Update on the latest news, sports, business and entertainment

December 26, 2012, 12:48 am


CHRISTMAS WEATHER

UPDATE: Storm's high winds, snow, sleet lash Northeast

A strong winter storm system that pounded the nation's midsection and wrecked people's holiday travel plans has begun lashing the Northeast.

The storm has knocked out power to thousands of homes, mostly in Arkansas. At least six deaths are being blamed on the storm, which spawned Gulf Coast region tornadoes on Christmas Day and a historic amount of snow in Arkansas before pushing through the Upper Ohio Valley and heading into the Northeast on Wednesday night.

High winds, snow and sleet are hitting Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Scores of motorists have gotten stuck on icy roads or have slid into drifts.

The aviation tracking website FlightAware.com says about 1,600 flights have been canceled.

A National Weather Service meteorologist in Indianapolis says he's describing the storm as a low-end blizzard "but that's sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex."

BUSH HOSPITALIZED

Spokesman: George H.W. Bush in intensive care

HOUSTON (AP) — A spokesman says former President George H.W. Bush is in the intensive care unit at a Houston hospital.

Bush's spokesman, Jim McGrath, said late Wednesday that the former president was admitted to the ICU on Sunday at Methodist Hospital, "following a series of setbacks including a persistent fever."

McGrath says Bush is alert and conversing with medical staff, and that doctors are cautiously optimistic about his treatment. No other details about his medical condition were provided, but McGrath says Bush is surrounded by family.

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.

FISCAL CLIFF

Cliff looms, no progress seen

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and members of Congress are heading back to Washington -- but that doesn't mean there's hope of a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

Congressional officials say they don't know of any significant strides toward a compromise during the long Christmas weekend, and they say no negotiations have been set.

Late last week, Obama urged lawmakers to scale back their ambitions, and to send him legislation preventing tax cuts on all but the highest-earning Americans -- and also to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.

But even half-measures face an uncertain future -- meaning the tax increases and spending cuts could go into effect as scheduled next week.

The Senate is due in session Thursday, but the immediate agenda includes legislation on government surveillance of suspected spies and terrorists abroad. There's also a measure providing $60 billion for victims of Superstorm Sandy.

The House has no plans to convene, after last week's rebellion in which conservatives torpedoed Speaker John Boehner's (BAY'-nurz) legislation to prevent a tax increase on most people while letting them take effect on people earning more than a million dollars.

US SENATE-HAWAII

Hawaii lieutenant gov. picked to fill Senate seat

HONOLULU (AP) — Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz of Hawaii has been appointed to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced the appointment after receiving a list of three candidates from the state Democratic Party Wednesday.

The White House says Schatz was set to fly to Washington on Wednesday night aboard Air Force One, which was bringing President Barack Obama home early from his Christmas vacation as Congress considers what to do about the so-called fiscal cliff.

Inouye died Dec. 17 of respiratory complications at the age of 88. He had sent Abercrombie a letter that day, saying his last wish was for U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to succeed him.

The 40-year-old Schatz is a former state lawmaker and a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. He will serve until an election is held in 2014.

US-BORROWING LIMIT

US Treasury to take steps to avoid borrowing limit

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Treasury Department will begin taking steps this week to delay hitting the government's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit. Without those steps, the debt limit would be hit on Dec. 31.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says in a letter to congressional leaders that the department will take several accounting measures to save approximately $200 billion beginning next year. The government borrows about $100 billion a month, so that would keep the government from reaching the limit for two months.

Geithner says it is harder to predict how long the delay will last because ongoing negotiations over tax and budget policies make it hard to forecast what tax revenue and government spending will be next year.

The debt limit is the amount the government can borrow to help finance its operations.

GUN PERMIT DATABASE

Newspaper's handgun-permit map draws criticism

NEW YORK (AP) — The publication of the names and addresses of handgun permit holders in two New York counties has sparked outrage that is spreading across the Internet.

The Journal News is a Gannett Co. newspaper covering Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties north of New York City and operating the website lohud.com. It posted a story Sunday detailing a public-records request it filed to obtain the information.

The story was accompanied online by maps of the results for Westchester and Rockland counties. A reader clicking on the maps can see the name and address of each pistol or revolver permit holder.

Most comments on lohud.com and other sites have criticized the publication, and many suggest it puts permit holders in danger.

The paper stands by the project.

NUCLEAR PLANT PROBLEMS

NRC wants more analysis at troubled Cal nuke plant

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Federal regulators are asking for more information as they try to determine if the damaged San Onofre nuclear power plant should be restarted.

The twin reactors between Los Angeles and San Diego haven't produced electricity since January, after a tiny radiation leak led to the discovery of excessive wear on hundreds of steam generator tubes that carry radioactive water.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials Wednesday asked Southern California Edison for more analysis on how tubes would interact with each other if a reactor is running at full power.

Each generator has thousands of tubes.

The inquiry represents a possible hurdle as Edison seeks to restart Unit 2 at reduced power. Edison believes that will end damaging vibration.

The NRC says tubes must retain "structural integrity" under a "full range" of conditions.

TOYOTA LAWSUITS

Attorney: Settlement reached in Toyota recall case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A plaintiffs' attorney says Toyota Motor Corp. has reached a settlement in a case involving hundreds of lawsuits over accelerations problems.

Steve Berman said Wednesday the settlement, which still needs a federal judge's approval, was worth more than $1 billion and is the largest settlement in U.S. history involving automobile defects.

Toyota has recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide due to acceleration problems in several models and brake defects with the Prius hybrid. Toyota has blamed driver error, faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals for the unintended acceleration.

A phone message left with Toyota's attorneys was not immediately returned.

CHICAGO PARKING METERS

Chicago parking meters will be US's most expensive

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago soon will have the nation's most expensive downtown parking meters.

On New Year's Day, meters in the city's downtown Loop area will begin charging $6.50 an hour — up from $5.75.

A report from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency says the rate change will make Chicago the city with the most expensive metered parking.

The company that operates the meters plans to have all machines set to new rates by the end of February.

Former Mayor Richard Daley got the City Council to approve the company's 75-year contract in 2008. In return, the city got a $1.1 billion payment — much of which has already been spent.

Current Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered an independent audit of the deal, which is now largely viewed as a financial disaster.

ZUCKERBERG-SISTER'S PHOTO

NEW: Private picture of Mark Zuckerberg's family leaks

Even Mark Zuckerberg's family can get tripped up by Facebook's privacy settings.

A picture Zuckerberg's sister posted on her personal Facebook profile was seen by a marketing director, who then posted the picture to Twitter and her more than 40,000 followers Wednesday.

That didn't sit well with Zuckerberg's sister, Randi, who tweeted at Callie Schweitzer that the picture was meant for friends only. Schweitzer replied by saying the picture popped up on her Facebook news feed.

Randi Zuckerberg eventually said Schweitzer was able to see the picture because they had a mutual friend. Those tweets have since been taken down.

Many people reacted sharply to Randi Zuckerberg, saying that her brother's company makes privacy settings hard to navigate.

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