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Dec. 19, 2012 at 8:13 AM
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White House rejects Boehner's 'Plan B'

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The White House rejected House Speaker John Boehner's "fiscal cliff" backup plan that would raise tax rates on incomes above $1 million if talks collapse.

The proposal, which the Ohio Republican dubbed "Plan B," would also leave in place military and domestic spending cuts that Republicans have said could have horrible consequences, especially to national defense.

Lawmakers from both parties gave the proposal little chance of passing. Some told The Wall Street Journal they saw the offer as a largely tactical maneuver on Boehner's part.

The White House immediately rejected "Plan B," with spokesman Jay Carney saying it could not pass the Senate and "therefore will not protect middle-class families" from large tax increases scheduled to start Jan. 1.

"The president has put a balanced, reasonable proposal on the table that achieves significant deficit reduction and reflects real compromise by meeting the Republicans halfway on revenue and more than halfway on spending from where each side started," Carney said in a statement.

Obama will not accept a deal "that doesn't ask enough of the very wealthiest in taxes and instead shifts the burden to the middle class and seniors," Carney said.

Newtown: Perry fears 'knee-jerk reaction'

NEWTOWN, Conn., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry warned of a federal "knee-jerk reaction" to the Connecticut school shootings as other politicians and firms distance themselves from guns.

"One of the things that I hope we don't want to see from the federal government is a knee-jerk reaction from Washington, D.C., when there is an event that occurs, that they can come in and think they know the answer," Perry told a Tea Party group near Fort Worth.

Perry, a 2012 Republican presidential hopeful until early this year, also said schoolteachers and administrators should be allowed to carry concealed handguns if they get licenses.

Local school districts would decide their own policies, but "you should be able to carry your handgun anywhere in this state," Perry said to applause from members of the Northeast Tarrant County Tea Party in remarks broadcast by KXAS-TV, Dallas.

He later said private-property owners should be allowed to set their own gun-control rules.

Perry's comments came as U.S. retail chain Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. suspended sales of semiautomatic rifles at its more-than-500 stores and removed all guns from sale and display at its Danbury, Conn., store 9 miles from Newtown, where 20 children and six adult staff members were killed Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Clinton accepts Benghazi panel guidance

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she accepts all 29 proposals in a highly critical report on the fatal U.S. mission attack in Benghazi, Libya.

The independent Accountability Review Board report said parts of the State Department suffered from "systemic failures" in their response to the Benghazi terrorist threat and had "grossly" inadequate security, relying on local militias, which left U.S. diplomats and other personnel highly vulnerable, an unclassified summary of the report posted on the State Department's website indicated.

The report faulted State Department officials in Washington for ignoring requests from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli for more guards and safety upgrades to the mission -- and said intelligence agencies and the White House made a mistake in initially saying the Sept. 11 attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans sprang from public outrage against an anti-Islamic video produced in the United States.

The report cited two key State Department bureaus -- Diplomatic Security and Near Eastern Affairs -- for particular criticism for inadequate security.

"Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus" resulted in security "that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the report said.

Syrian rebel-Palestinian battle in Yarmouk

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Palestinians loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and armed rebels battled in a Damascus Palestinian neighborhood two days after rebels claimed control.

At the same time, regime troops supported by "reinforcements" geared up for a major assault on the former Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, 5 miles south of the center of Damascus, Syrian pro-regime newspaper al-Watan reported.

"Soldiers have massed in large numbers and are preparing a military operation to cleanse the camp," the newspaper said.

It didn't say when the operation would begin.

The Assad regime has vowed for months to "cleanse" greater Damascus of rebels.

Yarmouk Camp residents told al-Jazeera they saw no regime soldiers in Yarmouk late Tuesday but said mortar rounds had landed in several parts of the 0.8-square-mile neighborhood.

Gunfire echoed through the streets as fighting raged between rebel fighters and gunmen from a pro-Assad Palestinian nationalist organization known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, the Qatari broadcaster said.

U.N. suspends polio program in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The United Nations halted its polio immunization program in Pakistan Wednesday after three workers were killed in attacks in Peshawar, officials said.

The attacks Wednesday followed a day of multiple attacks in Karachi in which four health workers died and an attack in Peshawar in which one worker was killed, CNN reported.

The attacks Wednesday bring the death toll from the three-day polio vaccination program to eight, most of them women.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF ordered their staffs off the streets in response to the latest attacks, even though some provincial governments continued to immunize children, The New York Times reported.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban denied responsibility for the attacks, even though the insurgents have threatened polio eradication programs, claiming they are a cover for U.S. spying, the Times reported. Their suspicion about the program and its workers were goaded by the case of Shakil Afridi, a doctor from the tribal areas who was paid by the CIA to run a sham hepatitis vaccination campaign near Osama bin Laden's house in Abbottabad before the May 2011 U.S. commando raid that killed the al-Qaida founder.

Russia mulls barring adoptions by U.S.

MOSCOW, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- About 20 people picketing against a bill that would ban U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children were arrested outside Russia's statehouse, police said.

The so-called Dima Yakovlev bill was proposed as part of the Russian response to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which, in part, targeted Russian officials involved in the 2009 prison death of Russian anti-corruption whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky, was scheduled for a second reading Wednesday in the State Duma, Russia's lower house, RIA Novosti reported.

Dozens of people demonstrated outside the Duma in Moscow to protest the adoption ban critics charge would leave Russian children in outdated state-run facilities.

If the bill advances beyond its second reading Wednesday, it likely would be up for a third and final reading Friday, RIA Novosti said. It could go into effect in 2013 after being approved by the Federation Council and signed by the president.

The bill is named after Dima Yakovlev, a 21-month-old who died of heatstroke in July 2008 after his adoptive father left him unattended in a vehicle for hours.

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