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U.S. firms rush special payouts to beat tax hike

US companies are rushing to make huge payouts to shareholders before year-end to beat a tax increase on dividends expected to emerge from deficit talks under way in Washington. Big-box discounter Costco became the latest firm Wednesday to set a dividend before December 31, promising a special cash payout of…

Los Angeles ports disrupted by strikes

LOS ANGELES — Strike action disrupted work at two key West Coast ports, threatening a key gateway for trade to and from Asia, union leaders and harbor officials said. The action by clerical staff started on Wednesday at a terminal in the port of Los Angeles but spread to six…

Anwar al-Awlaki was in U.S. custody twice: conservative watchdog

WASHINGTON — US-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, killed in a US drone attack in Yemen last year, had been in US custody at least twice in prior years but was released, a human rights group said. Judicial Watch, an accountability watchdog group, said it had learned this through Freedom of…

Only path to Palestinian state is direct talks: Clinton

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the only path towards a Palestinian state was through direct negotiations, on the eve of a contentious United Nations vote. “I have said many times that the path to a two-state solution that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people is…

Texas telescope spots biggest black hole ever observed

PARIS — Astronomers on Wednesday said they had found possibly the biggest black hole ever observed, a leviathan with a mass 17 billion times that of the Sun, brooding at the heart of a distant galaxy. The black hole is as unexpected as it is vast, for it accounts for…

Rep. Speier takes aim at ex-gay therapy: It’s quackery

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) on Wednesday called on the states to follow California’s example and prohibit therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation of minors. “Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered is not a disease to be cured or a mental illness that requires treatment. Any effort to change…

Obama wants fiscal cliff deal before Christmas

WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for a deal with Republicans before Christmas on averting a tax and deficit crunch that it is feared could pitch the economy into recession. Obama gathered middle class families at the White House to up his campaign for Republicans to join…

Texas moves to seize ranch of Warren Jeffs’ polygamist sect

CHICAGO — Texas prosecutors Wednesday moved to seize the ranch of a polygamist sect where more than 450 children were earlier removed in a police raid and its leaders jailed on child sex abuse charges. Prosecutors described their motion to seize the sprawling 1,600 acre ranch as the “final chapter…

More Republicans troubled by Susan Rice role on Benghazi

WASHINGTON — Two more Republican senators expressed deep reservations Wednesday about voting to confirm UN envoy Susan Rice as US secretary of state without more answers about her role in the Benghazi affair. The embattled Rice met for a second straight day with Republican senators to try to mollify conservatives…

New York nanny pleads not guilty to kid slayings

NEW YORK — A Manhattan nanny accused of stabbing to death two small children in her care before trying to commit suicide pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a hospital court hearing. “I ask you to enter a plea of not guilty on behalf of my client,” Yoselyn Ortega’s attorney said…

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