control of his bank accounts.

Vernal's 8th District Judge Clark McClellan ordered Selena Irene York, 34, to serve three consecutive terms of up to five years each. York pleaded no contest in December to reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery.

Authorities said York took control of Ed Zurbuchen's bank accounts after he opened his home to the woman and her daughter. Prosecutors said she stole $10,000 and named herself the beneficiary of Zurbuchen's life insurance policies.

Zurbuchen was hospitalized for four days in 2008 and is still undergoing liver and kidney testing.

"The damage ... we don't know what will happen or how it will affect me later in life," Zurbuchen said Tuesday. "I was healthy as a horse (at the time)."

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Peak performance: Pekingese becomes America's top dog, wins best in show at Westminster

NEW YORK (AP) -- A bobbing little pompom put on a peak performance at the Westminster Kennel Club.

Malachy the Pekingese wobbled off with best in show Tuesday night, becoming America's top dog much to the delight of an adoring crowd that called his name.

"He saved all his energy for the ring today," handler David Fitzpatrick said.

The 4-year-old Peke won his 115th overall best in show title. He beat out a Dalmatian, German shepherd, Doberman pinscher, Irish setter, a Kerry blue terrier and wire-haired dachshund at Madison Square Garden.

Fitzpatrick gave his 11-pound champ a bit of help -- he carried him a short way onto the green carpet for the final lineup, shortening the long walk the ring. Malachy's pink tongue popped out from his black face, his eyes sparkling like black diamonds as he soaked in the cheers.

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Jeremy Lin hits game-winning 3-pointer as Knicks beat Raptors 90-87, extend streak to 6 games

TORONTO (AP) -- Even after his amazing week, this one took Linsanity to a whole new level. Against Toronto on Tuesday, it was Lin for the win!

Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than a second to play to cap his finishing flurry of six straight points and New York rallied to beat the Raptors 90-87, extending its winning streak to six games.

"I'm just glad it went like this so we can calm the Linsanity down," cracked Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni.

No chance of that. The NBA's first American-Taiwanese player, Lin scored 27 points and added a career-high 11 assists in his first game since being named Eastern Conference player of the week.

"He continues to impress every night," New York's Jared Jeffries said. "Every game he plays better, he does more and more to help us win basketball games. You can't ask any more of a kid coming into this situation."