Saturday, December 22, 2012

Published:

Tax increases ahead, but it's already too late for employers to adjust early January paychecks

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Workers probably won't feel the full brunt of next year's tax increases in their January paychecks, but don't be fooled by the temporary reprieve.

No matter what Congress does to address the year-end fiscal cliff, it's already too late for employers to accurately withhold income taxes from January paychecks, unless all the current tax rates remain unchanged, which is an unlikely scenario.

Social Security payroll taxes are set to increase on Jan. 1, so workers should immediately feel the squeeze of a 2 percent cut in their take-home pay. But as talks drag on over how to address other year-end tax increases, the Internal Revenue Service has delayed releasing income tax withholding tables for 2013.

As a result, employers are planning to withhold income taxes at the 2012 rates, at least for the first one or two paychecks of the year, said Michael O'Toole of the American Payroll Association.

If employers don't withhold enough taxes in January, they will have to withhold even more taxes later in the year to make up the difference. Otherwise, taxpayers could get hit with big tax bills, and possibly penalties, when they file their 2013 returns.

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'Fiscal cliff' revolt makes Boehner a wounded speaker, with much grumbling but no challengers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- John Boehner is a bloodied House speaker following the startling setback that his own fractious Republican troops dealt him in their "fiscal cliff" struggle against President Barack Obama.

There's plenty of internal grumbling about the Ohio Republican, especially among conservatives, and lots of buzzing about whether his leadership post is in jeopardy. But it's uncertain whether any other House Republican has the broad appeal to seize the job from Boehner or whether his embarrassing inability to pass his own bill preventing tax increases on everyone but millionaires is enough to topple him.

"No one will be challenging John Boehner as speaker," predicted John Feehery, a consultant and former aide to House GOP leaders. "No one else can right now do the job of bringing everyone together" and unifying House Republicans.

The morning after he yanked the tax-cutting bill from the House floor to prevent certain defeat, Boehner told reporters he wasn't worried about losing his job when the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.

"They weren't taking that out on me," he said Friday of rank-and-file GOP lawmakers, who despite pleading from Boehner and his lieutenants were shy of providing the 217 votes needed for passage. "They were dealing with the perception that somebody might accuse them of raising taxes."

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Egypt's disputed constitution headed toward approval, but nation's divisions likely to persist

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's Islamist-backed constitution headed toward likely approval in a final round of voting on Saturday, but the deep divisions it has opened up threaten to fuel continued turmoil.

Passage is a victory for Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, but a costly one. The bruising battle over the past month stripped away hope that the long-awaited constitution would bring a national consensus on the path Egypt will take after shedding its autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.

Instead, Morsi disillusioned many non-Islamists who had once backed him and has become more reliant on his core support in the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. Hard-liners in his camp are determined to implement provisions for stricter rule by Islamic law in the charter, which is likely to futher fuel divisions.

His liberal and secular opposition, in turn, faces the task of trying to organize the significant portion of the population angered by what they see as attempts by Morsi and the Brotherhood to gain a lock on political power. The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, said it would now start rallying for elections for the next lawmaking, lower house of parliament, expected early next year.

"We feel more empowered because of the referendum. We proved that at least we are half of society (that) doesn't approve of all this. We will build on it," the Front's spokesman, Khaled Daoud, said. Still, he said, there was "no appetite" at the moment for further street protests.

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AP PHOTOS: Egyptians vote on Islamist-backed constitution

Egyptians returned to the polls to vote on a referendum on an Islamist-backed constitution.

Saturday's vote is taking place in 17 of Egypt's 27 provinces with about 25 million eligible voters. The first phase on Dec. 15 produced a "yes" majority of about 56 percent with a turnout of some 32 percent, according to preliminary results.

Here's a look at AP photos from Egypt's election.

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For urban advocates, new emphasis on gun control is long overdue

For years, voices have cried in the urban wilderness: We need to talk about gun control.

Yet the guns blazed on.

It took a small-town slaughter for gun control to become a political priority. Now, decades' worth of big-city arguments against easy access to guns are finally being heard, because an unstable young man invaded an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., with a military-style assault rifle and 30-bullet magazines. Twenty young children and six adults were slain.

President Barack Obama called the tragedy a "wake-up call." Vice President Joe Biden met Thursday with Obama's cabinet and law-enforcement officers from around the country to launch a task force on reducing gun violence. Lawmakers who have long resisted gun control are saying something must be done.

Such action is energizing those who have sought to reduce urban gun violence. Donations are up in some places; other leaders have been working overtime due to this unprecedented moment.

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Toys, money, food pour in from around the world as Connecticut town mourns shooting victims

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- Newtown's children were showered with gifts Saturday -- tens of thousands of teddy bears, Barbie dolls, soccer balls and board games -- and those are only some of the tokens of support from around the world for the town in mourning.

Just a little over a week ago, 20 children and six school employees were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, attacked the school, then killed himself. Police don't know what set off the massacre.

Days before Christmas, funerals were still being held Saturday, the last of those whose schedules were made public, according to the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association. A service was held in Utah for 6-year-old Emilie Parker. Others were held in Connecticut for Josephine Gay, 7, and Ana Marquez-Greene, 6.

All of Newtown's children were invited to Edmond Town Hall, where they could choose a toy. Bobbi Veach, who was fielding donations at the building, reflected on the outpouring of gifts from toy stores, organizations and individuals around the world.

"It's their way of grieving," Veach said. "They say, 'I feel so bad, I just want to do something to reach out.' That's why we accommodate everybody we can."

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Russia says it would welcome anyone to offer refuge to Assad but won't host him itself

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's foreign minister says Moscow would welcome any country's offer of a safe haven to Syrian President Bashar Assad, but underlined that Moscow itself has no intention of giving him shelter if he steps down.

Russia has repeatedly used its veto right along with China at the U.N. Security Council to protect its old ally from international sanctions, but it has increasingly sought to distance itself from Assad.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters late Friday that countries in the region he wouldn't name publicly had asked Russia to convey their offer of a safe passage to Assad. He said that Russia responded by telling them to go directly to Assad: "We replied: 'What do we have to do with it? If you have such plans, you go straight to him.'"

Asked if Moscow could offer a refuge to Assad, Lavrov responded that "Russia has publicly said that it doesn't invite President Assad."

"If there is anyone willing to provide him guarantees, they are welcome!" Lavrov told reporters on board a plane returning from Brussels where he attended a Russia-EU summit. "We would be the first to cross ourselves and say: "Thank God, the carnage is over! If it indeed ends the carnage, which is far from certain."

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Suicide bombing at political rally in Pakistan kills 9, including provincial Cabinet minister

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) -- A suicide bomber in Pakistan killed nine people including a provincial government official at a political rally held Saturday by a party that has opposed the Taliban, officials said.

The rally in Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was held by the Awami National Party, whose members have been repeatedly targeted by the Taliban.

Among the dead was Bashir Bilour, the second most senior member of the provincial Cabinet, said Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, the politician's brother and federal railways minister.

Over 20 others were wounded by the blast, said local police officer Sabir Khan.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombing in a statement, reiterating the United Nations' support for Pakistani efforts "to combat the scourge of terrorism."

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With Kerry set to join Obama Cabinet, yet another Senate race on the horizon for Mass. voters

BOSTON (AP) -- Massachusetts voters weary from one of the nation's costliest and most divisive U.S. Senate races are all but certain to find themselves thrown back into another tumultuous election now that President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry for secretary of state.

If confirmed by the Senate, as expected, Democrat Kerry would have to resign the seat he's held for nearly three decades, meaning a special election that will be the state's third Senate contest since 2010.

Jockeying already is well under way. The big question is whether Republican Sen. Scott Brown will go for the seat after losing his last month to Democratic Elizabeth Warren.

He kept the door wide open to another run during a farewell address on the Senate floor, declaring that both victory and defeat are "temporary" things. "Depending on what happens, and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again."

Perhaps as soon as next year.

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Sacks of potatoes stand in for passengers as Boeing engineers work to improve onboard wireless

CHICAGO (AP) -- If the wireless Internet connection during your holiday flight seems more reliable than it used to, you could have the humble potato to thank.

While major airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi on many flights, the signal strength can be spotty. Airlines and aircraft makers have been striving to improve this with the growing use of wireless devices and the number of people who don't want to be disconnected, even 35,000 feet up.

Engineers at Chicago-based Boeing Co. used sacks of potatoes as stand-ins for passengers as they worked to eliminate weak spots in in-flight wireless signals. They needed full planes to get accurate results during signal testing, but they couldn't ask people to sit motionless for days while data was gathered.

"That's where potatoes come into the picture," Boeing spokesman Adam Tischler said.

It turns out that potatoes -- because of their water content and chemistry -- absorb and reflect radio wave signals much the same way as the human body does, making them suitable substitutes for airline passengers.