Powerful storm begins lashing Northeast a day after sweeping through nation’s midsection
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A powerful winter storm was expected to drop one to two feet of snow on parts of the Northeast just a day after it swept through the nation’s middle, dumping a record snowfall in Arkansas and ruining holiday travel plans for thousands.
The storm, which was blamed for six deaths, pushed through the Upper Ohio Valley and made its way into the Northeast Wednesday night. Within hours, there was anywhere from a few inches of snow to a dozen in some locations.
National Weather Service spokesman David Roth said the Northeast’s heaviest snowfall would be in northern Pennsylvania, upstate New York and inland sections of several New England states before the storm ended Friday morning and headed to Canada.
Little or no accumulation was expected in the East Coast’s largest cities: New York, Philadelphia and Boston. Other areas were to get a messy mix of rain and snow or just rain — enough to slow down commuters and those still heading home from visits with family.
Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed on Wednesday and scores of motorists got stuck on icy roads or slid into drifts. Said John Kwiatkowski, an Indianapolis-based meteorologist with the weather service: ‘‘The way I’ve been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that’s sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex.’’
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Fiscal deal still eludes both sides as deadline nears; debt ceiling rises in the horizon
WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers are engaged in a playground game of ‘‘who goes first,’’ daring each political party to let the year end without resolving a Jan. 1 confluence of higher taxes and deep spending cuts that could rattle a recovering, but-still-fragile economy.
President Barack Obama returns from Hawaii Thursday to this increasingly familiar deadline showdown in the nation’s capital, with even a stopgap solution now in doubt.
Adding to the mix of developments pushing toward a ‘‘fiscal cliff,’’ Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner informed Congress on Wednesday that the government was on track to hit its borrowing limit on Monday and that he would take ‘‘extraordinary measures as authorized by law’’ to postpone a government default.
Still, he added, uncertainty over the outcome of negotiations over taxes and spending made it difficult to determine how much time those measures would buy.
In recent days, Obama’s aides have been consulting with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid’s office, but Republicans have not been part of the discussions, suggesting much still needs to be done if a deal, even a small one, were to be struck and passed through Congress by Monday.
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$1 billion settlement closes major part of Toyota’s legal troubles, but more lawsuits remain
LOS ANGELES (AP) — With a proposed payout of more than $1 billion, one major chapter of a nearly four-year legal saga that left Toyota Motor Corp. fighting hundreds of lawsuits and struggling with a tarnished image has ended, though another remains.
The settlement — unprecedented in its size according to a plaintiff’s attorney — brings an end to claims from owners who said the value of their vehicles plunged after recalls over sudden and unintended acceleration.
Lawsuits claiming that the defects caused injury or death remain, with the first trial beginning in February unless another major deal comes first.
Steve Berman, a lawyer representing Toyota owners, said the settlement is the largest in U.S. history involving automobile defects.
‘‘We kept fighting and fighting and we secured what we think was a good settlement given the risks of this litigation,’’ Berman told The Associated Press.
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Spokesman: Former President George H.W. Bush in guarded condition at Houston hospital
HOUSTON (AP) — Former President George H.W. Bush remained in guarded condition overnight in the intensive care unit at a Houston hospital after a day marked by ‘‘a series of setbacks including persistent fever,’’ according to his spokesman.
In a brief email Wednesday, Jim McGrath, Bush’s spokesman in Houston, said the 88-year-old former leader had been admitted Sunday to the ICU at Methodist Hospital. McGrath said Bush, the oldest living former U.S. president, was alert and talking to medical staff, adding that doctors are cautiously optimistic about his treatment.
No other details were released about his medical condition, but McGrath said Bush is surrounded by family.
Bush has been hospitalized since Nov. 23, when he was admitted for a lingering cough related to bronchitis after having been in and out of the hospital for complications related to the illness.
Earlier Wednesday, McGrath said, a fever that kept Bush in the hospital over Christmas had gotten worse and that doctors had put him on a liquids-only diet.
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South Africa: Nelson Mandela rests at Johannesburg home after leaving hospital
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The doctors treating former South African leader Nelson Mandela believe he should remain in Johannesburg for now to be close to medical facilities that can provide care to the 94-year-old, the government said Thursday.
Mandela left a hospital Wednesday evening after nearly three weeks of treatment there, and was brought to his home in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton. The anti-apartheid icon, also known by his clan name, Madiba, has lived over the past year and more in the rural village of Qunu in Eastern Cape province, where he grew up.
‘‘Where Madiba goes, in which period, in which times, is a matter that is entirely dependent on his own wishes. Whatever he wishes, we will do,’’ presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said in an interview with eNCA, a South African television news channel.
‘‘But right now, the doctors have considered it necessary and good that he should be in Houghton so that he’s close to all the facilities where we can give him high care,’’ Maharaj said.
Mandela was admitted Dec. 8 to a hospital in the South African capital of Pretoria, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Johannesburg. The ex-president was treated for a lung infection and also had a procedure to remove gallstones.
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NY charity works to find warm shelter for dozens of homeless in the Hamptons
RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) — It’s not so easy to spot the homeless in the Hamptons in the summer, when celebrity A-listers fly in by helicopter and Wall Street whizzes drive out in their Jaguars and Lexuses.
It’s not that the homeless don’t exist in the string of famously exclusive waterfront communities on the eastern end of Long Island — they just blend in more easily when it’s warm.
Some landscape laborers curl up in barns with the mowers and leaf blowers. Others, who struggle with mental problems or drug and alcohol issues, live in tents deep in the Long Island woods. Then there are those with minimum-wage jobs who simply can’t afford prohibitive Hamptons rents and live in their cars.
But when the November winds blow and the mercury plummets faster than falling leaves, several dozen are given refuge by an organization called Maureen’s Haven.
‘‘Essentially, in its purest form, we exist to prevent homeless adults from freezing to death during the coldest winter months,’’ said Tracey Lutz, executive director of the privately funded charity founded about a dozen years ago to provide a place to stay and a warm meal for those unwilling or unable to avail themselves of government-run shelters.
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China tightening controls on Internet after embarrassing postings about official abuse
BEIJING (AP) — China’s new communist leaders are increasing already tight controls on Internet use and electronic publishing following a spate of embarrassing online reports about official abuses.
The measures suggest China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, and others who took power in November share their predecessors’ anxiety about the Internet’s potential to spread opposition to one-party rule and their insistence on controlling information despite promises of more economic reforms.
‘‘They are still very paranoid about the potentially destabilizing effect of the Internet,’’ said Willy Lam, a politics specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. ‘‘They are on the point of losing a monopoly on information, but they still are very eager to control the dissemination of views.’’
This week, China’s legislature took up a measure to require Internet users to register their real names, a move that would curtail the Web’s status as a freewheeling forum to complain, often anonymously, about corruption and official abuses. The legislature scheduled a news conference Friday to discuss the measure, suggesting it was expected to be approved.
That comes amid reports Beijing might be disrupting use of software that allows Web surfers to see sites abroad that are blocked by its extensive Internet filters. At the same time, regulators have proposed rules that would bar foreign companies from distributing books, news, music and other material online in China.
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Hawaii governor names Democrat, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, to succeed Inouye in US Senate
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii’s lieutenant governor spent time in the morning telling fellow Democrats why he should become the state’s next U.S. senator. Hours later, he was hitching a ride to Washington with President Obama to be sworn in as the late Sen. Daniel Inouye’s successor.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to the post Wednesday, going against the dying wishes of Inouye, who wanted U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to take his place.
Schatz, 40, said his top priorities would be addressing global climate change, preserving federal funds used in Hawaii for things like defense spending and transportation, and getting federal recognition for Native Hawaiians in forming their own government, similar to many Indian tribes across the United States.
Schatz, who ran with Abercrombie for the state’s top two offices in 2010, beat out Hanabusa and Esther Kiaaina, a deputy director in the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The three candidates were selected by state Democrats Wednesday morning from a field of 14. The candidates briefly made their cases before the state party’s central committee, which handing the three top names to the governor.
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India gang-rape victim sent to Singapore hospital as prime minister promises to protect women
NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged Thursday to take action to protect the nation’s women while the young victim of a gang rape on a New Delhi bus was flown to Singapore for treatment of severe internal injuries.
The Dec. 16 rape and brutal beating of the 23-year-old student triggered widespread protests in New Delhi and other parts of India demanding a government crackdown on the daily harassment Indian women face, ranging from groping to severe violence. Some protesters have called for the death penalty or castration for rapists, who under current laws face a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
Rape victims rarely press charges because of social stigma and fear they will be accused of inviting the attack. Many women say they structure their lives around protecting themselves and their daughters from attack.
Singh’s government set up two committees in response to the protests. One, looking into speeding up sexual assault trials, has already received 6,100 email suggestions. The second will examine what lapses might have contributed to the rape — which took place on a moving bus that passed through police checkpoints — and suggest measures to improve women’s safety.
‘’Let me state categorically that the issue of safety and security of women is of the highest concern to our government,’’ Singh told a development meeting. He urged officials in India’s states to pay special attention to the problem.
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DC police investigating incident in which ’Meet the Press’ host displayed ammunition magazine
WASHINGTON (AP) — District of Columbia police say they are investigating an incident in which NBC News reporter David Gregory displayed what he described as a high-capacity ammunition magazine on ‘‘Meet the Press.’’
Police spokesman Tisha Gant said Wednesday the department is investigating whether Gregory may have violated D.C. firearms laws that ban the possession of high-capacity magazines. She declined to comment further.
While interviewing National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre on Sunday’s program, Gregory held an object, apparently as a prop to make a point, and said it was a magazine that could hold 30 rounds.
High-capacity ammunition magazines are banned in the District of Columbia, regardless of whether they’re attached to a firearm. ‘‘Meet the Press’’ is generally taped in Washington.
An email seeking comment from NBC was not immediately returned.