AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on February 25, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Updated Monday, Feb 25 at 6:03 AM

'Argo' wins best picture, 'Life of Pi' leads with 4 awards on scattered Oscar night

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just as Oscar host Seth MacFarlane set his sights on a variety of targets with a mixture of hits and misses, the motion picture academy spread the gold around to a varied slate of films. "Argo" won best picture as expected, along with two other prizes. But "Life of Pi" won the most awards with four, including a surprise win for director Ang Lee.

"Les Miserables" also won three Academy Awards, while "Django Unchained" and "Skyfall" each took two.

Among the winners were the front-runners throughout this lengthy awards season: best actor Daniel Day-Lewis for his deeply immersed portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's epic "Lincoln," best actress Jennifer Lawrence as a troubled young widow in "Silver Linings Playbook" and supporting actress Anne Hathaway as the doomed prostitute Fantine in the musical "Les Miserables." Christoph Waltz was a bit of a surprise for supporting actor as a charismatic bounty hunter in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," an award he'd won just three years ago for Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds."

The 22-year-old Lawrence, who got to show her lighter side in the oddball romance "Silver Linings Playbook" following serious roles in "Winter's Bone" and "The Hunger Games," gamely laughed at herself as she tripped on the stairs en route to the stage in her poufy, pale pink Dior Haute Couture gown. Backstage in the press room, when a reporter asked what she was thinking, she responded: "A bad word that I can't say that starts with 'F.'" Keeping journalists in hysterics, she explained, "I'm sorry. I did a shot before I ... sorry."

That's the kind of raunchiness MacFarlane himself seemed to be aiming for as host while also balancing the more traditional demands of the job. There was a ton of singing and dancing during the three-and-half-hour broadcast — no surprise from the musically minded creator of the animated series "Family Guy" — including a poignant performance from Barbra Streisand of "The Way We Were," written by the late Marvin Hamlisch, during the memorial montage. But MacFarlane also tried to keep the humor edgy with shots at Mel Gibson, George Clooney, Chris Brown and Rihanna.

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Ang Lee thanks Taiwan after winning best director Oscar for 'Life of Pi'

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ang Lee called it "a miracle" that he could make "Life of Pi," a film that occupied him for four years before it hit the big screen and culminated with his surprising win for best director at the Oscars.

Lee claimed his second directing Oscar on Sunday night in an upset over Steven Spielberg, who had been the heavy favorite for "Lincoln." Lee won the same award in 2005 for "Brokeback Mountain."

"It was a very sweet moment for me," he said backstage.

"Life of Pi," a shipwreck story told in 3-D, won a leading four trophies, including musical score, cinematography and visual effects.

"It's a miracle that I could make this movie," Lee said. "I carried the anxiety for a very long time, four years. It's a philosophical book and expensive movie, a scary combination."

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'Family Guy' star Seth MacFarlane proves he's an Oscar guy as sassy host of awards show

NEW YORK (AP) — He ruffled feathers. He maybe even turned some viewers off.

But it's likely no one turned off Seth MacFarlane.

Best-known until recently as the bad-boy creator and character voice behind "Family Guy" and last summer's hit film "Ted," MacFarlane seized the camera Sunday as host of ABC's Oscarcast and proved to its vast audience that he's a ridiculously versatile entertainer, a guy who can be as charming as he is famously irreverent, even polarizing.

Here's a guy who could toss off a joke Bob Hope might have delivered decades ago ("It's Sunday. Everybody's dressed up. This is like church — only with more people praying"), then carry off a deliberate groaner like his wisecrack that, while, an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis really captured Abraham Lincoln in his Oscar-winning performance, "I would argue that the actor who really got inside Abraham Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth."

Viewers could have gotten fair warning of what to expect from MacFarlane last fall when he hosted "Saturday Night Live" with skill.

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White House details state-by-state fallout from budget cuts as blame game continues

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House has detailed the potential fallout in each state from budget cuts set to take effect at week's end, while congressional Republicans and Democrats keep up the sniping over who's to blame.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said on "Fox News Sunday" that there was little hope to dodge the cuts "unless the Republicans are willing to compromise and do a balanced approach."

No so fast, Republicans interjected.

"I think the American people are tired of the blame game," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Yet just a moment before, she was blaming President Barack Obama for putting the country on the brink of massive spending cuts that were initially designed to be so unacceptable that Congress would strike a grand bargain to avoid them.

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Defense Department's decision to end ban on women in combat may make draft registration co-ed

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tennnnnn-hut, ladies! The next time Uncle Sam comes calling, he's probably going to want you, too.

The Obama administration's recent decision to lift the ban on women in combat has opened the door for a change in the law that currently compels only men between age 18 and 25 to register for a military draft, according to legal experts and military historians.

Never before has the country drafted women into military service, and neither the administration nor Congress is in a hurry to make them register for a future call-up. But, legally, they may have no other choice.

It is constitutional to register only men for a draft, the Supreme Court ruled more than three decades ago, because the reason for registration is to create a pool of potential combat troops should a national emergency demand a rapid increase in the size of the military. Women were excluded from serving in battlefield jobs, so there was no reason to register them for possible conscription into the armed forces, the court held.

Now that front-line infantry, armor, artillery and special operations jobs are open to female volunteers who can meet the physical requirements, it will be difficult for anyone to make a persuasive argument that women should continue to be exempt from registration, said Diane Mazur, a law professor at the University of Florida and a former Air Force officer.

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Billions of dollars are at stake for BP as trial opens for Gulf oil spill litigation

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nearly three years after a deadly rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico triggered the nation's worst offshore oil spill, a federal judge in New Orleans is set to preside over a high-stakes trial for the raft of litigation spawned by the disaster.

Barring an 11th-hour settlement, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will hear several hours of opening statements Monday by lawyers for the companies involved in the 2010 spill and the plaintiffs who sued them. And the judge, not a jury, ultimately could decide how much more money BP PLC and its partners on the ill-fated drilling project owe for their roles in the environmental catastrophe.

BP has said it already has racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses and has estimated it will pay a total of $42 billion to fully resolve its liability for the disaster that killed 11 workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil.

But the trial attorneys for the federal government and Gulf states and private plaintiffs hope to convince the judge that the company is liable for much more.

With billions of dollars on the line, the companies and their courtroom adversaries have spared no expense in preparing for a trial that could last several months. Hundreds of attorneys have worked on the case, generating roughly 90 million pages of documents, logging nearly 9,000 docket entries and taking more than 300 depositions of witnesses who could testify at trial.

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In Cuba, led by Fidel and Raul Castro for 54 years, 2018 date is given for new leadership

HAVANA (AP) — It's been more than 54 years since someone not named "Castro" led Cuba, and it will likely be five more.

But now islanders and exiles alike have finally been given a date for when the sun will set on brothers Fidel and Raul's longtime rule: 2018.

In accepting a new presidential term on Sunday, the 81-year-old Raul Castro announced that it would be his last. And for the first time, he tapped a rising young star, Miguel Diaz-Canel, to be his top lieutenant and possible successor.

"This will be my last term," Castro said, his voice firm.

Castro also said he hopes to establish two-term limits and age caps for political offices including the presidency, though he didn't specify what age.

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Sense or censorship? Iceland's proposed ban on pornography divides opinion

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — In the age of instant information, globe-spanning viral videos and the World Wide Web, can a thoroughly wired country become a porn-free zone? Authorities in Iceland want to find out.

The government of the tiny North Atlantic nation is drafting plans to ban pornography, in print and online, in an attempt to protect children from a tide of violent sexual imagery.

The proposal by Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson has caused an uproar. Opponents say the move will censor the Web, encourage authoritarian regimes and undermine Iceland's reputation as a Scandinavian bastion of free speech.

Advocates say it is a sensible measure that will shelter children from serious harm.

"When a 12-year-old types 'porn' into Google, he or she is not going to find photos of naked women out on a country field, but very hardcore and brutal violence," said Halla Gunnarsdottir, political adviser to the interior minister.

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Marijuana legalization in 2 states prompts state gardening dilemma, private sector opportunity

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — It may be called weed, but marijuana is legendarily hard to grow.

Now that the drug has been made legal in Washington and Colorado, growers face a dilemma. State-sanctioned gardening coaches can help folks cultivate tomatoes or zucchini, but both states have instructed them not to show people the best way to grow marijuana. The situation is similar in more than a dozen additional states that allow people to grow the drug with medical permission.

That's leaving some would-be marijuana gardeners looking to the private sector for help raising the temperamental plant.

"We can't go there," said Brian Clark, a spokesman for Washington State University in Pullman, which runs the state's extension services for gardening and agriculture. "It violates federal law, and we are a federally funded organization."

The issue came up because people are starting to ask master gardeners for help in growing cannabis, Clark said. Master gardeners are volunteers who work through state university systems to provide horticultural tips in their communities.

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Months after Sandy, lower Manhattan's seaport a 'ghost town' of shuttered businesses

NEW YORK (AP) — The historic cobblestone streets and 19th-century mercantile buildings near the water's edge in lower Manhattan are eerily deserted, a neighborhood silenced by Superstorm Sandy.

Just blocks from the tall-masted ships that rise above South Street Seaport, the windows of narrow brick apartment buildings are still crisscrossed with masking tape left by their owners before the storm. Store interiors are stripped down to plywood and wiring. Restaurants are chained shut, frozen in time, saddled with electrical systems that were ruined by several feet of salt water that raced up from the East River and through their front doors.

"People have no clue that this corner of Manhattan has been hit so badly," said Adam Weprin, manager of the Bridge Cafe, one of the city's oldest bars that sits on a quiet street near the seaport. "Right now, it's a ghost town and a construction site."

Nearly four months after the storm, roughly 85 percent of small businesses near the South Street Seaport are still boarded up. It could be months before some reopen, while others may never return. On Fulton Street, the wide tourist-friendly pedestrian walkway that comprises the seaport's main shopping district, not a single one of the major chain stores — which include Coach, Ann Taylor and Brookstone — has reopened.

Among local business owners, there is a pervasive sense that their plight has been ignored by the rest of the city. A state senator who represents the area estimates at least 1,000 jobs were lost in lower Manhattan — 450 of them in the seaport neighborhood alone.

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