Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Four dead as Haiti vote protests turn ugly

by Clarens Renois, AFP

31 mins ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Thousands of protesters rampaged in Haitian towns Wednesday, torching buildings in armed clashes that left four dead, after election results triggered bitter accusations of vote-rigging, witnesses said.

Supporters of popular singer Michel Martelly took to the streets after Tuesday night’s results showed he had been narrowly beaten into third place in the race for the presidency of the impoverished Caribbean nation.

Instead, President Rene Preval’s handpicked protege Jude Celestin defied all predictions to snap up second place and a coveted slot in January’s run-off in which he will battle a former first lady for the nation’s top job.

2 Haiti on edge after disputed poll results

by Clarens Renois, AFP

Wed Dec 8, 3:46 am ET

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Angry protests Wednesday greeted the announcement in Haiti that President Rene Preval’s handpicked protege had made it through to a presidential run-off by fewer than 7,000 votes.

The United States reacted immediately through its embassy in Port-au-Prince, voicing concern at the “inconsistent” results, pleading for calm and appealing for the will of the Haitian people to be respected.

Ruling party candidate Jude Celestin defied pre-election opinion polls and unofficial estimates to finish second in the November 28 polls behind former first lady Mirlande Manigat, with the top two qualifying for the run-off, electoral officials said.

3 Hackers launch cyber attacks after WikiLeaks’ funding cut

by Andre Lehmann, AFP

8 mins ago

ZURICH (AFP) – Hackers claimed Wednesday to have attacked the websites of Mastercard and a Swiss bank in revenge for their decisions to choke off funding for whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

Organisers of the group “Anonymous” said thousands of hackers had joined their effort to defend the site and its founder Julian Assange, and vowed to extend their campaign to anyone with an “anti-WikiLeaks agenda.”

WikiLeaks said it had nothing to do with the hacking.

4 WikiLeaks chief Assange behind bars in Britain

by Alice Ritchie, AFP

Tue Dec 7, 7:56 pm ET

LONDON (AFP) – WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange was refused bail Tuesday by a British judge over claims of sex crimes in Sweden, dealing a fresh blow to the website which vowed to stay online and reveal more US secrets.

The elusive 39-year-old Australian said he would fight an extradition request by Swedish authorities as he appeared in court in London just hours after he emerged from a month in hiding and surrendered to police.

Filmmaker Ken Loach, socialite Jemima Khan and campaigning journalist John Pilger each offered to put up part of his bail but a judge in London refused, saying a court would review the situation at a hearing on December 14.

5 Cyber attacks follow WikiLeaks’ funding cut


Wed Dec 8, 11:56 am ET

ZURICH (AFP) – Hackers claimed on Wednesday to have attacked the websites of Mastercard and a Swiss bank in apparent reprisal for their decisions to choke off funding for the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

As WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange spent his first full day in prison in London after he was refused bail on Wednesday, it emerged that one of Britain’s highest-profile lawyers will fight moves to extradite him to Sweden to face rape accusations.

Assange’s 20-year-old son meanwhile said he hoped his father’s arrest in Britain was not a “step towards his extradition to the US.”

6 WikiLeaks unfurls more cables as founder behind bars


Wed Dec 8, 7:21 am ET

LONDON (AFP) – WikiLeaks shrugged off the jailing of its founder by publishing a new tranche of secret diplomatic cables on Wednesday, heaping more embarrassment on the United States and some of its closest allies.

After Julian Assange spent his first night behind bars as a remand prisoner in London, his website revealed Washington had branded Australia’s ex-premier Kevin Rudd as a “mistake-prone control freak” and that the British government was relieved when its Scottish counterparts freed the Lockerbie bomber.

Assange’s son meanwhile said he hoped his father’s detention in Britain on Tuesday to answer accusations of rape in Sweden would not end up in his extradition to the US to answer possible charges about the leaks.

7 Eurogroup head attacks ‘un-European’ Germany

by Simon Sturdee, AFP

1 hr 23 mins ago

BERLIN (AFP) – Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker called Germany’s flat rejection of proposals for joint eurozone bonds “un-European” on Wednesday, prompting accusations from Berlin he was making markets uneasy.

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn also jumped into the fray, saying the situation in Europe remained troubling and that it faced posting very slow growth if it failed to pull itself together.

Juncker, who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers, told German weekly Die Zeit that Berlin had not even properly looked at his proposal, which was aimed at helping weaker eurozone members raise money.

8 Fire in crowded Chile prison kills 81 inmates

by Miguel Sanchez, AFP

1 hr 13 mins ago

SANTIAGO (AFP) – A jail fire killed at least 81 inmates in Santiago Wednesday in what officials said was the worst disaster on record in Chile’s overcrowded and “inhumane” prison system.

Another 21 people were wounded, with 14 of them in serious condition, after the blaze erupted during a brawl and swept through the crowded prison, where 1,900 inmates were packed into a facility built for 900.

“This is such a huge and painful tragedy,” Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said during a visit to the site. “We cannot continue to have an inhumane prison system… It has been a disgrace for decades.”

9 NASA, SpaceX giddy over historic orbit launch

by Kerry Sheridan, AFP

21 mins ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) – NASA and SpaceX chiefs shook their heads with disbelief and joy Wednesday after a perfect launch into orbit and back of the company’s Dragon capsule, a historic first for the future of space travel.

Never before has a private enterprise attempted to launch its own spacecraft to orbit the Earth and splash back down intact, and SpaceX pulled off the operation perfectly, NASA and company officials said.

The demonstration launch invigorated the US space agency and boosted confidence in the prospect of using commercial vendors to carry astronauts into space and to supply the International Space Station.

10 US company launches first private space capsule

by Kerry Sheridan, AFP

Wed Dec 8, 1:30 pm ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – American company SpaceX on Wednesday successfully launched a space capsule into orbit, marking the first such attempt by a private enterprise that could pave the way for the future of space travel.

The Dragon spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida atop the massive Falcon 9 rocket at 1543 GMT, and the bullet-shaped capsule entered orbit about 10 minutes later.

Next, the spacecraft was to circle the Earth twice before attempting a re-entry from low orbit and a splash landing into the Pacific Ocean, a risky operation that even the company said carried about a 70 percent likelihood of success.

11 Retired French electrician says heir to second Picasso trove

by Celine Agniel, AFP

Wed Dec 8, 12:01 pm ET

GRASSE, France (AFP) – A retired French electrician and his wife accused of handling hundreds of stolen Picasso works that they insist were gifts announced Wednesday they are heirs to another trove of his art.

The claim came less than two weeks after Pierre Le Guennec, an electrician who installed burglar alarms at some of Pablo Picasso’s homes in the 1970s, said the artist and his wife gave him a total of 271 works.

A magistrate is probing how Le Guennec came by the paintings and drawings, thought to be worth over 60 million euros (80 million dollars), and Picasso’s heirs have lodged a suit against him for handling stolen goods.

12 UN chief warns world failing on climate

by Shaun Tandon, AFP

Tue Dec 7, 6:17 pm ET

CANCUN, Mexico (AFP) – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Tuesday that the world was failing its last chance to control climate change, appealing to nations to ramp up slow but steady progress at talks in Mexico.

In an emphatic address to the 194-nation talks, the UN chief highlighted studies by scientists who say the world has a limited gateway to cut carbon emissions or risk irreversible damage to the planet.

“I’m deeply concerned that our efforts so far have been insufficient, that despite the evidence and many years of negotiation we are still not rising to the challenge,” Ban said as the two-week talks entered the final four days.

13 Defiant Obama defends tax cuts, eyes 2012

by Jo Biddle, AFP

Tue Dec 7, 5:20 pm ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama came out fighting Tuesday, urging Democratic allies to back a hard-won compromise deal on tax cuts and putting Republicans foes on notice ahead of the 2012 elections.

In face of criticism from many on the left of the Democratic Party, Obama passionately defended the deal that will see tax breaks extended for the wealthiest Americans saying his critics had to take a long-term view.

“I’m as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I’ve been for years. In the long run, we simply can’t afford them. And when they expire in two years, I will fight to end them,” Obama vowed at a White House press conference.

14 Leg-spinner Warne ‘flattered’ by comeback calls


Wed Dec 8, 7:52 am ET

LONDON (AFP) – Legendary leg-spinner Shane Warne has said calls for his return to Test cricket in a bid to boost Australia’s flagging Ashes hope are “very flattering”.

But he has also said Australia should now think about handing a debut to left-arm spinner Michael Beer.

Warne, 41, has not played Test cricket since retiring following Australia’s 5-0 whitewash of England on home soil in 2007.

15 Tax deal moves forward despite doubts

By Kim Dixon and Richard Cowan, Reuters

48 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A plan by President Barack Obama to broadly extend tax cuts moved forward on Wednesday despite opposition from his own Democrats and fear in bond markets of long-term damage to the economy.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said the chamber could begin to debate the proposal to extend all Bush-era income tax cuts within a day or two, in a sign Democrats may be conceding on the deal.

“It’s further along than most people think,” Reid said. “I don’t think there is a great more to be done on that.”

16 Treasury to cut AIG stake in big stock sale

By Paritosh Bansal and Ben Berkowitz, Reuters

27 mins ago

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Treasury plans to sell about one-fifth of insurer AIG through a stock offering in the first half of 2011, an important test of the government’s ability to profitably exit one of its most controversial bailouts.

American International Group Inc and the Treasury would both sell stock in the offering, which could total $10 billion to $15 billion, sources familiar with the matter said. That would place it among the largest secondary share offerings in history.

The news sent AIG’s shares down 3.7 percent to $42.32 as investors feared dilution, but the shares were still trading well above the approximately $30 level that taxpayers need to make a profit on the bailout.

17 China casts net wide in Nobel Prize crackdown

By Ben Blanchard, Reuters

1 hr 51 mins ago

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is conducting a sweeping crackdown on dissent before Friday’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, casting the net wide to prevent friends and family attending the ceremony in Oslo.

Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for subversion. His wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest. Even family members of little-known dissidents have been prevented from leaving China.

Lu Yuegang, who lost his job in 2006 at the China Youth Daily after a supplement was banned over provocative content, said his wife had been stopped from traveling to Hong Kong.

18 U.S. sends more subpoenas in insider trading probe

By Matthew Goldstein and Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Reuters

1 hr 6 mins ago

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Federal authorities have expanded an investigation into insider trading on Wall Street, bringing to more than one dozen the number of subpoenas sent to hedge funds and other investment firms over the past two weeks, people familiar with the inquiry said.

The new subpoenas signaled an intensification of one strand of a federal investigation focusing on funds that did business with so-called expert network firms. Those firms help investment managers meet industry experts to research a specific industry.

U.S. stocks, which had broadly rallied earlier on Tuesday, retreated after a Reuters report about the new subpoenas, although investors blamed other factors for the market’s about-face as well.

19 EU’s Juncker, Germany clash over euro zone bonds

By Sarah Marsh and Kirsten Donovan, Reuters

Wed Dec 8, 1:16 pm ET

BERLIN/LONDON (Reuters) – Bickering among European Union leaders escalated on Wednesday over a proposal for joint euro zone bonds to overcome the bloc’s debt crisis, with Germany saying it opposed the idea on legal and economic grounds.

The chairman of finance ministers of the 16-nation single currency area, Jean-Claude Juncker, criticized German leaders for dismissing his suggestion for “E-bonds” to deter speculation against euro zone countries without examining it properly.

“The proposal is being rejected before it has been studied,” Juncker was quoted as saying in an interview with the newspaper Die Zeit. “Germany’s thinking is a bit simple on that.”

20 U.S. fiscal health worse than Europe’s: China adviser


1 hr 29 mins ago

BEIJING (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar will be a safe investment for the next six to 12 months because global markets are focused on the euro zone’s troubles but America’s fiscal health is worse than Europe’s, an adviser to the Chinese central bank said on Wednesday.

Li Daokui, an academic member of the central bank’s monetary policy committee, said that U.S. bond prices and the dollar would fall when the European economic situation stabilized.

“For now, market attention is still on Europe and for the coming 6-12 months, it will not shift to the United States,” Li said, when asked about U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan to extend tax cuts for all Americans.

21 Ireland sets out record austerity budget

By Padraic Halpin and Carmel Crimmins, Reuters

Tue Dec 7, 9:57 pm ET

DUBLIN (Reuters) – The Irish government detailed the toughest budget on record on Tuesday, targeting 6 billion euros in spending cuts and tax hikes, and warning passage was crucial to avert a deeper crisis and free up EU and IMF rescue funds.

In a speech to parliament, Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan sketched out austerity measures for 2011 including cuts to child benefit and public sector pensions, but stuck with growth forecasts that some economists — and even the European Commission — believe are too optimistic.

Ireland’s parliament passed the first in a series of votes on the budget on Tuesday evening, suggesting that enough of the budget is likely to pass to release bailout funds. The budget’s success had looked in doubt when independent politicians, on whom the government depends for support, said they might vote against it.

22 Testy Obama fires back at Democrats over tax deal

By Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle, Reuters

Wed Dec 8, 7:00 am ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A testy President Barack Obama on Tuesday expressed frustration at his own Democrats for attacking him over his tax-cut deal with Republicans, who he called uncompromising “hostage takers.”

Obama found himself in an unusual position a day after sealing a major tax-cut agreement — praised by Republican opponents and denounced by liberal Democrats who felt he violated a pledge that helped get him elected in 2008.

Liberals accused him of caving to Republican demands by agreeing to extend all the Bush-era tax cuts, even those for wealthier Americans, instead of their preference for limiting the tax cuts to families making less than $250,000 a year.

23 Australia blames U.S., not WikiLeaks, for leaks

By Rob Taylor, Reuters

Wed Dec 8, 1:38 am ET

BRISBANE, Australia (Reuters) – The Australian government Wednesday blamed the United States, not the WikiLeaks founder, for the unauthorized release of about 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables and said those who originally leaked the documents were legally liable.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd also said the leaks raised questions over the “adequacy” of U.S. security over the cables.

“Mr (Julian) Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorized release of 250,000 documents from the U.S. diplomatic communications network,” Rudd told Reuters in an interview.

24 Protests erupt as Haiti election goes to run-off

By Joseph Guyler Delva and Allyn Gaestel, Reuters

Wed Dec 8, 12:13 am ET

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Protests and sporadic gunfire erupted in Haiti’s capital late on Tuesday after electoral authorities announced the country’s inconclusive presidential election would go to a run-off vote.

Gunshots echoed in some parts of the sprawling capital of Port-au-Prince following the announcement that former first lady Mirlande Manigat and government technocrat Jude Celestin would face a deciding second round in January following a turbulent November 28 vote.

The U.S. Embassy in Haiti issued a statement raising questions about the announced results, suggesting they might not be consistent with “the will of the Haitian people.”

25 Haiti election protests spread through capital

By JONATHAN M. KATZ, Associated Press

21 mins ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The headquarters of Haiti’s ruling party was set ablaze Wednesday as protests over disputed presidential election results spread through the Haitian capital, prompting the nation’s president to call for calm.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets, erecting barricades and setting fires, furious that government-backed candidate Jude Celestin, the protege of unpopular President Rene Preval, apparently will go on to a runoff vote while carnival singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly finished third in official results and is probably eliminated. Protests have also broken out in Les Cayes, Cap-Haitien and other cities.

Associated Press journalists saw flames leaping from the roof of the Unity party headquarters, the center of Celestin’s campaign. Witnesses said the building in central Port-au-Prince was on fire for an hour.

26 Hackers strike at MasterCard to support WikiLeaks


22 mins ago

LONDON – Hackers rushed to the defense of WikiLeaks on Wednesday, launching attacks on MasterCard, Visa, Swedish prosecutors, a Swiss bank and others who have acted against the site and its jailed founder Julian Assange.

Internet “hacktivists” operating under the label “Operation Payback” claimed responsibility in a Twitter message for causing severe technological problems at the website for MasterCard, which pulled the plug on its relationship with WikiLeaks a day ago.

MasterCard acknowledged “a service disruption” involving its Secure Code system for verifying online payments, but spokesman James Issokson said consumers could still use their credit cards for secure transactions. Later Wednesday, Visa’s website was inaccessible.

27 Obama facing tough sell in own party on tax deal


24 mins ago

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Wednesday rejected claims that he betrayed Democrats by cutting a deal with Republicans on Bush-era tax cuts and implored his party to back the compromise, arguing it could jump-start the economy.

Speaking to reporters at a joint appearance with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Obama said economists predict higher job growth in 2011 and 2012 if Congress passes the agreement and urged lawmakers to examine the details of the deal and “get this done.”

The White House has been leaning hard on fellow Democrats to support the tax deal that would extend the cuts at all income levels for two years, extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and cut the Social Security payroll tax for a year.

28 House Democrats’ bill freezes most agency budgets

By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press

23 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Democrats controlling the House moved ahead Wednesday on legislation that would freeze the budgets of most Cabinet departments and fund the war in Afghanistan for another year.

The bill would cap the agencies’ operating budgets at $1.2 trillion, including $159 billion to prosecute the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s the level of the recently finished budget year but a $46 billion cut of more than 3 percent from President Barack Obama’s request.

The 423-page measure, opposed by Republicans, conservative Democrats and some anti-war lawmakers, only narrowly survived a 207-206 procedural vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., came to the floor to cast a rare tie-breaking vote. The budget-freeze bill wraps a dozen unfinished spending bills into a single measure.

29 Democrats face long odds on immigration measure


25 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The chance for hundreds of thousands of foreign-born youngsters brought to the country illegally to gain legal status is dwindling as time runs out on the Democratic-controlled Congress. House and Senate Democratic leaders have scheduled votes Wednesday to advance legislation that would pave the way for legalizing the young immigrants, over opposition by most Republicans and several in their own party.

“It’s an uphill struggle,” Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, acknowledged hours before the vote. “We’re trying.”

The so-called Dream Act is a top priority of Democrats and politically active Hispanic groups, who call it a crucial down payment on a broader immigration overhaul. Critics call the measure backdoor amnesty for lawbreakers.

30 Fire at overcrowded Chile prison kills 81

By EVA VERGARA, Associated Press

29 mins ago

SANTIAGO, Chile – A fire that began during a riot in a severely overcrowded prison killed at least 81 inmates Wednesday and seriously injured 14 others, officials said. Chileans nationwide could hear the screams of inmates after a prisoner using an illegal cell phone called state television for help.

“The conditions that existed inside this prison are absolutely inhumane,” said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who visited an emergency center where inmates were being treated for severe burns and smoke inhalation.

National prison police director Luis Masferrer said the blaze broke out about 5:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m. EST; 1230 GMT) at the San Miguel prison south of the capital, and it was brought under control about three hours later.

31 Spacecraft splashes into Pacific on demo flight

By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

27 mins ago

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A private company launched a spacecraft into orbit and then, in a historic first, guided it back to Earth on Wednesday in a bold test for NASA that could lead to the first commercial space station supply run next year and eventual astronaut rides.

The capsule named Dragon, built by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, splashed down into the Pacific Ocean three hours after launching from Cape Canaveral. NASA immediately offered congratulations.

“Splashdown on target. Mission is a success!” the company announced via Twitter.

32 Father, son convicted in fatal Ore. bank bombing

By JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press

3 mins ago

SALEM, Ore. – A father and son were convicted Wednesday of planting a bank bomb that killed two police officers in a botched robbery that prosecutors said was motivated by plans to build a militia in case newly elected President Barack Obama cracked down on their gun rights.

A Marion County Circuit Court jury deliberated for less than a day before finding both Bruce Turnidge and his son, Joshua Turnidge, guilty on all 18 counts, which included aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and assault charges.

Both stood silently as the verdicts were read. The convictions send the trial into a penalty phase that would begin Thursday, when the jury will decide whether to send the men to death row.

33 AP IMPACT: Caught by mistake in foreclosure web

By MICHELLE CONLIN, AP Real Estate Writer

1 hr 39 mins ago

Christopher Marconi was in the shower when he heard a loud banging on his door. By the time he grabbed a towel and hustled to his front step, a U.S. marshal’s sedan was peeling out of his driveway. Nailed to Marconi’s front door was a foreclosure summons from Wells Fargo, naming him as a defendant. But the notice was for a house Marconi had never seen – on a mortgage he never had.

Tom Williams was in his kitchen thumbing through the mail when he opened a letter from GMAC. It informed him that the bank would confiscate his house unless he immediately paid off his mortgage balance of $276,000. But Williams had never missed a mortgage payment. And his loan wasn’t due to mature until 2032.

Warren Nyerges opened his front door to find a scraggly haired summons server standing on his stoop. He plopped a foreclosure notice from Bank of America in Nyerges’ hands. But Nyerges had paid for his house in cash. And he’d never had a checking account, much less a mortgage, with Bank of America.

34 AP Source: Union says NBA hasn’t moved in talks

By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer

1 hr 54 mins ago

NEW YORK – The NBA players association has told its members that the league has not moved off its original negotiating position, and reiterated to them it would not accept a hard salary cap or the massive salary rollbacks being sought.

The players have received an audio podcast and mailings outlining the owners’ proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement, along with details of a union counterproposal that includes rolling back the draft age requirement to 18, a person with knowledge of its contents told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person requested anonymity because the contents were not made public.

The players rejected the league’s initial proposal during All-Star weekend in February and delivered their own on July 1, one that the person said was “designed to move the negotiations forward and the union’s intent was to come up with a proposal that addresses the concerns of both sides.”

35 Judge delays Clemens trial by 3 months

By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press

2 hrs 35 mins ago

WASHINGTON – A judge on Wednesday postponed the trial of baseball star Roger Clemens for three months until July so his attorneys can review the voluminous evidence generated during a 2 1/2-year investigation into whether he lied about using performance enhancing drugs.

At a hearing in Washington federal court, prosecutors said the case has produced some 54,000 pages of evidence. They are required to turn over to the defense any material that might tend to clear the former major league pitcher.

Clemens’ attorney Rusty Hardin said they need more time to go through the material they receive and to hire an expert witness to examine the scientific evidence against Clemens, presumably including the syringes Clemens’ former trainer says he used to inject the pitcher with the drugs.

36 Obama confident Senate will ratify nuclear treaty

By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press

17 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Pushing a top foreign policy priority, President Barack Obama expressed confidence Wednesday the Senate would quickly ratify a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms pact that secured a major endorsement – former President George H.W. Bush.

The president also reiterated his insistence that Congress approve a tax deal he negotiated with Republicans, urging lawmakers to examine the details of the compromise and “get this done.”

Obama drew specific attention Wednesday to Polish support for the treaty after meeting with Poland’s president, Bronislaw Komorowski, in the White House Oval Office.

37 AP-Petside.com poll: Dogs are Santa’s favorites

By SUE MANNING, Associated Press

Wed Dec 8, 10:40 am ET

LOS ANGELES – Dogs have more to look for under the tree this Christmas than cats do.

Fifty-six percent of dog owners say they’ll buy their pets a gift this Christmas, but only 48 percent of cat owners plan a gift.

A majority of all pet owners — 53 percent — said in an Associated Press-Petside.com poll that they plan to get their animals a present this holiday season.

38 Evidence for ET is mounting daily, but not proven


2 hrs 1 min ago

WASHINGTON – Lately, a handful of new discoveries make it seem more likely that we are not alone – that there is life somewhere else in the universe.

In the past several days, scientists have reported there are three times as many stars as they previously thought. Another group of researchers discovered a microbe can live on arsenic, expanding our understanding of how life can thrive under the harshest environments. And earlier this year, astronomers for the first time said they’d found a potentially habitable planet.

“The evidence is just getting stronger and stronger,” said Carl Pilcher, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, which studies the origins, evolution and possibilities of life in the universe. “I think anybody looking at this evidence is going to say, ‘There’s got to be life out there.'”

39 NTSB: Government aircraft are safety ‘orphans’

By JOAN LOWY, Associated Press

Wed Dec 8, 1:23 pm ET

WASHINGTON – Government planes and helicopters are used every day to help protect public safety, as well as countless other tasks. But who is looking after the safety of the flight crews, government employees and other passengers on those aircraft?

No one, the National Transportation Safety Board said this week.

The Federal Aviation Administration says it doesn’t have the authority to regulate the safety of aircraft operated by other federal agencies or state and local governments. And those government agencies, with the exception of the military, generally don’t have the aviation expertise to do it themselves.

40 Obama urges action on deal to avoid Medicare cuts


1 hr 1 min ago

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged lawmakers to move quickly to avoid a steep cut in Medicare pay for doctors, even if it means siphoning money from his sweeping health care overhaul law.

When Democrats passed the health care law, they used Medicare cuts to pay much of the cost of providing insurance to millions who lack coverage.

Now, lawmakers want to reverse the money flow as they scramble to stave off a scheduled 25 percent cut on Jan. 1. They’re tapped financing for the health care overhaul to keep Medicare from breaking down.

41 Japan probe overshoots Venus, heads toward sun

By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press

Wed Dec 8, 3:30 am ET

TOKYO – A Japanese probe to Venus failed to reach orbit Wednesday and was captured by the sun’s gravitational pull in a setback to Japan’s shoestring space program, which will have to wait another six years to try again.

The failure in the crucial orbital insertion stage of the probe was a big letdown for Japan, which has never suceeded in an interplanetary mission but has marked some major successes in space on a relatively tight budget that is focused primarily on small-scale science projects.

The probe, called Akatsuki, which means dawn, reached Venus on Tuesday and fired its engines in an attempt to reach an elliptical orbit. Mission officials said they briefly lost contact after that and determined Wednesday that Akatsuki’s engines did not fire long enough to attain the proper orbiting position.

42 Judge won’t delay burning of Calif. bomb house


40 mins ago

SAN DIEGO – A federal judge on Wednesday denied a defense attorney’s request to delay destruction of a Southern California home packed with explosives.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns allows authorities to proceed with the controlled burn Thursday of the Escondido home to end any threats to the neighborhood.

Burns ruled after an hour-long hearing in which he heard testimony from an FBI bomb expert that it would be “very irresponsible” to allow anyone in the house.

43 APNewsBreak: Egg sales rebound after huge recall

By DAVID MERCER, Associated Press

1 hr 8 mins ago

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Sales of eggs have rebounded after a sharp drop in the weeks following the August recall of 550 million eggs potentially contaminated with salmonella.

The upswing is a relief to egg producers, but industry leaders said they thought sales would return to normal as the recall by two Iowa farms faded from memory. The industry also spent about $1 million on an ad campaign emphasizing its commitment to food safety.

“I think that ad campaign and what we did was really effective,” said Jacques Klempf, president of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Dixie Egg Company, one of the country’s largest egg producers. “We hit all the major markets and tried our best to put (out) some science and some reason.”

44 Immigrants’ lawyers using culture as crime defense

By SAMANTHA HENRY, Associated Press

Wed Dec 8, 2:41 pm ET

NEWARK, N.J. – The lawyer for an African woman charged with smuggling young girls from Togo to New Jersey said her trial was about cultural norms that failed to translate in America. Twelve American jurors saw it as a clear-cut example of human trafficking, and she was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Both sides focused on the cultural nuances of the case; the defense arguing the woman was a benevolent mother figure who helped young girls escape a life of poverty; the prosecution accusing her of using the threat of African voodoo curses to keep the girls subjugated.

The case highlighted a legal strategy that experts say immigrants’ defense lawyers are using increasingly in the U.S.: the argument that a defendant’s actions reflect his cultural upbringing, rather than criminal intent.

45 Honda minivan tops in fuel economy

By ANN M. JOB, For The Associated Press

Wed Dec 8, 12:43 pm ET

The redesigned-for-2011 Honda Odyssey is longer and wider than other major minivans, but it’s still tops in fuel economy.

With sleeker styling and lighter weight than its predecessor, the roomy, V-6-powered 2011 Odyssey with six-speed automatic transmission is rated at 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway by the federal government.

For 2011, Variable Cylinder Management, which can automatically deactivate engine cylinders when they’re not needed, such as when the van is coasting, is standard on all Odysseys. It previously was reserved for the top Odyssey models.

46 Foreign language courses growing on campuses

By ERIC GORSKI, AP Education Writer

Wed Dec 8, 10:41 am ET

A growing number of college students are studying foreign languages, a trend propelled by greater interest in Arabic, a broader palette of languages being taught and more crowded language classes at community colleges, a new study finds.

But despite the strong interest, experts warn that foreign language study on campuses is in peril because of budget cuts and a dwindling number of graduate students who form the foundation of future college language faculties.

The latest figures from the Modern Language Association, released Wednesday, show that enrollment in foreign language courses grew 6.6 percent between 2006 and 2009, achieving a high mark since the study began in 1960.

47 Report: Tough times far from over for states

By PAUL DAVENPORT, Associated Press

Wed Dec 8, 12:01 am ET

PHOENIX – Lawmakers have reduced spending for parks, health care for low-income children and some state-funded medical transplants. Still, the tough times are far from over.

A report by the National Conference of State Legislatures to be released Wednesday says the fiscal crisis reshaping the level of services that government can deliver is likely to last at least another three years for many states.

The report did offer a glimmer of good news: State economies are improving, and so are tax revenues.

48 Debt-hit Irish publish harshest budget in history

By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press

Tue Dec 7, 11:11 pm ET

DUBLIN – Ireland must endure the toughest cuts and tax hikes in its history as an unavoidable price for saving the debt-burdened nation from bankruptcy, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan told lawmakers as they prepared to vote on a brutal 2011 budget.

Lenihan’s plan – the harshest yet of four emergency budgets unveiled since 2008 to combat a runaway deficit – contains ?4.5 billion ($6 billion) in spending cuts and ?1.5 billion ($2 billion) in tax rises.

Lenihan told lawmakers he believes Ireland’s economy can grow despite the fact that almost all 4.5 million residents face “a traumatic and worrying time.” He said the depth of the cuts represents the minimum required to counter “the worst crisis in our history and one with few international parallels.”

49 Hearing on Texas death penalty stopped by court

By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press

Tue Dec 7, 10:04 pm ET

HOUSTON – An unusual court hearing on the constitutionality of the death penalty in Texas was put on hold Tuesday after the state’s highest criminal court granted a request by prosecutors to stop it.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered that the hearing be temporarily halted so prosecutors and defense attorneys can file motions on whether the legal proceeding should be allowed to continue.

The hearing, which began Monday and was set to last up to two weeks, had been ordered by a state district judge in Houston.


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