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Dec 21 2010

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 World piles pressure on Ivory Coast’s defiant Gbagbo

by Dave Clark, AFP

1 hr 8 mins ago

ABIDJAN (AFP) – Ivory Coast’s isolated strongman Laurent Gbagbo faced a barrage of international criticism on Monday as world powers queued up to demand he step aside and allow Alassane Ouattara to take office.

The United Nations mission in Ivory Coast accused the defiant leader’s men of involvement in killings and rights abuses against Ivorians and demanded he stop harassing foreign envoys and UN peacekeepers in Abidjan.

In New York, the UN Security Council warned that Gbagbo’s camp could face new sanctions, and opened the way for the 10,000-strong UNOCI peacekeeping force to be reinforced — dismissing the regime’s demand that it leave.

2 UN accuses I.Coast’s Gbagbo of harassing peacekeepers

by Evelyne Aka, AFP

Mon Dec 20, 11:39 am ET

ABIDJAN (AFP) – The United Nations accused Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo of harassing foreign diplomats and peacekeepers on Monday, as tension rose steeply on reports of widespread killings and rights abuses.

Gbagbo has refused to cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara, who is recognised by the international community as the winner of last month’s presidential election, and violence has erupted in the streets of Abidjan.

The United Nations has rejected Gbagbo’s order to withdraw its 10,000-strong UNOCI peacekeeping force, and its chief human rights official accuses security forces of involvement in dozens of alleged kidnappings and murders.

3 Belarus rounds up opposition after Lukashenko victory

by Valery Kalinovsky, AFP

36 mins ago

MINSK (AFP) – Belarus on Monday detained over 600 protestors, including seven opposition candidates, after smashing a mass rally protesting fraud in the landslide re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Western governments were quick to condemn the vote and the crackdown, with the United States saying it did not consider the election results legitimate.

Lukashenko, described as Europe’s last dictator by Washington, won Sunday’s polls outright with 79.6 percent of the vote on the back of a massive voter turnout of over 90 percent, the central election commission said.

4 Belarus puts down anti-Lukashenko election protest

by Maria Antonova, AFP

Sun Dec 19, 7:38 pm ET

MINSK (AFP) – Belarus police Monday arrested hundreds of protestors including four opposition candidates as they used force to break up a mass demonstration against the expected re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in disputed polls.

According to an exit poll for Belarus public ONT television, Lukashenko was on course for a crushing first-round victory in Sunday’s poll for a fourth term in office with 72.2 percent of the vote.

The numbers of demonstrators at a rally in central Minsk swelled to tens of thousands at one point, AFP correspondents reported, with some of them trying to storm government buildings and smashing the glass doors.

5 Election candidates, hundreds detained at Belarus demo

AFP

Mon Dec 20, 3:23 am ET

MINSK (AFP) – Belarus police Monday arrested hundreds of protestors including seven out of the nine opposition candidates as they broke up a mass demonstration against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko was elected for a fourth term on Sunday with 79.67 percent of the vote, the BELTA state news agency cited the electoral commission as saying.

The number of demonstrators against the disputed polls swelled to tens of thousands at a rally in central Minsk, AFP correspondents reported. Some of the protestors tried to storm government buildings and smash the glass doors.

6 Red Moon: Lunar eclipse to make memorable solstice

by Richard Ingham, AFP

Mon Dec 20, 5:46 am ET

PARIS (AFP) – Weather permitting, skygazers in northern America and Europe are in for a treat in the early morning hours of Tuesday, when the first total lunar eclipse in almost three years is poised to turn the Moon pink, coppery or even a blood red.

Coinciding eerily with the northern hemisphere’s mid-winter solstice, the eclipse will happen because the Sun, the Earth and its satellite are directly aligned, and the Moon swings into the cone of shadow cast by its mother planet.

The Moon does not become invisible, though, as there is still residual light that is deflected towards it by our atmosphere.

7 In Finland, it’s not Christmas until one man says so

by Aira-Katariina Vehaskari, AFP

Mon Dec 20, 9:34 am ET

TURKU, Finland (AFP) – In Finland, it’s just not Christmas until one Turku city bureaucrat says so, promising to punish troublemakers according to a solemn medieval tradition that died out centuries ago in the rest of the world.

Jouko Lehmusto, Chief of Administration and herald of Christmas, is sombre as he carefully unrolls the calligraphed parchment which describes the terms of the Declaration of Christmas Peace.

“We know there is a version of this from the 1600s that was much longer, very detailed, and with much harsher punishments,” he says.

8 Danish camera enters heart of Afghan combat

by Herve Asquin and Bronwen Roberts, AFP

Mon Dec 20, 10:56 am ET

PARIS (AFP) – Afghan war film “Armadillo” follows young Danish soldiers deploying against the Taliban for the first time, intimately recording their confrontation with a complicated conflict, the battles, the waiting, the emotions.

It is a film that director Janus Metz said “very consciously tried to break with the sort of news footage realism of Afghanistan to get behind the scenes” of a war that this band of soldiers sees as their generation’s Vietnam.

It blurs the boundaries of documentary and fiction, reaching beyond the small combat unit at forward operating base Armadillo in the deserts of Helmand to a “bigger image of man and war and what war is”.

9 Spain makes progress, but huge reforms vital: OECD

AFP

Mon Dec 20, 8:23 am ET

PARIS (AFP) – Spain has every chance of rising above its economic crisis if it enacts bold reforms, the OECD said on Monday, just as the government announced details of a pension overhaul, the latest in a series of recent steps to regain market confidence.

Spain, in the eye of financial markets which are shunning its debt bonds, has done much right in fighting the crisis, but must reform its labour legislation and employment practices, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said.

The economy, which stalled in the third quarter after edging out of deep recession, is now set for subdued growth but the bursting of its property bubble will leave “lasting” scars and the unemployment rate, now about 20 percent, will remain among the highest in the European Union.

10 Fears over crime fuelled by smartphone craze

by Rory Mulholland, AFP

Mon Dec 20, 7:50 am ET

PARIS (AFP) – The fashionable folk tapping on Blackberrys or using apps on iPhones in New York, Paris or Barcelona have more in common than a taste for expensive hand-held devices.

They are also likely to be targeted by thieves in a smartphone crime wave fuelled by the enormous appetite for the machines that serve as status symbols, essential worktools and mobile entertainment centres.

The Paris police chief sounded the alarm last week when he said smartphones were the hottest item for thieves on the city’s metro and that robbers were increasingly turning to violence to get their hands on them.

11 Indian PM has ‘nothing to hide’ in telecom scandal

by Penny MacRae, AFP

Mon Dec 20, 5:30 am ET

NEW DELHI (AFP) – India’s premier Manmohan Singh said on Monday he had “nothing to hide” as he offered to be quizzed by a parliamentary panel over a multi-billion-dollar telecom scandal that has shaken his government.

Singh, who enjoys a reputation for honesty in India’s murky political world, has been battling to protect his image against accusations of failing to act over the government’s cut-price sale of mobile telephone licences in 2008.

“I have nothing to hide from the public at all,” Singh, 78, declared at a Congress party annual strategy meeting, adding he would write to the chairman of parliament’s public accounts committee asking to appear before it.

12 Arms treaty debate increasingly testy in Senate

By David Alexander, Reuters

1 hr 13 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Debate in the Senate over President Barack Obama’s strategic nuclear arms treaty with Russia grew increasingly testy on Monday but the White House expressed confidence lawmakers would approve the accord before their Christmas break.

Republican senators pushed for passage of a series of amendments in an effort to kill the New START nuclear arms treaty by forcing a renegotiation with Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned in an interview with Interfax that any amendment would be a deal-breaker.

The treaty, which would cut deployed strategic atomic weapons to 1,550 for each side within seven years, is one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities for the current legislative session. The White House said the president was calling senators to line up support.

13 Hedge funds may skirt direct Fed scrutiny: source

By Rachelle Younglai and Dave Clarke, Reuters

1 hr 44 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve does not believe any one hedge fund can topple the financial system and therefore the private pools of capital may escape direct supervision by the central bank, an industry source familiar with the Fed’s position said.

The newly created Financial Stability Oversight Council, which includes the Treasury secretary and 14 U.S. supervisors, including the Fed, are in the early stages of determining which non-bank firms pose a threat to the financial system.

Firms labeled as “systemically important” will be subject to rigorous oversight by the Fed but will also have access to the central bank’s emergency lending facilities.

14 ECB concerned by Irish bank bailout law

By Sakari Suoninen and Yara Bayoumy, Reuters

Mon Dec 20, 11:31 am ET

FRANKFURT/DUBLIN (Reuters) – The European Central Bank has expressed “serious concerns” that a new law in Ireland could force the central bank to take losses on the collateral it accepts in exchange for loans to commercial banks.

Ireland’s parliament last Wednesday approved legislation that will give the government extensive powers to restructure the banking sector, including the power to impose losses on subordinated bondholders and transfer deposits.

Opposition politicians have warned that the law, which fulfils Ireland’s pledge to overhaul its banking system as part of an 85 billion euros EU/IMF bailout package, will turn Finance Minister Brian Lenihan into a “one-man legislature.”

15 Special Report: For some professors, disclosure is academic

By Emily Flitter, Kristina Cooke and Pedro da Costa, Reuters

Mon Dec 20, 12:39 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When Hal Scott testified on financial reform before the Senate last February, he identified himself simply as a Harvard Law School professor and director of an independent research group.

He also had some other relevant experience: Scott is on the board of Lazard, a prominent Wall Street firm with no small interest in the outcome of regulatory reform. He did not bother to mention this association during his testimony.

Scott, who was paid about $260,000 in cash and stock by Lazard in 2009, did not break any rules by not pointing out his industry ties. The Senate Banking Committee does not require academics to disclose their corporate affiliations.

16 Unrepentant Lukashenko defies West over crackdown

By Andrei Makhovsky and Richard Balmforth, Reuters

2 hrs 57 mins ago

MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko vowed on Monday to thwart any attempt at “revolution” after police broke up mass protests against his re-election and arrested his opponents.

In a defiant speech following Western criticism of Sunday night’s crackdown on opposition rallies, Lukashenko said there would be no more “senseless democracy” in Belarus.

At least seven out of his nine election challengers and hundreds of opposition demonstrators were being held in detention after the crackdown and an early morning sweep of homes of known dissidents by KGB state security officers.

17 Underground actors seek last act for Belarus leader

By Matt Robinson, Reuters

Mon Dec 20, 1:23 pm ET

MINSK (Reuters) – Deep snow smothered the noise. Only fresh footprints leading to the tumbledown house in a suburb of the Belarussian capital Minsk betrayed life behind its boarded-up windows.

Inside, actors strutted and pounced barefoot on black floorboards while the tiny audience shared the makeshift stage for the Saturday night performance.

The converted house that is home to the Belarus Free Theater is a far cry from London’s Soho, where its actors last performed.

18 Infighting delays new Iraqi government

By Suadad al-Salhy and Waleed Ibrahim, Reuters

Mon Dec 20, 9:08 am ET

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Infighting and last-minute power-plays delayed the formation of an Iraqi government on Monday, dashing the hopes of local people and outside investors who want stability to rebuild the nation after years of war.

Iraq has been in political limbo since an inconclusive March election and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s plan to unveil his new cabinet before parliament was derailed by squabbling over the division of ministerial posts, lawmakers said.

“There will be no session today (to vote on the cabinet),” parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi told reporters.

19 JPMorgan buys London HQ, undecided on skyscraper

By Karen Foster and Daryl Loo, Reuters

Mon Dec 20, 11:20 am ET

LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. bank JPMorgan has bought two major office properties in London, including the former Lehman Brothers building, holding off on plans to build a skyscraper as its main European headquarters.

JPMorgan bought the Lehman building in the Canary Wharf financial district for 495 million pounds ($773 million) from the Canary Wharf Group (CWG), to group together all of its investment bank in London.

It also said on Monday it was still reviewing its use of a skyscraper complex with an estimated cost of 1.5 billion pounds nearby — a site it bought in late 2008 as part of a long-term ambition to consolidate its London properties.

20 Afghanistan guardedly backs U.S. review

By Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters

Mon Dec 20, 9:48 am ET

KABUL (Reuters) – Washington has failed to address many of Afghanistan’s concerns, including civilian casualties and the need for reconciliation talks with the Taliban, in its war strategy review, the Afghan president’s office said on Monday.

A five-page summary of the non-classified sections of the two-month review was released last Thursday, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was not mentioned at all in the public documents, has yet to respond in person.

On Monday, his chief spokesman detailed a list of concerns and provided only guarded support for U.S. President Barack Obama’s review of the war, which is now in its 10th year.

21 Analysis: With tax deal done, battle turns to spending

By Andy Sullivan, Reuters

Mon Dec 20, 4:01 am ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The battle over tax cuts may be over, but Washington is gearing up for an epic showdown on the other side of the federal ledger: spending.

Senate leaders have reached a compromise on short-term funding that would keep the government running through March 4, Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Sunday. A final vote will likely come on Tuesday.

But that merely postpones a clash between President Barack Obama’s administration and Republicans emboldened by big election-day victories who will press for sharp spending cuts in the coming months.

22 France, U.N. reject Gbagbo demand to quit Ivory Coast

By Tim Cocks, Reuters

Sun Dec 19, 6:27 pm ET

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – France joined the United Nations on Sunday in rejecting a demand by Laurent Gbagbo to quit Ivory Coast and stepped up calls for him to stand down as president after a disputed poll or face sanctions.

The world’s top cocoa grower is locked in a dispute over a November 28 presidential vote that both Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara say they won. Ouattara’s claim is backed by numerous foreign governments and the U.N. Security Council.

Gbagbo’s government on Saturday issued a demand for the United Nations and France to withdraw their forces from the country, but the world body made clear its 10,000 troops would remain and Paris said its 900-plus forces would stay too.

23 Kremlin to pitch fighters, nuclear deal in India

By Alexei Anishchuk, Reuters

Sun Dec 19, 6:22 pm ET

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Dmitry Medvedev will try to convince India to buy Russian fighter planes and seal a nuclear deal when he travels there this week for talks aimed at boosting ties with the second-fastest growing economy the world.

Russia was one of India’s closest partners in Soviet days, but the Kremlin will have to convince New Delhi that Moscow can deliver on vast defense and nuclear orders in the face of competition from the United States, Europe and China.

Medvedev, who the Kremlin said will come with a large delegation of business leaders, is to hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Prathibha Patil on Tuesday and visit Mumbai on Wednesday.

24 Internet road rules near FCC vote

By Jasmin Melvin, Reuters

Sun Dec 19, 1:12 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A controversial proposal for Internet traffic rules that would allow providers to ration access to their networks is scheduled to come before communications regulators for a vote on Tuesday.

The rules would ban high-speed Internet providers like Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications from blocking lawful traffic, but are expected to acknowledge their need to manage network congestion and possibly charge consumers based on Internet usage.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski’s plan will likely attract the grudging support of his two fellow Democrats, analysts say, overcoming opposition from the agency’s two Republicans.

25 Foreign troop toll for 2010 in Afghanistan hits 700

By Michelle Nichols and Mohammad Hamed, Reuters

Sun Dec 19, 6:57 am ET

KABUL/KUNDUZ, Afghanistan, Dec 19 (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents launched attacks in Kabul and a major northern city on Sunday as the 2010 death toll for foreign troops climbed to 700, nearly a third of the total killed in nearly a decade of war.

Two militants wearing suicide vests attacked a bus carrying Afghan army officers in Kabul, killing five and wounding nine, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, the first major attack in the Afghan capital since May, when six foreign troops were killed by a large suicide car bomb.

26 Obama lobbies GOP senators to back arms pact

By DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press

32 mins ago

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama tried to sway reluctant Republican senators on Monday to back a new arms control treaty with Russia as GOP aversion to giving a politically damaged president another victory intruded on his national security agenda.

The White House and senior Democrats expressed confidence that they had the votes for the accord that was signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April. The two countries negotiated the New START pact to cap nuclear weapons and restart weapons inspections in the spirit of U.S. efforts to reset the relationship between the former Cold War foes.

Obama, who delayed his holiday vacation, lobbied senators by phone as he pressed to complete the treaty before January when Republicans increase their numbers by five in the Senate, casting the accord’s fate in doubt. Bolstering his argument for quick action, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a letter to congressional leaders reiterating support for the accord.

27 Pope: Church must reflect on what allowed abuse

By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press

32 mins ago

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI told Vatican officials Monday that they must reflect on the church’s culpability in its child sex-abuse scandal, but he also blamed a secular society in which he said the mistreatment of children was frighteningly common.

In his traditional, end-of-the-year speech to Vatican cardinals and bishops, Benedict said revelations of abuse in 2010 reached “an unimaginable dimension” that required the church to accept the “humiliation” as a call for renewal.

“We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen,” the pope said.

28 Iraqi prime minister announces new Cabinet

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press

22 mins ago

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki submitted his new Cabinet on Monday, clearing a hurdle to seating a government more than nine months after national elections even though serious disputes with one of his key allies remained.

Nearly one-third of the nominees were only acting ministers, an attempt to buy time to work out disagreements over some of the posts with the hardline Shiite faction loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Without the Sadrists, al-Maliki would not have had enough support to try to build the government in the first place.

Parliament was expected to vote on the list of 42 ministers and other top government posts as early as Tuesday, according to Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya alliance that won the most seats in the March 7 election and, until this month, bitterly fought to prevent al-Maliki from keeping his job.

29 Belarus strongman keeps grip on power after vote

By YURAS KARMANAU and MARIA DANILOVA, Associated Press

1 hr 29 mins ago

MINSK, Belarus – The country’s autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko appeared to have quashed any immediate threat to his continuing rule, declaring Monday that he was the overwhelming winner of a presidential election that ended with a violent crackdown on reformists hoping for change.

No demonstrations occurred in the capital, Minsk, on Monday night, an indication that things were returning to normal in Belarus, one of the most authoritarian of the former Soviet states and which the U.S. once labeled Europe’s last dictatorship.

Lukashenko exercises overwhelming control over politics, industry and media in this nation of 10 million bordering Poland and the Baltic nations. The repression has been an embarrassment to the European Union, which offered 3 billion euros ($3.9 billion) in aid to Belarus if the elections were judged to be free and fair.

30 SPIN METER: Conflicting GOP messages on pay cuts

By BEN EVANS, Associated Press

Mon Dec 20, 6:20 am ET

WASHINGTON – For a guy who insists that federal bureaucrats make too much money, incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sure doesn’t mind handing out handsome government raises of his own.

Cantor, the Virginia Republican who has led the GOP charge this year to freeze federal salaries, has boosted his congressional office’s payroll by 81 percent since coming to Congress in 2001 – about 8 percent per year through 2009. When he became minority whip last year, the office’s personnel expenses went up by at least 16 percent.

Cantor and other GOP leaders are now pledging to cut their budgets by 5 percent when they take over the House in January – a symbolic gesture aimed at showing a commitment to slowing Washington spending. But the lawmakers suddenly calling for wage cuts often haven’t practiced what they’re preaching.

31 Mexico investigates pipeline blast that killed 28

By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO, Associated Press

Mon Dec 20, 6:42 am ET

SAN MARTIN TEXMELUCAN, Mexico – Zoyla Perez awoke before dawn to a strange, overpowering smell, like gasoline. Outside the ground looked as if it were flowing in tar, as crude gushing from a pipeline rushed down the street and into a river.

Suddenly flames leapt skyward as a massive explosion laid waste to parts of this city in central Mexico, incinerating people, cars, houses and trees.

“It was like we were living in an inferno,” said Perez, 27. “Everything was covered in smoke.”

32 Gay ban repealed, but restrictions remain

By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer

Mon Dec 20, 6:24 am ET

WASHINGTON – While President Barack Obama this week is expected to clear the way for gays to serve openly in the military, the new law won’t go into effect immediately and unanswered questions remain: How soon will the new policy be implemented, will it be accepted by the troops and could it hamper the military in Afghanistan and Iraq?

The historic action by Congress repeals the requirement, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” that for the last 17 years has allowed gays and lesbians to serve, but only if they kept quiet about their sexual orientation. Ending that policy has been compared in its social implications to President Harry S. Truman’s 1948 executive order that brought racial equality to the military.

After Obama signs the legislation – passed by the Senate on Saturday – into law, the Pentagon must still certify to Congress that the change won’t damage combat readiness.

33 US gas demand should fall for good after ’06 peak

By JONATHAN FAHEY, AP Energy Writer

2 mins ago

NEW YORK – The world’s biggest gas-guzzling nation has limits after all.

After seven decades of mostly uninterrupted growth, U.S. gasoline demand is at the start of a long-term decline. By 2030, Americans will burn at least 20 percent less gasoline than today, experts say, even as millions of more cars clog the roads.

The country’s thirst for gasoline is shrinking as cars and trucks become more fuel-efficient, the government mandates the use of more ethanol and people drive less.

34 UN Security Council extends Ivory Coast mission

By MARCO CHOWN OVED and EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press

26 mins ago

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – The U.N. Security Council extended its peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast on Monday, hours after the United Nations’ top envoy in the West African country said armed men had been threatening staff in their homes.

Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to concede defeat in last month’s election and his demand that peacekeepers leave have raised fears that U.N. personnel and other foreigners could be targeted in violence. Over the weekend, masked gunmen opened fire on the U.N. base there, though no one from the global body was harmed in the attack. Two military observers were wounded in another attack.

“Armed men have been coming to the personal houses of United Nations employees, asking them to leave and searching their houses under the pretext of looking for arms,” U.N. Special Representative Choi Young-jin said at a news conference in Abidjan.

35 In Ill. ‘hometown’ of Superman, a lockout lingers

Associated Press

28 mins ago

METROPOLIS, Ill. – With a Mayberry-meets-Disney charm, this southern Illinois town has enthusiastically claimed Superman as its favorite son.

A 15-foot bronze statue of the buff comic-book hero stands in Superman Square, just two blocks from a statue of an actress who played Lois Lane. Cartoon kitsch is festooned everywhere to create a Superman mecca that will bring in tourist dollars. Tens of thousands turn out each June for the city’s four-day Superman Celebration.

Yet months of labor turmoil now threaten to undermine the cheery tourist atmosphere in this 171-year-old Ohio River town, due to Metropolis’ dependence on uranium-related jobs as much as kryptonite.

36 Quiet deal on Obama’s judge nominees in the Senate

DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent

2 hrs 24 mins ago

WASHINGTON – After a monthslong blockade, Senate Republicans have agreed to let at least 19 of President Barack Obama’s non-controversial judicial nominees win confirmation in the waning days of the congressional session in exchange for a commitment by Democrats not to seek votes on four others, according to officials familiar with the deal.

Among the four is Goodwin Liu, a law school dean seen as a potential future Supreme Court pick, whose current nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has sparked strong criticism from Republicans.

As part of the arrangement, the Senate has approved 10 judges in the past few days without a single dissenting vote. One of them, Albert Diaz, had been awaiting confirmation to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., since clearing the Judiciary Committee in January.

37 Obama’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year

By CALVIN WOODWARD and NANCY BENAC, Associated Press

Mon Dec 20, 1:58 pm ET

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year got off to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad start.

There he was, on New Year’s Day, on vacation with his family in Hawaii, stuck on a secure phone with counterterrorism officials, trying to figure out what screw-ups had allowed a would-be terrorist to board a Christmas Day flight with explosives in his underwear.

Things only got worse for Obama when he returned to Washington in between a pair of epic winter storms.

38 In tough economy, Santas are also suffering

By TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press

Mon Dec 20, 5:43 am ET

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Craig McTavish – a.k.a. Santa – has the beard. He has the belly. He even has a few tricks up his sleeve, like pulling up to parties on his Harley-Davidson in full Kris Kringle garb.

But there’s one thing he doesn’t have: work.

For freelance Santas, this holiday season has been more “no, no, no,” than “ho, ho, ho.” Bookings have declined as paying $125 an hour for Santa to visit a holiday party has become an unaffordable luxury. It’s the second year of declining parties and events, Santas say.

39 Efforts to kill invasive plant worry beekeepers

By DAVID RUNK, Associated Press

Mon Dec 20, 3:32 am ET

DETROIT – An effort to fight an invasive plant with insects that eat it has drawn opposition from beekeepers who worry it will leave them without an adequate source of nectar and pollen for their honeybees.

Researchers in Michigan released bugs that feed on spotted knapweed earlier this year. Western states and big honey producers, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, previously used so-called biological control to help restrain the flowering plant, which produces chemicals that deter the growth of other plants and crowds out native vegetation.

It’s not clear why Michigan beekeepers are so worried about knapweed control when those in other states haven’t been as much. Some in the industry speculated Michigan beekeepers may rely on knapweed more for nectar and pollen than those in other states. Regardless, Michigan is among the nation’s top 10 honey producers and the home of beekeepers who ship hives as far as Florida and California to pollinate orchards and fields. Beekeepers argue that if they’re hurt, the farmers who rely on them will suffer too.

40 Holiday lights can mean more than meets the eye

By MARTHA IRVINE, AP National Writer

Mon Dec 20, 12:00 am ET

A string of illuminated glass bulbs, hung for the holidays, may seem like no big deal, so common it’s easy to pass them without really noticing. But we humans are simple beings who sometimes communicate best in the most basic ways.

Lights on a cold, dark night can be a welcome, even heartwarming sight. And in gloomy economic times, or other trying circumstances, they can mean even more.

One study found that outdoor holiday displays can tell a lot about a neighborhood. Whether found in wealthy or working-class areas, they represent a community’s spirit or “social capital,” even indicating how well neighbors care for one another, says David Sloan Wilson, a professor in Binghamton University’s departments of biology and anthropology.

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