Thursday, December 13, 2012

Published:

Rice withdraws as secretary of state candidate; Obama decries 'unfair and misleading' attacks

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Susan Rice, the embattled U.N. ambassador, abruptly withdrew from consideration to be the next secretary of state on Thursday after a bitter, weekslong standoff with Republican senators who declared they would fight to defeat her nomination.

The reluctant announcement makes Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry the likely choice to be the nation's next top diplomat when Hillary Rodham Clinton departs soon. Rice withdrew when it became clear her political troubles were not going away, and support inside the White House for her potential nomination had been waning in recent days, administration officials said.

In another major part of the upcoming Cabinet shake-up for President Barack Obama's second term, former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska now is seen as the front-runner to be defense secretary, with official word expected as soon as next week.

For the newly re-elected president, Rice's withdrawal was a sharp political setback and a sign of the difficulties Obama faces in a time of divided and divisive government. Already, he had been privately weighing whether picking Rice would cost him political capital he would need on later votes.

When Rice ended the embarrassment by stepping aside, Obama used the occasion to criticize Republicans who were adamantly opposed to her possible nomination.

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Fiscal cliff negotiations: No word on progress after Obama, Boehner negotiate into the night

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Face to face with time running short, President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner negotiated at the White House on Thursday night in what aides called "frank" talks aimed at breaking a stubborn deadlock and steering the nation away from an economy-threatening "fiscal cliff."

There was no sign of movement, as evidence mounted that the White House was moving away from politically difficult cuts like increasing the Medicare eligibility age. But some Republicans, especially in the Senate, advocated yielding to Obama on tax rates on the wealthy but continuing the battle on other fronts.

An increasing number of Senate Republicans have been pressing to yield on the question of allowing top tax rates to increase on income over $250,000 for couples, while extending Bush-era tax cuts for everyone else. That reflects increasing resignation within the GOP that Obama is going to prevail on the rate issue since the alternative is to allow taxes on all workers to go way up when Bush-era tax cuts expire on Dec. 31.

"I think it's time to end the debate on rates," Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said. "It's exactly what both parties are for. We're for extending the middle-class rates. We can debate the upper-end rates and what they are when we get into tax reform."

"He's got a full house and we're trying to draw an inside straight," Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said. When it was observed that making a straight would still be a losing hand, Isakson said: "Yeah, I know."

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10 Things to Know for Friday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and stories that will be talked about Friday:

1. RICE WITHDRAWS AS SEC'Y OF STATE CANDIDATE

Her decision means Sen. John Kerry is now the front-runner to replace Clinton.

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Russia acknowledges rebels might win in Syria, positioning itself for Assad's fall

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria's most powerful ally and protector, Russia, began positioning itself Thursday for the fall of President Bashar Assad, saying for the first time that rebels might overthrow him and preparing to evacuate thousands of Russian citizens from the country.

The head of NATO echoed the Russian assessment, saying the Syrian government is near collapse following a nearly two-year conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people and threatened to ignite the Middle East. Assad appears to be running out of options, with insurgents at the gates of the capital and the country fracturing under the weight of a devastating civil war.

"An opposition victory can't be excluded, unfortunately, but it's necessary to look at the facts: There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Moscow's Middle East envoy, said during hearings at a Kremlin advisory body.

Still, Bogdanov gave no immediate signal that Russia would change its pro-Syria stance at the U.N. Security Council, where Moscow has shielded Damascus from world sanctions.

The U.S. commended Russia "for finally waking up to the reality and acknowledging that the regime's days are numbered," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

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Egypt's referendum on new constitution turns into fateful choice on nation's future

CAIRO (AP) -- Two days before a constitutional referendum it considered boycotting, Egypt's secular opposition finally launched its "no" campaign Thursday with newspaper and TV ads detailing the argument against the charter drafted by Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi.

The Morsi camp has a simpler message: A "Yes" to the constitution is a yes to Islam.

The deadly violence and harsh divisions of recent weeks -- combined with the inability of most Egyptians to even comprehend the densely written 63-page document -- have turned the vote into a stark choice on whether the largest Arab nation takes a serious step toward theocratic rule.

"This constitution is supposed to protect the rights of the minorities, but it is written by the majority for the majority," said Haitham Sherdi, a young opposition supporter from Cairo.

"If it passes, it will be used to crush the minority until they vanish," he added, referring to Egypt's Christian community.

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EU scores a hat-trick with Greek, banking deals and Nobel but challenges remain

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Finally, it has been a good week for Europe.

After months of bitter debate, European Union finance ministers finally reached two crucial agreements Thursday: They found a compromise to create a single supervisor for their banks -- a major step toward lessening the damage struggling lenders can inflict on government finances -- and agreed to give Greece desperately needed bailout funds.

As if that weren't enough, earlier on in the week, European leaders also accepted the Nobel Peace Prize -- an award that was in equal measure recognition of the peace the union had forged on the once war-torn continent and incentive to solve its intractable financial and political crises.

So upbeat was the mood in Brussels that European Council President Herman Van Rompuy even dared to say the end of the three-year-old crisis over too much debt might be at hand.

"The worst is now behind us," he told European leaders gathered for a summit Thursday to discuss how to build a closer union.

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Congress takes early step to outlaw 'cyberstalking apps' operating secretly on cellphones

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A loophole that permits software companies to sell cyberstalking apps that operate secretly on cellphones could soon be closed by Congress. The software is popular among jealous wives or husbands because it can continuously track the whereabouts of a spouse.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Thursday that makes it a crime for companies to make and intentionally operate a stalking app. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., also would curb the appeal for such inexpensive and easy-to-use programs by requiring companies to disclose their existence on a target's phone.

Stalking and wiretapping already are illegal, but there are no provisions in federal law that clearly prohibit businesses from making an app whose primary purpose is to help one person stalk another. Franken's proposal would extend the criminal and civil liabilities for the improper use of the apps to include the software companies that sell them.

The proposal would update laws passed years before wireless technology revolutionized communications. Telephone companies currently are barred from disclosing to businesses the locations of people who make traditional phone calls. But there's no such prohibition when communicating over the Internet. If a mobile device sends an email, links to a website or launches an app, the precise location of the phone can be passed to advertisers, marketers and others without the user's permission.

"What's most troubling is this: Our law is not protecting location information," said Franken, chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law.

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Orange County judge admonished for saying rape victims being can stop intercourse

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- A Southern California judge is being publicly admonished for saying a rape victim "didn't put up a fight" during her assault and that if someone doesn't want sexual intercourse, the body "will not permit that to happen."

The California Commission on Judicial Performance voted 10-0 to impose a public admonishment Thursday, saying Superior Court Judge Derek Johnson's comments were inappropriate and a breach of judicial ethics.

"In the commission's view, the judge's remarks reflected outdated, biased and insensitive views about sexual assault victims who do not 'put up a fight.' Such comments cannot help but diminish public confidence and trust in the impartiality of the judiciary," wrote Lawrence J. Simi, the commission's chairman.

Johnson made the comments in the case of a man who threatened to mutilate the face and genitals of his ex-girlfriend with a heated screwdriver, beat her with a metal baton and made other violent threats before committing rape, forced oral copulation, and other crimes.

Though the woman reported the criminal threats the next day, the woman did not report the rape until 17 days later.

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Co-inventor of productivity-boosting bar code technology, N. Joseph Woodland, dies at 91

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Norman Joseph Woodland, the co-inventor of the bar code that labels nearly every product in stores and has boosted productivity in nearly every sector of commerce worldwide, has died. He was 91.

Woodland died Sunday in Edgewater, N.J., from the effects of Alzheimer's disease and complications of his advanced age, his daughter, Susan Woodland of New York, said Thursday.

Woodland and Bernard Silver were students at what is now called Drexel University in Philadelphia when Silver overheard a grocery-store executive asking an engineering school dean to channel students into research on how product information could be captured at checkout, Susan Woodland said.

Woodland notably had worked on the Manhattan Project, the U.S. military's atomic bomb development team. And having already earned a mechanical engineering degree, Woodland dropped out of graduate school to work on the bar code idea. He stole away to spend time with his grandfather in Miami to focus on developing a code that could symbolically capture details about an item, Susan Woodland.

The only code Woodland knew was the Morse Code he'd learned in the Boy Scouts, his daughter said. One day, he drew Morse dots and dashes as he sat on the beach and absent-mindedly left his fingers in the sand where they traced a series of parallel lines.

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Nick Foles rallies Eagles to 13-10 lead at halftime over Bengals

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Nick Foles threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper and the Philadelphia Eagles rallied from a 10-point deficit to take a 13-10 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals at halftime.

The Eagles snapped a drought of 22 quarters without a turnover by recovering two fumbles in the second. Both led to field goals by Alex Henery.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored on a 1-yard TD run in the first quarter for Cincinnati.

Coming off a 20-19 loss to Dallas on a last-second field goal, the Bengals (7-6) looked to rebound against another NFC East opponent.

But the inspired Eagles (4-9) weren't going to be pushovers.