House Dems try to force tax vote
WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. House Democrats Tuesday ratcheted up the pressure on the looming "fiscal cliff," filing a petition to force a vote on a Senate tax bill.
House Democrats want a vote on a Senate bill that would keep the Bush-era tax cuts on all income up to $250,000 but allow those rates to expire on income exceeding that amount.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., filed a petition to force the vote at noon. It needs 218 signatures to move the measure to the House floor, The Hill reported. Democrats need a dozen Republicans to sign to help force the effort.
The move came one day after Republicans offered up a plan for avoiding the "fiscal cliff," the confluence of tax cut expirations and across-the-board spending cuts due to kick in Jan. 1.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with a bipartisan group of state governors at the White House Tuesday morning.
The governors -- reported by Politico to be the National Governors Association's executive committee -- were to meet with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in the afternoon, Boehner's office said.
The executive committee -- led by Delaware's Democratic Gov. Jack Markell and Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Mary Fallin -- includes Democrats Mike Beebe of Arkansas, John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Mark Dayton of Minnesota, and Republicans Dave Heineman of Nebraska, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gary Herbert of Utah and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
The NGA requested the meeting, Politico said.
"I think that governors have a lot at stake in this process," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "They have an interest in seeing Washington get its fiscal house in order. They have an interest in seeing Washington take action to ensure that the economy continues to grow. I think governors, broadly speaking, have a keen interest in, for example, Washington making wise investments in rebuilding our infrastructure. They obviously have a stake in our healthcare entitlement programs, including, of course, Medicaid.
NATO OKs Patriots for Turkey
BRUSSELS, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- NATO ministers Tuesday approved sending Patriot missiles to Turkey to protect it from stray Syrian missiles as Damascus faced further military setbacks.
NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said they were gravely concerned about repeated violations of Turkey's territory but said the installation does not foreshadow a no-fly zone as rebels and government troops continue to battle for control of Syria.
"Turkey has asked for NATO's support, and we stand with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a press conference.
"To the Turkish people we say: We are determined to defend you and your territory. To anyone who would want to attack Turkey we say don't even think about it."
Turkey asked for the Patriots last month. The missile batteries will be manned by the countries providing the equipment and will be used strictly for defensive purposes, Rasmussen said.
The decision came as Syrian activists said fighting was in its fifth day near the international airport in Damascus as government forces tried to push out rebels and reverse their recent tactical gains, The New York Times reported.
Despite superior weaponry and reported heavy losses among rebel forces, the government's counteroffensive hasn't dislodged the insurgents in the southern suburbs of Damascus, observers said.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights said it documented 198 deaths, including eight women and 17 children, Monday. The organization said 63 people died in Damascus proper and 106 died in the capital's suburbs.
E. German secret drug tests reported
BERLIN, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- The East German Communist government, needing hard currency in the 1980s, allowed two pharmaceutical giants to test drugs on patients, a report says.
For the drug companies, the government gave them a chance to evade strict controls on tests that were coming into force in western Europe, The Local.de reported. The testing was documented in a report, "Tests und Tote" or "Tests and the Dead," aired Monday on the German state broadcaster ARD.
Hoechst AG and Sandoz, two West German companies, paid East Germany millions of deutschmarks for providing test subjects, the broadcast said. The patients involved were not told they would be getting untested medication or a placebo.
Gerhard Lehrer died in a Dresden hospital where he was being treated for a heart attack in 1989, Der Spiegel reported. His wife says his doctor told him he was being given an effective, hard-to-get drug, but he became suspicious and told her before he died to keep some of the medication.
When she had the pills tested, she learned her husband had received a placebo. ARD investigators learned Lehrer was part of a study for Ramipril, a drug designed to bring down blood pressure, that was being tested by Hoechst.
Hoechst has since been merged into the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis, which cooperated with ARD.
The number of drug studies jumped from 20 in 1982, the report said, to 165 in 1988. But they stopped soon after when the East German regime collapsed and Germany was reunified.
Two held in Coast Guard officer's death
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. prosecutors charged two Mexican nationals with killing a U.S. Coast Guard officer when they rammed their boat into his, the Justice Department said.
A federal criminal complaint filed Monday in Los Angeles charged the men in the death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, who was fatally injured Sunday while Horne and another Coast Guard member were scoping out a suspicious panga boat -- a 30-foot-long open-bowed fishing vessel -- near Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park, Justice officials said in a release.
Jose Meija-Leyva, who told investigators he was the panga boat's captain, and Manuel Beltran-Higuera were charged with killing an officer of the United States while the officer was engaged in his official duties.
Horne, 34, of Redondo Beach, Calif., was killed when the panga boat struck the Coast Guard's small rigid hull, inflatable boat, throwing him and the other crew member overboard, the complaint said. The smaller boat had been deployed from a larger vessel to investigate the panga boat, which accelerated once the officers announced themselves, the complaint said. The inflatable boat was rammed despite trying to steer away from the oncoming panga boat.
Horne was struck in the head by a propeller and sustained a traumatic head injury. The other officer sustained a knee laceration.
After striking the Coast Guard boat, the panga boat sped away, the complaint said. Coast Guard aircraft followed the panga boat until it was intercepted about 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, and Meija and Beltran were detained.
Judge orders escort for nervous jurors
TAMPA, Fla., Dec. 4 (UPI) -- A judge in Tampa, Fla. has ordered a security escort for jurors at the homicide trial of a woman accused of killing Florida lottery winner Abraham Shakespeare.
The jurors told Judge Emmett Battles they were made to feel uncomfortable outside the courthouse by a witness and family and friends of Shakespeare, ABC News reported.
Battles didn't excuse any of the jurors and scolded defendant DeeDee Moore for facial expressions she was reported to have made toward jurors.
Prosecutors said Moore, 40, who befriended Shakespeare after he won $30 million in the Florida lottery in 2009, stole his money and killed him.
In testimony Monday, jurors focused on a two-page letter police informant Greg Smith said Moore forged to convince Shakespeare's mother he was still alive.
Shortly after the letter was written, Shakespeare's body was found buried under a slab of concrete in Moore's backyard.
Jurors also listened to a recorded conversation with Smith in which Moore admitted she was afraid of being arrested.
If convicted, Moore faces life in prison. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.
Gallup: 69 percent of U.S. religious
PRINCETON, N.J., Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Almost seven out of 10 U.S. residents describe themselves as "very" or "moderately" religious, the Gallup Poll reported Tuesday.
In a new book, "God Is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America," Gallup describes the results of 320,000 interviews conducted from Jan. 2 to Nov. 30. Forty percent of those interviewed say they attend church at least once a week while 69 percent say they are religious.
The poll found that women across race and age groups are more religious than men, blacks are the most religious racial minority and Mormons the most observant of any religious group, while Jews are the least observant. Religious belief is highest in the south and lowest in the northeast (Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire) and northwest (Oregon, Washington and Alaska).
While people with low incomes tend to be more religious, upper-income residents are more likely to be regular churchgoers. Whites who identify themselves as religious are more likely to be Republican while blacks are likely to be religious and are more like to be Democrats.
Slightly more than half of U.S. residents identify as Protestants, 23 percent as Catholics and 18 percent say they have no formal religious identity. Only small percentages describe themselves as non-Christian, including Jews, Muslims and Buddhists.
The percentage of those not identifying with a specific religious group has increased along with the number of community churches and other churches with loose or no ties to traditional denominations.
The findings are based on Gallup's Daily Tracking poll. The margin of error is 1 percentage point.