Reid proposes ‘millionaires tax’ to pay for jobs bill

Senate Democrats intend to jettison provisions that President Obama recommended to pay for his jobs bill and substitute a tax surcharge on millionaires, officials said Tuesday, hoping to unify the party for a protracted political struggle with Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., outlined plans for a 5 percent surcharge in a closed-door meeting with the rank and file, according to participants in the session, as Obama traveled to Texas to deliver his most caustic challenge yet to House Republicans who have not allowed a vote on the legislation unveiled nearly a month ago.

“What’s the problem? Do they not have the time? They just had a week off. Is it inconvenient?” he said in Mesquite, Texas, singling out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for special criticism.

There was no indication Cantor, R-Va., or the House Republicans would agree.

Supreme Court appears to support death-row inmate

An Alabama death-row inmate who missed an appeal deadline because of a mailroom mix-up at a New York law firm received an especially sympathetic hearing from the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The justices seemed to be searching for a way to grant Cory Maples, who is not claiming innocence in a double murder, a chance to pursue in lower courts his claim of ineffective counsel at his trial.

He missed the deadline for making those claims after the notice of a judge’s ruling in the case was returned unopened from the mailroom of the firm of Sullivan and Cromwell. Two junior associates who had agreed to represent Maples in his post-conviction appeals left the case without telling him. A county clerk did nothing more when he received the letters marked “return to sender.”

Justice Samuel Alito told Alabama officials that he could not understand why they would contest Maples’s request for a new hearing.

“Mr. Maples has lost his right to appeal through no fault of his own, through a series of very unusual and unfortunate circumstances,” Alito told Alabama Solicitor General John Neiman.


Helicopter crashes into river; one killed and four injured

A helicopter with five people aboard crashed into the East River on Tuesday afternoon after taking off from a launch pad on the riverbank, killing one passenger and injuring the others.

New York Police Department divers pulled the dead woman from about 50 feet of water about an hour after the Bell 206 helicopter went down around 3 p.m. All the passengers appeared to be British tourists, police said.

Officers usually assigned to counterterrorism duties heard of the crash and arrived at the scene to find the chopper inverted in the murky water with just its skids showing on the surface. Firefighters also responded to the scene.

The pilot, Paul Dudley, and three passengers were bobbing in the chilly water, and it looked as though a man was diving down and coming back up, possibly in an attempt to rescue the remaining passenger, witnesses said.

Officers jumped in and pulled out two women and a man, police spokesman Paul Browne said. The women were in critical condition, and the man was stable. All were hospitalized.


Man caught with bomb in underwear defiant in court

A Nigerian man accused of trying to bring down a jetliner with a bomb in his underwear made a defiant political outburst Tuesday, demonstrating again why his courtroom behavior will be closely watched throughout the trial where he’s representing himself.

“The mujahadeen will wipe out the U.S. — the cancer U.S.,” said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, referring to Muslim guerrilla fighters.

In nearly two years of legal proceedings, Abdulmutallab has normally been polite and studious in front of the judge and prospective jurors. But in the moments before court, he’s shown a tendency to make comments reflecting loyalty to al-Qaida and contempt for the United States.

The 24-year-old is charged in federal court with trying to destroy the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight on Christmas 2009. He has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is expected to last three or four weeks.


Militants linked to al-Qaida kill 70 in truck bombing

Al-Qaida-linked militants launched their deadliest single bombing in Somalia on Tuesday, killing 70 people and demonstrating how the group that blocked aid to famine victims can still mount devastating violence even after most of its fighters fled the capital in August.

A truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded outside the Ministry of Education on one of central Mogadishu’s busiest streets, where students and their parents were registering for scholarships offered by the Turkish government.

Rebels of the al-Shabab militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was striking government officials and foreigners — referring to African Union peacekeeping troops supporting the U.N.-backed regime.

Although the Islamic fighters made what they called a “tactical withdrawal” from their bases in Mogadishu amid an AU offensive in August, they had vowed to carry out devastating suicide attacks.


U.S. donating $121 million to fight food insecurity

A top U.S. aid official says the U.S. will donate more than $121 million to Ethiopia to fight food insecurity amid a drought.

USAID director Raj Shah said Tuesday during a visit to Ethiopia’s capital that the U.S. will provide $110 million to a program that will benefit 1.5 million people. He says another $10 million will be spent on a nutrition program and $1.2 million given in loans to encourage farmers.

More than 4.5 million Ethiopians need food assistance. East Africa’s drought has developed into a famine in neighboring Somalia. The U.N. says 750,000 people are in danger of dying over the next few months. The U.N. estimates tens of thousands have died already.