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Feb. 19, 2013 at 5:00 PM   |   Comments

Obama pressures Congress on sequester

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama turned up pressure on Congress Tuesday to work to avoid scheduled "meat cleaver" cuts in federal domestic and defense spending.

Appearing with emergency responders at the White House, Obama urged Congress to pass -- at the very least -- a short-term measure that would delay the cuts so lawmakers could work on a permanent fix.

If nothing is done, $85 billion in spending cuts -- called sequester -- will go into effect March 1.

"Our top priority must be do everything can to grow economy and create good middle-class jobs. That has to drive every decision we make," Obama said. "It's troubling that just 10 days from now, Congress might allow ... automatic, severe budget cuts that will do just the opposite."

The across-the-board cuts were put into play by the last-minute debt ceiling deal reach in August 2011 and the "fiscal cliff" agreement enacted at the beginning of this year.

Obama said Tuesday the government can achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction economists say is needed, but for that to happen, there must be a balance of tax reforms and spending reforms.

"If Congress allows this meat cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness ... [and] eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research," he said. "It won't consider whether we're cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day. It doesn't make those distinctions."

Obama said the sequester would result in, among other things, reduced Border Patrol staffing, degraded first response capability in emergency situations, a furlough of FBI agents, layoffs of teachers and educators, air traffic and airport security cutbacks and loss of access to healthcare for hundreds of thousands of Americans.


4 dead in quiet Calif. neighborhoods

TUSTIN, Calif., Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Several usually quiet Orange County, Calif., neighborhoods were the scenes of a series of killings and carjackings that left four people dead, police said.

Four people were reported dead and two wounded in multiple shootings, and police say one of the dead is believed to be the man who shot the others, the Orange County (Calif.) Register reported.

He is believed to have shot himself after police stopped his car on the 55 Freeway in the city of Orange, officials said.

The first shooting was reported about 5:20 a.m. in Ladera Ranch, where a woman was found dead inside a home after a 911 call from inside the home, Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino said.

The shooter fled in a sports utility vehicle and then allegedly carjacked three vehicles in Tustin, police said.

Tustin Police Lt. Paul Garavan said the suspect attempted to carjack multiple vehicles in Tustin, with each of the shootings occurring several minutes apart.

In the first carjacking, a bystander was shot but not seriously injured.

The driver of the second carjacked vehicle was shot and killed, police said.

The gunman then hijacked a third vehicle, police said, shooting two people. One of them died, and the other was taken to a nearby hospital.

Police found the suspect, described as a man in his 20s, driving on the 55 Freeway. He shot himself before police said they could make contact with him.

Residents in the area of the incidents described it as upscale, and quiet, the Los Angeles Times said.


Jesse Jackson Jr. likely to get prison

CHICAGO, N.J., Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is likely to lose his pension and spend time prison if he pleads guilty to misuse of campaign funds, legal experts say.

Jackson could enter a guilty plea this week, the Chicago Tribune reported. Federal prosecutors say Jackson, D-Ill., faces as much as five years, while his wife, former Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, could get three years for filing false tax returns.

Proseecutors say Jackson spent about $750,000 in campaign donations for personal items. The couple's lawyers said Friday both planned to plead guilty.

Douglas Berman, an expert on federal sentencing who teaches law at Ohio State University, predicted Jackson would get about a year.

"His exposure -- the most he could properly get if the judge decides to throw the book at him -- clearly is at least five years and it may be significantly more," Berman told the Tribune.

But he said that Jackson's public remorse and his lack of any previous criminal record is likely to help him. He said Sandi Jackson could get probation.


U.S. Gen. John Allen retires

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, who led the international forces in Afghanistan, is retiring to deal with family health issues, the White House said Tuesday.

In a statement released by the White House, President Obama said he met with the four-star general and accepted his request to retire from the military "so that he can address health issues within his family."

"I told General Allen that he has my deep, personal appreciation for his extraordinary service over the last 19 months in Afghanistan, as well as his decades of service in the U.S. Marine Corps," Obama said in the statement. "General Allen presided over the significant growth in the size and capability of Afghan National Security Forces, the further degradation of al-Qaida and their extremist allies, and the ongoing transition to Afghan security responsibility across the country.

"He worked tirelessly to strengthen our coalition through his leadership of the International Security Assistance Force, and to improve our relations with the Afghan government.

"Above all, he cares deeply for the men and women in uniform who serve our nation -- as well as their families -- and I am grateful for the sacrifices made by his family in supporting him during his service."

Obama went on to call Allen, 59, "one of America's finest military leaders, a true patriot and a man I have come to respect greatly." He concluded by wishing Allen and his family "the very best as they begin this new chapter, and we will carry forward the extraordinary work that General Allen led in Afghanistan."

Allen headed up the ISAF and U.S. forces in Afghanistan from July 2011 until this month.

USA Today reported a source close to the general said his wife has been ill recently.

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