WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress and the White House can significantly soften the initial impact of the "fiscal cliff" even if they fail to reach a compromise by Dec. 31. One thing they cannot control, however, is the financial markets' reaction, which possibly could be a panicky sell-off that triggers economic reversals worldwide.
The stock market's unpredictability is perhaps the biggest wild card in the political showdown over the fiscal cliff.
President Barack Obama's re-election gives him a strong negotiating hand, as Republicans are increasingly acknowledging. And some Democrats are willing to let the Dec. 31 deadline pass, because a rash of broad-based tax hikes would pressure Republicans to give more ground in renewed deficit-reduction negotiations.
A chief fear for Obama's supporters, however, is that Wall Street would be so disgusted or dismayed that stocks would plummet before lawmakers could prove their newfound willingness to mitigate the fiscal cliff's harshest measures, including deep, across-the-board spending cuts that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says could significantly damage the nation's military posture. Some Republicans believe that fear will temper the president's insistence on a hard bargain this month. Obama and GOP House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday held their first meeting between just the two of them since the election, and spokesmen for both emphasized afterward their lines of communication remain open.
The so-called cliff's recipe of major tax hikes and spending cuts can actually be a gentle slope, because the policy changes would be phased in over time. Washington insiders say Congress and the White House would move quickly in January or February to undo many, but not all, of the tax hikes and spending cuts.
Minn. gay couple, who fought for legal right to marry in early '70s, still together
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Jack Baker proposed to Michael McConnell that they join their lives together as a couple, in March 1967, McConnell accepted with a condition that was utterly radical for its time: that someday they would legally marry.
Just a few years later, the U.S. Supreme Court slammed the door on the men's Minnesota lawsuit to be the first same-sex couple to legally marry in the U.S. It took another 40 years for the nation's highest court to revisit gay marriage rights, and Baker and McConnell — still together, still living in Minneapolis — are alive to see it.
On Friday, the justices decided to take a potentially historic look at gay marriage by agreeing to hear two cases that challenge official discrimination against gay Americans either by forbidding them from marrying or denying those who can marry legally the right to obtain federal benefits that are available to heterosexual married couples.
"The outcome was never in doubt because the conclusion was intuitively obvious to a first-year law student," Baker wrote in an email to The Associated Press. The couple, who have kept a low profile in the years since they made national headlines with their marriage pursuit, declined an interview request but responded to a few questions via email.
While Baker saw the court's action as an obvious step, marriage between two men was nearly unthinkable to most Americans decades earlier when the couple walked into the Hennepin County courthouse in Minneapolis on May 18, 1970, and tried to get a license.
Mexican music world mourns singer Jenni Rivera, presumed killed in plane crash
MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — Mexico's music world mourned Jenni Rivera, the U.S.-born singer presumed killed in a plane crash whose soulful voice and openness about her personal troubles had made her a Mexican-American superstar.
Authorities have not confirmed her death, but Rivera's relatives in the U.S. say they have few doubts that she was on the Learjet 25 that disintegrated on impact Sunday in rugged territory in Nuevo Leon state in northern Mexico.
"My son Lupillo told me that effectively it was Jenni's plane that crashed and that everyone on board died," her father, Pedro Rivera told dozens of reporters gathered in front of his Los Angeles-area home. "I believe my daughter's body is unrecognizable."
He said that his son would fly to Monterrey early Monday to identify her presumed remains
Messages of condolence poured in from fellow musicians and celebrities.
Black women combat obesity with candid talk, prioritizing health and motivating each other
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nicole Ari Parker was motivated by frustration. For Star Jones, it was a matter of life or death. Toni Carey wanted a fresh start after a bad breakup.
All three have launched individual campaigns that reflect an emerging priority for African-American women: finding creative ways to combat the obesity epidemic that threatens their longevity.
African-American women have the highest obesity rate of any group of Americans. Four out of five black women have a body mass index above 25 percent, the threshold for being overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, nearly two-thirds of Americans overall are in this category, the CDC said.
Many black women seem to be unaffected by being generally heavier than other Americans.
Calorie-rich, traditional soul food is a staple in the diets of many African-Americans, and curvy black women are embraced positively through slang praising them as "thick" with a "little meat on their bones," or through songs like the Commodore's "Brick House" or "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post earlier this year found that 66 percent of overweight black women had high self-esteem, while 41 percent of average-sized or thin white women had high self-esteem.
Volunteers help SKorea battle online porn; one says it's 'like shoveling snow in a blizzard'
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Moon Tae-Hwa stares at his computer, dizzy and nauseous from the hours of porn he's viewed online while his wife and children slept. He feels no shame — only a righteous sense of mission.
"I feel like I'm cleaning up dirty things," the devout Christian and family counselor said.
Moon is among the most successful members of the "Nuri Cops" (roughly "net cops"), a squad of nearly 800 volunteers who help government censors by patrolling the Internet for pornography in their spare time.
Unlike most developed nations, pornography is illegal in South Korea, though it remains easy for its tech-savvy population to find. More than 90 percent of South Korea's homes have high-speed Internet access, and more than 30 million of its 50 million people own smartphones.
"It's like shoveling snow in a blizzard," Moon conceded.
North Korea says it's extending launch period for long-range rocket by a week to Dec. 29
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Monday extended the launch period for a controversial long-range rocket by another week until Dec. 29, citing technical problems.
An unidentified spokesman for the North's Korean Committee of Space Technology told state media that scientists found a "technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket." The statement didn't elaborate but said technicians were "pushing forward" with final preparations for the launch.
North Korea is making its second attempt of the year to launch a rocket that the United Nations, Washington, Seoul and others call a cover meant to test technology for missiles that could be used to strike the United States. They have warned North Korea to cancel the launch or face a new wave of sanctions.
The North Koreans call the launch a peaceful bid to advance their space program, and a last wish of late leader Kim Jong Il, who died a year ago, on Dec. 17. North Korea is also celebrating the centennial this year of the birth of national founder Kim Il Sung, current leader Kim Jong Un's grandfather. An April launch broke apart seconds after liftoff.
The announcement of the planned rocket launch has sparked worry because of the timing: South Korea and Japan hold key elections this month, President Barack Obama begins his second term in January, and China has just formed a new leadership.
Storm-battered coastal areas in NJ, NY race to fix boardwalks — some without the boards
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — They're the places where generations of families savored fast-melting ice cream cones and chowed down on garlicky slices of pizza, where teens scoped out potential dates, where a tipsy Snooki tottered unsteadily, and under which the Drifters sang about falling in love.
For all their nostalgia, boardwalks are still a major economic engine for shoreline communities in New Jersey and New York. Tourists and residents alike spend their money on food and drinks there, or on games of skee ball or balloon darts to win a stuffed animal. So weeks after Superstorm Sandy, towns are racing to rebuild their boardwalks by May, for reasons both sentimental and financial.
They will need the tourism money this summer more than ever as they try to rebuild homes and other infrastructure. The expensive efforts are forcing decisions not only about how much to spend, but also whether to rebuild with environmentally sensitive wood or more durable materials.
The destruction in Seaside Heights has become emblematic of the storm because of a roller coaster that plunged into the ocean. Yet Sandy also destroyed the boardwalk where families eat belly-busting foods like zeppoles — fried dough laden with powdered sugar — and where Snooki and company partied their way through the MTV reality show "Jersey Shore.
Mayor Bill Akers said 75 percent of his town's budget comes from tourism, with the remaining 25 percent raised from local taxpayers.
AP Exclusive: Georgia investigations detail stream of radioactive materials on black market
BATUMI, Georgia (AP) — On the gritty side of this casino resort town near the Turkish border, three men in a hotel suite gathered in secret to talk about a deal for radioactive material.
The Georgian seller offered cesium, a byproduct of nuclear reactors that terrorists can use to arm a dirty bomb with the power to kill. But one of the Turkish men, wearing a suit and casually smoking a cigarette, made clear he was after something even more dangerous: uranium, the material for a nuclear bomb.
The would-be buyers agreed to take a photo of the four cylinders and see if their boss in Turkey was interested. They did not know police were watching through a hidden camera. As they got up to leave, the police rushed in and arrested the men, according to Georgian officials, who were present.
The encounter, which took place in April, reflected a fear shared by U.S. and Georgian officials: Despite years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the fight against the illicit sale of nuclear contraband, the black market remains active in the countries around the former Soviet Union. The radioactive materials, mostly left over from the Cold War, include nuclear bomb-grade uranium and plutonium, and dirty-bomb isotopes like cesium and iridium.
The extent of the black market is unknown, but a steady stream of attempted sales of radioactive materials in recent years suggests smugglers have sometimes crossed borders undetected. Since the formation of a special nuclear police unit in 2005 with U.S. help and funding, 15 investigations have been launched in Georgia and dozens of people arrested.
Nelson Mandela's hospital stay in South Africa for unspecified tests extends into third day
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African former President Nelson Mandela's stay in hospital for unspecified medical tests has stretched into a third day.
On Monday there was no new word on his condition. Government officials have said the 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon is "comfortable" and receiving medical care that is "consistent with his age." Officials have declined to say where Mandela is. The nation's military has been responsible for Mandela's medical care since he had an acute respiratory infection in 2011.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison for fighting racist white rule. He became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and served one five-year term. He has since retired from public life.
Mandela made his last public appearance in 2010. He's grown increasingly frail in recent years.
Anti-virus founder says he wants to return to US, settle down to 'normal life'
BACALAR, Mexico (AP) — Software company founder John McAfee said Sunday he wants to return to the United States and "settle down to whatever normal life" he can.
In a live-stream Internet broadcast from the Guatemalan detention center where he is fighting a government order that he be returned to Belize, the 67-year-old said "I simply would like to live comfortably day by day, fish, swim, enjoy my declining years."
Police in neighboring Belize want to question McAfee in the fatal shooting of a U.S. expatriate who lived near his home on a Belizean island in November.
The creator of the McAfee antivirus program again denied involvement in the killing during the Sunday Internet video hook-up, during which he answered what he said were reporters' questions.
His comments were sometimes contradictory. McAfee is an acknowledged practical joker who has dabbled in yoga, ultra-light aircraft and the production of herbal medications.