Fiscal cliff talks today — President Barack Obama will meet with congressional leaders at the White House today in search of a compromise to avoid a year-end “fiscal cliff" of across-the-board tax increases and deep spending cuts. Thursday’s development capped a day of growing urgency in which Obama returned early from vacation and Speaker John Boehner called the House back into session for a highly unusual Sunday evening session. While there was no guarantee of a compromise, Republicans and Democrats said privately elements of any agreement would likely include an extension of middle class tax cuts with increased rates at upper incomes as well as cancellation of the scheduled spending cuts.
EPA chief to resign — Lisa Jackson is stepping down as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency after a four-year tenure that began with high hopes of sweeping action to address climate change and other environmental ills but ended with a series of rear-guard actions to defend the agency against challenges from industry, Republicans in Congress and, at times, the Obama White House. Jackson, 50, told President Barack Obama shortly after his re-election in November that she wanted to leave the administration early next year. She informed the EPA staff of her decision Thursday morning. No successor was immediately named.
Storm blasts northward — A muted version of a winter storm that has killed more than a dozen people across the eastern half of the country plodded across the Northeast on Thursday, trapping airliners in snow or mud and frustrating travelers still trying to return home after Christmas. The storm, which was blamed for at least 16 deaths farther south and west, brought plenty of wind, rain and snow to the Northeast when it blew in Wednesday night. Lights generally remained on and cars mostly stayed on the road, unlike many harder-hit places including Arkansas, where 200,000 homes and businesses lost power. Snow is expected to keep falling across the region.
Newtown scam — A Bronx, N.Y., woman who police say posed as an aunt of a 6-year-old boy killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in order to solicit donations was arrested Thursday and charged with lying to federal agents. Nouel Alba, 37, used her Facebook account, telephone calls and text messages to solicit money for a “funeral fund," according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut. Alba denies she had posted any messages on Facebook soliciting donations. If convicted, Alba faces a maximum of five years in prison and $250,000 fine.
New York gunman — The gunman who lured two firefighters to their deaths died of a self-inflicted shot to the head and wasn’t hit by return fire from a police officer, New York State Police said Thursday. But investigators still hadn’t made a positive identification of the body found in William Spengler’s burned house. They have said they believe the remains are those of his 67-year-old sister, Cheryl Spengler, who also lived in the house near Rochester.
Egyptian coup plot? — Egypt’s chief prosecutor ordered an investigation on Thursday into allegations that opposition leaders committed treason by inciting supporters to overthrow Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, a day after the president called for a dialogue with the opposition to heal rifts opened in the bitter fight over an Islamist-drafted constitution just approved in a referendum. The probe was almost certain to sour the already tense political atmosphere in the country.
Call for Syrian transition — Lakhdar Brahimi, the international envoy on a mission to Damascus seeking an end to the escalating civil conflict in Syria, said Thursday a transitional government with full executive authority should be established, perhaps within months, and should rule the country until new elections could be held. Brahimi did not say who would serve in such a government, but his comments suggested that if President Bashar Assad remained in the country, he would retain no authority.
Japan’s slavery apology — A top official hinted Thursday that Japan’s newly installed conservative government might seek to revise a two-decade-old official apology to women forced into sexual slavery during World War II, a move that could outrage South Korea and other former victims of Japanese militarism. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga refused to indicate clearly whether the new prime minister would uphold the 1993 apology. Most historians say the women were coerced and were not prostitutes, as nationalists have claimed.
Turmoil in Central Africa — Rebels on Thursday inched closer to the capital of the Central African Republic, one of Africa’s most fragile states, threatening to topple an elected government that has had an unsteady grip on power for nearly a decade. Thousands of civilians fled cities and towns into dense forest as embassies and humanitarian aid organizations evacuated many of their staff members.
— From wire reports