Nevada, right-to-work with strong unions, a labour bright spot but difficult to duplicate

The future of the American labour movement may lie just off the Las Vegas Strip, inside a squat building huddled in the shadow of the Stratosphere casino.

That’s the home of the Culinary Workers Local 226, a fast-growing union of hotel and casino employees that has thrived despite being in a right-to-work state and a region devastated by the real estate crash.

More than 90 per cent of Culinary’s 60,000 predominantly immigrant workers opt to be dues-paying members, even though Nevada law says they cannot be forced to pay unions for their services.

As a result, housekeepers in most Strip hotels start at $16 an hour with free health care and a pension. Culinary’s track record gives a dispirited labour movement some hope even as it hemorrhages workers and reels from the approval of a right-to-work law last week in union-strong Michigan.

“National unions need to look at what some of the folks out here have done,” said Billy Vassiliadis, former chair of the Nevada Democratic Party. In a right-to-work state that for years was relatively conservative, “they had to be smart. They had to be nimble.”

As a result, he said, “labour here is a big pillar in the political debate.”

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But that’s less true on a national scale. American labour has been on a downward trajectory for decades: Unions represented 30 per cent of the workforce when the federal government first began tracking membership in the early 1980s. Now they represent less than 12 per cent.

Michigan’s adoption of a right-to-work law follows a string of recent setbacks in the industrial Midwest. Indiana passed a right-to-work law early this year, and Wisconsin effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers last year.

The American union member once was typified by the white Michigan factory worker who was hoisted into the middle class by the United Auto Workers’ package of good pay and benefits. Now Culinary’s service worker membership – largely Hispanic housekeepers, line cooks and hostesses at casinos – may be the new model.

“Manufacturing jobs used to be horrible, until they got organized,” said D. Taylor, who just stepped down as Culinary’s secretary-treasurer to run its national organization, Unite-HERE. “Service jobs used to be the same – horrible jobs until they got organized. Nevada’s not some magic place. Those jobs just got organized.”

Culinary has almost quadrupled its membership since the 1980s, but Nevada unions still struggle against national headwinds. The percentage of workers in the state who belong to unions is down to 14.6 per cent from its 1996 peak of 20 per cent – though much of that decline happened in the past four years after the real estate crash wiped out thousands of union construction jobs.

Danny Thompson, head of the state AFL-CIO, says right-to-work has hobbled Nevada labour. But he’s mulling going on the offensive and asking voters to overturn the law, which passed narrowly in the 1950s.

“There’s no question that this is a strong union state,” he said.

The Nevada model, however, is difficult to duplicate.

Michael Chamberlain, a Republican political consultant in Las Vegas, notes Culinary has thrived in a heavily regulated industry. If casinos, which must be licensed by the state, pay their workers high wages, it’s difficult for competitors to offer less. And cleaning, cooking and card-dealing jobs cannot be shipped overseas.

“They have the ability to limit competition, and that allows the unions to develop their power,” Chamberlain said.

Even Nevada’s formidable construction trade unions have had most of their success in casinos along the Strip, and less in private suburban projects where wages are competitive, Chamberlain said.

Indeed, many of labour’s remaining success stories come in areas where competition is limited, said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labour historian at the University of California Santa Barbara.

He pointed to unions representing port workers in Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as unions representing professional athletes in Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Like with Las Vegas casinos, those jobs cannot be moved to lower-wage locations.

Still, there are other pockets that show Nevada-like efforts can be replicated. As Culinary regrouped from a series of 1990s setbacks and started to grow again, unions in Los Angeles organized immigrant garment workers and janitors. Now labour is the predominant political power in once staunchly anti-union Southern California and one reason that state is a Democratic stronghold.

Vassiliadis said unions in the Southwest win loyalty by helping immigrants enter the middle class and turn low-wage jobs into stable sources of health insurance. In the Rust Belt, he said, labour is trying to maintain generations-old victories.

“They’ve done a heck of a job at being the ones who brought Latinos into the mainstream, provided them health insurance and pensions,” Vassiliadis said. “In the Rust Belt, you’re looking at third- and fourth-generation auto workers, folks who have always had health insurance. They never had to fight for these things and over time (unions’) relevance has faded.”

The union isn’t afraid to play hardball. It famously went on strike for six years and ended up closing a casino that resisted organizing. It’s now trying to organize the Station casinos off the Strip in a campaign that could last as long. But Culinary also has generally warm relations with the gambling industry and helps defend its interests.

In partnership with the casinos, Culinary created an academy that trains workers to become housekeepers or sommeliers and offers English classes. The new head of Culinary, replacing Taylor, is a Nicaraguan immigrant and former housekeeper.

Taylor cited Culinary’s track record and member outreach as the reason so many workers pay dues.

“They know,” he said, “that, together, they have more strength.”

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Follow Nicholas Riccardi on Twitter at 杭州桑拿按摩论坛杭州夜生活twitter杭州龙凤/nickriccardi .

Obama pays tribute to Connecticut victims

NEWTOWN, Conn. – U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking alone on a spare stage for a nation in sorrow, said he will use “whatever power” he has to prevent shootings like the Connecticut school massacre.

“What choice do we have?” Obama said at an evening vigil in the shattered community of Newtown, Connecticut, which is grieving the loss of 20 young children and six adults.

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

For Obama, that was an unmistakable sign that he would at least attempt to take on the explosive issue of gun control. He made clear that the deaths compelled the United States to act, and that he was the leader of a nation that was failing to keep its children safe. He spoke of a broader effort, never outlining exactly what he would push for, but expressed outrage by yet another shooting rampage.

“Surely we can do better than this,” he said. “We have an obligation to try.”

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The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday elicited horror around the world, soul-searching in the United States, fresh political debate and questions about the incomprehensible – what drove 20-year-old Adam Lanza to kill his mother and then unleash gunfire on children.

The grieving town braced itself Monday to bury the first two of the small victims and debated when classes could resume – and where, given the carnage in the building and the children’s associations with it.

“We’re just now getting ready to talk to our son about who was killed,” said Robert Licata, the father of a student who escaped harm during the shooting. “He’s not even there yet.”

Newtown officials couldn’t say whether Sandy Hook Elementary, where authorities said all the victims were shot at least twice, would ever reopen. Monday classes were cancelled, and the district was making plans to send surviving Sandy Hook students to a former school building in a neighbouring town.

Obama told Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy that Friday was the most difficult day of his presidency. The president has two daughters, Malia and Sasha, who are 14 and 11, respectively.

“Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days,” the president said, sombre and steady in his voice. “And if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough and we will have to change.”

He promised in the coming weeks to talk with law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents and educators on an effort to prevent mass shootings.

The shootings have restarted a debate in Washington about what politicians can to do help – gun control or otherwise. Obama has called for “meaningful action” to prevent killings.

Democratic lawmakers said Sunday that military-style assault weapons should be banned and that a national commission should be established to examine mass shootings in the U.S.

Obama and Senate Democrats haven’t pushed for new gun controls since rising to power in the 2008 elections. Outspoken advocates for stricter laws, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, say that’s because of the powerful sway of the National Rifle Association, the gun owners’ lobby.

But gun control advocates also say the latest shooting is a tipping point that could change the dynamic of the debate. Feinstein said she will propose legislation next year that would ban big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets.

Near the start of his remarks, Obama read the names of the adults who died. He finished by reading the first names of the children, slowly, in the most wrenching moment of the night.

Cries and sobs filled the room.

“That’s when it really hit home,” said Jose Sabillon, who attended the interfaith memorial with his son, Nick, a fourth-grader who survived the shooting unharmed.

Said Obama of the girls and boys who died: “God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”

Inside the room, children held stuffed teddy bears and dogs. The smallest kids sat on their parents’ laps.

There were tears and hugs, but also smiles and squeezed arms. Mixed with disbelief was a sense of a community reacquainting itself all at once.

One man said it was less mournful, more familial. Some kids chatted easily with their friends. The adults embraced each other in support.

“We’re halfway between grief and hope,” said Curt Brantl, whose daughter was in the library of the elementary school when the shootings occurred. She was not harmed.

The president first met privately with families of the victims and with the emergency personnel who responded to the shootings.

Police and firefighters got hugs and standing ovations when they entered. So did Obama.

“We needed this,” said the Rev. Matt Crebbin, senior minister of the Newtown Congregational Church. “We needed to be together to show that we are together and united.”

Police say Lanza was carrying an arsenal of ammunition big enough to kill just about every student in the school if given enough time. He shot himself in the head just as he heard police drawing near, authorities said.

“There was a lot of ammo, a lot of clips,” said state police Lt. Paul Vance. “Certainly a lot of lives were potentially saved.”

The chief medical examiner has said the ammunition was the type designed to break up inside a victim’s body and inflict the maximum amount of damage, tearing apart bone and tissue.

A Connecticut official said the gunman’s mother was found dead in her pyjamas in bed, shot four times in the head with a .22-calibre rifle. The killer then went to the school with guns he took from his mother and began blasting his way through the building.

All the victims at the school were shot with the rifle, at least some of them up close, and all were apparently shot more than once, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver said. There were as many as 11 shots on the bodies he examined.

Investigators have offered no motive for the shooting. A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators are reviewing the contents of Lanza’s computer, as well as phone and credit card records in an effort to piece together his activities leading up to the shooting. The official was not authorized to discuss the details of the case.

Obama said his words of comfort would not be enough, but he brought them anyway, on behalf of parents everywhere now holding their children tighter.

“I can only hope that it helps for you to know,” he said, “that you are not alone in your grief.”
 

Soyuz craft put in place at Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome for mission to space station

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan – A Soyuz spacecraft atop a towering rocket was placed into launch position Monday at Russia’s manned-space facility in the freezing steppes of Kazakhstan ahead of a five-month mission for three astronauts to the International Space Station.

The craft was rolled out of its hangar on a flatbed train at exactly 7 a.m. in strict accordance with tradition and crawled for two hours at a walking pace to the launch pad. Colleagues, friends and relatives of the astronauts withstood temperatures as low as minus-30 C (minus-22 F), worsened by wind, to watch the procedure.

NASA’s Tom Marshburn, Russian Roman Romanenko, and the Canadian Space Agency’s Chris Hadfield will blast off Wednesday and travel for two days before reaching three other astronauts working at the orbiting laboratory.

Although the temperature was lower in other parts of Kazakhstan – it was minus-42 C (minus -44 F) in the capital, Astana – locals assert with a hint of pride that the exposed steppe makes it far more uncomfortable in Baikonur.

But officials say the glacial conditions have little effect on the Soyuz.

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There are very few weather requirements or restrictions for the launch of the Soyuz vehicle,” veteran NASA astronaut Mike Fossum said. “We launch a couple of days from now in similar conditions and we are without any concerns.”

The current Soyuz craft is a variation on the vehicle that has been in constant use by the Soviet and then Russian manned space programs since 1967.

The three-man crew, which has been in Baikonur for almost two weeks making final preparations, took a tour Sunday of the hangar where the craft was being kept.

“Incredibly impressive to see the final assembly of the rocket that will throw us into orbit. This is one excited crew!” Marshburn wrote on his Twitter account.

Marshburn, 52, is making his second trip to space. During his maiden voyage in 2009, he logged more than 376 hours in space, which included 19 hours of extravehicular activity over the course of three spacewalks.

In the remaining time before the launch, which takes place Wednesday at 6:12 p.m. (1212 GMT), more checks will be carried out and the booster rockets will be fueled.

The launch marks a return to use of the launch pad known as Gagarin’s Start, where Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin blasted off in 1961 for the first human orbital space flight. Another launch site was used for the previous mission, which set off in October.

The need for a back-up launch site became particularly acute with the decommissioning of the U.S. shuttle fleet. The Soyuz now is the only vehicle able to carry astronauts to the space station.

Although the Soyuz has proven dependable, recurrent problems with the unmanned version of the craft have sown anxiety over NASA’s excessive reliance on the Russian space program.

NASA announced last week that it was making progress toward the first test of its new generation Orion spacecraft in 2014.

Orion is a part of NASA’s growing ambitions to extend its reach into space. NASA says it is being designed to travel more than 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometres) above Earth’s surface and return at a speeds almost 5,000 miles (8,050 kilometres) per hour faster than any current human spacecraft.

US gun control debate simmers after massacre; Democrats want ban on assault weapons

WASHINGTON – A U.S. senator and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association became the most prominent gun rights advocate to speak out after last week’s school shooting, saying Monday it was time for the debate to move beyond political rhetoric and begin an honest discussion about reasonable restrictions on guns.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney cautioned, “No single piece of legislation or action will fully address the problem.”

It remained unclear how President Barack Obama would move forward on his comments to use the “power” of his office to tackle gun violence.

As many gun-rights advocates and politicians remained silent, the killing of 20 children as young as 6 years old led conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to speak out Monday.

“Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered. It’s never happened in America that I can recall, seeing this carnage,” Manchin told MSNBC. “Anybody that’s a proud gun owner, a proud member of the NRA, they’re also proud parents, they’re proud grandparents. They understand this has changed where we go from here.”

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The self-described “proud outdoorsman and hunter” added, “I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle, I don’t know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting.”

Manchin said he agrees with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has advocated banning the sale of assault weapons.

Democrats say the “meaningful action” Obama has spoken of in the wake of last week’s shooting must include a ban on the military-style assault weapons and a look at how the country deals with individuals suffering from serious mental illness.

On Sunday, several Democratic lawmakers, and Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, said it was time to take a deeper look into the recent series of mass shootings and what can be done.

Gun control was a hot topic in the early 1990s, when Congress enacted a 10-year ban on assault weapons. But since that ban expired in 2004, few Americans have wanted stricter laws, and politicians say they don’t want to become targets of a powerful gun rights lobby.

Gun rights advocates said that might all change after the latest shooting, which killed 20 children aged 6 or 7, along with six adults.

“I think we could be at a tipping point … a tipping point where we might actually get something done,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Speaking Sunday night at a vigil in Newtown, Connecticut, the site of Friday’s massacre, Obama did not specifically address gun control. But he vowed, “In the coming weeks I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

He added: “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

Lieberman said a new commission should be created to look at gun laws and the mental health system, as well as violence in movies and video games.

“Assault weapons were developed for the U.S. military, not commercial gun manufacturers,” said Lieberman, who is retiring next year.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she will introduce legislation next year to ban new assault weapons, as well as big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets. Congress is expected to adjourn soon for the upcoming Christmas holiday.

“It can be done,” Feinstein told NBC’s “Meet the Press” of reinstating the ban despite deep opposition by the National Rifle Association and similar groups.

Bloomberg said Obama could use executive powers to enforce existing gun laws, as well as throw his weight behind legislation like Feinstein’s.

“It’s time for the president, I think, to stand up and lead and tell this country what we should do – not go to Congress and say, ‘What do you guys want to do?’” Bloomberg told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

On Monday, Bloomberg joined with dozens of shooting survivors and victims’ relatives to call on tougher gun laws. He said the shooting “demands immediate national action.”

Gun rights activists have remained largely quiet on the issue since Friday’s shooting.

David Gregory, the host of “Meet the Press,” said NBC invited all 31 “pro-gun” senators to appear on Sunday’s show, and all 31 declined.

Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas was the sole representative of gun rights’ activists on the various Sunday political talk shows. In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Gohmert defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who authorities say died trying to overtake the shooter, should herself have been armed.

“I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands. But she takes him (the shooter) out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids,” Gohmert said.

Gohmert also argued that violence is lower in cities with lax gun laws, and higher in cities with stricter laws.

“The facts are that every time guns have been allowed – conceal-carry (gun laws) have been allowed – the crime rate has gone down,” Gohmert said.

Gun control advocates say that isn’t true. A study by the California-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence determined that seven of the 10 states with the strongest gun laws – including Connecticut, Massachusetts and California – are also among the 10 states with the lowest gun death rates.

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Associated Press writers Anne Flaherty, Jim Kuhnhenn and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

Canada’s Chris Hadfield returns to space

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan – A Soyuz spacecraft atop a towering rocket was placed into launch position Monday at Russia’s manned-space facility in the freezing, windswept steppes of Kazakhstan ahead of a five-month mission for Canadian Chris Hadfield and two other astronauts to the International Space Station.

The craft was rolled out of its hangar on a flatbed train at exactly 7 a.m. in strict accordance with tradition and crawled for two hours at a walking pace to the launch pad. Colleagues, friends and relatives of the astronauts withstood temperatures as low as minus-30 C, worsened by wind, to watch the procedure.

Hadfield, American Tom Marshburn and Russian Roman Romanenko will blast off Wednesday and travel for two days before reaching three other astronauts working at the orbiting laboratory.

Although the temperature was lower in other parts of Kazakhstan – it was minus-42 C in the capital, Astana – locals assert with a hint of pride that the exposed steppe makes it far more uncomfortable in Baikonur.

But officials say the glacial conditions have little effect on the Soyuz.

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“There are very few weather requirements or restrictions for the launch of the Soyuz vehicle,” veteran NASA astronaut Mike Fossum said. “We launch a couple of days from now in similar conditions and we are without any concerns.”

The current Soyuz craft is a variation on the vehicle that has been in constant use by the Soviet and then Russian manned space programs since 1967.

The three-man crew, who have been in Baikonur for almost two weeks making final preparations, took a tour Sunday of the hangar where the craft was being kept.

“Incredibly impressive to see the final assembly of the rocket that will throw us into orbit. This is one excited crew!” Marshburn wrote on his Twitter account.

In the remaining time before the launch, which takes place Wednesday at 6:12 p.m., more checks will be carried out and the booster rockets will be fuelled.

The launch marks a return to use of the launch pad known as Gagarin’s Start, where Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin blasted off in 1961 for the first human orbital space flight. Site No. 1. Another launch site was used for the previous mission, which set off in October.

The need for a backup launch site became particularly acute with the decommissioning of the U.S. shuttle fleet. The Soyuz now is the only vehicle able to carry astronauts to the space station.

Although the Soyuz has proven dependable, recurrent problems with the unmanned version of the craft have sown anxiety over NASA’s excessive reliance on the Russian space program.

NASA announced last week that it was making progress toward the first test of its new generation Orion spacecraft in 2014.
 

Montreal medical clinic allegedly refused to treat convulsing man

 

MONTREAL – It was something Ersilia Giordani wasn’t expecting to see during a quick visit to drop a package off – a man writhing on the ground in front of the entrance of a pharmacy within Lasalle’s Place Newman Friday afternoon.
 
He had “bloodshot red eyes. The scary part was, he was not able to utter a word,” she said.
 
But the most shocking part of Giordani’s day came immediately afterward: according to her, the medical clinic immediately next-door to the pharmacy wouldn’t take the man, and wouldn’t send a doctor out to treat him, due to an in-house rule.
 
“There’s doctors inside the clinic, but nobody came out,” she said.

“He was taken away but at that point nobody had come out, and I know there were people in the clinic waiting to be seen by doctors. There were six or seven people in there.”
 
An ambulance eventually arrived and took the man to hospital, but his identity and condition are unknown.

The clinic is closed on weekends, and there was no answer or voicemail response when Global Montreal called.

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Three merchants at the mall, who did not want their names used, corroborated Giordani’s version of events.  
 
Dr. Paul Saba, co-president of the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice, told Global Montreal that while he couldn’t comment on this particular situation, “in general physicians have an obligation both from our Hippocratic oath as well as our code of conduct, the Quebec code of conduct.
 
“We still have an obligation, just acting as good Samaritans, to care for those in need.”
 
Giordani saw the situation unfold with her eight-year-old son, Daniel, and said it’s still something that haunts her.
 
“I’ve been thinking about him, I mean, if it were a family member and nobody came out to help him,” she said.

“I mean, I don’t even know if he’s alive.”

 

Movement seen in ‘fiscal cliff’ talks as Boehner offers revenue boost

WASHINGTON – The White House and congressional Republicans are a long way from agreeing on a plan to deal with the “fiscal cliff.” But it seems like some progress is being made.

House Speaker John Boehner is offering $1 trillion in higher tax revenue over 10 years and an increase in the top tax rate on people making more than $1 million a year. He’s also offering a large enough extension in the government’s borrowing cap to fund the government for one year before the issue must be revisited – conditioned on President Barack Obama agreeing to the $1 trillion in cuts.

The offer, made Friday after a long impasse between Boehner, R-Ohio, and Obama, calls for about $450 billion in revenue from increasing the top rate on million-dollar-plus income from 35 per cent to the Clinton-era rate of 39.6 per cent.

The additional revenue required to meet the $1 trillion target would be collected through a rewrite of the tax code next year and by slowing the inflation adjustments made to tax brackets.

In return, Boehner is asking for $1 trillion in spending cuts from government benefit programs like Medicare. Those cuts would defer most of a painful set of across-the-board spending cuts set to slash many domestic programs and the Pentagon budget by 8-9 per cent, starting in January.

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Boehner’s proposal was described Sunday by officials familiar with it. They required anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Boehner also continues to press for a less generous inflation adjustment for Social Security benefits, a move endorsed by many budget hawks. Obama and Democrats on last year’s deficit “supercommittee” endorsed the idea in offers made last year, but they’re more reluctant now.

The new inflation adjustment would also raise about $70 billion over a decade in new revenues because tax brackets would rise more slowly for inflation, driving people more quickly into higher tax brackets.

The increased optimism come as time is running out before the adjournment of Congress. Tax rates on all workers go up in January, and $109 billion worth of across-the-board spending cuts begin to take effect then as well. Taken together with the expiration of extended jobless benefits and a 2-percentage-point break in Social Security payroll taxes, the combination of austerity steps threatens to send the economy back into recession.

The burst of optimism is tempered by the caution that the remaining steps to reaching a deal – particularly how much to cut Medicare and whether to impose the new, less generous inflation adjustment to Social Security – are difficult. Then comes the job of selling it to a polarized Congress, where GOP conservatives have been railing against higher tax rates for months as sure to cost jobs and hurt small business, and Democrats have taken a harder line against cost curbs to Medicare.

But it appears clear there is momentum as White House and congressional aides worked through the weekend.

The movement comes as an increasing number of Republicans have called for a tactical retreat that would hand Obama a victory on his longstanding campaign promise to raise taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year. That increase, combined with an increase in the tax rate on investment income from 15 per cent to 20 per cent, would raise about $800 billion in tax revenue over a decade.

In that context, Boehner’s move could be seen as an attempt to get spending cuts linked to the rate increase rather than giving them up and getting nothing in return. Judging from the numbers, Boehner is also willing to allow tax rates on investment income to increase for high-end income and allow the reinstatement of curbs on the value of exemptions and itemized deductions for high-income earners.

Still, the Boehner offer is sure to cause unrest among many conservative Republicans dead set against raising tax rates at all.

Obama has offered $600 billion in spending cuts over a decade, including $350 billion from federal health care programs and $250 billion from other cuts to domestic programs like farm subsidies and the pension program for federal workers, and through sales of used federal property.

Obama and Boehner met Thursday in a session described as “frank” by both sides. Boehner’s offer and a follow-up phone call came the next day, amid increasing speculation that Republicans might move on to a plan B in which they would give Obama a win on tax rates for upper-bracket earners and renew the fight when increasing the government’s borrowing cap – which needs to be done soon, probably in February.

Boehner’s $1 trillion cut proposal would be paired with a comparable increase in the borrowing cap, enough to keep the government borrowing for about a year. But if the cuts are smaller, the debt limit increase would be smaller as well.

“Our position has not changed. Any debt limit increase would require cuts and reforms of a greater amount,” said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck.

But Boehner is showing flexibility on how quickly to implement any increase in the Medicare eligibility age, recognizing the Democratic opposition to the idea. Republicans have been cautious on that front as well; they have regularly exempted those close to retirement age from their Medicare cuts.

Obama originally sought $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue over a decade and has since revised that to $1.4 trillion. He would probably go lower, a decision fueled in part by resistance from Democratic allies in the Senate to Obama proposals like taxing capital gains and income at rates equal to earned income.

49ers survive 28-point comeback by Patriots, clinch playoff berth 41-34

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Jim Harbaugh might have learned more about his San Francisco 49ers during 20 minutes of sleepwalking than at any other time in his two years as their coach.

His 49ers turned a nearly historic collapse into a stunning victory and a playoff berth. They withstood a 28-point comeback by the New England Patriots to win 41-34 on Sunday night in the rain.

“Our team has now hung in in a lot of big-time pressure games,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve overcome adversity. They’ve shown they can do that.”

Michael Crabtree took a short pass from Colin Kaepernick and sped around cornerback Kyle Arrington for a 38-yard touchdown with 6:25 to go, then David Akers made a 28-yard field goal to clinch it.

“We can win a shootout,” Crabtree said. “Whatever it takes, that’s our motto. … We feel like we can do anything, sky’s the limit.”

The 49ers (10-3-1) own at least a wild-card spot and play at Seattle next week with a chance to win the NFC West. A loss would bring the division race down to the final weekend.

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Kaepernick threw for four touchdowns, two to Crabtree, who had 107 yards receiving. The defence rattled Tom Brady at times, but also yielded 443 yards passing in a sloppy contest between two of the league’s more precise teams.

AFC East champion New England (10-4), which had won seven in a row, trailed 31-3 in the third quarter and lost for the first time at home in December in 21 games. The Patriots also had won 21 in a row in the second half of the schedule before San Francisco somehow regrouped late in a game it seemingly had clinched long before.

“I used to live next to a train station in Chicago,” Harbaugh said. “And it’s like the more you hear the train, the less you hear it. I feel that way with our team in terms of pressure in big games. The more you feel it, the less you feel it.”

San Francisco forced four turnovers, matching the number of giveaways New England had at home all season.

But then the Niners began collapsing, and back came Brady and the Patriots on a 6-yard TD run by Danny Woodhead and a 1-yard dive by Brady. A 5-yard pass to Aaron Hernandez and Woodhead’s 1-yard run with 6:43 remaining tied it.

And just like that, San Francisco went in front again.

Rookie LaMichael James broke free for a 62-yard kickoff return. On the next snap – the third time the Niners would have a one-play TD drive – Crabtree took a pass on the left side, spun and headed into the end zone.

“We faced adversity,” James said. “Nobody flinched.”

New England turned over the ball on downs and Akers made his kick. Stephen Gostkowski added a 41-yarder for the Patriots with 38 seconds remaining, but they couldn’t recover the onside kick.

San Francisco led 17-3 at the half. And they looked safe after Frank Gore picked up Kaepernick’s third fumble and scored on a 9-yard run, followed by Crabtree’s 27-yard score in a pinpoint pass from the second-year quarterback.

The defence set up both of San Francisco’s TDs in the third.

Dashon Goldson returned Steven Ridley’s fumble 66 yards to the New England 3 before Gore found the end zone. Defensive end Aldon Smith, known for his sacks, grabbed a pass out of Hernandez’s hands for his first career interception. After he was tackled, Smith ran directly to the sideline and sat down on the 49ers’ bench.

He was back up on his feet cheering the next play, when Crabtree broke free to make it 31-3.

“We just spotted them 28 points,” Brady said. “We fought hard, but you can’t play poorly against a good team and expect to win. We can’t miss plays that we have opportunities with.”

Still, no one can relax against the Patriots.

Unlike a week ago, when the Patriots routed Houston, they fell behind quickly in the rain and ran only 10 snaps on their opening three series. San Francisco’s fearsome pass rush was sharp then, and Brady was hit on the arm twice while trying to pass.

Even worse, his long throw on their third possession for Wes Welker was picked off by Carlos Rogers, who then slalomed his way on the wet turf toward the New England end zone. Only Brady stood in his way at the 5, and Rogers fell trying to elude him.

It was a key stop because Delanie Walker fumbled two plays later.

Earlier, Kaepernick accounted for 60 yards through the air on the 49ers’ first drive. Randy Moss showed the kind of elusiveness that made him a record-setter in New England from 2007 until he was traded early in the 2010 by getting behind the secondary for a 24-yard TD.

His short celebration as he faced the crowd drew loud hoots.

Brady preventing Rogers from scoring was about the only highlight for the Patriots in the opening quarter, but the 49ers weren’t any more effective beyond their scoring drive and a 38-yard run by Goldson on a fake punt. The slopfest included Akers’ being wide left on a 39-yard field goal.

All this from teams ranked 1-2 in fewest giveaways.

“We just didn’t even give ourselves a chance,” Brady said.

When the Patriots finally got their usually unstoppable offence going, they used 16 plays and converted a fourth down. But they stumbled inside the 10 when Brady was sacked by Ray McDonald. Gostkowski made a 32-yard field goal.

San Francisco answered quickly, helped by a 35-yard pass interference call on Aqib Talib. Walker slipped behind a zone defence for a 34-yard TD pass from Kaepernick, making it 14-3.

Akers made a 20-yard field goal as the half ended, finishing a 15-play, 76-yard drive. The three points were the Patriots’ fewest in a half all season, and they were outgained 249-113.

Of course, that turned around in the second half.

Aside from the players’ mistakes, the game also was slowed by officiating confusion that led to several lengthy conferences. One delay took about 10 minutes to decide whether 49ers punt returner Ted Ginn Jr., muffed a second-quarter kick.

NOTES: Welker now has 100 catches this season, the fifth time he has reached that number, an NFL record. … New England has 506 points, the fourth time it has reached 500, also a league mark. … San Francisco had allowed only 184 points going into the game, lowest in the league. … Andy Lee averaged 54 yards net on five punts for the 49ers. … Brady’s 65 throws are a career high. … Brandon Lloyd had 10 catches for 190 yards for New England.

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10 young Afghan girls die in explosion; police believe it was a landmine

KABUL – An exploding bomb or landmine killed ten young girls as they were gathering firewood outside their village in eastern Afghanistan on Monday morning, an official said.

Police said they believed that the device was an unexploded mine that had been laid years ago and was triggered somehow as the girls walked through the open field. At least one other old mine was found nearby, provincial police spokesman Hazrat Mashreqiwal said. He also noted that the blast did not occur next to a road or any obvious target.

The girls who died ranged in age from nine to 13 and all came from different families in Dawlatzai village, said Mohammad Seddiq, the government administrator Nangarhar province’s Chaperhar district, which includes the vilage. Two more girls were seriously wounded and are in critical condition at a hospital, Seddiq said. He spoke to The Associated Press by phone from the site of the blast.

Afghanistan remains one of the most heavily landmined countries in the world despite years of clearance. Many mines are left in rural areas from the 1990s and discovered only when they are triggered accidentally.

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A few hours later, a car bomb exploded outside of a compound housing a U.S. military contractor in the Afghan capital, blowing apart an exterior wall and wounding dozens inside, company representatives and police said.

The blast on the outskirts of Kabul sent a plume of smoke up in the air and shook windows more than two kilometres away in the city centre.

The security officer for Contrack, a McLean, Va.-based company that builds facilities for military bases, said a suicide attacker drove a vehicle packed with explosives up to the exterior wall of the compound and detonated the bomb. Afghan police said they could not confirm if it was a suicide attack or a remotely detonated bomb that had been placed in a parked vehicle.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in an email to reporters that it was a suicide car bomber who targeted the compound because it was a company working with the government.

Contrack did not respond to calls or emails asking for comment.

Deputy Interior Ministry spokesman Najibullah Danish said that at least one person was killed in the attack. It was not immediately clear if this could have been the attacker.

Contrack security officer Baryalai, who like many Afghans only goes by one name, said he could only confirm wounded. He said the injured employees included Americans, Afghans and South Africans. An American official of the company was seriously wounded, he said.

An Associated Press reporter at the site saw large sections of exterior wall blown apart and a collapsed roof on a building inside. Twisted metal from shipping containers that had been ripped open by the explosion littered the ground. A light snow was falling all morning and was already starting to cover the debris as reporters and investigators surveyed the site. It appeared that the wall at the site of the explosion was made of mud brick – surprising in a city where most foreign contractors live in compounds reinforced by concrete blast walls.

Baryalai said the arm of the company that was attacked Monday is building barracks and other facilities for the Afghan army. Contrack’s projects in Afghanistan also include fuel storage, airfield construction and tanker facilities for U.S. military bases, according to its website.

A worker coming out of the building said that he saw at least 30 people wounded.

“There was massive destruction inside … I was sitting behind my computer when it happened. I was not hurt but I saw many of my colleagues were injured,” Bashir Farhang said.

Jalalabad road, where the explosion occurred, is one of the main arteries into the city. It is flanked by a number of foreign companies and organization, along with foreign military bases.

Sponsor of Islamic conference featuring Justin Trudeau bows out amid controversy

TORONTO – Criticism of Liberal MP Justin Trudeau’s planned appearance at an Islamic conference has prompted a sponsor to bow out after scrutiny of the event highlighted the group’s stripped charity status.

The organizers of the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference say the decision for IRFAN-Canada to withdraw was made after the Liberal leadership hopeful came under fire for his plans to attend the annual event.

IRFAN had its status revoked by the Canada Revenue Agency in 2011 for allegedly using deceptive fundraising to send nearly $15 million in donations to organizations with ties to the Islamic militant group Hamas.

IRFAN denies any wrongdoing, is challenging the ruling and the group’s lawyer said it decided to withdraw from the upcoming conference to avoid causing further controversy.

Some Jewish groups and media outlets raised concerns last week about Trudeau attending a conference backed by IRFAN.

Trudeau has already brushed off questions about making a keynote speech on Dec. 22.

When asked last week about his participation plans, he said much of the controversy over his appearance was based on misinformation.

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“I’ve heard a number of people express concerns about this event that I certainly don’t understand and I don’t share,” he said at a news conference.

“Most of the organizers are young Muslims who are looking at trying to bridge the gap between the reality for Muslim Canadians and mainstream Canada and I’m very proud to be able to contribute.”

Naseer Syed, a lawyer for IRFAN, said Sunday that the group has been unfairly criticized.

He said it’s unfortunate that the controversy over Trudeau’s participation drew attention to IRFAN’s dispute with the federal tax agency and prompted the group to withdraw from the conference.

The allegations regarding Hamas are misleading, Syed said. The non-profit organization sent medical supplies and money to people who needed it through local certified charities, he said.

IRFAN nevertheless decided to withdraw to avoid creating further controversy, he said.

“The ultimate thing that changed this year was politics,” he said.

Farhia Ahmed, a spokeswoman for Reviving the Islamic Spirit, said she hopes the issue won’t detract from the convention.

She said it’s organized every year by about 400 young Canadian volunteers and the goal is to foster intelligent debate and tolerance.

The aim, she said, is to create an environment where people can come to “exchange ideas.”

Trudeau wouldn’t be the first political figure to speak at the conference.

Previous participants include the late NDP leader Jack Layton and federal cabinet minister Julian Fantino, who at the time was Toronto’s police chief.

Last year, on the conference’s 10th anniversary, Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a congratulatory statement and issued certificates to each of the event’s speakers.