AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Dec 13, 2009 6:13 PM

Houston's first openly gay mayor says she hopes election shows city's diversity, changes image

HOUSTON (AP) _ The day after Houston voters chose Annise Parker to become the city's first openly gay mayor, she did as she had throughout a contentious, hard-fought campaign: focused on the brick-and-mortar realities of running the country's fourth largest city.

Parker told a Sunday press conference about her transition team, her plans to change the running of the Houston Police Department and the financial constraints faced by the city.

Then, she paused to reflect on the significance of the election, which made Houston the largest U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor.

"It's a historic election for my community, and I believe an election that will change some people's minds about the city of Houston," said Parker, 53. "It's a diverse, international city that welcomes everyone."

Parker, who began her political career as a gay activist, rose through the ranks of local politics to serve first on city council, then as city controller.

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Senate passes $1.1 trillion spending bill with big budget increases; measure goes to Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate on Sunday passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill with increased budgets for vast areas of the federal government, including health, education, law enforcement and veterans' programs.

The more-than-1,000-page package, one of the last essential chores of Congress this year, passed 57-35 and now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The weekend action underlined the legislative crush faced by Congress as it tries to wind up the year. After the vote, the Senate immediately returned to the debate on health care legislation that has consumed its time and energy for weeks. Senate Democrats hope to reach a consensus in the coming days on Obama's chief domestic priority.

The spending bill combines six of the 12 annual appropriation bills for the 2010 budget year that began Oct. 1. Obama has signed into law five others.

The final one, a $626 billion defense bill, will be used as the base bill for another catch-all package of measures that Congress must deal with in the coming days. Those include action to raise the $12.1 trillion debt ceiling and proposals to stimulate the job market.

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Activists long for the good old days when carbon levels were just at 350 parts per million

COPENHAGEN (AP) _ As police cracked down on climate protesters, church bells tolled 350 times Sunday to impress on the U.N. global warming conference a number that is gaining a following, but is also awash in contradictions.

Conference negotiators went behind closed doors in talks to pin down an elusive new pact on climate, talks in which the figure 350 looms as a goal for true believers, but one that appears impossible based on progress so far.

It refers to 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the highest concentration that some leading scientists say the world can handle without sparking dangerous climate effects.

"It's the most important number in the world," said Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental activist group 350.org. "It's the line between habitability on this planet and a really, really desolate future."

Not everyone buys into that. But an entire environmental group has sprung up around the number, pushing 350 as a goal, sporting it on T-shirts and flags waved by throngs of protesters that marched to the conference center over the weekend. About 100 nations at the U.N. climate summit have signed on to the idea of heading for 350.

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Plan to let people 55 and up buy into Medicare finds resistance among Senate moderates

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A plan to let people as young as 55 buy into Medicare, heralded as a breakthrough in the Senate's health care debate, ran into resistance Sunday from lawmakers who can make or break Democrats' efforts to reshape the nation's health insurance system.

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut declared the early Medicare buy-in a bad deal for taxpayers and the deficit. He pleaded with Democrats to start subtracting expensive proposals from the overhaul, saying, "We don't need to keep adding onto the back of this horse or we're going to break the horse's back and get nothing done."

Government accountants are poring over the latest compromise proposals to see how much they would cost, and some lawmakers are reserving judgment until that plays out this week. Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said she would "absolutely" vote against the package if it seemed destined to increase people's out-of-pocket costs and the national debt.

In the meantime, only a few moderates have come out against the Medicare plan. But in a legislative struggle that is a game of inches, Democrats need all 60 votes in their caucus, and they don't yet have them.

The early Medicare buy-in was part of a compromise reached last week when Senate Democrats dropped the idea of setting up a federal health insurance plan to compete with private insurers. Many Democrats who had favored that public option only grudgingly let it go, in return embracing the Medicare proposal as an appealing way to help people 55 to 64 _ a group often vulnerable to losing employer-based health insurance when it's needed the most.

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Attacker hurls statuette at Berlusconi in Milan; Italian premier bloodied with broken nose

ROME (AP) _ An attacker hurled a statuette at Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, striking the leader in the face at the end of a rally Sunday and leaving the stunned 73-year-old media mogul with a broken nose and bloodied mouth.

Police said the 42-year-old man accused of attacking Berlusconi as he signed autographs in Milan was immediately taken into custody. The Italian leader was rushed to a hospital where he was being held overnight.

The attack occurred at a time when Berlusconi, one of Italy's wealthiest men, is embroiled in a sex scandal, a divorce case with his wife and public protests demanding his resignation.

TV showed the stunned leader with blood under his nose, on his mouth and under one eye as he was lifted to his feet by aides after Sunday's attack. He was hustled into the back of a car, but he immediately got out, apparently to show he was not badly injured.

But Berlusconi suffered a "small fracture" of the nose, two broken teeth and an injury to the inside and outside of his lip, said Paolo Klun, chief spokesman for Milan's San Raffaele Hospital.

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Iranian students accuse government of faking images of protesters burning photos of Khomeini

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Hundreds of students at Tehran University renewed anti-government protests for a second week on Sunday, accusing authorities of fabricating images of demonstrators burning photos of the Islamic Republic's revered founder.

Students moved to the forefront of opposition on the streets with massive protests last week. They say authorities are using the images of burning photos as a pretext to crack down on their protests, which have helped revitalize the pro-reform movement.

State television has repeatedly shown images, ostensibly taken during student-led protests on Dec. 7, of unidentified hands burning and tearing up pictures of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It was a grave and illegal insult against the former leader, still widely respected in the country. The elite Revolutionary Guard, the country's most powerful military force, called for the trial and punishment of those responsible.

Mohammad Nourizad, a filmmaker and activist, said that no matter who was behind the destruction of his photo, the offense pales in significance to the killing of protesters and the violation of people's rights. Iran's opposition says at least 72 protesters were killed in the weeks after the disputed June presidential election, while the government puts the number of confirmed dead at 30.

"When I saw how you tore up Imam (Khomeini's) road map for respecting people's rights and protecting their dignity, I had no power but to tear up his photo," Nourizad said sarcastically. He said the government was using the issue as a "childish tactic" against its opponents.

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Shoppers out in force but sticking closely to lists; bigger discounts on the way, analysts say

NEW YORK (AP) _ Shoppers were making lists and checking them twice this weekend _ and then sticking to them, holding out for good deals that analysts say could be coming this week.

While heavy traffic and little sign of clearance discounts during the weekend are clear improvements for retailers from last year's dismal season, many are still taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I'm playing chicken with retailers, still, until next weekend," said Matt Schuld, a shopper at a Target in Portland, Ore. He said a good deal is "imperative, as always."

Schuld might win the staredown. Retailers will begin amping up deals this week, NPD analyst Marshal Cohen said.

"This weekend is the last weekend for retailers to try to get whatever they could. Now it's the consumer's turn," he said. "Every retailer will pick a different day this week to deepen the discounts. Fifty percent off will be the starting point, and it will go up to 60 percent and 75 percent off within the store."

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Accenture ends 6-year relationship with Tiger Woods; says no longer the 'right representative'

By The Associated Press

Global consulting firm Accenture Ltd. has ended its relationship with Tiger Woods, marking the first major sponsor to cut ties altogether with the golfer since his alleged infidelities surfaced and he announced an indefinite leave from the sport to work on his marriage.

In its first statement since the Woods' scandal erupted, Accenture said Sunday the golfer is "no longer the right representative" after the "circumstances of the last two weeks." The move ends a six-year relationship during which the firm credited its "Go on, be a Tiger" campaign with boosting its image significantly. Accenture has used Woods to personify its claimed attributes of integrity and high performance.

"After careful consideration and analysis, the company has determined that he is no longer the right representative for its advertising," Accenture said, adding that "it wishes only the best for Tiger Woods and his family."

The firm plans to immediately transition to a new advertising campaign, with a major effort scheduled to launch later in 2010. An Accenture spokeswoman declined to comment further. Advertising firm Young & Rubicam, which has handled the company's Tiger Woods ads, also would not comment on the move.

One of the risks of advertising tied to a celebrity is that "your image gets carried by someone you can't control," said Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management.

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Nevada health board advances brothel owner's attempt to offer state's 1st male prostitutes

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ The owner of a brothel more than two hours' drive from Las Vegas said she hopes to hire Nevada's first legal male prostitutes within a month, now that state health officials have approved a method to test men for infectious diseases.

The world is ready for women, or even other men, to legally buy sex, said Shady Lady Ranch owner Bobbi Davis. Plus, being the first to offer male service could boost business in tough economic times, she said.

"With so many other male revues going on in Vegas, we thought it was time to give this a try," Davis told The Associated Press.

Until now, men have been effectively barred from legally plying the world's oldest profession in Nevada by the specificity of a state health law requiring prostitutes to undergo frequent cervical testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

The health board approved a regulation to allow urethral testing for men _ a crucial rule change by the state agency with ultimate power over whether prostitutes can or can't work.

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Drew Brees throws 3 TD passes, Jonathan Vilma comes up big on D, Saints nick Falcons 26-23

ATLANTA (AP) _ The New Orleans Saints keep cutting it close.

Drew Brees threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, Jonathan Vilma came up with two huge defensive plays, and the Saints remained perfect with another tight win, 26-23 over the pesky Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Garrett Hartley won it on a 38-yard field goal with a 4:42 remaining after the Falcons rallied from 14 points down. The offensive-minded Saints (13-0) then turned to defense to preserve another victory _ Vilma came up with an interception, then doled out a big fourth-down hit on Jason Snelling to finish off the Falcons' final drive.

The Falcons (6-7) lost for the sixth time in eight games and their playoff hopes appear to be over. Atlanta played without two of its biggest stars, quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner, both out for the second week in a row with injuries.

A week ago, New Orleans appeared on the verge of losing until Washington missed a chip-shot field goal in regulation. The Saints pulled out a 33-30 win in overtime.