Panel Has 100 Days To Cut Deficit $1.5T

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 (UPI) — Congressional leaders have two weeks to name members of a 12-member panel to find ways within 100 days of cutting the U.S. budget deficit by $1.5 trillion.

The panel’s six Democrats and six Republicans from both chambers of Congress are required by the budget and debt law President Barack Obama signed Tuesday — a law that raises the government’s borrowing limit $2.4 trillion and cuts $917 billion in federal spending — to propose $1.5 trillion in additional deficit cuts by Nov. 23.

The savings can come from spending cuts and tax increases — options lawmakers predicted Tuesday would be argued in fiery debates.

Once the panel makes its proposal, Congress must vote on the package without amending it by Dec. 23, the law states. Senate approval will take 51 votes instead of the usual 60 needed to avoid a filibuster, which would prevent the measure from being brought to a vote.

If the special panel deadlocks, or if Congress doesn’t accept its recommendations, the debt-ceiling law would automatically impose $1.2 trillion in cuts on so-called discretionary spending programs, including the defense budget.

Social Security, Medicaid, military and civilian federal pensions, and most low-income programs would be off limits from the “trigger” spending cuts. Medicare cuts would be limited to provider payments.

Once the reductions are enacted, the federal debt limit would go up by at least another $1.2 trillion, which is expected to give the government enough borrowing authority to carry through 2012.

It was not clear early Wednesday how most members of the panel would be selected.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would interview applicants, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., did not immediately outline their selection plans.

Each is to name three members to the panel.

Republican leaders said they would not include anyone who’s willing to raise taxes, prompting Democratic leaders to threaten a hard line against cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, which could be considered by the panel but would not be automatically cut by the trigger, The Washington Post reported.

Reid told the Post he’d like to “put people on it who are willing to do entitlement cuts … people with open minds.” But the GOP’s uncompromising stand against tax increases “makes it pretty hard for me,” he said.

Some Republicans may be open to raising revenue if it comes by ending tax breaks instead of raising tax rates, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Obama said the new law required “that both parties work together on a larger plan to cut the deficit. And since you can’t close the deficit with just spending cuts, we’ll need a balanced approach where everything is on the table.”

“Everyone is going to have to chip in. It’s only fair,” Obama said.

Short-term FAA-funding Bill May Be Lofted

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 (UPI) — Democratic lawmakers may offer a short-term U.S. Federal Aviation Administration funding bill after Congress took a five-week recess without funding the agency.

The bill would end a partial shutdown of the agency that regulates and oversees all aspects of U.S. civil aviation, without cutting funding for rural airports and without addressing disputed provisions restricting airline workers’ collective-bargaining rights, aides to the lawmakers said.

Those rights are under consideration in a longer-term FAA reauthorization bill.

The partial FAA shutdown, which began July 23 when an old funding law expired, furloughed 4,000 agency employees and about 80,000 workers employed by contractors.

The FAA has asked dozens of airport safety inspectors to work without pay and to charge their government travel expenses to their personal credit cards to keep airports operating safely, officials said.

The federal government is losing $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., were expected to discuss the short-term proposal during a news conference at 11:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday, the aides said.

Under the lawmakers’ proposal, the Senate could immediately pass the short-term bill and the House could approve the measure a day or two later under a process known as “unanimous consent,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

The House began its August recess Monday and the Senate did the same Tuesday, but neither chamber technically adjourned.

House Republicans haven’t indicated whether they would support such a plan, the Journal said.

Without legislative action, the furloughed employees and contractors would likely remain on unpaid leave until at least Sept. 7, when both chambers are next scheduled to be in session.

“Four thousand air-travel employees are out of work and safety inspectors are working without pay because Republicans are playing reckless games with airline safety,” Reid said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had no immediate comment on the impasse.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters: “No safety issues will be compromised. Flying is safe. Air traffic controllers are guiding airplanes. Safety inspectors are on duty and are doing their job. No one needs to worry about safety.”

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the safety inspectors were continuing their work “because of the risk to operational safety or life and property” if they didn’t.

“We can neither pay them nor can we compensate them for expenses,” he told reporters in a conference call. “We are depending and living on their professionalism at this point.”

It was unclear how long the inspectors could continue to pay the bills for their own travel and hotel expenses. Typically, each of the roughly 40 regional inspectors travels to up to five airports in a two-week period, FAA officials said.

The House passed a bill last month to extend FAA financing through Sept. 16 and allow it to continue collecting the ticket tax. But the House bill would end $14 million in subsidies that provided commercial airline service to 16 rural airports.

The law was written in a way that Democratic lawmakers said appeared to single out airports in the states of prominent Senate Democrats, The New York Times reported.

Reid said Republicans were using the rural-airport issue as cover for an effort to change a recently instituted federal labor regulation that made it easier for unions to organize at airline companies.

The new regulation by the National Mediation Board — an independent government agency that coordinates labor-management relations within the railroad and airline industries — says union-organizing elections should be decided by a simple majority of those who vote.

Republicans want to go back to a decades-old rule that says in airline union-organizing elections, votes of eligible voters that are not cast should be counted as “no” votes.

Mubarak Leaves Hospital For Cairo Trial

CAIRO, Aug. 3 (UPI) — Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was moved to Cairo from a Red Sea hospital early Wednesday to be tried on corruption charges and killing protesters.

Mubarak, 83, was to be flown about 240 miles by air ambulance to Cairo’s Police Academy on the outskirts of the capital, from the Sinai Peninsula resort city of Sharm el-Sheik, officials said.

Despite reports of his severely deteriorating health, the former Arab strongman who for nearly 30 years routinely imprisoned political adversaries would indeed be in court, one of his lawyers told the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram.

A Sinai official confirmed Wednesday Mubarak had left the Sharm el-Sheik Hospital.

A conviction in the trial could carry the death penalty.

Also to be tried are Mubarak’s two sons Gamal and Alaa, former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly and six police officials.

Prominent businessman and Mubarak confidant Hussein Salem is being tried in absentia because he fled to Spain. Egypt is demanding his extradition.

Mubarak will have 50 lawyers representing him in the courtroom, with prominent attorney Farid el-Deeb leading the defense team.

Some 750 other lawyers who volunteered to defend Mubarak promised to stand forming a human shield outside the courtroom, the academy’s Lecture Hall No. 1, the defense team told al-Ahram.

The other defendants were to be driven to the courtroom from Cairo’s Tora Prison, with about 5,000 soldiers and officers backed by 50 tanks and armored vehicles deployed along the route, the interior ministry said.

About 1,100 police officers surrounded the academy’s outer fence, which was reinforced with barbed wire, the ministry said.

Thousands of pro- and anti-Mubarak activists were expected outside the building.

Engineering student and Mubarak devotee Alaa Abdel Nabi, who runs a Mubarak Facebook fan page, predicted “around 30,000″ supporters would be present to show their support.

The “Union of Mr. President Mohamed Hosni ‎Mubarak’s Fans” page had 4,666 people who said they “like” it, a United Press International review early Wednesday indicated.

“We are throwing ourselves forward with all our weight,” Nabi told al-Ahram.

Relatives of many of the 846 people killed and 6,000-plus injured in anti-Mubarak clashes with Egyptian security forces were also expected outside the hall.

No one will be allowed inside the courtroom except 600 people with permits, including civil rights lawyers and a small number of the families of victims of Mubarak’s failed effort to crush the revolution.

The news media will be allowed to cover the trial’s consecutive sessions from inside the courtroom. Only Egyptian State TV will be allowed to broadcast the trial, officials said.

All defendants, including Mubarak, were expected to sit during the trial inside an iron cage, where all suspects sit in Egyptian courts, Deputy Justice Minister Mohammed Munie said. A bed was to be made available for Mubarak if needed, the interior ministry said.

The opening session was likely to be brief and procedural, legal observers said. Mubarak’s defense lawyers were expected to demand an adjournment.

Ohio Fair Features ‘strongman Sermon’

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Aug. 3 (UPI) — The religious presence at the Ohio State Fair includes Sunday church services and an “illustrated sermon through feats of strength.”

The Rev. Craig Eilerman, who led the Catholic service at the fair Sunday, said Catholic and Protestant services were offered, in part, to make sure the approximately 280 members of the All-Ohio State Fair Band and Youth Choir could fulfill their religious obligations while spending a full two weeks at the fair, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reported Tuesday.

However, the fair also offers some less-traditional religious attractions, including Omega Force Strength Team strongman Randy Richey’s “illustrated sermon through feats of strength.”

The strongman said his feats, including lifting a 316-pound cross, dragging a 600-pound chain and picking up the rear end of a car, have convinced 29 people to accept Jesus Christ as their savior.

“A lot of times we say [it's a] show, but really, it’s a crusade,” he said.

Wine Arsonist Asks To Retract Guilty Plea

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 3 (UPI) — The California wine connoisseur who pleaded guilty in 2009 to torching more than $200 million worth of wine asked to retract his guilty plea, officials say.

Mark Christian Anderson, 62, went to court Tuesday to retract his 2009 guilty plea, arguing his previous attorney, Mark Reichel, was unprepared for trial and duped him into the plea, the San Francisco Chronicles reported.

“He threw me under the bus,” Anderson wrote in a court filing last week.

“It is clear we will never get this case over with,” U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton said before filing an evidentiary hearing on Anderson’s request to withdraw his previous guilty plea.

Anderson said he wants to go to trial for the 2005 arson of Wines Central, a wine storage facility in Vallejo, Calif.

The fire started in a cage that Anderson rented to house his wine storage business, Sausalito Cellars, and gasoline soaked rags were found there, the newspaper said. Anderson is also accused of embezzlement, for selling off more than 8,000 bottles of wine to afford his lifestyle.

Anderson took a plea in 2009, for which he received 15 years in prison. Should he be convicted at trial, he stands to be sentenced 280 years in prison.

Karachi Violence Rages, Malik Warns

KARACHI, Pakistan, Aug. 3 (UPI) — Ethnic and political violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, exploded again overnight with several killed as the government warned of a stern response.

The latest wave of violence in the beleaguered city claimed at least 10 more lives overnight, raising the death toll in shootings and other acts of violence to at least 36 in the past 72 hours, Pakistan Observer reported Wednesday.

The violence comes as Muslims began observing Ramadan, the holy month-long fasting period.

One report said more than 300 people have died since last month in the city of 18 million, which is also Pakistan’s main port and its financial capital.

The cosmopolitan city has been hit by ethnic, political and targeted killing for months. The violence has largely involved members and supporters of the Urdu-speaking Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the ANP representing ethnic Pashtuns, with each side blaming the other for the killings.

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who arrived in Karachi, warned that terrorists had tested the government enough and ordered aerial surveillance of the city.

“Everything has a limit, enough is enough, we are going to take extraordinary measures to restore peace and normalcy in Karachi,” the Observer quoted him as saying.

Malik warned the underworld operating in Karachi that no one can any longer come to the rescue of their gang leaders.

Paramilitary forces have been ordered to take target action, while being given police powers, other reports said.

Anyone identifying a target killer would now get a reward of 5 million rupees ($57,000).

The Daily Times reported that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, speaking in the National Assembly, rejected any suggestion the leadership of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party planned a division of Karachi along ethnic lines.

British Student Killed In Krakow

KRAKOW, Poland, Aug. 3 (UPI) — A British student found battered to death in Krakow, Poland, has been identified as Catherine Zaks, who was studying at the University of Kent.

Zaks, who had dual British and Polish citizenship, was spending the summer working in Krakow, The Independent reported. Grant Pooke, one of her teachers at the university, called her “an exceptionally talented and well-liked student.”

She was last seen alive Friday. A train passenger spotted her body next to the railway line at about 5 a.m. Saturday, The Daily Telegraph reported.

“She had been hit by a hard instrument on the head,” police spokeswoman Katarvyna Cislo said.

British police are involved in the investigation.

“She developed a real gift for journalism and writing, having completed an arts review while in Poland,” Pooke said. “Our thoughts are with Kate’s family and friends.”

One In 10 Seniors Skip Costly Medication

BOSTON, Aug. 3 (UPI) — About 10 percent of U.S. Medicare patients — including cancer survivors — do not take their medication because it is too expensive, Harvard researchers found.

Dr. Larissa Nekhlyudov and colleagues from Harvard Medical School show cost-related medication non-adherence — skipping pills to make the medicine last longer, and not filling in a prescription because it is too expensive — is common among seniors.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2005 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey and Medicare claims.

Nekhlyudov and the research team found no differences in the rate of cost-related non-adherence between cancer survivors and those without cancer.

Six percent of cancer survivors and 9 percent of those without cancer said they spent less on basic needs — such as food and heat — so they could afford medicines. More than half used other cost-saving measures, including taking generic medications, requesting free samples and comparing pharmacy prices before buying drugs, Nekhlyudov says.

“As the number of cancer survivors continues to increase and get older, the findings of our study enhance our understanding of the potential barriers to effective treatment of their non-cancer co-morbidities,” Nekhlyudov says.

The findings are published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

Suquamish Tribe Approves Same-sex Marriage

SUQUAMISH, Wash., Aug. 3 (UPI) — A lesbian member of Washington’s Suquamish Tribe said she was surprised when tribal officials extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Tribal Council voted unanimously Monday to change the law, the Kitsap Sun, of Bremerton, Wash., reported.

Heather Purser, 28, has been spearheading the campaign to get the tribe to change its law since she came out as a lesbian about four years ago, the newspaper said.

“I wanted to feel accepted,” she said. “The Suquamish Tribe has always been my home.”

She spoke in March at the tribe’s general council meeting, asking for recognition for same-sex couples and requesting a vote of the entire audience.

Purser was surprised by the amount of support she received.

“I was expecting a major fight. I didn’t think anyone would support me,” she said, adding that she did not hear any voiced dissent.

“Really it was the Suquamish people who approved this,” she said. “The general council is really what made everything happen.”

Judge Freezes Proceeds From Gitmo Book

SYDNEY, Aug. 3 (UPI) — Money former detainee David Hicks makes from a book about Guantanamo is proceeds of a crime, Australian prosecutors say.

The New South Wales Supreme Court ordered a freeze on the funds Tuesday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The freeze will remain in force until a final decision is made on whether the government can seize the money.

The book, “Guantanamo: My Story,” was released last year by Random House. About 30,000 copies have been sold.

Hicks, a convert to Islam, spent six years in Guantanamo before pleading guilty in front of a military tribunal to providing material support for terrorism. His lawyers say he entered the plea because he perceived it as a way of getting released from Guantanamo.

David Shoebridge, an independent member of Parliament, joined a demonstration outside the court and said the government could end up spending more trying to get Hicks’ assets than it will gain if it wins the case. He suggested Hicks is being persecuted because he criticized the government.