• Fiscal cliff avoidance bill passes Senate; House next - News in Brief
    January 01,2013
     

    Bill to avert fiscal cliff heads to House after early-morning approval by Senate
    WASHINGTON — Legislation to negate a fiscal cliff of across-the-board tax increases and sweeping spending cuts to the Pentagon and other government agencies is headed to the GOP-dominated House after bipartisan, middle-of-the-night approval in the Senate capped a New Year’s Eve drama unlike any other in the annals of Congress.
    The measure cleared the Senate on an 89-8 vote early Tuesday, hours after Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky sealed a deal.
    It would prevent middle-class taxes from going up but would raise rates on higher incomes. It would also block spending cuts for two months, extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, prevent a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients and prevent a spike in milk prices.
    The measure ensures that lawmakers will have to revisit difficult budget questions in just a few weeks, as relief from painful spending cuts expires and the government requires an increase in its borrowing cap.
    House Speaker John Boehner pointedly refrained from endorsing the agreement, though he’s promised a vote on it or a GOP alternative right away.
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    Highlights of Senate bill to avert ‘fiscal cliff’
    Highlights of a bill approved Tuesday by the Senate aimed at averting wide tax increases and budget cuts scheduled to take effect in the new year. The measure would raise taxes by about $600 billion over 10 years compared with tax policies that were due to expire at midnight Monday. It would also delay for two months across-the-board cuts to the budgets of the Pentagon and numerous domestic agencies.
    The House is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday or Wednesday.
    Highlights include:
    —Income tax rates: Extends decade-old tax cuts on incomes up to $400,000 for individuals, $450,000 for couples. Earnings above those amounts would be taxed at a rate of 39.6 percent, up from the current 35 percent. Extends Clinton-era caps on itemized deductions and the phase-out of the personal exemption for individuals making more than $250,000 and couples earning more than $300,000.
    —Estate tax: Estates would be taxed at a top rate of 40 percent, with the first $5 million in value exempted for individual estates and $10 million for family estates. In 2012, such estates were subject to a top rate of 35 percent.
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    Doctors using blood thinners in effort to dissolve clot in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s head
    WASHINGTON (AP) — Doctors treating Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a blood clot in her head said blood thinners are being used to dissolve the clot and they are confident she will make a full recovery.
    Clinton didn’t suffer a stroke or neurological damage from the clot that formed after she suffered a concussion during a fainting spell at her home in early December, doctors said in a statement Monday.
    Clinton, 65, was admitted to New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday when the clot turned up on a follow-up exam on the concussion, Clinton spokesman Phillipe Reines said.
    The clot is located in the vein in the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear. She will be released once the medication dose for the blood thinners has been established, the doctors said.
    In their statement, Dr. Lisa Bardack of the Mount Kisco Medical Group and Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi of George Washington University said Clinton was making excellent progress and was in good spirits.
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    Amid lavish fireworks in Asia, festivities dimmed in US, Europe, India over violence, economy
    NEW YORK (AP) — As the world rang in 2013 with spectacular fireworks displays and showers of confetti, the specter of economic uncertainty and searing violence dimmed some festivities and weighed on the minds of revelers hoping for a better year.
    “With all the sadness in the country, we’re looking for some good changes in 2013,” Laura Concannon, of Hingham, Mass., said as she, her husband, Kevin, and his parents joined hundreds of thousands of people who celebrated the new year in Times Square on Monday.
    Matias Dellanno, 37, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, stood in the middle of the square with his wife and 3-year-old son. His eyes caught the multicolored lighting illuminating the square just before midnight.
    “I feel a completely new hope for 2013,” he said. “It can’t be any worse than last year, when my business lost clients. It was a rough year for everyone. The new year has to be better!”
    Revelers with New Year’s hats and sunglasses boasting “2013” packed the streets in the 35-degree cold to count down the first ball drop in decades without Dick Clark, who died in April and was honored with his name printed on confetti and on one of the crystal panels on the Times Square ball.
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    Same-sex marriage ceremonies begin early New Year’s Day in Maryland
    BALTIMORE (AP) — Same-sex couples in Maryland were greeted with cheers and noisemakers held over from New Year’s Eve parties, as gay marriage became legal in the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line on New Year’s Day.
    James Scales, 68, was married to William Tasker, 60, on Tuesday shortly after midnight by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake inside City Hall.
    “It’s just so hard to believe it’s happening,” Scales said shortly before marrying his partner of 35 years.
    Six other same-sex couples also were being married at City Hall. Ceremonies were taking place in other parts of the state as well.
    The ceremonies follow a legislative fight that pitted Gov. Martin O’Malley against leaders of his Catholic faith. Voters in the state, founded by Catholics in the 17th century, sealed the change by approving a November ballot question.
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    N. Korean leader Kim Jong Un calls for economic improvements, more weapons in New Year’s speech
    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday called for improving the economy and living standards of his impoverished nation with the same urgency that scientists showed in successfully testing a long-range rocket recently.
    Kim’s first New Year’s speech, delivered on state TV, was peppered with rhetoric, with calls for boosting the military’s capabilities and making the science and technology sector world class. But other passages in the speech were also an acknowledgement of the poor state of the country’s economy that has long lagged behind the rest of the region.
    North Korea has little arable land, is prone to natural disasters and struggles to grow enough food for its 24 million people.
    The annual New Year’s Day message lays out North Korea’s policy goals for the year. But Kim gave no indication whether he plans to introduce economic reforms or allow free enterprise, except to say the economy should be underpinned by science and technology.
    “The industrial revolution in the new century is, in essence, a scientific and technological revolution, and breaking through the cutting edge is a shortcut to the building of an economic giant,” he said.
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    J&J gets FDA approval for Sirturo, first drug for drug-resistant tuberculosis
    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved a Johnson & Johnson tuberculosis drug that is the first new medicine to fight the deadly infection in more than four decades.
    The agency approved J&J’s pill, Sirturo, for use with older drugs to fight a hard-to-treat strain of tuberculosis that has not responded to other medications. However, the agency cautioned that the drug carries risks of potentially deadly heart problems and should be prescribed carefully by doctors.
    Roughly one-third of the world’s population is estimated to be infected with the bacteria causing tuberculosis. The disease is rare in the U.S., but kills about 1.4 million people a year worldwide. Of those, about 150,000 succumb to the increasingly common drug-resistant forms of the disease. About 60 percent of all cases are concentrated in China, India, Russia and Eastern Europe.
    Sirturo, known chemically as bedaquiline, is the first medicine specifically designed for treating multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. That’s a form of the disease that cannot be treated with at least two of the four primary antibiotics used for tuberculosis.
    The standard drugs used to fight the disease were developed in the 1950s and 1960s.
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    Survivors of Oregon bus crash that killed 9 say some passengers were ejected through windows
    PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — Survivors of a bus crash that killed nine people on a partly icy section of interstate in rural Eastern Oregon said Monday some passengers were thrown from the vehicle through broken windows after it skidded out of control, smashed through a guardrail and plummeted 200 feet down an embankment.
    When the tour bus came to a rest, terrified passengers looked around for their loved ones.
    “Some mothers screamed to find their son or daughter,” said Jaemin Seo, a 23-year-old exchange student from Suwon, South Korea.
    The charter bus, owned by a British Columbia company, crashed Sunday just east of Pendleton while returning to Canada from Las Vegas — one of the stops on a nine-day western tour.
    Aboard were 48 people, some of them exchange students from South Korea. Some passengers were from British Columbia, and some from Washington state. Investigators say there also may have been a Japanese passenger and one from Taiwan, and they’re working with consular officials from those nations to identify them.
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    After Colorado allows recreational pot use, private members-only clubs pop up
    DENVER (AP) — With reggae music pumping in the background and flashing disco-style lights, members of the recreational pot club lit up in celebration of the new year — and a new place to smoke legally among friends.
    Club 64, in an industrial area just north of downtown Denver, opened at 4:20 p.m. on Monday, with some 200 people signed up. The opening came less than 24 hours after organizers announced they would charge a $29.99 admission price for the bring-your-own pot club.
    “Look at this!” Chloe Villano exclaimed as the club she created over the weekend opened. “We were so scared because we didn’t want it to be crazy. But this is crazy! People want this.”
    The private pot dens popped up less than a month after Colorado’s governor signed into law a constitutional amendment allowing recreational pot use. Club 64 gets its name from the number of the amendment.
    Two Colorado clubs were believed to be the first legal pot dens in the nation. The Denver Post reported that a similar pot club opened earlier Monday in the small southern Colorado town of Del Norte.
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    Concern over new electronic Oscar voting system extends balloting deadline
    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Growing concern that problems with the new electronic Oscar voting system could lead to record-low turnout has prompted the motion picture academy to extend the deadline for members to vote for Oscar nominations.
    But with next week’s highly anticipated announcements looming, the extension is only for a day, until Friday. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Monday any votes received after the new deadline will not be counted.
    “By extending the voting deadline we are providing every opportunity available to make the transition to online balloting as smooth as possible,” said the academy’s chief operating officer, Ric Robertson, in a statement. “We’re grateful to our global membership for joining us in this process.”
    Reports of difficulty accessing the Oscars’ first-ever online voting system and fears that it could be hacked have raised questions about balloting for the 85th annual contest. Earlier this year, the academy and its longtime accountants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, partnered with the electronic voting firm Everyone Counts Inc. to develop the system.
    “There’s considerable concern from many members that voter participation will be at record lows this year because the people who wanted to take a chance on this new cutting-edge system are either giving up on it or worried they won’t be able to cast their votes,” said Scott Feinberg, awards analyst and blogger for The Hollywood Reporter.

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