Supreme Court will review Calif. ban on same-sex marriage, federal law targeting gay couples
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is taking a potentially historic look at same-sex marriage by agreeing to hear two cases that challenge governments' different treatment of gay Americans.
The focus in one case is California's constitutional amendment that forbids same-sex marriage. The other case deals with a federal law that denies to those who can marry legally the right to obtain federal benefits that are available to heterosexual married couples.
Supreme Court cases often take twists and turns that limit the scope of the eventual decision. But the justices' action on Friday gives them the chance to say whether gay Americans have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals.
The court is embarked on what could be its most significant term involving civil rights in decades. In the area of racial discrimination, the justices already have agreed to decide cases on affirmative action in admission to college and a key part of the Voting Rights Act. The gay marriage cases probably will be argued in March and decisions in all the court's cases are likely by the end of June.
The order from the court extends a dizzying pace of change regarding gay marriage that includes rapid shifts in public opinion, President Barack Obama's endorsement in May and votes in Maine, Maryland and Washington in November to allow gay couples to marry. Same-sex couples in Washington began picking up marriage licenses on Thursday.
Obama's request for $60.4 billion in Superstorm Sandy aid could face congressional hurdles
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's proposal for $60.4 billion in federal aid for states hit by Superstorm Sandy adds a huge new item to an end-of-year congressional agenda already packed with controversy.
The president's request to Congress on Friday followed weeks of discussions with lawmakers and officials from New York, New Jersey and other affected states who requested significantly more money, but generally praised the president's request as they urged Congress to adopt it without delay.
"It's not everything we wanted, but it's close enough," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Pushing the request through Congress in the few weeks left before lawmakers adjourn at the end of the year will be no easy task. Washington's attention is focused on the looming fiscal cliff of expiring Bush-era tax cuts and automatic spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs set to begin at the end of the year. And tea party House Republicans are likely to press for budget cuts elsewhere to offset some or even all disaster costs.
Those complications raised the prospects that the measure will be delayed in whole or in part until next year, although Schumer said the goal is to get it done by Dec. 31.
US tells UN that it has detained over 200 teens in Afghan prison for about a year at a time
NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. military has detained more than 200 Afghan teenagers who were captured in the war for about a year at a time at a military prison next to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, the United States has told the United Nations.
The U.S. State Department characterized the detainees held since 2008 as "enemy combatants" in a report sent every four years to the United Nations in Geneva updating U.S. compliance with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The U.S. military had held them "to prevent a combatant from returning to the battlefield," the report said.
A few are still confined at the Detention Facility in Parwan, which will be turned over to the Afghan government, it said. "Many of them have been released or transferred to the Afghan government," said the report, distributed this week.
Most of the juvenile Afghan detainees were about 16 years old, but their age was not usually determined until after capture, the U.S. report said.
Ex-Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist tweets he's 'proud and honored to join the Democratic Party'
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was elected the state's chief executive as a Republican and then ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent, announced on Twitter that he's switching to the Democratic Party.
The announcement Friday night fanned speculation that Crist would seek to regain his old job from Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.
Crist sent out a tweet that said, "Proud and honored to join the Democratic Party in the home of President (at)Barack Obama!"
The tweet included a photo of a smiling Crist and his wife Carole as he held up a Florida voter registration application. The Tampa Bay Times reports that Crist signed the papers changing his affiliation from independent to Democrat at a Christmas reception at the White House. President Barack Obama greeted the news with a fist bump.
"I've had friends for years tell me, 'You know Charlie, you're a Democrat and you don't know it,'" Crist told the newspaper Friday night.
Ariz. man claims half of Powerball pot; lottery says fiscal cliff prompts quick collection
PHOENIX (AP) — Fallout from the looming fiscal cliff has drifted into the Powerball arena.
A man who lottery officials announced Friday has claimed his half of the $587.5 million Powerball jackpot, decided to collect the winnings now and not next year because of the financial uncertainty posed by the nation's ongoing financial impasse.
The man, who is in his 30s from a wealthy Phoenix suburb, decided to remain anonymous after he bought $10 worth of tickets and kept the winning slip in the visor of his car overnight before realizing he was a multimillionaire.
He gave $20 to the cashier of a Fountain Hills convenience store, and the clerk nudged him to spend the entire amount on tickets. He declined the offer.
After the man and his wife learned of their good fortune, the husband pulled together a team of financial advisers and decided to take all of his share this month to avoid potentially higher taxes in 2013, said Karen Bach, a lottery official.
Authorities who interviewed Alaska serial killer say he murdered people for fun
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Confessed serial killer Israel Keyes admitted he enjoyed killing people, but couldn't or wouldn't give investigators a more meaningful answer when quizzed why he did it.
"There were just times, a couple of times, where we would try to get a why," said Anchorage Police officer Jeff Bell, who helped interrogate Keyes for hours.
"He would have this term, he would say, 'A lot of people ask why, and I would be, like, why not?'" Bell said.
Keyes confessed to killing eight people across the United States, but alluded to additional murders, FBI Special Agent Jolene Goeden and Bell told The Associated Press.
"Based on some of the things he told us, and some of the conversations we had with him, we believe the number is less than 12," Goeden said. "We don't know for sure. He's the only one who could have ultimately answered that."
China's Xi matching breezy style with popular campaign against pomp, waste
BEIJING (AP) — New communist leader Xi Jinping is on a mission to soften the image of Chinese officialdom, winning kudos for his breezy personal style and ordering leaders to take a knife to the pomp, formality and waste that have alienated many among the public.
With his silky baritone, glamorous wife and daughter at Harvard, Xi cuts a very different figure from the staid, hyper-private leaders of the past. Even his posture, more like that of a slouchy college professor than a stiff party cadre, has won him plaudits.
Xi took the new informality a step further at a Tuesday meeting of the 25-member Politburo, ordering that arrangements for leaders' visits and the trappings of power be drastically pared back. Elaborate welcoming ceremonies will be eliminated, traffic disruptions avoided, and staid, often worthless reporting on the doings of the leadership dispensed with. Even red carpets are to go.
And according to Hong Kong media that is what happened on Xi's first trip outside Beijing since he took over as party leader. When Xi arrived in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Friday there were no welcome banners, and the red carpet was gone when he laid a wreath to the statute of the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping on Saturday, according to footage by Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television.
It's still unclear whether the tonal change will boost transparency and bring meaningful administrative reforms that many say are needed to sustain China's economic and social development. The son of a communist elder, Xi has also gained a reputation as a nationalist hardliner with earlier comments blasting foreigners for criticizing China's human rights record.
IBM move to annual lump-sum 401(k) matching contributions could be sign of things to come
IBM is making changes to its employee benefits that may cause other large corporations to follow suit. The technology company will begin making contributions to employees' 401(k) accounts in lump-sum annual payments, rather than at the time of each paycheck. It's a move that will help the company cut retirement plan expenses.
Employees were notified this week that matching contributions will be made just once annually, on Dec. 31, beginning next year. "This change reflects our continuing commitment to invest in our employee 401(k) plans while maintaining business competitiveness in a challenging economic environment," IBM spokesman Doug Shelton said.
The end-of-the-year 401(k) match won't be unique to IBM, but experts say the company's move could lead other major employers to consider making less frequent contributions.
"IBM is one of the world's most influential plan sponsors," said Mike Alfred, CEO of BrightScope Inc., which rates corporate 401(k) plans. It places IBM's among the top 30 plans at large employers. "Everyone in the benefits industry will pay close attention to whatever IBM does."
Across the country, some 60 million workers participate in 401(k)s, which have become a key source of retirement savings. Most companies match from 3 percent to 6 percent of the amount the employee contributes to the account. Contributions are exempt from income tax, and investment earnings grow tax-free until withdrawal.
PSY apologizes for anti-US protests; says they were 'deeply emotional' reaction to Iraq war
South Korean rapper and Internet sensation PSY is apologizing to Americans for participating in anti-U.S. protests several years ago.
Park Jae-sang, who performs as PSY, issued a statement Friday after reports surfaced that he had participated in concerts protesting the U.S. military presence in South Korea during the early stages of the Iraq war.
At a 2004 concert, the "Gangnam Style" rapper performs a song with lyrics about killing "Yankees" who have been torturing Iraqi captives and their families "slowly and painfully." During a 2002 concert, he smashed a model of a U.S. tank on stage.
"While I'm grateful for the freedom to express one's self, I've learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I'm deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted," he wrote in the statement. "I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words."
The 34-year-old rapper says the protests were part of a "deeply emotional" reaction to the war and the death of two Korean school girls, who were killed when a U.S. military vehicle hit them as they walked alongside the road. He noted anti-war sentiment was high around the world at the time.
Durant and Westbrook big as Thunder hold off Lakers' late charge, win 114-108
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — In a reversal of roles, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers know they're the predators trying to track down Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder.
They have some work to do.
Durant had 36 points, Russell Westbrook scored 27 of his 33 in the first half to stake Oklahoma City to a commanding lead and the Thunder beat the short-handed Lakers 114-108 Friday night.
"They're a team that everybody likes. As a young team coming up, you always want to beat the best," Westbrook said. "I think that's one of the things that motivates us."
Bryant had 35 points for Los Angeles, which trailed by as many as 19 before rallying to get within four in the final minute.