Fiscal cliff offers hint at billions more in defense cuts on top of 10-year, $500B reduction
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans' "fiscal cliff" counteroffer to President Barack Obama hints at billions of dollars in military cuts on top of the nearly $500 billion that the White House and Congress backed last year, and even the fiercest defense hawks acknowledge that the Pentagon faces another financial hit.
The proposal that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other Republican leaders sent to the White House this week calls for cuts of $300 billion in discretionary spending to achieve savings of $2.2 trillion over 10 years. The blueprint offered no specifics on the cuts, although the Pentagon and defense-related departments such as Homeland Security and State make up roughly half of the federal government's discretionary spending.
By any credible calculation, the military, which is still coming to grips with the half-trillion-dollar cut in last year's deficit-cutting law, is looking at an additional $10 billion to $15 billion cut in projected defense spending each year for the next decade. It's a prospect that Republicans recognize is the new reality, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ending and deficits demanding deep cuts.
"Not too devastating," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. That's especially true compared with the alternative that McCain dreads — the double hit of tax hikes and automatic spending cuts dubbed the fiscal cliff.
If Obama and Congress are unable to reach a deal this month, the Pentagon would face across-the-board cuts of some $55 billion after the first of the year and nearly $500 billion over a decade. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and military leaders have warned that such a meat-ax approach to the budget would do considerable harm.
Serbia ambassador to NATO leaps to death from parking garage platform at Brussels airport
BRUSSELS (AP) — Officials say Serbia's ambassador to NATO committed suicide by leaping from a busy parking garage platform at Brussels Airport.
A Serbian government statement said Wednesday that the envoy, Branislav Milinkovic, 52, died instantly on Tuesday night.
A diplomat who could not be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media said Milinkovic suddenly jumped from the 8- to 10-meter-high (26- to 33-foot-high) platform while waiting with the Serbian delegation for foreign ministry officials due to hold talks with NATO officials.
Serbia is not a member of the military alliance, but has a mission in the headquarters complex. Milinkovic, a former journalist, previously served as Serbia's ambassador to Austria.
The death occurred during two days of meetings of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.
Mongolia's balancing act: keeping Chinese money from becoming Chinese dominance
TSOGTTSETSII, Mongolia (AP) — After years of testy debate, Mongolia broke ground this spring for a railroad that will haul coal across the pebbled Gobi desert to China, but with one costly condition.
Citing national security, the government ordered the rails be laid 1,520 millimeters apart, Mongolia's standard gauge inherited from the Soviets. The width ensures that the rails cannot connect to China's, which are 85 millimeters (about 3 1/2 inches) closer together. So at the border, either the train undercarriages will need to be changed or the coal transferred to trucks, adding costs in delivering the fuel to Mongolia's biggest customer.
When it comes to China, Mongolia will only go so far and no further.
EDITOR'S NOTE — This story is part of "China's Reach," a project tracking China's influence on its trading partners over three decades and exploring how that is changing business, politics and daily life. Keep up with AP's reporting on China's Reach, and join the conversation about it, using the hashtag (hash)APChinaReach on Twitter.
Workers end crippling 8-day strike at nation's largest port complex after deal is reached
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Clerical workers and longshoremen at the nation's largest port complex will return to work Wednesday, eight days after they walked out in a crippling strike that prevented shippers from delivering billions of dollars in cargo across the country.
"I'm really pleased to tell all of you that my 10,000 longshore workers in the ports of LA and Long Beach are going to start moving cargo on these ships," said Ray Familathe, vice president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. "We're going to get cargo moved throughout the supply chain and the country and get everybody those that they're looking for in those stores."
Negotiators reached a tentative agreement to end the strike late Tuesday, less than two hours after federal mediators arrived from Washington, D.C. No details about the terms of the deal were released, though a statement from the workers' union said it had won new protections preventing jobs from being outsourced.
Days of negotiations that included all-night bargaining sessions suddenly went from a stalemate to big leaps of progress by Tuesday. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the sides were already prepared to take a vote when the mediators arrived.
At issue during the lengthy negotiations was the union's contention that terminal operators wanted to outsource future clerical jobs out of state and overseas — an allegation the shippers denied.
Analysis: Obama signals willingness to go over 'fiscal cliff,' banks on GOP getting the blame
WASHINGTON (AP) — It may be just a bluff or a bargaining ploy, but the White House is signaling that President Barack Obama is willing to let the country go over the "fiscal cliff," a hard-line negotiating strategy aimed at winning concessions from Republicans on taxes.
If Washington really does fail to avert the looming series of tax hikes and spending cuts, the White House will portray Republicans as the culprits for insisting on protecting tax cuts for the wealthy, an effort the administration is laying the groundwork for now.
"This is a choice of the Republican Party," said Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director. "If they are willing to do higher rates on the wealthy, there's a lot we can talk about. And if they are not, then they'll push us over the cliff."
But going over the cliff also would be full of risk for a president fresh off re-election and facing at least two more years of divided government.
Ending the year without a deal could roil financial markets and dent consumer confidence just as the economy is strengthening. It could make it harder for Obama to get Republican help on his second-term priorities like overhauling the immigration system and the nation's tax code, or in getting potential Cabinet replacements confirmed.
World Bank: Climate change will hit Middle East and North Africa especially hard
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The Middle East and North Africa will be especially hard hit by climate change in the coming decades, the World Bank said in a report Wednesday, saying the region will see less rainfall, more recording-breaking temperatures and rising sea levels.
Should temperatures rise as expected, the hotter conditions are likely to hit the region's $50 billion (€38.2 billion) tourism industry and further worsen its food security since many countries in the region — especially Gulf states — depend heavily on imports to feed their populations. Crop failures will also increase while yields will decrease and household incomes will fall, the report said.
The report was presented at the United Nations climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar, where nearly 200 delegates for the first time are in the Middle East to discuss cutting emissions in an attempt to ensure that global temperatures don't rise more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) over what they were in preindustrial times.
Temperatures have already risen about 0.8 degrees C (1.4 degrees F), according to the latest report by the IPCC.
"Climate change is a reality for people in Arab countries," Inger Andersen, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa region, said in a statement.
Class of 2012: EU labor market largely immobile as young find themselves trapped by language
MADRID (AP) — Maria Menendez, a 25-year-old caught in Spain's job-destroying economic crisis, would love to work in Germany as a veterinarian. Germany, facing an acute shortage of skilled workers, would love to have her.
A perfect match, it seems, but something's holding her back: She doesn't speak German.
The European Union was built on a grand vision of free labor markets in which talent could be matched with demand in a seamless and efficient manner, much in the way workers in the U.S. hop across states in search of opportunity. But today only 3 percent of working age EU citizens live in a different EU country, research shows. As young people in crisis-hit southern Europe face unemployment rates hovering at 50 percent, many find themselves caught in a language trap, unable to communicate in the powerhouse economy that needs their skills the most: Germany.
"I think going abroad is my best option," said Menendez, "but for people like me who have never studied German, it would be like starting from zero."
Mud-stained bodies show graphic toll of powerful Philippine typhoon that killed over 270
NEW BATAAN, Philippines (AP) — Mud-stained bodies covered with banana leaves were laid out in a row and survivors dried their soiled belongings on the roadside under a bright sun Wednesday, a day after a typhoon killed more than 270 people in the southern Philippines.
Officials feared many more bodies could be found as rescuers reach hard-hit areas that had been isolated by landslides, floods and downed communications.
At least 151 people have died in the worst-hit province of Compostela Valley since Typhoon Bopha began lashing the region early Tuesday, including 66 villagers and soldiers who perished in a flash flood that swamped two emergency shelters and a military camp in New Bataan town, provincial spokeswoman Fe Maestre told The Associated Press.
About 80 people survived the deluge in New Bataan with injuries, but an unspecified number of villagers remain missing. On Wednesday, the farming town of 45,000 people was a muddy wasteland of collapsed houses and columns of coconut and banana trees felled by Bopha's ferocious winds.
Outside a town gymnasium, several mud-stained bodies were laid side-by-side, covered by cloth and banana leaves and surrounded by villagers covering their noses to fight the stench. A man sprayed insecticide on the remains to turn away swarms of flies.
Georgian president and prime minister in battle of wills after parliamentary vote
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — It is a battle of egos that could not be more visible: The shining palace of the president and the lavish glass villa of the new billionaire prime minister vie for attention on hills overlooking the capital of Georgia, a U.S.-allied former Soviet republic in the throes of a leadership shakeup.
And in a graphic symbol of President Mikhail Saakashvili's fading glory, the outdoor lights that illuminate his official residence will soon go off because his nemesis, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, has refused to keep paying the bill.
Ivanishvili, who became prime minister after his Georgian Dream coalition unseated Saakashvili's party in this fall's parliamentary election, has set out to further weaken his rival with a series of arrests of top officials and moves to cut funding to the presidency and curb Saakshvili's powers.
Both men are colorful figures. Saakashvili, 44, is a bear of a man who exudes energy. He was once memorably caught on camera nervously munching on his tie while waiting to do a BBC television interview.
Ivanishvili, 56, is small and lean but no less eccentric. Until entering politics a year ago, he was known mainly as a reclusive philanthropist and for his collection of exotic animals, including zebras and flamingoes. Saakashvili dubbed him "The Count of Monte Cristo" after the mysterious hero of the 19th century French novel by Alexandre Dumas.
Video hints of horror to come for Alaska barista strangled, dismembered by confessed killer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A security video showing the abduction of an Alaska barista is unnerving on its own, but it only hints at the horror ahead for the 18-year-old woman.
Samantha Koenig would soon be sexually assaulted and strangled after she was kidnapped from an Anchorage coffee stand, her body left in a shed for two weeks while her killer went on a cruise. After he returned, Israel Keyes photographed Koenig for a ransom note and then dismembered her body.
Those details were released by the FBI on Tuesday, two days after Keyes was found dead in his Anchorage jail cell in an apparent suicide. It's the most comprehensive account yet of a crime at the hands of a man who confessed to the slaying and told authorities he killed at least seven other people across the country over the past decade.
"These details are being provided both to fully explain the courage and resolve Samantha displayed in the final hours of her life, as well as in the hopes that the release of additional details will help investigations of other murders committed by Israel Keyes," the FBI said in a statement.
Once home from his trip, Keyes posed Koenig's body to make it appear she was still alive and took a Polaroid photo of her tied up, along with a newspaper dated Feb. 13 — 12 days after the abduction from a coffee stand, according to the FBI. Keyes later typed a ransom note demanding $30,000 from Koenig's family on the back of a photocopy of the photo and sent a text message to the woman's boyfriend on her cellphone with directions where he'd left the note at a local dog park.