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Spending deal soon to be reached

– Congressional budget negotiators are near a deal in which Democrats would accept fresh revenue from user fees and Republicans would agree to more federal spending, steps that could avoid another government shutdown next year.

The two leaders of the 29-member bipartisan panel aiming to reach an agreement on budget savings to replace some automatic spending cuts set to start in January are hatching a minor deal in which both parties would have to compromise.

Instead of ending some corporate tax breaks, as Democrats prefer, revenue would come from raising user fees including for airline passengers. Republicans would have to accept higher spending levels than slated under current law, according to congressional aides.

Arizona Forestry Division fined over firefighters’ deaths

An Arizona commission approved a nearly $560,000 fine on Wednesday against the state Forestry Division in the deaths of 19 firefighters after an investigative agency found that officials put protection of property ahead of safety and should have pulled out crews earlier.

The vote by the state Industrial Commission came after the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health had proposed a trio of citations with financial penalties in its investigation of workplace violations.

The safety agency said forestry officials managing the Yarnell Hill Fire northwest of Phoenix failed to promptly remove downwind crews when suppression became ineffective, placing firefighters at risk for death, burns and smoke inhalation.

Rockwell painting fetches record $46 million at auction

A Norman Rockwell painting titled “Saying Grace” sold at an auction Wednesday for $46 million, a record for the Saturday Evening Post illustrator and for any American artwork sold at auction, Sotheby’s said.

The painting had a pre-sale estimate of $15 million to $20 million.

Surprise cold snap drops snow, ice across West

The jet stream hunkered to the south Wednesday, promising to bring nearly a week of temperatures that could dip to minus 20 or worse in the northern midsection of the country, and forcing much of the rest of the nation to deal with unexpectedly cool temperatures. In Minnesota, the cold has forced Salvation Army bell ringers inside and canceled holiday parties, while dense, cold air sunk into Rocky Mountain valleys and kept some lower elevations freezing in the West.

The dip in the jet stream is allowing Arctic air to plunge deeper into the United States. To add to the cold weather trouble, AccuWeather senior forecaster Paul Walker said a new storm will likely develop in New Mexico and west Texas today and head east, bringing ice and potentially power outages.

Low temperatures in Denver were expected to drop just below zero through Friday but remain below 20 through the middle of next week. The storm dumped several inches of snow in Denver, and parts of Colorado’s mountains could get up to 3 feet by the end of the day. Snowfall totals could also approach 3 feet in northeastern Minnesota.

North Korean leader pushed out uncle, Seoul spies claim

It’s intriguing news: the claim by South Korea’s spy agency that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un probably sacked the country’s second-most-powerful official – his uncle. But the first question is, is it true?

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service has a spotty record of tracking what’s going on inside what may be the world’s most secretive, unfriendly and difficult-to-navigate country.

Some analysts dismiss the agency’s claim this week that Kim has probably fired Jang Song Thaek, a man widely seen as a kingmaker who guided his young nephew as he consolidated power.

It appears to be based largely on Jang’s nearly monthlong disappearance from North Korean media, something not unheard of in the leader’s circle, and the agency’s belief that two of his associates were publicly executed.

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