Nation roundup for January 1
9 killed in Ore. tour bus crash
PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — A tour bus careened through a guardrail along an icy Oregon highway and 100 feet down a steep embankment Sunday, killing nine people and injuring more than 20 others, authorities said.
The charter bus carrying about 40 people lost control around 10:30 a.m. on snow- and ice-covered lanes of Interstate 84 in a rural area of eastern Oregon, according to the Oregon State Police. The bus crashed near the start of a 7-mile section of road that winds down a hill.
The bus came to rest at the bottom of a snowy slope and landed upright, with little or no debris visible around the crash site.
More than a dozen rescue workers descended the hill and used ropes to help retrieve people from the wreckage in freezing weather. The bus driver was among the survivors, but had not yet spoken to police because of the severity of the injuries the driver had suffered.
Lt. Gregg Hastings said the bus crashed along the west end of the Blue Mountains, and west of an area called Deadman Pass. The area is so dangerous the state transportation department published specific warnings for truck drivers, advising it had “some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest” and can lead to slick conditions and poor visibility.
St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton treated 26 people from the accident, said hospital spokesman Larry Blanc. Five of those treated at St. Anthony were transported to other facilities.
The East Oregonian said it spoke with two South Korean passengers, ages 16 and 17. Both said through a translator that they were seated near the rear of the bus when it swerved a few times, hit the guardrail and flipped. They described breaking glass and seeing passengers pinned by their seats as the bus slid down the hill.
Wilmington 10 receive pardons
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Outgoing North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue issued pardons Monday to the Wilmington 10, a group wrongly convicted 40 years ago in a notorious Civil Rights-era prosecution that led to accusations that the state was holding political prisoners.
Perdue issued pardons of innocence Monday for the nine black men and one white woman who received prison sentences totaling nearly 300 years for the 1971 firebombing of a Wilmington grocery store during three days of violence that included the shooting of a black teenager by police.
The pardon means the state no longer thinks the 10 — four of whom have since died — committed a crime.
“I have decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington Ten, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained,” Perdue said in a news release Monday.
The three key witnesses in the case later recanted their testimony. Amnesty International and other groups took up the issue, portraying the Wilmington 10 as political prisoners.
In 1978, then-Gov. Jim Hunt commuted their sentences but withheld a pardon. Two years later, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., threw out the convictions, saying perjury and prosecutorial misconduct were factors in the verdicts.
“We are tremendously grateful to Gov. Perdue for her courage,” said Benjamin Chavis, the former national NAACP executive director who was in jail and prison for about five years before his release. “This is a historic day for North Carolina and the United States. People should be innocent until proven guilty, not persecuted for standing up for equal rights and justice.”
Md. gay couples prepare to marry
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gay couples are preparing for New Year’s Day weddings in the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line to allow same-sex marriage, which will become legal in Maryland on Tuesday.
The new law takes effect at 12:01 a.m. and follows a legislative fight that pitted Gov. Martin O’Malley against leaders of his Catholic faith. Voters in the state, founded by Catholics in the 17th century, sealed the change by approving a November ballot question.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Jim Scales, who made a Christmas present of his marriage license to William Tasker, his partner of 35 years. Scales, 68, and Tasker, 60, plan to be married at a ceremony at Baltimore City Hall by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake shortly after midnight.
Same-sex couples in Maryland have been able to get marriage licenses since Dec. 6, but they do not take effect until Tuesday.
In 2011, same-sex marriage legislation passed in the state Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates. O’Malley hadn’t made the issue a key part of his 2011 legislative agenda, but indicated that summer that he was considering backing a measure similar to New York’s law, which includes exemptions for religious organizations.
Stocks shoot up amid ‘cliff’ hopes
NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market shot higher on Monday even as the “fiscal cliff” neared. By the time trading ended, Republicans and Democrats still hadn’t reached a budget compromise — but investors were betting that they would.
It was a dramatic day on what turned out to be a strong year for stocks. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 13.4 percent for the year, after finishing flat in 2011. It was the index’s best year since 2009, and it came despite overhanging problems like Europe’s debt crisis and anemic U.S. growth, bringing U.S. indexes close to their highs reached before the 2008 financial crisis.
Including dividends, the gain for the S&P 500 was even higher — 16 percent.
The close Monday was a high note in what had been a choppy day for the market, as choppy as the “fiscal cliff” deal-making that has been yanking it around. It also marked a turnaround after five straight days of “cliff”-influenced losses.
The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 both climbed more than 1 percent. The Nasdaq composite index rose 2 percent.
Stocks fell at the opening of trading Monday and struggled for direction throughout the morning. The indecisiveness overlaid a day of dramatic budget negotiations in Washington, where lawmakers were trying to hammer out a new budget deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.” That refers to automatic tax increases and government spending cuts that will kick in without a budget deal.
Stocks jerked higher at midday following reports that the bare outline of a deal to avoid the “cliff” had been knit together. The gains faded after President Barack Obama said in the early afternoon that a compromise was “within sight,” but not finalized. Then, in the late afternoon, the indexes shot higher again. Congressional Republicans and the Democratic White House said they had agreed on some measures, but still had no final deal in hand.
At the close of trading, Dow Jones industrial average was up 166.03 points, finishing the year at 13,104.14. That’s a gain of 7.3 percent for the year, its fourth straight year of gains.
The S&P 500 rose 23.76 to 1,426.19. The Nasdaq composite climbed 59.20 to 3,019.51. For the year the Nasdaq rose 15.9 percent.
With the “fiscal cliff” still closing in, investors’ opinions about its potential impact varied, making its long-term effect on the market hard to guess.
Some investors are unruffled. They think that even if the U.S. does go over the “cliff,” it would be more akin to the anti-climactic Y2K scare than a true Armageddon. The “cliff’s” impact would be felt only gradually, they reason. For example, workers might get more taxes withheld from their first couple of paychecks in the new year, but it’s not as if they’d have to pay all their higher taxes up front on Tuesday. And Congress could always retroactively repeal those higher taxes.
Others are more concerned. The higher taxes and lower government spending could take more than $600 billion out of the U.S. economy and send it back into recession. Investors would have no good read on the country’s long-term policy for taxes and spending.
The psychological impact — the U.S. would essentially be broadcasting that its lawmakers can’t compromise — would also hurt.
“We’re having a fragile recovery, with the pain of 2008 still fresh on everybody’s mind,” said Joe Heider, principal at Rehmann Group outside Cleveland. “It’s fear of the unknown. And fear is one of the greatest drivers of the financial markets.”
Tim Speiss, partner in charge of the personal wealth advisers practice at EisnerAmper in New York, followed the “cliff” negotiations on Monday and wondered if the U.S. would get its debt rating cut again. The Standard & Poor’s ratings agency cut its rating of the U.S. government amid similar negotiations in August 2011, when lawmakers were arguing over the government’s borrowing limit. S&P said at the time that the “political brinksmanship” highlighted how “America’s governance and policymaking (is) becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable.” Its rating cut sent the stock market into a tailspin.
The other major ratings agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, have suggested that they might lower their ratings of the U.S. because of the “fiscal cliff.”
“That is, unfortunately, the big story,” Speiss said.
It’s also one of the only stories. There’s been little other news to trade on during the holiday season, giving the “fiscal cliff” drama outsized influence. No major companies are scheduled to report earnings this week. The most significant economic indicator scheduled for this week, the government’s monthly jobs report, won’t be released until Friday.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.76 percent from 1.70 percent late Friday, a sign that investors were moving money into stocks.
Some of the best-performing stocks for the year were those that were making up for deep losses in 2011. Homebuilder PulteGroup nearly tripled after falling for five of the previous six years. Appliance maker Whirlpool and Bank of America more than doubled over the year, after falling by double-digit percentages in 2011.
Some of the worst performers of 2012 were Best Buy, Hewlett-Packard and J.C. Penney. All are struggling to keep up with competitors who have adapted more quickly to changing technologies and customer tastes. They were all up for the day, but were all down at least 44 percent for the year.
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