National briefs (2/16/12)

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Congress inches toward tax deal

WASHINGTON -- Congress is calmly inching toward approving a payroll tax cut and other help for the economy without the bitter rancor that's colored economic debates since President Barack Obama took office three years ago.

Lawmakers are widely expected to give bipartisan approval this week to extending the Social Security payroll tax cut, now scheduled to end Feb. 29, through the end of the year.

They're also likely to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed and to stave off a huge planned cut in Medicare payments to physicians.

More than 160 million workers pay Social Security tax on up to $110,100 of their wages. The rate, now 4.2 percent, is scheduled to return to 6.2 percent next month unless the break is extended. The extension should save the average worker, earning $50,000 a year, about $20 per week.

Last FEMA trailer departs

NEW ORLEANS -- The last FEMA trailer in New Orleans has left the city, closing a brutal chapter in New Orleans' history more than six years after Hurricane Katrina stormed through the region and the levee system failed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday announced the departure of the trailer, officially known as a temporary housing unit, on Sunday.

The temporary housing units, which included travel trailers and mobile homes, became a symbol of the scale of the 2005 Katrina disaster.

Foreclosure errors found

SAN FRANCISCO -- An audit by San Francisco officials of about 400 recent foreclosures there determined that almost all involved either legal violations or suspicious documentation, according to a report released Wednesday.

Commissioned by Phil Ting, the San Francisco assessor-recorder, the report examined files of properties subject to foreclosure sales in the county from January 2009 to November 2011. About 84 percent of the files contained what appear to be clear violations of law, it said, and fully two-thirds had at least four violations or irregularities.

The report comes just days after the $26 billion settlement over foreclosure improprieties between five major banks and 49 state attorneys general, including California's.

Occupy protesters evicted

NEWARK, N.J. -- Authorities swept in shortly after midnight Wednesday and ended what appeared to be a relatively harmonious co-existence between the city of Newark and its occupiers.

At Military Park, the site of Occupy Newark, about two dozen police officers and firefighters disassembled what was left of the movement's encampment and loaded much of it into the back of a city truck: more than a dozen tents, a canopy, a sofa, pallets, blankets and other items.

No arrests were made, although about a dozen protesters in the park taunted the officers as they worked.

Also in the nation...

An Arizona state legislator has introduced a bill that would punish public school teachers if they use words that violate the obscenity and profanity guidelines set forth by the Federal Communications Commission. State Sen. Lori Klein introduced the measure because a parent in her district complained about a high school teacher using foul language. ... A federal trial began Wednesday in Phoenix, Ariz., for an Indiana man accused of forcing his grandsons to hike for miles in the Grand Canyon without food or water in brutal August heat. Investigators have said that Christopher Alan Carlson of Indianapolis told them that the boys were overweight and that he thought hiking the Grand Canyon would help get them into shape.

-- Compiled from news services



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