AP News in Brief at 8:58 p.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on July 9, 2012 at 9:01 PM

Updated Monday, Jul 9 at 9:30 PM

Obama seeks to shift election debate to fight over tax cuts for wealthy amid economic unease

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing sagging jobs numbers, President Barack Obama sought to recast the November election as a fight over tax fairness on Monday, urging tax cut extensions for all families earning less than $250,000 but denying them to households making more than that.

The president's pitch was aimed at painting Republican rival Mitt Romney as a protector of the rich at a time of economic unease, as Democrats intensify efforts to raise questions about the Romney's own wealth and offshore bank accounts.

Romney supports extending the federal tax cuts, first signed by George W. Bush, for all income earners.

Obama said if Congress passes a one-year extension for those making less than $250,000, voters can use the November election to decide the fate of the cuts for higher income earners.

"My opponent will fight to keep them in place. I will fight to end them," said Obama, flanked by a dozen people the White House said would benefit from the tax cut extension.

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Companies win cut in pension contributions; critics say saving the plans is even bigger worry

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new law will let companies contribute billions of dollars less to their workers' pension funds, raising concerns about weakening the plans that millions of Americans count on for retirement.

But with many companies already freezing or getting rid of pension plans, many critics are reluctant to force the issue.

Some expect the changes, passed by Congress last month and signed Friday by President Barack Obama, to have little impact on the nation's enormous $1.9 trillion in estimated pension fund assets. And it is more important, they suggest, to avoid giving employers a new reason to limit or jettison remaining pension benefits by forcing them to contribute more than they say they can manage.

The equation underscores a harsh reality for unions, consumer advocates and others who normally go to the mat for workers and retirees: When it comes to battling over pensions, the fragile economy of 2012 gives the business community a lot of leverage.

"That wouldn't do our members any good" if the government forces companies to make pension contributions they can't afford, said Karen Feldman, benefits policy specialist for the AFL-CIO, the giant labor federation that supported the legislation.

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New crisis looms in Egypt over fate of Islamist-dominated parliament

CAIRO (AP) — A new showdown loomed in Egypt on Monday as the country's highest court stood by its ruling that dissolved parliament last month, challenging the new Islamist president's plans to reconvene the lower chamber in defiance of the military.

If he goes ahead, Mohammed Morsi would be taking a dramatic step away from the outreach that characterized his first days in office. It's a tough fight, though, and the president could lose it along with more of his already diminished powers.

The military, which handed power to Morsi on June 30 after ruling the country for 16 months, delivered a thinly-veiled warning to the president, saying it would continue to support the country's "legitimacy, constitution and law" — language that means it will not stand by and watch the rulings of the country's top court ignored or breached.

At the same time, the Supreme Constitutional Court sent out a clear signal that it will not bow to Morsi's wish, saying in a statement after an emergency meeting on Monday that its June 14 ruling to invalidate the Islamist-dominated parliament was final and binding.

"Morsi's move sets the stage for a potentially very serious political and constitutional crisis," said Michael W. Hanna, an expert on Egypt from the New York-based Century Foundation.

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UN envoy Kofi Annan seeking Iranian help in reviving his struggling peace plan for Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — International envoy Kofi Annan tried to rescue his peace plan for Syria by seeking help Monday from Iran, a staunch ally and military backer of President Bashar Assad's regime.

Before flying to Tehran, Annan said he had agreed on a new approach with Assad to stop the violence, which activists say has killed more than 17,000 people since the conflict began in March 2011.

Annan did not spell out the agreement or say what kind of involvement he saw for Iran in resolving the crisis. Anti-regime fighters dismissed any role for Iran in a plan they and some experts say has little hope of succeeding.

"Kofi thinks you can't have a political transition and solution without the Iranians on board, but this is still part of the understanding that Assad and the regime will be part of the solution — an idea many of us have given up on," said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center and an analyst on regional politics.

The United States has rejected Iranian participation in international meetings on the crisis in Syria.

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Romney and GOP outraise Obama by millions in June, thanks to help of high-dollar contributions

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Monday said he raised $71 million in June for his re-election campaign, after Republican candidate Mitt Romney reported $106 million during the same period. It was the second consecutive month that Romney collected more cash and underscores the challenge for Obama ahead of November.

The grim news for Obama came as his campaign officials have publicly worried they were on track to lose the money race. Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, in an email to supporters just three days ago, said: "Their gap is getting wider, and if it continues at this pace, it could cost us the election."

Obama is fighting on two fronts to keep the presidency: On one hand, he faces Romney's own war chest that pays for campaign operations. On the other, he has to push back against the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to GOP-aligned "super" political action committees, or PACs, which have aired continual attack ads aimed at Obama and his record.

Indeed, wealthy donors have been instrumental in helping Romney beat Obama. When he broke fundraising records last month, Romney's campaign praised small-dollar donors it said made it possible. But it was actually a small and often wealthy number of donors responsible, who gave an average of about $2,400 each, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Like Obama, Romney often touts the high percentage of donors who gave less than $250, underscoring the perception that a large, grassroots group of Americans want him in the White House. Romney's campaign said that about 94 percent of 571,000 donors gave those amounts in June, or about $22 million.

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As Europe's economy falters, younger adults struggle most to find jobs

BRUSSELS (AP) — Irene Fernandez lost her job with Spain's postal service five months ago, a victim of government spending cuts. Since then, she's been getting by on spending money from her mother and the $530 a month she earns grooming dogs for neighbors. Fernandez, 24, has had one job interview.

"This year has been the toughest," she says. "I am beginning to realize that things are going to be a lot tougher for me than for my mother's generation."

Europe's economic crisis is hitting young people like Fernandez the hardest. The youth unemployment rate is nearly 53 percent in Greece, 51.5 percent in Spain and 35 percent in Italy. In the 17 countries that use the euro currency, youth unemployment is a record 22 percent, twice the eurozone's overall unemployment rate of 11 percent, which is itself the highest since the euro was created in 1999.

The striking exception is Germany, where youth unemployment is only 7.9 percent, thanks to a vocational education system. (European economic statistics count those 15 through 24 as youths.) In the United States, youth unemployment — which covers ages 16 through 24 — was 16.5 percent last month.

Economists fear that years of unemployment could produce a European version of Japan's "Lost Generation" — the young adults who looked in vain for jobs in the 1990s and today find themselves permanently locked out of good careers. The longer young adults stay unemployed, the longer they contribute nothing to economic growth, consume government aid and increase the risk of social unrest.

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Detroit mom questions how off-duty officer's gun went off during hug, killing daughter

DETROIT (AP) — The mother of a Detroit woman shot and killed while dancing with an off-duty police officer questioned Monday why he would carry a loaded gun at a party in his own backyard.

Police said Adaisha Miller was dancing with the officer early Sunday morning when she hugged him from behind. His gun, which was in a waist holster, went off, and the bullet punctured Miller's lung and hit her heart. She died at a hospital.

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee described Miller's death during a Monday news conference as a tragic, "unfathomable" accident.

"Somehow, in the course of dancing with the individual to his rear and touching his waist, his Detroit Police Department-issued weapon discharged, striking Ms. Miller," Godbee said. "There is absolutely no indication that the officer placed his hand on his weapon at all."

Godbee implied contact from Miller appeared to have caused the gun to go off, but he stopped short of saying she pulled the trigger on the .40-caliber handgun.

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Cruise, Holmes agree to settlement in divorce case; details not revealed

NEW YORK (AP) — Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes reached a settlement on Monday, legally sorting out their divorce with the same speed that kicked off their much-scrutinized romance seven years ago.

Just as Hollywood was settling in for what was expected to be a long and nasty separation, lawyers for the couple said the pair settled less than two weeks after Holmes unexpectedly filed for divorce.

"The case has been settled and the agreement has been signed," Holmes attorney Jonathan Wolfe said in a statement. Cruise's attorney, Bert Fields, also confirmed the settlement in a statement: "Tom is really pleased we got there and so am I."

Representatives for Holmes and Cruse declined to elaborate on the agreement. Wolfe said in a later statement that terms of the settlement were confidential and will not be disclosed.

"We are thrilled for Katie and her family and are excited to watch as she embarks on the next chapter of her life," the statement from Holmes' attorney said. "We thank Tom's counsel for their professionalism and diligence that helped bring about this speedy resolution."

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Blade Runner: Oscar Pistorius fires up debate over engineered limbs after making Olympic team

LONDON (AP) — Is manmade material superior to muscle? Are those blades better than real legs?

Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee runner, is taking the issue of disabled vs. able-bodied competition into new territory as he prepares for the London Olympics.

His inclusion on South Africa's team clears the way for him to become the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics. And because it's the sporting world's biggest stage, his participation is likely to fire up the long-running debate over whether his flexible, carbon-fiber blades give him an unfair advantage.

Pistorius, 25, runs on Cheetah Flex-Foot blades, J-shaped limbs that are 16 inches (41 centimeters) long and weigh a little over a pound each.

Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated when he was a baby after he was born without the fibula bones in his shins, has a personal best in the 400 meters of 45.07 seconds — almost two seconds off Michael Johnson's world record — and ran a 45.20 this year, both inside the top Olympic qualifying time.

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Armstrong legal team stumbles as it takes USADA to federal court to block doping charges

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge handed Lance Armstrong a quick setback Monday as he went to court to save his seven Tour de France titles and his reputation as one of the greatest cyclists ever.

Armstrong filed a lawsuit aimed at preventing the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency from moving ahead with charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout much of his long career.

But within hours, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks in Austin dismissed the 80-page complaint. He said it seemed more intended to whip up public opinion in Armstrong's favor than focus on legal arguments.

Sparks, however, did not rule on the merits of Armstrong's claims and will let him refile the lawsuit. Armstrong attorney Tim Herman said he will do that, possibly on Tuesday.

The lawsuit claimed USADA rules violate athletes' constitutional right to a fair trial, and that the agency doesn't have jurisdiction in Armstrong's case. It also accused USADA's chief executive, Travis Tygart, of waging a personal vendetta against the cancer survivor who won the Tour de France every year from 1999 to 2005.

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