Democrats hint at concessions on benefits as 'cliff' talks accelerate; GOP may give ground too
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House and a key congressional Democrat hinted at fresh concessions on taxes and cuts to Medicare and other government benefit programs Wednesday as bargaining with Republicans lurched ahead to avoid the year-end "fiscal cliff" that threatens to send the economy into a tailspin.
Increasing numbers of rank-and-file Republicans also said they were ready to give ground, a boost for House Speaker John Boehner and other party leaders who say they will agree to higher tax revenues as part of a deal if it also curbs benefit programs as a way to rein in federal deficits.
"I'll go anywhere and I'll do whatever it takes to get this done," President Barack Obama said as he sought to build pressure on Republicans to accept his terms -- a swift renewal of expiring tax cuts for all but the highest income earners. "It's too important for Washington to screw this up," he declared.
For all the talk, there was no sign of tangible progress on an issue that marks a first test for divided government since elections that assured Obama a second term in the White House while renewing Republican control in the House.
"It's time for the president and Democrats to get serious about the spending problem that our country has," Boehner said at a news conference in the Capitol. He, like Obama, expressed optimism that a deal could be reached.
Bangladesh factory where fire killed 112 made clothes for Wal-Mart, Sears, other big retailers
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- The garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 people were killed in a fire had been making clothes for Wal-Mart, Disney, Sears and other major global retailers -- some of whom say they thought they had stopped doing business with the place.
The apparent confusion underscored what some industry experts say is a major obstacle to improving factory safety in developing nations: Many retailers in the U.S. and Europe rely on such a long and complex chain of manufacturers, vendors and middlemen to keep their shelves stocked that it is difficult to keep track of where certain products are made.
Amid the blackened tables and melted sewing machines at Tazreen Fashions Ltd., an Associated Press reporter discovered clothes and account books Wednesday that indicated the factory was used by a host of U.S. and European retailers.
Among the items discovered: children's shorts with Wal-Mart's Faded Glory label, hooded sweaters marked "Disney Pixar," shorts with hip-hop star Sean Combs' ENYCE tag, and sweaters from the French company Teddy Smith and the Scottish company Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Sears was among the companies listed in the account books.
The tragedy is putting a spotlight on dangerous workplace conditions around the world, with no clear answers to how consumers should react or who is ultimately responsible.
10 Things to Know for Thursday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and stories that will be talked about Thursday:
1. WHAT PALESTIANIANS ARE POISED TO GAIN FROM THE UN
Thursday's vote on recognizing a Palestinian state could give them leverage in future border talks with Israel.
Latest Rice stumbling block: Moderate GOP senator expresses concerns, seeks more information
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A moderate Republican senator, vital to any White House hopes of getting U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice confirmed as secretary of state, said Wednesday she couldn't back any nomination until more questions are answered about the deadly Sept. 11 attack in Libya and Rice's State Department role during the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya.
In a fresh suggestion of eroding GOP support for Rice, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine emerged from a 90-minute, closed-door meeting with the ambassador voicing new criticism of her initial account about Libya. Collins also questioned what Rice, the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Clinton administration, knew about requests for enhanced embassy security before the Nairobi truck bombing.
Pressed on how she would vote if President Barack Obama names Rice to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Collins said, "I would need to have additional information before I could support her nomination."
President Barack Obama came to Rice's defense during a Cabinet meeting, calling her "extraordinary" and saying he couldn't be prouder of the job she has done as U.N. ambassador. Cabinet members joined Obama in applauding Rice, who attended the meeting. Obama has not named a replacement for Clinton, who has said she intends to step down soon.
At the State Department, Clinton was asked about her possible replacement.
Powerball jackpot climbs to $550M on ticket sales, enticing many who rarely play lottery
CHICAGO (AP) -- As Americans went on a ticket-buying spree, the Powerball jackpot rose to $550 million Wednesday, enticing many people who rarely, if ever, play the lottery to purchase a shot at the second-largest payout in U.S. history.
Among them was Lamar Fallie, a jobless Chicago man who said his six tickets conjured a pleasant daydream: If he wins, he plans to take care of his church, make big donations to schools and then "retire from being unemployed."
Tickets were selling at a rate of 130,000 a minute nationwide -- about six times the volume from a week ago. That meant the jackpot could climb even higher before the Wednesday night drawing, said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association.
The jackpot has already rolled over 16 consecutive times without a winner, but Powerball officials say they now believe there is a 75 percent chance the winning combination will be drawn this time.
If one ticket hits the right numbers, chances are good that multiple ones will, according to some experts. That happened in the Mega Millions drawing in March, when three ticket buyers shared a $656 million jackpot, which remains the largest lottery payout of all time.
Palestinians hope UN recognition of 'Palestine' will bring leverage in talks with Israel
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- The expected U.N. vote Thursday to recognize a state of Palestine will be far more than symbolic -- it could give the Palestinians leverage in future border talks with Israel and open the way for possible war crimes charges against the Jewish state.
The Palestinians want the 193-member General Assembly to accept "Palestine," on the lands Israel occupied in 1967, as a non-member observer state. They anticipate broad support.
For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the U.N. bid is a last-ditch attempt to stay relevant as a leader after years of failed peace talks with Israel, at a time when his Islamic militant Hamas rivals are gaining ground.
The U.S. and Israel have tried to block the quest for U.N. recognition of Palestine, saying it's an attempt to bypass Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down four years ago.
The U.S. deputy secretary of state, William Burns, met with Abbas in New York on Wednesday, asking Abbas again to drop the idea and promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat. Abbas told Burns it was too late.
Attorney: Kansas City man accused of killing prayer group leader's wife made up confession
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A Kansas City man who told police he killed the wife of his prayer group leader at her husband's request made up the story and had nothing to do with the woman's suicide, his defense attorney said Wednesday.
Micah Moore, 23, has been charged with murder in the Oct. 30 death of Bethany Deaton, 27. In his confession, detailed in a probable cause statement, Moore told police that he and other members of the prayer group had sexually assaulted Deaton and were afraid she would tell someone. Moore said that's when Deaton's husband, Tyler, ordered him to kill her, the statement said.
Moore's lawyer, Melanie Morgan, recanted confession on Wednesday, saying it was "bizarre, nonsensical and most importantly, untrue."
"These were the statements of a distraught and confused young man under extreme psychological pressures as a result of his friend Bethany's untimely suicide and the sudden removal of his spiritual leader, Tyler Deaton, from their extremely close-knit religious community," Morgan said in a statement she read outside court after Moore's preliminary hearing was delayed.
Police have said Bethany Deaton's death initially appeared to be a suicide. Officers found a note and empty bottle of over-the-counter pain medication along with her body in a minivan parked by a lake. A plastic trash bag over her head was tied below her chin with the attached pull straps, but not tightly, police said.
Ex-Rep. Reynolds, sent to prison in sex case, latest to join race for Jackson's US House seat
CHICAGO (AP) -- Just a few blocks from a courthouse where he was convicted of fraud and a few miles from another where he was convicted of having sex with a minor, former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds announced Wednesday he is running for the congressional seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr.
The former congressman is just the latest entry in a race that has unleashed a frenzy of ambition, with politicians from every level seeing their once-in-a-lifetime shot at Washington -- or a chance at redemption. The list runs from a former congresswoman to a former NFL star to a theatric defense attorney who once defended former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Reynolds adds an additional layer of intrigue, startling even by the standards of Chicago -- a city with a healthy reputation for corruption and that recently sent a politician back to the Legislature despite being under federal indictment.
The former congressman, who was released from prison in 2001 after President Bill Clinton commuted his sentence, announced his latest political plans Wednesday at a news conference in Chicago.
"People are human, they make mistakes," said Reynolds, who spoke in front of a sign that read: "REDEMPTION."
NJ spruce that survives Superstorm Sandy takes brilliant stand as Rockefeller Center tree
NEW YORK (AP) -- An 80-foot Norway spruce that made it through Superstorm Sandy was transformed into a beacon of shimmering glory Wednesday when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others turned its lights on at Rockefeller Center.
Thousands of onlookers crowded behind barricades on the streets that surrounded the center during the traditional tree-lighting ceremony for the Christmas holiday season. A video screen projected an image of the tree for those who did not have a direct line of sight.
"It makes me want to sing and dance," said Zuri Young, who came several hours early with her boyfriend to watch the lighting for the first time.
"I've heard a lot about it. I was kind of sick of staying home and watching it on television," the 19-year-old nursing student from Queens said.
Illuminated by more than 30,000 lights, the tree from the Mount Olive, N.J., home of Joe Balku was topped by a Swarovski star. The 10-ton tree had been at the homestead for years, measuring about 22-feet tall in 1973 when Balku bought the house. Wednesday, its girth reached about 50 feet in diameter.
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa on Hall of Fame ballot for first time
NEW YORK (AP) -- The most polarizing Hall of Fame debate since Pete Rose will now be decided by the baseball shrine's voters: Do Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa belong in Cooperstown despite drug allegations that tainted their huge numbers?
In a monthlong election sure to become a referendum on the Steroids Era, the Hall ballot was released Wednesday, and Bonds, Clemens and Sosa are on it for the first time.
Bonds is the all-time home run champion with 762 and won a record seven MVP awards. Clemens took home a record seven Cy Young trophies and is ninth with 354 victories. Sosa ranks eighth on the homer chart with 609.
Yet for all their HRs, RBIs and Ws, the shadow of PEDs looms large.
"You could see for years that this particular ballot was going to be controversial and divisive to an unprecedented extent," Larry Stone of The Seattle Times wrote in an email. "My hope is that some clarity begins to emerge over the Hall of Fame status of those linked to performance-enhancing drugs. But I doubt it."