LONDON (AP) – A nurse involved in a prank telephone call seeking information about the Duchess of Cambridge has died, King Edward VII hospital said Friday.
The hospital said Jacintha Saldanha had been a victim of the call made by two Australian radio disc jockeys, who impersonated Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles to elicit information on the Duchess. Saldanha had transferred the call to the nurse caring for the duchess.
“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies at this time are with her family and friends,” said John Lofthouse, the hospital’s chief executive said in a statement. “Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much loved and valued colleague.”
St. James’s Palace expressed sadness at the death of Saldanha, was found dead early Friday. Police say her death is unexplained.
The Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, had been in the hospital for acute morning sickness. The prank phone call took place early Tuesday and the two radio personalities apologized the following day.
Saldanha had worked at the hospital for more than four years.
FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) – President Barack Obama, trying to put a personal touch on “fiscal cliff” negotiations, visited a northern Virginia family’s basement apartment Thursday to press his hardline on tax rate increases for the wealthy.
“We’re in the midst of the Christmas season,” Obama said, sitting at a table in the Santana family’s Falls Church, Va., home. “I think the American people are counting on this getting solved. The closer it gets to the brink, the more stress there is going to be.”
Obama and lawmakers have until the end of the year to avert across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases. The president reiterated the firm stance he has taken in recent days, warning that he’s willing to let that economy-rattling double whammy take effect if Republicans don’t drop their opposition to higher tax rates for the wealthy.
“Just to be clear, I’m not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up for the folks in the top 2 percent,” Obama said.
“But I do remain optimistic that we can get something done that is good for families like this one and is good for the American economy,” Obama said.
The president’s quick trip to northern Virginia – just a 15 minute drive from the White House – is part of an effort to rally public support for his tax proposals. The family whose home he visited was one of many who shared a story online, at the White House’s urging, of how they would be hurt if their taxes went up at the end of the year. The president will also travel to Detroit on Monday.
Obama and House Speaker John Boehner spoke on the phone Wednesday, their first known conversation in nearly a week. Neither side provided details of the call, but the White House said the lines of communication with Capitol Hill Republicans were open and there had been multiple conversations between staff.
Unless the president and Republicans reach a deal, George W. Bush-era tax rates will expire on all income earners on Jan. 1. Obama wants to continue them for 98 percent of Americans, while letting them expire on the upper income earners.
If Republicans try to block that effort, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, the administration will “absolutely” let the country go over the fiscal cliff.
The size of the problem is so large it can’t be solved without rates going up,” he told CNBC on Wednesday.
Geithner drew a fierce response from Republicans. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah called his statement “stunning and irresponsible.” He added, “Going over the fiscal cliff will put our economy, jobs, people’s paychecks and retirement at risk, but that is what the White House wants, according to Secretary Geithner, if they don’t get their way.”
Economists inside and outside the government warn that failing to reach agreement on taxes and spending could land the economy back in recession.
Beyond his insistence that taxes increase on the wealthy, Obama has also warned Republicans not to inject the threat of a government default into negotiations over the fiscal cliff as a way of extracting concessions on spending cuts.
“It’s not a game I will play,” he said Wednesday, recalling the brinkmanship of last year in which a budget standoff pushed the Treasury to the edge of a first-ever default.
The White House reaffirmed Thursday that it did not believe the president had the authority through the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling by executive order. Democrats have previously suggested Obama could take that step.
Both sides say they want a compromise, although the administration’s hand in bargaining is strengthened by polls showing public support for Obama’s position on taxes, as well as by his re-election last month. The president is also working to rally the public to his side and has a trip scheduled to Detroit next week.
In a concession, Republican leaders have agreed to back increased tax revenue. Yet despite defections from within the rank and file, they have so far balked at Obama’s demand that rates go up on income over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. They have also called for spending cuts and measures to slow the growth of government benefit programs. Earlier this week, they called for curbing the growth in Social Security cost-of-living increases, as well as delaying Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67, beginning in a decade.
Obama has said he will back spending cuts, including savings in Medicare, as part of a deal that includes the tax proposal that was a key part of his re-election bid.
Once Republicans yield on taxes, he told the Business Roundtable, “We can probably solve this in about a week; it’s not that tough.”
Republicans argue that they can raise about $800 billion in additional government revenue over a decade by closing loopholes and narrowing tax deductions on the wealthy, rather than raising income tax rates. They argue the rate increase would impose a particularly harmful impact on the economy and job creation at a time when the country is still struggling to recover fully from the deepest recession in decades.
BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) – Hundreds of mourners lined up in the vast open plaza at the heart of Brasilia, Brazil’s modernist capital, to honor internationally renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer during a Thursday memorial in the city that most strongly reflects his signature style in its monumental buildings of flowing concrete and grand, sweeping curves.
Niemeyer’s remains were flown by presidential plane to the capital from his native city, Rio de Janeiro, where he died Wednesday night at age 104. Elisa Barboux, a spokeswoman for the Hospital Samaritano in Rio, said the cause of death was a respiratory infection.
Elegantly attired in a black suit and matching hat, Jose Grilo, 70, was among those lining up to honor the architect who brought grace and flow to a city erected on an immense arid plain. His parents were laborers, two among the droves of Brazilians who flocked from all over in 1960 seeking work and a better life in the brand new city.
WASHINGTON (AP) – A team of former NASA executives is launching a private venture to send people to the moon for a price that is definitely out of this world.
For $1.5 billion, the newly formed business is offering countries a two-person trip to the moon, either for research or national prestige. The venture was announced Wednesday.
NASA’s last trip to the moon was 40 years ago. The United States was the only country that landed people there, beating the Soviet Union in a space race to the moon that transfixed the world. But once the race ended, there has been only sporadic interest in the moon. President Barack Obama cancelled NASA’s planned return to the moon, saying America had already been there.
A new law makes it legal to possess and smoke marijuana in Washington state, but pot possession is still a federal crime. Watch this CNN report.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – It might not be the White House, but former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will follow in his father’s footsteps as head of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
The younger Bush on Thursday was named the next chairman of the Philadelphia museum, a job former President George H.W. Bush held from 2007-2008. Another former president, Bill Clinton, has held the post the last four years.
Bush, 59, said he feels a cultural shift brewing in the United States. He’s been reading up on U.S. and world history to try to prepare for it.
“I think … there’s going to be a time of cultural change in our country,” Bush said, “and typically these have been done in ways that people didn’t anticipate. I want to learn about the past so I can think about the future,” he said.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, a tea party favorite who has bucked party leaders to back challenges to centrist veterans he didn’t view as conservative enough, said Thursday he was resigning to take the helm of a conservative think tank.
The South Carolina lawmaker said in a statement he was stepping down to become president of the Heritage Foundation. His office said his resignation is effective Jan. 1.
DeMint was first elected to the Senate in 2004 and easily re-elected six years later. He previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives for three terms.
LOS ANGELES (AP) – California has transformed into a powerhouse player in stem cell research, but the taxpayer-funded institute responsible for that needs an overhaul, a report released Thursday found.
The review by the Institute of Medicine lauded the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for making the state a leader in the field by funneling research money with an eye toward stem cell therapies.
But the report found too many members of the governing board represented schools that won funding and recommended a restructuring to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.
California voters in 2004 passed Proposition 71, a state ballot initiative that created CIRM, at a time when there were federal restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research and such work was opposed by some on religious and moral grounds because embryos have to be destroyed to harvest the cells.
WASHINGTON (AP) – Americans are living longer, and Republicans want to raise the Medicare eligibility age to help reduce the government’s huge deficits.
But doing so could have some surprising consequences, including higher premiums for people on Medicare, as well as for workers in employer health plans and those buying their own policies. More people could also be left uninsured.
House Speaker John Boehner put the idea on the table this week during budget talks.
Raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67 would reduce Medicare spending by about 5 percent annually, saving billions of dollars.
The seniors’ lobby AARP is worried – and mounting a major campaign to block any change.
President Barack Obama was willing to consider the idea in the past. He hasn’t said what he’d do now.
BEIRUT (AP) – Syria is voicing anger over NATO’s move to deploy a Patriot missile defense system along Turkey’s border with Syria.
Germany says it’s sending two of its Patriot batteries with a total of 400 soldiers to the border area, where they’ll be under NATO command for one year.
NATO agreed this week to send the weapons to help prevent cross-border attacks against Turkey.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is meeting today with her Russian counterpart and the U.N.’s peace envoy for Syria, on the sidelines of a human rights conference in Dublin.
Washington and Moscow have sharply disagreed on how to address Syria’s conflict, with the U.S. accusing Russia of protecting the Syrian government. Russia, in turn, accuses the United States of meddling.
CAIRO (AP) – Protesters in Egypt are defying an army order to leave the area around the presidential palace.
After a night of deadly clashes between critics and backers of President Mohammed Morsi, the army sealed off the palace with barbed wire and armored vehicles and set a deadline for protesters to clear the area. But hours after the deadline passed, a group of anti-Morsi demonstrators remained, chanting slogans against the president.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists supporting Morsi withdrew from the area after a sit-in.
Inside the palace gates, Morsi met with members of his Cabinet and military leaders to discuss the expanding crisis.
Five people were killed and more than 600 injured overnight as Morsi’s Islamist backers and largely secular protesters lobbed rocks and firebombs and each other in an upscale Cairo suburb. It was the worst outbreak of violence between the two sides since Morsi was elected in June.
Many activists who once supported Morsi have jumped to the opposition after he issued decrees granting himself almost absolute power, and his allies pushed through a draft constitution amid a walkout by Christian and liberal factions.
NEW YORK (AP) – Apple CEO Tim Cook says the company will produce one of its existing lines of Mac computers in the United States next year.
Cook made the comments in part of an interview taped for NBC’s “Rock Center,” but aired Thursday morning on “Today” and posted on the network’s website.
Cook didn’t say which line of computers would be produced in the U.S. or where in the country they would be made.
Cook says the consumer electronics world has never really had a big production presence in the U.S.
A call to Apple for comment was not immediately returned.
The news comes a day after Apple posted its worst stock drop in four years, erasing $35 million in market capitalization.