Obama still betting on a big fiscal deal as automatic cuts kick in, but odds weigh against him
WASHINGTON (AP) — A fiscal deadline all but blown, President Barack Obama says he once again wants to seek a big fiscal deal that would raise taxes and trim billions from expensive and ever growing entitlement programs. But with automatic federal spending cuts ready to start taking their toll, the path toward that grand bargain Obama campaigned on last year has significantly narrowed.
The president has summoned the top bipartisan congressional leadership to the White House, a meeting designed to give all sides a chance to stake out their fiscal positions with a new threat of a government shutdown less than four weeks away. There were no expectations of a breakthrough.
But for Obama, Friday's session would be his first opportunity to spell out his 10-year, $1.5 trillion deficit reduction plan in a face-to-face meeting with congressional allies and adversaries.
His chances are squeezed by anti-tax conservatives, by liberals unwilling to cut into Medicare and Social Security, and by a Republican leadership that has dug in against any new revenue after ceding to Obama's demands two months ago for a higher tax rate for top income earners.
On Thursday, two ill-fated proposals aimed at blunting the blame over the cuts — one Democratic and the other Republican — failed to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate. Obama placed the responsibility on Republicans.
Obama, in broad legal opinion, urges Supreme Court to overturn California gay marriage ban
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration wants the Supreme Court to overturn California's gay marriage ban, outlining a broad legal argument that could ultimately be applied to other state prohibitions across the country.
The administration's friend-of-the-court brief, filed Thursday evening, unequivocally calls on the justices to strike down California's Proposition 8 ballot measure, although it stops short of the soaring rhetoric on marriage equality President Barack Obama expressed in his inaugural address in January. Still, it marks the first time a U.S. president has urged the high court to expand the right of gays and lesbians to wed.
The brief is not legally binding, though the government's opinion could carry weight with the Supreme Court when it hears oral arguments on Proposition 8 in late March.
California is one of eight states that give gay couples all the benefits of marriage through civil unions or domestic partnership but don't allow them to wed. The brief argues that in granting same-sex couples those rights, California has already acknowledged that gay relationships bear the same hallmarks as straight ones.
"They establish homes and lives together, support each other financially, share the joys and burdens of raising children, and provide care through illness and comfort at the moment of death," the administration wrote.
Who's in charge? Catholic Church officially leaderless, but a few key players run the show
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Catholic Church has awoken with no leader following Benedict XVI's resignation, in which he pledged obedience to his successor and described himself as "simply a pilgrim" starting the final part of his life.
Now begins a period known as the "sede vacante" or "vacant see" — the transition between the end of one papacy and the election of a new pope.
During these few days — no more than 20 — a few key players take charge running the Holy See, guiding the College of Cardinals in their deliberations and organizing the conclave to elect Benedict's successor.
In one of his first official acts as dean, Cardinal Angelo Sodano on Friday officially summons cardinals to Rome to participate in the conclave, a formality given that most are already here.
And in one of his first official acts as camerlengo, or the chamberlain who actually runs the Holy See in the transition, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sealed Benedict's apartment in the Apostolic Palace on Thursday night. It will not be reopened until a new pope is elected.
Public school precinct: Police in 1 small Minnesota town set up shop right in school
JORDAN, Minn. (AP) — One small-town Minnesota school district is taking a unique approach to keeping students safe: The police are moving in.
In Jordan, south of Minneapolis, officials looking at school security after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut decided the police would set up satellite offices in public schools. Officers will conduct some of their daily work from the schools, including taking calls and filling out paperwork, while still going out into the community to patrol or respond to emergencies. The hope is the armed officers, with their squad cars in school parking lots, will discourage — or meet — any would-be attackers.
Jordan schools haven't had an attack or a problem with violence. But the plan proposed by the police chief received unanimous approval from the City Council and the school board, and it seems to have the backing of parents and school administrators.
"Sandy Hook had everything in place security-wise, they really did. But what they didn't have was a trained, armed officer at the front door," said Jordan Elementary School Principal Stacy DeCorsey. "We will have that the majority of the time."
Schools across the U.S. have been looking at security after the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six workers dead. The National Rifle Association called for putting armed guards in schools. President Barack Obama proposed more funding for counselors and school resource officers, whose primary assignment is to work in schools. Some districts hired retired officers. One Colorado district asked officers to write reports from their squad cars in school parking lots.
Army GI says he leaked secrets to WikiLeaks to expose US 'bloodlust' in 2 wars, spur debate
FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — After almost three years in custody, the Army private accused in the biggest leak of classified material in U.S. history said he did it because he wanted the public to know how the American military was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with little regard for human life.
Bradley Manning, 25, pleaded guilty Thursday at a military hearing at Fort Meade, Md., to 10 charges that could carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. Prosecutors plan to pursue 12 more charges against him at court-martial, including a charge of aiding the enemy that carries a potential life sentence.
"I began to become depressed at the situation we found ourselves mired in year after year. In attempting counterinsurgency operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists," the former intelligence analyst in Baghdad told a military judge.
He added: "I wanted the public to know that not everyone living in Iraq were targets to be neutralized."
It was the first time Manning directly admitted leaking the material to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and detailed the frustrations that led him to do it.
Facebook photos could be lost forever after death of account holder under current law
BEAVERTON, Ore. (AP) — A grieving Oregon mother who battled Facebook for full access to her deceased son's account has been pushing for years for something that would prevent others from losing photos, messages and other memories — as she did.
"Everybody's going to face this kind of a situation at some point in their lives," says Karen Williams, whose 22-year-old son died in a 2005 motorcycle accident.
The Oregon Legislature responded and took up the cause recently with a proposal that would have made it easier for loved ones to access the "digital assets" of the deceased, only to be turned back by pressure from the tech industry, which argued that both a 1986 federal law and voluntary terms of service agreements prohibit companies from sharing a person's information — even if such a request were included in a last will and testament.
Lobbyists agree the Stored Communications Act is woefully out of date but say that until it's changed, laws passed at the state level could be unconstitutional.
"Everybody wants to do the right thing, but the hard legal reality is the federal communications act," said Jim Hawley, a vice president at TechNet, an industry group that represents companies such as Google and Microsoft.
Workplace bullying gets higher profile as movement grows to limit worker abuse
WASHINGTON (AP) — Margaret Fiester is no shrinking violet, but she says working for her former boss was a nightmare.
"One day I didn't do something right and she actually laid her hands on me and got up in my face and started yelling, 'Why did you do that?'" said Fiester, who worked as a legal assistant for an attorney.
Fiester doesn't have to worry about those tirades anymore, but she hears lots of similar stories in her current role as operations manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, where she often fields questions about the growing issue of workplace bullying.
On-the-job bullying can take many forms, from a supervisor's verbal abuse and threats to cruel comments or relentless teasing by a co-worker. And it could become the next major battleground in employment law as a growing number of states consider legislation that would let workers sue for harassment that causes physical or emotional harm.
"I believe this is the new claim that employers will deal with. This will replace sexual harassment," said Sharon Parella, a management-side employment lawyer in New York. "People who oppose it say these laws will force people to be polite at work. But you can no longer go to work and act like a beast and get away with it."
Government poised to show jurors at NYC cannibalism trial death photos as it wraps up its case
NEW YORK (AP) — The dark twists at the cannibalism trial of a New York police officer will continue if prosecutors succeed in showing jurors pictures of dead and dismembered people as they wrap up their case.
Defense lawyers are opposing the presentation Friday of as many as 34 ghastly exhibits of images the government says it took from Officer Gilberto Valle's computer.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe said he'll decide when the time comes whether jurors will see pictures of dead and mutilated women that defense lawyers say may have been saved on the 28-year-old officer's computer automatically without him ever seeing them when he went on certain web sites.
The government says the exhibits include a picture of a dead body whose feet were not attached that Valle's wife testified she saw when she went to one of his favorite Internet sites as she discovered why he stayed up late at night on the Internet.
The photographs were discussed out of the presence of jurors. They did hear an FBI agent testify that Valle's New York Police Department supervisor was among women the officer considered a potential target for a kidnap and torture.
Jury in Maine Zumba prostitution case watches video showing exchange of cash for sex
ALFRED, Maine (AP) — Prosecutors have shown jurors videos demonstrating that an insurance agent was familiar with paid sex acts involving his mistress, but a defense lawyer said it doesn't prove that the man promoted prostitution.
The jury in the trial of Mark Strong Sr. watched a 45-minute video Thursday showing a sexual encounter between Zumba fitness instructor Alexis Wright and a man who left $250 cash on her massage table.
Testimony indicated Strong watched the sexual encounters in Kennebunk through a live video call to his office 100 miles away in Thomaston.
Defense lawyer Daniel Lilley contends Strong committed no crime because he neither recruited clients nor profited from the operation.
"Observing a person in a criminal act is not a criminal act itself," Lilley told reporters Thursday outside the courthouse.
AP PHOTOS: A look at India's Kumbh Mela, the world's largest religious festival
ALLAHABAD, India (AP) — Once every 12 years, tens of millions of Indians gather for one of Hinduism's holiest celebrations at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythic Saraswati rivers. The Maha Kumbh Mela, thought to be the largest religious gathering in the world, celebrates the victory of gods over demons in a battle for nectar that would grant them immortality. As one of the gods fled with a pitcher of the nectar, a drop spilled here, in the town of Allahabad.
Participants at the Kumbh believe a bath in the river on one of the festival's auspicious bathing days can rid them of their sins. Associated Press photographers fanned out across the 55-day festival in the temporary city on the banks of the river.
The river was often a mass of bodies — men and their sons stripped down to their underwear, veiled women wading in the water, ash smeared ascetics wearing marigold garlands and nothing else.
Here's a gallery of their images from the festival.