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Dec. 20, 2012 at 4:59 PM
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Blizzard pounds Upper Midwest

BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Heavy snow and high winds pounded the Midwest from Kansas to Michigan Thursday, with gusts topping 50 mph.

The storm forced highway closures and caused at least one death as a result of a 23-car pileup, officials said. Two others were killed in a wreck with a tractor-trailer in Wisconsin.

Thousands of customers in the Kansas City area were without power.

The season's first major winter storm prompted officials in Davenport, Iowa, to declare a snow emergency through 6 a.m. Friday, the Quad City Times reported. The Iowa National Guard was mobilized to assist with snow removal, The Des Moines Register said. More than 36,000 people in Iowa lost power.

Snow fell Thursday afternoon in eastern Iowa, Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota and portions of Michigan at a rate of as much as an inch an hour in the heart of the winter storm, Accuweather.com reported. Mount Horeb, Wis., reported 11.4 inches of snow.

Gusts of more than 50 mph reduced visibility to less than 1/4 of a mile in some areas.

Wisconsin state troopers said the treacherous conditions were to blame for a crash that killed two people in Center Township. Jaime Paiz-Gutierrez, 41, lost control of his car on Highway 11, crossing the center line and striking an oncoming semi. He and his passenger, Guadalupe Ortiz, 45, were both killed, WISC-TV, Madison, Wis., said Thursday.

House advances Plan B

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. House Thursday approved legislation to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff," advancing a plan by Speaker John Boehner that raises taxes on millionaires.

The House voted 219-197 to approve the measure which has virtually no chance in the Senate and would face a president veto if it did get passed.

The bill would extend current tax rates on incomes of less than $1 million. The measure is paired with a second bill that would block the sequester, which would put a major dent in defense spending.

White House press secretary Jay Carney called Thursday's vote "an exercise in futility."

"The Republicans in the House have decided to run down an alley that has no exit while we all watch," Carney told reporters.

Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters his plan was born out of frustration with the White House.

"For weeks the White House said if I moved on rates, that they would make substantial concessions on spending cuts and entitlement reform," Boehner said. "I did my part, they've done nothing."

Kerry: Congress shares blame for Benghazi

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Congress shares the blame for the attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, Sen. John Kerry said Thursday.

Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, pointed out the Accountability Review Board report released Tuesday on the attack recommended spending $2.3 billion on security for U.S. embassies and consulates in the next decade.

Stevens, information officer Sean Smith and two security officers, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, both former Navy SEALs, were killed in the Sept. 11 in Benghazi. Four senior State Department officers resigned or were fired Tuesday.

Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, said the department is re-evaluating security. He said the historic practice of depending on host countries for security does not work in places like Libya where a weak government is dealing with often violent political unrest.

In the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said the Benghazi attack should not be treated as an isolated incident but as part of "a systematic failure with broad, far broader, and more worrisome implications."

Putin opposes headscarves in schools

MOSCOW, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said he opposes the Muslim practice of wearing headscarves, or hijabs, in Russian schools.

"Why should we adopt outside tradition?" he asked reporters Thursday.

A test case of the policy on headscarves came in October when Muslim parents in the Stavropol region objected to prosecutors about a school ban on hijabs at their daughter's school. The parents said the ban violated her constitutional rights to receive and education and practice her religion, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported Thursday.

Although Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov had previously stated wearing the symbol of Muslim faith did not violate Russian education policy, Stavropol Gov. Valery Zerenkov ordered a ban on headscarves Tuesday, the newspaper Rossiikaya Gazeta said.

1,000 doomsday cult members arrested

BEIJING, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Nearly 1,000 members of a doomsday cult in China have been arrested for spreading rumors about the apocalypse, supposedly coming Friday, officials said.

The cult -- a Christian group called Almighty God -- predicts Friday, the last day in the Mayan long count calendar, will bring with it three days of darkness and has urged its members to overthrow Communism, the BBC reported.

God Almighty members have been seen passing out leaflets about the apocalypse and spreading rumors about the end of the world.

To calm nationwide anxieties about the apocalypse, police in Beijing have posted an online a notice telling people "the so-called end of the world is a rumor."

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