Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Published:

In balancing act, US has no 'red line' for action after NKorea's successful missile launch

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is drawing no "red line" for North Korea after a successful long-range rocket test, tempering the public condemnation to avoid raising tensions or possibly rewarding the reclusive communist nation with too much time in the global spotlight.

The U.S. has told the world that it won't tolerate Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons or Syria's use of chemical stockpiles on rebels. North Korea, in some ways, is a trickier case.

The U.S. wants to forcefully condemn what it believes is a "highly provocative act," and that was the first public reaction from the White House late Tuesday. But it also is mindful of the turmoil on the Korean peninsula and treading carefully, offering no threat of military action or unspecified "consequences" associated with other hot spots.

Just two years ago, the North allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship and shelled a South Korean island. Some 50 South Koreans died in the attacks that brought the peninsula to the brink of war.

North Korea already has the deterrent of a nuclear weapons arsenal. The U.S. is bound to protect next-door South Korea from any attack, but has no desire now for a military conflict.

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Why US economy could likely withstand a brief fall off the 'fiscal cliff' next year

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's the scenario that's been spooking employers and investors and slowing the U.S. economy:

Congress and the White House fail to strike a budget deal by New Year's Day. Their stalemate triggers sharp tax increases and spending cuts. Those measures shrink consumer spending, stifle job growth, topple stock prices and push the economy off a "fiscal cliff" and into recession.

The reality may be a lot less bleak.

Even if New Year's passed with no deal, few businesses or consumers would likely panic as long as an agreement seemed likely soon. The tax increases and spending cuts could be retroactively repealed after Jan. 1.

And the impact of the tax increases would be felt only gradually. Most people would receive slightly less money in each paycheck.

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and stories that will be talked about Thursday:

1. US TRIES FOR A TRICKY BALANCE ON KOREA

Condemning the rocket launch too harshly risks rewarding the North, which seeks to leverage any global attention it gets into much-needed aid.

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Official: Syria fires Scud missiles at insurgents in the north

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Syrian government forces have fired Scud missiles at insurgents in recent days, escalating the 2-year-old conflict against rebels seeking to overthrow the regime, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two officials said forces of President Bashar Assad have fired the missiles from the Damascus area into northern Syria. These officials asked not to be named because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

News of the missiles came on the same day that more than 100 countries, including the United States, recognized a new Syrian opposition coalition. That has further isolated Assad's regime and opened a way for greater humanitarian assistance to the forces battling to oust him.

One official said there was no indication that chemical weapons were aboard the missiles. Officials have said over the past week that they feared rebel advances were prompting Assad to consider using chemical weapons.

This official estimated that the number of Scuds fired was more than a half dozen, confirming details first reported by The New York Times.

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Music, comic royalty rock NYC to fight back from Superstorm Sandy destruction

NEW YORK (AP) -- Music and comedy royalty struck a defiant tone in a benefit concert for Superstorm Sandy victims on Wednesday, asking for help to rebuild a New York metropolitan area most of them know well.

The sold-out Madison Square Garden show was televised, streamed online and aired on radio all over the world. Producers said up to 2 billion people could experience the concert live.

"When are you going to learn," comic and New Jersey native Jon Stewart said. "You can throw anything at us -- terrorists, hurricanes. You can take away our giant sodas. It doesn't matter. We're coming back stronger every time."

Jersey shore hero Bruce Springsteen set a roaring tone, opening the concert with "Land of Hope and Dreams" and "Wrecking Ball." He addressed the rebuilding process in introducing his song "My City of Ruins," noting it was written about the decline of Asbury Park, N.J. before that city's renaissance over the past decade. What made the Jersey shore special was its inclusiveness, a place where people of all incomes and backgrounds could find a place, he said.

"I pray that that characteristic remains along the Jersey shore because that's what makes it special," Springsteen said.

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Egypt opposition to vote "no" in constitutional referendum, but crisis unlikely to go away

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's opposition called on its followers Wednesday to vote "no" in a crucial referendum on a disputed constitution drafted by Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi.

The decision came as Morsi's government forged ahead with its own plan, starting overseas voting in diplomatic missions for expatriates.

The moves reinforced the atmosphere of a nation in crisis, deeply divided over whether Egypt might move toward Islamic theocracy or retain its secular traditions. More opposition protests were planned, judges remained on strike and there were concerns of further economic disarray after Egypt delayed a $4.8 billion IMF loan needed to revive the economy.

Wednesday's call for a "no" vote followed a prolonged debate within the opposition over whether to boycott the referendum -- a threat that still hung in the air as the anti-Morsi camp laid down its conditions for participation.

These included full judicial supervision, independent and international monitors, and adequate security. If they were not met, Morsi's opponents said, the opposition would call a last-minute boycott.

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Government warns Venezuelans that Chavez may not return in time for Jan. 10 inauguration

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- The government warned Venezuelans on Wednesday that ailing President Hugo Chavez may not be well enough after his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba to be inaugurated on Jan. 10.

Moving to prepare the public for the possibility of more bad news, Vice President Nicolas Maduro looked grim earlier in the day when he acknowledged that Chavez faced a "complex and hard" process after his latest surgery.

At the same time, officials strove to show a united front amid the growing worries about Chavez's health and the country's future. Key leaders of Chavez's party and military officers appearing together on television as Maduro took the lead in giving updates on Chavez's condition.

"We're more united than ever," said Maduro, who was flanked by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, both key members of Chavez's inner circle. "We're united in loyalty to Chavez."

Analysts say Maduro could eventually face challenges in trying to hold together the president's diverse "Chavismo" movement, which includes groups from radical leftists to moderates, as well as military factions.

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Police: Ore. mall shooter ID'd as 22-year-old male, used stolen rifle from someone he knew.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Gunfire rang out in the mall food court, instantly transforming a casual afternoon of holiday shopping into a nightmare. The shooter, armed with a rifle, was dressed in dark clothing and wore a hockey-style face mask.

As panicked shoppers fled for cover, workers ushered some into hiding places within stores, or helped them to the exits. The first officers to arrive formed groups and rushed into the chaos, rather than waiting for the more heavily armed SWAT team.

"If we would have run out, we would have ran right into it," said Kaelynn Keelin, who saw a window get shot out and, along with other Made In Oregon co-workers, pulled customers into the store for shelter.

The quick mobilization of mall workers and police reflects the reality that, while mass shootings are rare, they have forced authorities to rehearse for such outbreaks of violence as if they are the norm.

"This could have been much, much worse," Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said.

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Shhhh! A new law, the CALM Act, is taking effect to keep TV commercials from blasting viewers

NEW YORK (AP) -- TV viewing could soon sound a little calmer. The CALM Act, which limits the volume of TV commercials, goes into effect on Thursday.

CALM stands for Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation. The act is designed to prevent TV commercials from blaring at louder volumes than the program content they accompany. The rules govern broadcasters as well as cable and satellite operators.

The rules are meant to protect viewers from excessively loud commercials.

The Federal Communications Commission adopted the rules a year ago, but gave the industry a one-year grace period to adopt them.

Suspected violations can be reported by the public to the FCC on its website.

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California gold rush: Dodgers on track to pass Yankees in payroll next year

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Los Angeles Dodgers are on track to become only the second major league team with a $200 million payroll and could end the New York Yankees' streak of 14 years as baseball's biggest spender.

The Dodgers are at $214.8 million for 21 signed players next season, according to a study of their contracts by The Associated Press. That follows last weekend's additions of free agent pitcher Zack Greinke for a $147 million, six-year contract and South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin for a $36 million, six-year deal.

"Creating a lot of buzz, that's for sure," Greinke said. "And you do wonder when things are going to stop."

Crediting the $3.9 million Boston is paying Los Angeles next year as part of last August's trade and not counting the portions of signing bonuses for players obtained from the Red Sox, the Dodgers' 2013 payroll currently is at $207.9 million.

The Yankees have led each year since the Baltimore Orioles edged them by $200,000 in 1998, and New York has been at $200 million-plus every season since 2005. The record opening-day payroll of $209.1 million was set by the Yankees in 2008.