US Tax Cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama met with Democratic congressional leaders at the White House on Monday, eager to seal a year-end bipartisan agreement to extend expiring tax cuts to all Americans and renew jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.

The White House also has been floating the possibility of including a temporary payroll tax holiday in any agreement as a way to help stimulate the economy, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss recent developments.

Democrats have been critical of Obama for signaling a willingness to bow to Republican demands that any tax cut extension apply at upper income levels as well as to the middle class.

The White House meeting took place shortly after Obama returned to Washington from a trip to North Carolina, where he said he and Congress must “make sure we’re coming up with a solution, even if it’s not 100 percent what I want or 100 percent what the Republicans want.”

Momentum for a year-end deal picked up after Obama met at the White House last week with Republican leaders for the first time since his party’s dispiriting losses in midterm elections, and accelerated again when the government reported last week that joblessness had risen in November, to 9.8 percent.

The flurry of negotiations is taking place with lawmakers eager to wrap up their work for the year and adjourn for the holidays.

Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have all said in recent days they believe a deal on tax cuts and unemployment benefits is possible by midweek. If so, that would leave time for the Senate to hold a ratification debate on a new arms control treaty with Russia, which Obama has made a top year-end priority.

Senate Republicans have seemed more willing to hold a ratification debate in recent days as the negotiations over taxes intensified, suggesting at least an implicit link between the two issues in the talks.

Few details of the negotiations were available, including the length of a payroll tax holiday under discussion.

But it appeared increasingly likely that any extension of the Bush-era income tax cuts would be for two years.

Obama and Democrats have long insisted that tax cuts be allowed to lapse for incomes over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples, saying that would cushion the impact on the deficit.

On the other hand, Republicans want all tax cuts extended permanently, arguing it made no economic sense to raise taxes with the economy still recovering from the recession.

Questions remained about how many concessions Obama could extract from Republicans in exchange for extending current tax rates for high earners, a proposal he opposed. But without action, lawmakers face the prospect of delivering a tax hike to all taxpayers at the end of the year, when the current rates expire and revert to higher pre-2001 and 2003 levels.

Negotiations between the Obama administration and a bipartisan group of lawmakers centered on a two-year extension of current rates.

At the same time, a jump in the unemployment rate to 9.8 percent is putting pressure on Republicans to accede to Obama’s demand that Congress extend unemployment insurance for a year. GOP congressional leaders had opposed an extension of benefits without cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

“I think most folks believe the recipe would include at least an extension of unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed and an extension of all of the tax rates for all Americans for some period of time,” Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate’s Republican negotiator in the talks, said Sunday.

Central to the deal, White House officials and Democrats said, is an extension of unemployment benefits.

“Without unemployment benefits being extended, personally, this is a nonstarter,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership.

Republicans have insisted that any extension of jobless aid be paid for with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. The White House opposes that, saying such cuts are economically damaging during a weak recovery.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Republicans would probably cede that point to the Democrats.

“Let’s take care of the unemployment compensation even if it isn’t … backed up by real finances,” Hatch said. “We’ve got to do it. So let’s do it. But that ought to be it.”

About 2 million unemployed workers will run out of benefits this month if they are not renewed, and the administration estimates 7 million will be affected if the payments are not extended for a year.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday said discussions are still under way on a variety of unresolved issues.

Any deal would require the approval of the House and Senate, and the president’s signature. Obama told Democratic congressional leaders Saturday that he would oppose any extension of tax rates that did not include jobless benefits and other assistance his administration was seeking.

The short-term tax and spending debate is unfolding even as Congress and the Obama administration confront growing anxieties over the federal government’s growing deficits.

A presidential commission studying the deficit identified austere measures last week to cut $4 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade.

The movement toward a possible compromise came after Republicans blocked Democratic efforts in the Senate Saturday to extend the current tax rates on all but the highest income levels. Republicans prefer extending all the tax rates permanently, but that cannot win legislative approval either. Even if it did, Obama would be sure to veto.

Durbin and Kyl spoke Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” while Hatch appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and McConnell on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Anime Comes to life in DC

Fans gathered in Washington DC to share their love for Anime!

By: Corey Honeycutt

evenstar1@bellsouth.net

CHATTANOOGA/Tenn.(UTC/LOOP)–  The Hyatt Regency in Crystal City Alrington, VA. played host to one of many Japanese animation conventions on the weekend of November 12-14th.

Hyatt Regency Crystal City

Hyatt Regency Crystal City, photographer unknown

Anime USA was started by fans in 1999 and became a non profit educational organization in 2004. It’s slogan “Of Otaku, By Otaku and For Otaku has held true throughout its years.

It started off as most conventions with a few hundred people. It now brings in around 5,000 fans a year to the Crystal City Hyatt Regency.

Fans ranging in all ages show up dressed as their favorite characters, from animes and games ranging from Pokemon and Final Fantasy to more obscure titles such as 07 Ghost.

This form of dressing up is called cosplay or “costume play.” It originated in Japan, but has been gaining more and more popularity here in the U.S.

Kuroshitsuji Photoshoot

Kuroshitsuji Photoshoot, photo by Corey Honeycutt

Fans can also put together skits and compete against each other for the title of Best in Show in the masquerade which is the highlight of most conventions and draws the biggest crowds.

Shanna Labriola potrayed the character Van from the series Escaflowne. Her costume consisted of hand made wings from chicken wire, felt and feathers. Overall her outfit took her 25 hours to make.

Van from Escaflowne, Photo by Refractor Productions

“My cousin took me to a convention and that’s how I got started into cosplaying.”

The convention played host to not only the fans to but to many guests who work in the industry such as voice actors, artists, directors and professional costumers.

This year’s guests were voice actors Brina Palencia, Cristina Vee, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Patrick Seitz and Christopher Sabat. Megan Murphy, Heidi Arnold and Monica Gallagher are a few of the artists guest and Clockwork Dolls, Promise Sisters and Echostream were the bands.

Brina Palencia recently landed the main role of Ciel Phantomhive in the anime Black Butler(Kuroshitsuji).  Black Butler is an anime gaining popularity over here in the US and already has a big fan base. She has voiced small and large roles in such popular animes as Fullmetal Alchemist, Nabari no Ou, Darker Than Black and XXXholic.

“My favorite role has to be Natsuki in Summer Wars, because she is raised by her grandmother and I was raised by my grandmother. It is probably the most genuine acting I’ve ever done.”

Even though she has voiced main characters in the past when asked how she felt about the part of Ciel she said she was terrified.

Brina Palencia, photo by Corey Honeycutt

“It’s really exciting, but I’m so terrified about it. I feel I worked very hard on the part and researched the accent. I’m proud of the work I did, I’m just hoping the fans like it. ”

Brina Palencia just finished a web series called Throwingstones on top of her other voice acting roles.

“It’s sort of a Breakfast Club meets horror movie.”

AUSA is just one of many conventions dedicated to anime, games and manga. There are enough conventions to go to one every weekend. They range from smaller ones with only to a few hundred people, to over 50,000 people.

So if you feel that Halloween is to short a time to dress up, or have a knack for creating costumes and are an anime or gaming fan, there are plenty of conventions to choose from.

Other conventions are listed below that can be attended throughout the year in many different states.

Otakon

Katsucon

Connooga

Chattacon

Anime Weekend Atlanta

Chattanooga Haunts Unveiled

Every city has its tales of ghosts and phantoms. The same goes for Chattanooga and the many historic landmarks where these ghostly beings still call home.

By: Corey Honeycutt

evenstar1@bellsouth.net

Chattanooga/Tenn.(UTC/LOOP)–Chattanooga has become quite a tourist attraction as it continues to build and expand. It’s come a long way from the city it started  back during the Civil War.  With such a history its only natural to have a few skeletons in its closet.

In 1867 Chattanooga was flooded when the Tennessee river rose 57-feet. Many lost their lives and homes as the waters continued to rise leaving downtown Chattanooga in ruins. Once the waters receded survivors picked up their lives where they could and rebuilt their town 20-feet above the original. The memory of the flood and old city were lost as the years past, until it was discovered by an archeologists and UTC Professor Dr. Jeff Brown.

Brown discovered that below the streets of Chattanooga lies a lost time with stairs leading to no where and doors opening into nothing. Old signs with peeling paint hang lopsided from the rotting ceilings as the old town attempts to hang on to what it once was.

With such a tragedy its not shocking that there have been numerous ghost sightings by visitors who find their way underground. From phantoms to ghost horses, it seems that the people of the past have not yet let go of their old way of life.

Stairs that go nowhere

Stairs that go nowhere (photographer unknown)

The Delta Queen a historic stern-wheel built in 1926  recently made Chattanooga her home and brought her ghosts along with her.

The Delta Queen has been  converted into a hotel since it docked in Chattanooga and has been entertaining guests ever since. However, some of those guests seem to have never checked out.

The best known of these is the ghost of Mary Greene, who is the main ghost on board but by far not the only one.

Mary B. Greene forbade drinking on the Delta Queen during her life there. However, after she died that policy changed and a bar was installed. Not long after, a barge crashed into the Delta Queen and destroyed the bar. The name of the barge was the Mary B, almost as if she was determined to keep her policy alive even after her death.

This photo shows what is believed to be the ghostly figure of Mary B. Greene standing in one of the lower deck windows. The inset picture shows a close up of the ghostly figure.

Ghost of Mary Greene on the Delta Queen

Ghost of Mary Greene on the Delta Queen(picture taken by Tamara Hancock 2010)

Chattanooga’s Read House hotel is another popular haunt for spirits of the past to hang around. It’s a popular stop on the Chattanooga ghost tours and many paranormal investigations.

The Read House’s history isn’t the happiest of ones. The original hotel that was built on the spot was in 1847 and called the Old Crutchfield house. In 1867 it was used as a hospital by the Union army and then burned down shortly after. Dr. John T. Read rebuilt the hotel after the old hotel was demolished in 1926.

Throughout its history many famous names have stayed there such as Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchhill.  One of the most famous names to have stayed, was Al Capone, who stayed in room 311 during his days in court where he was convicted.

Room 311 is the main source of the paranormal activity at the Read House as many who have stayed there have claimed to see ghostly shadows in the room or mirror and other unexplained happenings. There is no documented story of why there may be a ghost in that particular room but there are rumors of a young woman, who was either a prostitute or mistress who was brutally murdered there.

Sheraton Read House hotel

Sheraton Read House hotel

The most common occurrence of  paranormal activity is the appearance of orbs, said to be the manifestation of spirits. They usually appear to be balls of light caught on camera.

Chattanooga holds many past secrets and lives that refuse to let go and possibly live among us today.

Rescued Chilean Miner to Visit Graceland

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — For rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena, New York comes first. Next are Graceland and Las Vegas.

Pena is set to arrive in New York on Thursday to attend Sunday’s New York City Marathon after officials invited him. Word is the triathlete wants to run it.

The 34-year-old Pena’s trip to New York also will include a scheduled appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” on Thursday evening.

But the star treatment won’t end there.

On Wednesday, Elvis Presley Enterprises said Pena accepted an invitation to Graceland, set for Jan. 6 to Jan. 9, which coincides with the anniversary of Elvis’s birthday on Jan. 8, 1935. Pena will get a private tour of the mansion and Elvis’ grave, and will visit the exhibits across the street.

After that, he will be flown to Las Vegas to watch “Viva Elvis,” the Cirque du Soleil show based on Elvis’ music.

Pena is an Elvis fan who reportedly jogged to his music and conducted sing-alongs while trapped underground for 69 days with 32 fellow miners in Chile. Their saga and rescue last month earned worldwide attention.

When Elvis Presley Enterprises heard Pena was a fan, it sent various gifts to Chile, including a picture, DVDs, CDs, a book and sunglasses. “Viva Las Vegas” and “Jailhouse Rock,” were among the movies.

Both the Las Vegas and Graceland trips are on the house, with the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and Delta Airlines helping with the tab. The visit to Memphis will include a stay at The Peabody Hotel and the chance to try Memphis’ famous barbecue.

Actors put on their scariest faces for this years Haunted Caverns

By: Corey Honeycutt

evenstar1@bellsouth.net

Chattanooga/Tenn.(UTC/LOOP)–October is the time of year when the leaves begin to change color, and the air is cooloer and crisper. However, it’s best known for that favorite holiday of kids, Halloween.

What better way to spend an evening than going from house to house asking for free candy and dressing up as your favorite super hero or villian. It’s a time of year when you get to be something you aren’t.

This is also the time when haunted houses and attractions go up each boasting to be scarier than the last. Patrons go through these haunts looking for the thrill that only  a haunted attraction can bring, but what goes in to these attractions to make them possible?

A well known haunt in Chattanooga is the Ruby Falls Haunted Caverns, that has been rated one of the best haunts in the Southeast for the past few years. This haunt is made up of around 75 actors ranging from ages 16 and up. The actors are only one part of this haunt that keep it running. Behind the scenes there are makeup artist, the creators and Ruby Falls staff that make it all possible.

Josh Philpott a student at UTC and veteran of the Haunted Caverns has been a slider there for the past few years. He started at the haunted caverns when he ran into Todd Patton at a halloween store and discovered that they had a similiar interest in making running a haunt.

“Todd introduced me to sliding and its a powerful scare tactic and I love doing it.”

Todd Patton has been doing haunts professionally for years and commutes between Chattanooga and Nashville to run the haunts he has there and here. Todd and Tim ? created the Haunted Caverns  five years ago and have been creating new  and scarier scenarios to take place in the Caverns ever since.

“I actually got into it because of charity and started my first charity haunt back in 1998.”

This years story is about a deadly disease that breaks out in the town Hannibal Hill called the Cerberus virus. The virus causes the infected to lose their sense of being and have a lust for human flesh. There are four stages of the virus. Infectids, Carrions and Scourges with the fourth being the most deadly, Sliders.

Guests will find themselves in a completely different world as they descend the 260 feet under ground and are ushered along by scientists and military who are only trying to get them out alive. Your only guiding light through this nightmare is the dull green glow of a single glow stick.

The Haunted Caverns will be scaring patrons every weekend from now until Halloween.

Tainted Wine kills 14 people in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Fourteen people have died from drinking wine tainted with weed killer at a ceremony where the Cambodian villagers were appealing to spirits to protect children.

Twenty people still were hospitalized Monday.

Police in the eastern province of Kampong Cham said the victims drank locally produced rice wine from a bottle that had previously contained toxic herbicide. They are still investigating but believe the poisoning was accidental.

Provincial police chief Nuon Samin said people felt weak soon after drinking the wine at the ceremony Saturday. Nine died soon after, and five more on Sunday and Monday, even though doctors rushed to the village.

The community is 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the capital Phnom Penh.

Remains of missing man found from Nashville flood 2010

By: Corey Honeycutt

evenstar1@bellsouth.net

Chattanooga/Tenn.(UTC/LOOP)–Months after the flood that left most of downtown Nashville and the surrounding area’s under water in May 2010, the remains of a man who went missing have finally been found.

Police identified the remains that were found along the Harpeth River as those of 39-year-old Danny Tomlinson of Pegram in Cheatham County.

Tomlinson’s car had been swept away by flood waters. A passenger that was with him had managed to escape by kicking out the side window.

Tomlinson was just one of many lives lost due to the flash flood.

The flooding was one of the worst to have happened in the southeast and left many homeless, and millions of dollars of damage in its wake. The city of Nashville had no time to prepare as heavy rain fell for two days straight, covering the city in several feet of water within a manner of hours.