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Dec 22 2010

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Gbagbo defies UN, insists ‘I am president of Ivory Coast’

by Dave Clark, AFP

12 mins ago

ABIDJAN (AFP) – Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo defied a global avalanche of criticism on Tuesday, insisting he is the true president of his country and vowing that UN and French troops will have to go.

Gbagbo accused the international community of “making war” on his people, but insisted he did not want to see more bloodshed and offered to allow envoys from world powers to form a panel to study the post-election crisis.

The offer seems likely to fall on deaf ears, as the United Nations has recognised Gbagbo’s rival Alassane Ouattara as victor of the disputed poll and accuses the incumbent’s forces of carrying out death squad-style killings.

2 I.Coast’s Ouattara urges civil revolt against Gbagbo

by Dave Clark, AFP

Tue Dec 21, 11:38 am ET

ABIDJAN (AFP) – Beleaguered would-be Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara on Tuesday urged the Ivorian people to rise up in a campaign of civil disobedience against defiant strongman Laurent Gbagbo.

In a statement issued from the hotel where it survives behind a wall of UN peacekeepers, Ouattara’s camp accused Gbagbo’s loyalist security forces of murdering scores of civilians in overnight death squad raids.

Gbagbo, meanwhile, appeared determined to resist a barrage of international criticism, as the United Nations defended its hard-pressed peacekeepers and threatened to impose new sanctions on the 65-year-old’s regime.

3 Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo defiant under fire from UN

by Dave Clark, AFP

Tue Dec 21, 6:11 am ET

ABIDJAN (AFP) – Defiant Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo dug in his heels Tuesday under a barrage of international criticism, as the United Nations defended its hard-pressed peacekeepers and threatened sanctions.

Both Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara claim to have won last month’s Ivory Coast presidential election, but UN monitors and almost all of the world community recognised the challenger and has demanded Gbagbo step down.

Furious, the 65-year-old strongman ordered the United Nations’ 10,000-strong UNOCI peacekeeping force out of the country, accusing it of arming former rebel fighters now loyal to Ouattara and of plotting against his rule.

4 Iraq parliament gives Maliki govt stamp of approval

by Ammar Karim, AFP

2 hrs 12 mins ago

BAGHDAD (AFP) – The Iraqi parliament on Tuesday gave Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government a vote of confidence and adopted a 43-point programme aimed at liberalising the economy and fighting terrorism.

After more than nine months of political deadlock and wrangling, parliament in separate votes gave its approval to Maliki, three deputy prime ministers and 31 other cabinet ministers, as well as the government programme.

And it approved interim ministers for the remaining ten cabinet posts, with Maliki controlling the three security portfolios, and seven other ministers also serving as acting ministers for the vacant posts.

5 Lunar eclipse makes memorable solstice

by Agnes Valdimarsdottir, AFP

2 hrs 14 mins ago

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AFP) – Skygazers with a clear view in North America and Europe were greeted with a celestial treat early Tuesday, as a unique total lunar eclipse turned the Moon pink, coppery or even a blood red.

Coinciding eerily with the northern hemisphere’s mid-winter solstice — for the first time in almost four centuries — the eclipse showed the Sun, the Earth and its satellite as they directly aligned, with the Moon swinging into the cone of shadow cast by its mother planet.

Despite being in shadow, the Moon did not become invisible, as there was still residual light deflected towards it by our atmosphere.

6 British PM slaps down business minister over Murdoch remarks

AFP

2 hrs 32 mins ago

LONDON (AFP) – British Prime Minister David Cameron stripped his business secretary of key powers Tuesday over what he termed “totally unacceptable and inappropriate” remarks about media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Cameron’s spokesman said that Vince Cable, a senior Liberal Democrat member of the Conservative-led coalition, would no longer have a say in Murdoch’s bid to take full control of pay TV giant BSkyB, and his department would lose other powers.

The prime minister acted after Cable told undercover newspaper reporters that he had “declared war” on Murdoch and planned to block his New Corporation’s 12.0-billion-dollar (9.1-billion-euro) bid for BSkyB.

7 US Senate set to ratify Russia nuclear treaty

by Olivier Knox, AFP

21 mins ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A landmark nuclear arms control treaty binding the United States and Russia sailed over a last US Senate procedural hurdle Tuesday, setting the stage for ratification a day later.

Lawmakers voted 67-28 to end debate on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), rallying the margin necessary to hand President Barack Obama a major diplomatic triumph in a final ballot expected Wednesday.

“We are on the brink of writing the next chapter in the 40-year history of wrestling with the threat of nuclear weapons,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry, the accord’s lead Democratic patron.

8 Mexico’s tequila refines its act

by Joe Ray, AFP

Tue Dec 21, 10:30 am ET

TEQUILA, Mexico (AFP) – The truck trundled through Mexico’s tequila country, its trailer crammed with trimmed heads of agave plants, as a troupe of elaborately-dressed dancers performed for visitors in a nearby distillery.

At one point the main protagonist, Mayahuel, the Mayan goddess of fertility, thrust her arms skyward, eyes wide.

Just underneath her sequined skirt, peeking out on the top of her underwear, were two words however that revealed this was a very modern take on an ancient ceremony: Calvin Klein.

9 Canada’s TD Bank to buy Chrysler Financial for $6.3 bln

AFP

Tue Dec 21, 11:31 am ET

MONTREAL (AFP) – Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) said Tuesday it will buy Chrysler Financial Corp. for 6.3 billion dollars in cash, part of a major expansion of Canadian banking behemoths into the United States.

The deal comes just days after the Bank of Montreal (BMO) doubled its stake in the US banking market with the purchase of Marshall & Ilsley for 4.1 billion in stock.

TD Bank is already one of the 10 largest banks operating in the United States, with some 6.5 million customers and 1,250 branches in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

10 Belarus jails 600 for election protests

by Valery Kalinovsky, AFP

Tue Dec 21, 7:37 am ET

MINSK (AFP) – Belarus on Tuesday jailed 600 demonstrators detained during a mass rally against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, defying fierce Western condemnation of the bloody crackdown.

Police officials said the protesters would be held for up to 15 days while prosecutors probed their alleged involvement in “organising mass disturbances” — a crime that carries a sentence of up to 15 years.

“It is not a fact that all of them will be released after 15 days,” Minsk police spokesman Alexander Lastovsky told AFP.

11 Ernst & Young accused of hiding Lehman troubles

By Grant McCool, Reuters

34 mins ago

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Giant accounting firm Ernst & Young was sued by New York prosecutors over allegations it helped to hide Lehman Brothers’ financial problems, in the first major government legal action stemming from the Wall Street firm’s 2008 downfall.

The civil fraud case contends that Ernst & Young stood by while Lehman used accounting gimmickry to mask its shaky finances. The lawsuit says Lehman ran “a massive accounting fraud,” but it did not name as defendants any former top executives at the investment bank whose September 2008 collapse helped spark the global financial crisis.

The lawsuit seeks more than $150 million in fees that Ernst & Young received from 2001 to 2008 as Lehman’s outside auditor — less than 1 percent of its global annual revenue — plus other unspecified damages.

12 Divided FCC adopts Internet traffic rules

By Jasmin Melvin, Reuters

6 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A divided Federal Communications Commission adopted Internet traffic rules on Tuesday, provoking warnings they would be rejected in the courts and threats from Republican lawmakers to overturn them.

The rules highlight a huge divide between those who say the Internet should be allowed to flourish without regulation and those who say the power of big high-speed Internet providers like Comcast Corp to discriminate against other players needs to be restrained.

Under the rules, the blocking of legal content would be banned but providers like Comcast and Verizon Communications can “reasonably” manage their networks and charge consumers based on levels of Internet usage.

13 START appears to have support for Senate passage

By David Alexander and Thomas Ferraro, Reuters

1 hr 14 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s strategic nuclear arms treaty with Russia secured enough votes on Tuesday to clear a Republican procedural hurdle and appeared headed toward ratification in the Senate this week.

A motion to limit further debate on the treaty passed with 67 votes, the same number needed to secure Senate approval. A final vote on the accord will take place within 30 hours.

The treaty, which would cut strategic atomic weapons deployed by each country to no more than 1,550 within seven years, was signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April.

14 Republican-leaning states gain clout from Census

By John Whitesides, Reuters

2 hrs 29 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican-leaning states in the South and West will gain clout from U.S. population figures released on Tuesday, dealing a blow to President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats that could linger for years.

The Census estimates show a population shift from Democratic states in the Northeast and Midwest to Republican strongholds like Texas, Utah and South Carolina, giving those states more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The new figures also could play a role in the 2012 presidential and congressional races. The number of House seats determines each state’s representation in the Electoral College, which is used to elect a president.

15 Iraq approves new government with Maliki as PM

By Waleed Ibrahim and Suadad al-Salhy, Reuters

Tue Dec 21, 12:52 pm ET

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s parliament approved Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his new government Tuesday, nine months after an inconclusive election left politics in limbo and delayed investments to rebuild the country after years of war.

Lawmakers voted Maliki and a new multi-party slate of ministers into office, elevating Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani to deputy prime minister for energy, and leaving in place Kurdish veteran Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.

Highlighting the ethnic and sectarian divides that pervade the war-ravaged country, parliament had to postpone the vote on Monday after last-minute factional disputes and political horse-trading over posts delayed the government’s formation.

16 Senate postpones spending fight

By Andy Sullivan, Reuters

2 hrs 12 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate on Tuesday approved a compromise bill to fund the government for several months as Congress moved to postpone a struggle over spending and the deficit until next year.

The bill to fund the government through March 4 would give Republicans the chance to try to push through dramatic budget cuts when they take control of the House of Representatives early next year.

The House is expected to approve the measure later in the day and send it on to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

17 Portugal faces rating cut, Spanish debt costs rise

By Andrei Khalip and Nigel Davies, Reuters

Tue Dec 21, 9:28 am ET

LISBON/MADRID (Reuters) – Portugal was put on notice that its credit rating could be cut and fellow euro zone debtor Spain had to pay more to issue new debt on Tuesday, suggesting the currency bloc’s crisis will rage unabated in 2011.

China, the world’s new economic powerhouse, urged European policymakers to demonstrate as a matter of urgency that they can contain and then rectify the euro zone’s debt problems.

Ratings agency Moody’s said it may cut Portugal’s rating by one or two notches within three months, citing weak growth prospects as the government seeks to cut its debt, and climbing borrowing costs, although it said its solvency was not in question.

18 Toyota to pay maximum $32 million fine in U.S. safety probe

By John Crawley and Chang-Ran Kim, Reuters

Tue Dec 21, 9:11 am ET

WASHINGTON/TOKYO (Reuters) – Toyota Motor has agreed to pay the maximum fine of $32.4 million related to two U.S. probes into its handling of a spate vehicle recalls which hurt sales and tarnished its once impeccable reputation for quality.

The settlements conclude a tumultuous year for the world’s largest automaker over the recalls of 11 million vehicles in the United States and disclosure of problems blamed by safety advocates for hundreds of crashes and the deaths of dozens of people.

The crisis prompted unprecedented government scrutiny over unintended acceleration complaints, a total of three heavy fines, and a loss of prestige and consumer confidence in Toyota’s best-selling cars.

19 TD Bank to buy Chrysler Financial for $6.3 billion

B John McCrank and Cameron French, Reuters

Tue Dec 21, 9:46 am ET

TORONTO (Reuters) – Toronto-Dominion Bank will buy Chrysler Financial from private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management for $6.3 billion, joining the throng of Canadian institutions expanding foreign operations.

The deal, comprising net assets of $5.9 billion and about $400 million in goodwill, will make Canada’s No. 2 bank one of North America’s top five bank-owned auto lenders. It consists of net assets of $5.9 billion and about $400 million in goodwill, TD said on Tuesday.

The bank said it does not intend to issue common equity in connection with the deal, in contrast to rival Bank of Montreal, whose shares slumped on Friday on news that it would issue shares to fund last week’s takeover of troubled Wisconsin lender Marshall and Ilsley.

20 Nigerians evacuate Ivory Coast after embassy attack

By Felix Onuah and Tim Cocks, Reuters

1 hr 52 mins ago

ABIDJAN/ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria evacuated all its diplomats from Ivory Coast after its embassy was attacked on Tuesday as the power struggle following a disputed election grew more violent.

Ivory Coast’s November 28 presidential election was intended to heal the scars of a 2002-03 civil war but has instead triggered a standoff between incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara, with the latter recognized as victor by the electoral commission and the outside world.

Gbagbo has refused to step down despite international pressure and sanctions backed by the United Nations, European Union, the United States, African Union and regional bloc ECOWAS — all of which recognize Ouattara as president elect.

21 Analysis: FCC plan feared stunting Internet TV services

By Yinka Adegoke, Reuters

Tue Dec 21, 10:29 am ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Internet TV services planned by Microsoft, Google and Amazon could be held back by imminent rules that would allow phone and cable companies to charge consumers based on usage, media executives told Reuters.

The Web traffic rules, due to be voted on by the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday, could tip the economics away from consumers watching TV over Internet lines if they help cable companies charge more versus their own television offerings.

Said one executive at a major US media company: “in the event a cable company feels threatened” by Internet TV services, “they could control offerings through pricing the usage.”

22 ISAF denies news report of raids into Pakistan

By Chris Allbritton and Emma Graham-Harrison, Reuters

Tue Dec 21, 4:50 am ET

ISLAMABAD/KABUL (Reuters) – A senior official for the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday strongly denied a report in The New York Times that the United States was considering expanding Special Forces raids into Pakistan.

Tensions between the United States and Pakistan are already strained despite months of strategic dialogue aimed at upgrading the relationship — and billions of dollars in aid for development and relief from devastating floods.

Analysts said Washington might be using the suggestion to coax Pakistan into tougher action against Taliban militants in areas bordering Afghanistan. But any serious move to expand ground raids would boost tension, perhaps intolerably, and could be considered a “red line” for Pakistani authorities.

23 BOJ holds fire, Shirakawa may assure on bond yields

By Leika Kihara, Reuters

Tue Dec 21, 3:07 am ET

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan kept monetary policy on hold on Tuesday but warned of weakening factory output and business sentiment, assuring markets that it was focusing on downside risks to growth that may trigger further easing ahead.

The decision to stand pat on policy was widely expected as the central bank likely felt no imminent need to top up its new asset buying scheme, with Tokyo stock prices on the rise and the yen well off a 15-year high hit against the dollar last month.

But with the outlook murky, BOJ policymakers are expected to have scrutinized various risks to the economy that may hurt business morale, which is seen worsening in the coming three months.

24 China frets about spreading EU debt woes

By Langi Chiang and Kevin Yao, Reuters

Tue Dec 21, 2:37 am ET

BEIJING (Reuters) – China urged European authorities to back their tough talk with action on Tuesday by showing they can contain the euro zone’s simmering debt problems and pull the bloc out of its crisis soon.

China, which has invested an undisclosed portion of its $2.65 trillion reserves in the euro, said it backed steps taken by European authorities so far to tackle the region’s debt problems, but made clear it would like to see the measures having more effect.

“We are very concerned about whether the European debt crisis can be controlled,” Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming said at a trade dialogue between China and the European Union.

25 Stark challenges ahead for Iraq’s new government

By LARA JAKES and REBECCA SANTANA, Associated Press

18 mins ago

BAGHDAD – Iraq seated a freely elected government Tuesday after nine months of haggling, bringing together the main ethnic and religious groups in a fragile balance that could make it difficult to rebuild a nation devastated by war as American troops prepare for their final withdrawal.

One of the government’s first priorities will be to decide whether to ask the Obama administration to keep thousands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq after their scheduled departure in December 2011.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s new government solidifies the grip that Shiites have held on political power since Saddam Hussein’s ouster. It leaves open the question of whether the country’s disgruntled Sunni minority will play a meaningful role.

26 APNewsBreak: Nearly 1 in 4 fails military exam

By CHRISTINE ARMARIO and DORIE TURNER, Associated Press

19 mins ago

MIAMI – Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can’t answer basic math, science and reading questions, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The report by The Education Trust bolsters a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will grow too small.

“Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career – and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the AP. “I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America’s underperforming education system.”

27 Divided FCC adopts rules to protect Web traffic

By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer

20 mins ago

WASHINGTON – A divided Federal Communications Commission has approved new rules meant to prohibit broadband companies from interfering with Internet traffic flowing to their customers.

The 3-2 vote Tuesday marks a major victory for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who has spent more than a year trying to craft a compromise.

The FCC’s three Democrats voted to pass the rules, while the two Republicans opposed them, calling them unnecessary regulation. The new rules are likely to face intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill once Republicans take over the House. Meanwhile, public interest groups decried the regulations as too weak, particularly for wireless systems.

28 Census shows slowing US growth, brings GOP gains

By HOPE YEN and CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press

21 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Republican-leaning states will gain at least a half dozen House seats thanks to the 2010 census, which found the nation’s population growing more slowly than in past decades but still shifting to the South and West.

The Census Bureau announced Tuesday that the nation’s population on April 1 was 308,745,538, up from 281.4 million a decade ago. The growth rate for the past decade was 9.7 percent, the lowest since the Great Depression. The nation’s population grew by 13.2 percent from 1990 to 2000.

Michigan was the only state to lose population during the past decade. Nevada, with a 35 percent increase, was the fastest-growing state.

29 Obama secures GOP votes for US-Russia nuclear pact

By DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press

16 mins ago

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama locked up enough Republican votes Tuesday to ratify a new arms control treaty with Russia that would cap nuclear warheads for both former Cold War foes and restart on-site weapons inspections.

Eleven Senate Republicans joined Democrats in a 67-28 proxy vote to wind up the debate and hold a final tally on Wednesday. They broke ranks with the Senate’s top two Republicans and were poised to give Obama a win on his top foreign policy priority.

“We are on the brink of writing the next chapter in the 40-year history of wrestling with the threat of nuclear weapons,” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said after the vote.

30 ‘Spider-Man’ stuntman injured in a fall

By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer

22 mins ago

NEW YORK – Broadway might need a superhero to save the new Spider-Man musical.

The troubled, big-budget “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” was hit by its fourth accident since it began previews last month when a stuntman playing the skyscraper-scaling superhero fell about 30 feet into a stage pit during a performance Monday night. The safety tether that clips to his back failed to prevent the spill.

The performer, identified by a fellow cast member as 31-year-old Christopher Tierney, was wheeled out of the Foxwoods Theatre on a stretcher, still in his costume, and taken by ambulance to Bellevue Hospital with minor injuries. He suffered broken ribs and internal bleeding, said the castmate, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about the musical.

31 House sends food safety bill to president

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press

5 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The House has passed a sweeping bill aimed at making food safer following recent contaminations in peanuts, eggs and produce, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The legislation passed Tuesday would give the government broad new powers to inspect processing plants, order recalls and impose stricter standards for imported foods. The $1.4 billion bill would also require larger farms and food manufacturers to prepare detailed food safety plans and tell the Food and Drug Administration how they are working to keep their food safe at different stages of production.

The food safety bill has faced several false starts since the House first passed it in July 2009. It stalled in the Senate for over a year as small farms objected to the increased oversight and conservatives complained about the cost. Most recently, the Senate passed the bill in November with tax provisions that were supposed to originate in the House under the Constitution, threatening completion of the bill.

32 Vatican clarifies pope’s condom comments

By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press

2 hrs 13 mins ago

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican on Tuesday sought to clarify the pope’s controversial comments about condoms and HIV, saying he by no means suggested condom use could be condoned as a means of avoiding pregnancy.

The Vatican’s moral watchdog, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a statement Tuesday saying some commentators had misunderstood and misrepresented the pope’s remarks in a book-length interview released last month entitled “Light of the World.”

The Vatican has been under pressure from conservative theologians to issue such a clarification amid widespread confusion about what Pope Benedict XVI meant and whether he was breaking with church teaching.

33 TD Bank to buy Chrysler Financial for $6.3B

By ROB GILLIES and SHARON SILKE CARTY, Associated Press

51 mins ago

TORONTO – Toronto-Dominion Bank has agreed to buy Chrysler Financial, the automaker’s old lending arm, from private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP for $6.3 billion.

The deal announced Tuesday is the latest example of a healthy Canadian bank using their muscle to snap up U.S. institutions battered by the financial crisis.

Toronto-Dominion CEO Ed Clark said Canada’s second-largest bank is looking to accelerate growth in the U.S and this deal makes them a top five North American auto lender.

34 More than half age 25-29 only have cell phones

By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press

Tue Dec 21, 12:52 pm ET

WASHINGTON – In a first for any age group, more than half of Americans age 25-29 live in households with cell phones but no traditional landline telephones.

A report on phone use by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that the younger children are, the likelier they are to live in homes that only have wireless phones. That suggests that younger parents are showing increasing comfort relying only on cell phones even as they adjust from being single to a more settled family lifestyle, according to one of the report’s authors.

Taken together, the figures released Tuesday provide the latest evidence of how young people are leading the nation’s evolution away from landline phones.

35 Toyota to pay $32.4 million in extra fines

By KEN THOMAS and TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press

Tue Dec 21, 7:10 am ET

TOKYO – Toyota Motor Corp. has agreed to pay the U.S. government a record $32.4 million in additional fines to settle an investigation into its handling of two recalls at the heart of its safety crisis.

The civil penalties will settle investigations into how Toyota dealt with recalls over accelerator pedals that could get trapped in floor mats and steering relay rods that could break and lead to drivers losing control.

The latest settlement, on top of a $16.4 million fine Toyota paid earlier in a related investigation, brings the total penalties levied on the company to $48.8 million. It caps a difficult year for the world’s No. 1 automaker, which recalled more than 11 million vehicles globally since the fall of 2009 as it scrambled to protect its reputation for safety and reliability.

36 Appeals court: Judge was wrong in Texas arson case

By JEFF CARLTON, Associated Press

13 mins ago

DALLAS – A Texas appeals court halted an inquiry Tuesday into whether a man convicted of arson was wrongly executed, saying the presiding judge acted improperly by not ruling on a motion for his recusal.

In a 2-1 decision, the Third Texas Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Charlie Baird “abused his discretion” by not recusing himself or referring a motion for his recusal to another judge. Baird presided over an October hearing into whether Cameron Willingham was wrongly executed for setting a 1991 fire that killed his three daughters – a 2-year-old and 1-year-old twins.

Although Willingham was executed in 2004, many of the nation’s foremost fire experts, some of whom testified in October, now say the blaze was accidental. Some of Willingham’s surviving relatives and attorneys from the Innocence Project are trying to clear Willingham’s name and get the state to acknowledge he was wrongly executed.

37 Ariz. hospital loses Catholic status over surgery

By AMANDA LEE MYERS, Associated Press

43 mins ago

PHOENIX – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix stripped a major hospital of its affiliation with the church Tuesday because of a surgery that ended a woman’s pregnancy to save her life.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted called the 2009 procedure an abortion and said St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center – recognized internationally for its neurology and neurosurgery practices – violated ethical and religious directives of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“In the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld,” Olmsted said at a news conference announcing the decision. “The mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed.”

38 Blacks, women, now gays: Military to adjust again

By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer

2 hrs 6 mins ago

NEW YORK – Two decades after integration of the U.S. military, race riots flared on Navy warships in the Vietnam era. Long after servicewomen were officially placed on an equal footing with men, sexual harassment is still pervasive.

Now the military has a new social challenge: Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the ranks. It is expected that commanders will dutifully implement the policy, and overall it will likely be judged a success, but recent history provides some cautionary lessons.

On one hand, the military has earned a deserved reputation as a meritocracy in which minorities and women can flourish. On the other hand, sexual assault remains a rampant problem, and racism was minimized only after years of friction within the ranks.

39 Stopgap spending measure clears Senate

By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press

2 hrs 35 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a stopgap funding bill Tuesday to keep the government open into March, when Republicans will have greater power to cut federal spending.

The bill would freeze agency budgets at current levels. That’s still too high for Republicans set to take over the House, who vow to cut many programs to levels in place when President Barack Obama took office.

The measure is needed because the Democratic-controlled Congress – in an unprecedented breakdown of the budget process – has failed to pass a single one of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of every federal agency.

40 US executions drop by 12 percent in 2010

By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press

Tue Dec 21, 7:10 am ET

WASHINGTON – The number of executions in the United States dropped 12 percent in 2010, and the number of people sentenced to die is nearing historic lows, a report from an anti-capital punishment group says.

The Death Penalty Information Center attributed the reductions to changing attitudes toward capital punishment, but acknowledged there have also been problems with the availability of chemicals used in lethal injections.

“Whether it’s concerns about the high costs of the death penalty at a time when budgets are being slashed, the risks of executing the innocent, unfairness, or other reasons, the nation continued to move away from the death penalty in 2010,” said Richard Dieter, the center’s executive director and author of the report.

41 Military will write the rules on repeal of gay ban

By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press

Tue Dec 21, 3:03 am ET

WASHINGTON – Gays and lesbians will be treated just like any other soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines, the new rules say. But commanders will have some flexibility when they believe it’s needed to maintain order and discipline in their units.

As the U.S. military begins to map out how it will implement the new edict allowing gays to serve openly, the first order of business is drafting the regulations. The rule changes under discussion won’t dictate how troops feel about the change, but will strictly enforce how they act on it.

The Senate voted Saturday to repeal the ban on openly gay service, following earlier action by the House. Fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise, President Barack Obama plans to sign the bill into law on Wednesday at an Interior Department ceremony. But in letters to the troops over the weekend, the four military service chiefs warned that the ban is still in place, and will be for some time to come.

42 Dance, protests mark 150 years since SC left US

By JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press

Mon Dec 20, 8:41 pm ET

CHARLESTON, S.C. – The memory of the Civil War collided with modern-day civil rights Monday as protesters targeted a “Secession Ball,” commemorating South Carolina’s decision exactly 150 years ago to secede from the United States of America.

As blacks and whites gathered in the twilight with electric candles and signs for an NAACP protest, a predominantly white group of men in old-fashioned tuxedos and women in long-flowing dresses and gloves stopped to watch and take pictures before going into the Charleston auditorium where the ball was taking place.

NAACP leaders said it made no sense to hold a gala to honor men who committed treason against their own nation for the sake of a system that kept black men and women in bondage as slaves. They compared Confederate leaders to terrorists and Nazi soldiers.

43 Civil rights groups seek review of Texas schools

By MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press

Mon Dec 20, 7:22 pm ET

HOUSTON – Two civil rights organizations are seeking a federal review of public school education in Texas, accusing state school administrators of violating federal civil rights laws after curriculum changes approved earlier this year by the Texas Board of Education.

The request to the U.S. Department of Education made by the Texas NAACP and Texas League of United Latin American Citizens on Monday contended that the curriculum changes passed in May “were made with the intention to discriminate” and would have a “stigmatizing impact” on African-American and Latino students.

“The State of Texas is failing to provide many of its minority students with equal educational opportunities,” documents sent to the federal department said.

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