Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Published:

Obama inauguration planners solicit record donations up to $1 million to fund festivities

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Planners of President Barack Obama's second inauguration are soliciting high-dollar contributions up to $1 million to help pay for the celebration in exchange for special access.

The changes are part of a continuing erosion of Obama's pledge to keep donors and special interests at arm's length of his presidency. He has abandoned the policy from his first inauguration to accept donations up to only $50,000 from individuals, announcing last month that he would take unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations.

A fundraising appeal obtained by The Associated Press shows the Presidential Inaugural Committee is going far beyond Obama's previous self-imposed limits and is looking to blow away modern American presidential inauguration fundraising records by offering donors four VIP packages named after the country's founding fathers.

Event organizers are hoping the packages will pay for expensive events surrounding Obama's inaugural on Jan. 21. Obama raised $53 million in private money for his first inauguration, when a record 1.8 million people packed the National Mall to see the nation's first black president take the oath of office. The celebration has been scaled down this year, with less than half the crowd expected and a cut from 10 inauguration-night balls to two.

But the pressure is high to pay for the festivities after donors already contributed to the most expensive political race in U.S. history, a campaign that exceeded $2 billion. So far, health care executives and major Democratic Party donors -- including those who've taken private meetings with Obama or his senior staff -- are among those paying for the party.

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AIG board to consider potentially joining $25 billion shareholder lawsuit against the US

NEW YORK (AP) -- American International Group Inc. said Tuesday its board of directors will weigh whether to take part in a shareholder lawsuit against the government over its $182 billion bailout of the insurer.

If AIG decides to join the complaint, which seeks $25 billion in damages, it would pit the company against the government that rescued it in 2008 from collapsing under the weight of huge losses on mortgage-backed securities and other toxic assets.

AIG said that its directors will meet Wednesday and should have a decision by the end of the month.

Starr International Co. Inc., the investment firm of former AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg, filed the lawsuit in November 2011 on behalf of the firm and AIG shareholders.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, says that the government didn't compensate shareholders fairly when it took a nearly 80 percent stake in the insurer as part of its bailout. As a result, the government violated the Constitution, Starr claims.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

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

1. OUTCRY OVER GUNS SHOWS SIGNS OF FADING

The White House fights to keep momentum alive for new legislation meant to curb gun violence.

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Giffords and Kelly launch gun control lobbying effort on 2-year anniversary of Ariz. shooting

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Tuesday was not just a day for Tucson to remember the victims of the deadly shooting that severely injured then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It was also a day when residents could see firsthand the nation's gun debate play out in a busy parking lot outside a city police station.

On one side was a councilman who supports gun control leading an effort to give $50 grocery store gift cards to anyone who turned in their firearms to police. On the other was an event organized by a state senator that turned into an open, unregulated and legal marketplace for firearms.

"We have a fundamental hole in the private sales of guns. You can walk up right in front of a cop and buy a gun, no background check, nothing," said Councilman Steve Kozachik. "How much more flawed can the system be?"

The people who bought guns from each other declined repeated requests for comments. The senator and gun rights advocate didn't stay at the event, but earlier said he was angered by the timing of Kozachik's event and that paying $50 for a gun was such little money that it amounted to theft.

The dueling gun buyback programs -- and the annual ringing of bells to remember the six dead and 13 injured, including Giffords, during the January 2011 attack -- came as the congresswoman and her husband announced that they were forming a political action committee aimed at preventing gun violence.

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White House weighing option of no US troops in Afghanistan after combat ends in 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration gave the first explicit signal Tuesday that it might leave no troops in Afghanistan after December 2014, an option that defies the Pentagon's view that thousands of troops may be needed to keep a lid on al-Qaida and to strengthen Afghan forces.

"The U.S. does not have an inherent objective of 'X' number of troops in Afghanistan," said Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser. "We have an objective of making sure there is no safe haven for al-Qaida in Afghanistan and making sure that the Afghan government has a security force that is sufficient to ensure the stability of the Afghan government."

The U.S. now has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 as recently as 2010. The U.S. and its NATO allies agreed in November 2010 that they would withdraw all their combat troops by the end of 2014, but they have yet to decide what future missions will be necessary and how many troops they would require.

At stake is the risk of Afghanistan's collapse and a return to the chaos of the 1990s that enabled the Taliban to seize power and provide a haven for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Fewer than 100 al-Qaida fighters are believed to remain in Afghanistan, although a larger number are just across the border in Pakistani sanctuaries.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said he foresees a need for a U.S. counterterrorism force in Afghanistan beyond 2014, plus a contingent to train Afghan forces. He is believed to favor an option that would keep about 9,000 troops in the country.

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Venezuela lawmakers postpone Chavez's inauguration, opposition says it violates constitution

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuelan lawmakers voted on Tuesday to postpone the inauguration of ailing President Hugo Chavez for his new term, prompting complaints from opponents who called it a violation of the constitution.

Chavez's congressional allies, who hold a majority of seats in the National Assembly, agreed with a government proposal for Chavez to be sworn in at a later date before the Supreme Court. While pro-Chavez lawmakers approved the plan with a show of hands, opponents condemned the action as illegal.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro broke the news that Chavez would not be able to attend Thursday's scheduled inauguration in a letter to National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, confirming suspicions that Chavez's battle with cancer and a related respiratory infection would keep him in a Cuban hospital past the key date.

Maduro said that on the recommendation of Chavez's medical team, his recovery process "should be extended beyond Jan. 10."

The vice president said Chavez was invoking a provision in the constitution allowing him to be sworn in before the Supreme Court at a "later date." The opposition disputed that argument and appealed to the Organization of American States, but did not appear to have other immediate routes to block the government's plan.

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Last year hottest yet in US since record keeping began in 1895; drought, mild winter factors

WASHINGTON (AP) -- America set an off-the-charts heat record in 2012.

A brutal combination of a widespread drought and a mostly absent winter pushed the average annual U.S. temperature last year up to 55.32 degrees Fahrenheit, the government announced Tuesday. That's a full degree warmer than the old record set in 1998.

Breaking temperature records by an entire degree is unprecedented, scientists say. Normally, records are broken by a tenth of a degree or so.

"It was off the chart," said Deke Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., which calculated the temperature records.

Last year, he said, will go down as "a huge exclamation point at the end of a couple decades of warming."

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US sees hand of Iran behind hostage photos, video of retired FBI agent missing 6 years

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two years after a hostage video and photographs of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson raised the possibility that the missing American was being held by terrorists, U.S. officials now see the government of Iran behind the images, intelligence officials told The Associated Press.

Levinson, a private investigator, disappeared in 2007 on the Iranian island of Kish. The Iranian government has repeatedly denied knowing anything about his disappearance, and the disturbing video and photos that Levinson's family received in late 2010 and early 2011 seemed to give credence to the idea.

The extraordinary photos -- showing Levinson's hair wild and gray, his beard long and unkempt -- are being seen for the first time publicly after the family provided copies to the AP. The video has been previously released.

In response to Iran's repeated denials, and amid secret conversations with Iran's government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement in March 2011 that Levinson was being held somewhere in South Asia. The implication was that Levinson might be in the hands of terrorist group or criminal organization somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The statement was a goodwill gesture to Iran, one that the U.S. hoped would prod Tehran to help bring him home.

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Killing of 4 by feral dogs in Mexico opens debate on dog care, sympathy for seized animals

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Police scoured a hilly urban park for feral dogs and tested dozens of captured animals on Tuesday in a hunt for those responsible for four fatal maulings that have set off a fierce debate about how to handle the thousands of stray dogs that roam this massive city.

Authorities have captured 25 dogs near the scene of the attacks in the capital's poor Iztapalapa district, but rather than calm residents, photos of the forlorn dogs brought a wave of sympathy for the animals, doubts about their involvement in the killings and debate about government handling of the stray dog problem.

Activists started an online campaign protesting the dogs' innocence and calling for authorities not to euthanize them. Tens of thousands of dogs are euthanized each year in Mexico if they are captured by animal control officers and not claimed within 72 hours. Many people re-posted the images of the dogs staring sadly from behind bars at an animal shelter.

The hashtag for the campaign became the top trending topic on Twitter in Mexico by midday Tuesday, with some users furiously accusing the authorities of cruelty to animals and others sarcastically calling the dogs "political prisoners" and mocking the fuss over the fate of the animals.

Officials said they were testing the captured dogs' fur for blood, and examining their stomach contents to determine if they were the killers of the four people whose bodies were found covered in dog bites in two separate incidents in recent days.

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Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan out after 2 seasons without trip to playoffs for Dallas

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was fired Tuesday after his injury-depleted unit struggled in a pair of season-ending losses that kept the Cowboys out of the playoffs for a third straight year.

Ryan was let go a day after running backs coach Skip Peete was fired, and less than a week after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said things were going to get "uncomfortable" at team headquarters in nearby Irving.

"At this time, the decision has been made to move forward in a different direction philosophically on defense," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said in a statement. "I have an immense amount of respect for Rob as a person and as a football coach."

Ryan spent two seasons with the Cowboys after he was fired two years into the same job in Cleveland. He didn't hide his displeasure over being let go by the Browns before the Cowboys played them this season. He struck a different tone Tuesday.

"I enjoyed my time here," Ryan told The Dallas Morning News. "I have no hard feelings. But it doesn't matter if I coach here or not. I will find another spot."