Nation & World Briefly July 21 |

Nation & World Briefly July 21

Back to the White House: Obama and congressional leaders to huddle on debt – but separately

WASHINGTON (AP) – Running out of time, President Barack Obama called Democratic and Republican leaders back to the White House on Wednesday for separate, bottom-line negotiations on how to prevent a disastrous government default – and perhaps cut staggering federal deficits as well.

The talks center on a single but complex question: What will it take to muster enough votes from both parties to muscle legislation through the House and Senate and raise the national debt limit by the Aug. 2 deadline. Obama gathered with the top two Democrats from both the House and Senate, and then was meeting with House Speaker John Boehner and his deputy, Eric Cantor.

Intensity was rising as the country lurched toward an unprecedented default. Congressional leaders say they want to prevent that, but they are far from agreed on how.

The government will exhaust its ability to borrow money and pay its bills come Aug. 2, and economists say that could sink the country back into recession. All sides are also pushing competing plans to cut the nation’s deficit in tandem with the politically unpopular step of raising the debt limit, although deep divisions remain over tax hikes and entitlement cuts that could be part of the attack on future deficits.

In a sign of the closing window for action, the White House said for the first time that Obama would accept a short-term extension of the debt limit, but only if a broader deal was already in place and required more time – perhaps a few days – to get through Congress. Obama had previously threatened to veto any stopgap measure.

Bipartisan tax plan targets breaks for mortgage interest, health insurance, charitable gifts

WASHINGTON (AP) – A new bipartisan plan to reduce government borrowing would target some of the most cherished tax breaks enjoyed by millions of families – those promoting health insurance, home ownership, charitable giving and retirement savings – in exchange for lowering overall tax rates for everyone.

Many taxpayers would face higher taxes – a total of at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade, and perhaps more.

The plan, released this week by the bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators, punts on many of the most difficult issues, leaving it to congressional committees to fill in the details later. But supporters say it provides a framework to simplify the tax code, making it easier for businesses and individuals to comply while eliminating incentives to game the system.

“I think this is an attempt to find a middle ground on taxes that emphasizes keeping rates low and broadening the base as much as possible, and I think that’s a very positive aspect of it,” said Eugene Steuerle, a former Treasury official who worked on the last tax reform package that passed Congress, in 1986.

Coupled with spending cuts, the plan would reduce deficits by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade. President Barack Obama and senators from both parties lauded the plan as a possible breakthrough in negotiations to allow the government to incur further debt and avert a possible default on U.S. obligations on Aug. 2.

Ad firm alleges News Corp. opened “war chest” against it; Media giant denies

A unit of News Corp. was interested in buying Floorgraphics in 1999, but the small ad firm’s executives weren’t interested in selling. That didn’t stop News America Marketing In-Store Services Inc. from trying to destroy Floorgraphics, according to a lawsuit filed by the New Jersey firm in 2004. The two sides ultimately settled and News Corp. bought the company’s assets and clients. The lawsuit, which portrays News Corp. as more interested in making a deal than sticking to ethics, raises questions about the media empire’s ethics and corporate culture at a time when those same things are being intensely scrutinized. The media company has come under fire since allegations surfaced this month that one of its tabloid newspapers in the United Kingdom hacked into the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl.

Cameron drags opponents into hacking scandal as he defends his own conduct in Parliament

LONDON (AP) – Prime Minister David Cameron dragged his political foes into Britain’s phone-hacking scandal at a raucous session of Parliament on Wednesday, distancing himself from a former aide at the heart of the allegations and denying his staff tried to thwart police investigations.

Cameron, who flew back from Africa early for the emergency session, defended his decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief, saying Coulson’s work in government had been untarnished.

Coulson was arrested this month in connection with allegations that reporters at the tabloid intercepted voice mails of celebrities and crime victims to get scoops. Cameron reminded lawmakers that Coulson has yet to be found guilty of anything.

But the prime minister also made his strongest effort yet to distance himself from his former aide.

“With 20/20 hindsight, and all that has followed, I would not have offered him the job, and I expect that he wouldn’t have taken it,” Cameron told lawmakers who packed the House of Commons. “You live and you learn, and believe you me, I have learnt.”

Serbia arrests Goran Hadzic, the last fugitive sought by Balkan war crimes tribunal

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – He was on the run for seven years, the last Serbian fugitive sought by the U.N.’s Balkan war crimes tribunal.

Goran Hadzic, the former leader of Croatia’s ethnic Serbs, was arrested Wednesday by black-masked Serbian secret police in a hilly forest as an accomplice delivered cash to him – the end of a money trail that began with a photo of a Modigliani painting.

The arrest was hailed as the symbolic closure of a horrific chapter in Balkan history and an important step toward the former pariah state of Serbia joining the European Union.

It came less than two months after the capture of Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic, who was accused of some of the worst atrocities of the war in the former Yugoslavia.

Western-leaning Serbian President Boris Tadic told his nation in announcing the arrest of Hadzic, 53, that “we have turned a difficult and grim page of our history.”

Republican presidential field participates in first-ever Twitter debate

WASHINGTON (AP) – You think presidential debates are challenging? Try limiting your answers to 140 characters.

Six Republican presidential hopefuls traded tweets in the first presidential debate conducted through Twitter on Wednesday, outlining their agendas across the popular social media service.

In brief responses that buzzed across cyberspace, the GOP field challenged President Barack Obama’s approaches to the ongoing debate over the debt ceiling, job creation and the U.S. involvement in Libya. Republican candidates criticized Obama’s handling of the economy and efforts to reform health care, while using the medium to share links to introductory videos and websites.

“Obama failed. With ur help we can return the people’s voice to the WH, restore fiscal sanity & make Obama a 1 term president,” said Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, reflecting the clipped jargon commonly found on Twitter.

Obama held a town hall forum through Twitter earlier this month, answering questions from followers and promoting his agenda. Politicians and campaigns have taken to the social media service because it has become increasingly popular with voters and gives lawmakers the chance to connect directly with their constituents.

Huge heat ‘dome’ traps much of United States in steam bath with high temps and humidity

CHICAGO (AP) – If the extreme heat and humidity lingering over much of the nation feels like a steam bath, it’s because the same principles are at work in the atmosphere.

Vast amounts of warmth and moisture have become trapped under a huge “heat dome,” bringing record-breaking temperatures and thick, topical air to scores of cities from North Dakota to the Ohio Valley. Now the system is moving east to spread the misery to some of the country’s most densely populated areas through the weekend.

As temperatures hovered around 100 near downtown Kansas City, Jeff Grembocki and other construction workers prepared Wednesday to pour concrete. Empty Gatorade bottles lay strewn around their job site.

Grembocki said the heat saps his energy so much that he falls asleep soon after getting home. He only rouses for a couple of hours to watch TV before going back to bed.

“The air conditioning, when it hits you, it’s all you can do to stay awake,” he said.

Comic-Con draws thousands of fans for 4 days of costumes, movies, games and pop-culture fun

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Calling all superheroes, zombies, space aliens, comic-book lovers and kids of all ages: Comic-Con is here.

The pop-culture convention, which annually draws thousands of costumed fans to San Diego, begins Thursday, but the die-hards (and those with weekend-long passes) will get a peek at the colorful convention floor on Wednesday night.

Hundreds of exhibitors and more than 130,000 guests are expected to pack the San Diego Convention Center for the sold out, four-day event.

“The people who go through those doors, most of them are film fans and fans of pop culture, be it video games or movies or television shows, T-shirts or comic books, it’s all part of this big cultural stew,” says filmmaker Jon Favreau, who will premiere his latest flick, “Cowboys & Aliens,” at Comic-Con. “These are people who normally interact with one another through the Internet … Then when you finally open it up to meeting in person, it just concentrates that experience.”

The blogosphere is already abuzz about some of the offerings at this year’s Comic-Con, where Hollywood continues to command a headlining presence.

Lawyer for ‘Happy Days’ actors says studio tried to resolve multimillion suit with $6k checks

LOS ANGELES (AP) – “Happy Days” cast members who filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against CBS over merchandise profits have received checks for a small fraction of the amount they say they are owed, their lawyer said Wednesday.

Attorney Jon Pfeiffer said the checks received after the case started were between $6,000 and $6,500 for each of the cast members and the wife of the late actor Tom Bosley.

The actors, who include Bosley’s on-screen wife Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Don Most, and Erin Moran, sued CBS Studios in April seeking more than $10 million in profits for “Happy Days”-themed merchandise. The items marketed with the actors’ likenesses include T-shirts, board games and even gambling machines.

CBS declined to comment Wednesday, but said in an earlier statement that it was aware of the issue and was seeking a resolution. “We agree that funds are owed to the actors and have been working with them for quite some time to resolve the issue,” it said in April.

Pfeiffer said that when the payments were sent recently, the studio “claimed that is the full payment for all that was owed.”