North Korea's caste system faces power of wealth

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- For more than a half-century, a mysterious caste system has shadowed the life of every North Korean. It can decide whether they will live in the gated compounds of the minuscule elite, or in mountain villages where farmers hack at rocky soil with handmade tools. It can help determine what hospital will take them if they fall sick, whether they go to college and, very often, whom they will marry.

It is called songbun. And officially, it does not exist at all.

Mississippi River drops, threatening barge traffic

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Mississippi River level is dropping again and barge industry trade groups warned Thursday that river commerce could essentially come to a halt as early as next week in an area south of St. Louis.

Mike Petersen of the Army Corps of Engineers said ice on the northern Mississippi River is reducing the flow more than expected at the middle part of the river that is already at a low-water point unseen in decades, the result of months of drought.

The river level is now expected to get to 3 feet at the Thebes, Ill., gauge on Jan. 6, a juncture that could force new limitations. Worse still, the long-range forecast from the National Weather Service calls for the river to keep falling, reaching 2 feet on Jan. 23.

Spotify's Top 10 most streamed tracks

The following list represents the top streamed tracks on Spotify from Monday, Dec. 17, to Sunday, Dec. 23:


1. The Lumineers, "Ho Hey" (Dualtone)

2. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz, "Thrift Shop" (Mackelmore)

3. Rihanna, "Diamonds" (The Island Def Jam Music Group)

4. Bruno Mars, "Locked Out of Heaven" (Atlantic Records.)

5. Ke$ha, "Die Young" (Kemosabe Records/RCA Records)

Service dog comforts kids who are victims of abuse

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) -- EVERETT - Harper is a dainty blonde with a heart for service - and chew toys.

Last month, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever started working at Dawson Place, the county's child advocacy center that serves more than 1,000 abused children a year.

Harper is a special pooch whose job is to offer kids comfort at times when they may be scared, confused and uncomfortable.

She snuggles with children who are asked to recount horrific crimes committed against them. Her coat often soaks up their tears. Harper senses when kids need to be nuzzled or when a good dog trick will chase away the hurt.

Brooklyn Nets fire head coach Avery Johnson amid season slump

General manager announces split from Johnson without naming interim coach after team loses 10 of its last 13 games

Avery Johnson was fired Thursday as coach of the Brooklyn Nets, who have struggled recently in their season of new surroundings and elevated expectations.

After a strong start to their first season in Brooklyn, the Nets have lost 10 of 13 games to fall well behind the first-place New York Knicks, the team they so badly want to compete with in their new home.

But after beating the Knicks in their first meeting on 26 November, probably the high point of Johnson's tenure, the Nets went 5-10 and frustrations have been mounting.

Hadrian's hall: archaeologists finish excavation of Roman arts centre

Arts centre discovered under one of Rome's busiest roundabouts was built in AD123 and could seat 900 people

Archaeologists who have completed the excavation of a 900-seat arts centre under one of Rome's busiest roundabouts are calling it the most important Roman discovery in 80 years.

The centre, built by the emperor Hadrian in AD123, offered three massive halls where Roman nobles flocked to hear poetry, speeches and philosophy tracts while reclining on terraced marble seating.

With the dig now completed, the terracing and the hulking brick walls of the complex, as well as stretches of the elegant grey and yellow marble flooring, are newly visible at bottom of a 5.5 metre (18ft) hole in Piazza Venezia, where police officers wearing white gloves direct chaotic traffic like orchestra conductors and where Mussolini harangued thousands of followers from his balcony.

Saving the rhino with surveillance drones

South African farmer plans to put 30 drones in the air to help combat poachers

A rhino farmer in South Africa is planning to use surveillance drones designed for the US military to combat poachers who are driving the animals towards extinction.

Clive Vivier, cofounder of the Zululand rhino reserve in KwaZulu-Natal province, said he has been granted permission by the US state department to buy the state-of-the-art Arcturus T-20 drone.

He is now seeking clearance from local civil aviation authorities to put 30 of the drones in South African skies.

Ranchers split over US border security plan

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) -- When Dan Bell drives through his 35,000-acre cattle ranch, he speaks of the hurdles that the Border Patrol faces in his rolling green hills of oak and mesquite trees - the hours it takes to drive to some places, the wilderness areas that are generally off-limits to motorized vehicles, the environmental reviews required to extend a dirt road.

John Ladd offers a different take from his 14,000-acre spread: the Border Patrol already has more than enough roads and its beefed-up presence has flooded his land and eroded the soil.

Their differences explain why ranchers are on opposite sides of the fence over a sweeping proposal to waive environmental reviews on federal lands within 100 miles of Mexico and Canada for the sake of border security. The Border Patrol would have a free hand to build roads, camera towers, helicopter pads and living quarters without any of the outside scrutiny that can modify or even derail plans to extend its footprint.

Queen's 3D Christmas speech: monarch dons jewelled glasses to view footage

Elizabeth II to pay tribute to Team GB athletes for 'splendid summer of sport' during new-dimension yuletide staple

The Queen has enjoyed the full effect of her annual Christmas message, which will take on an extra dimension this year. Wearing 3D glasses, she watched part of the footage, to be broadcast on Christmas Day, as the final touches were made to the yuletide staple.

But these were no ordinary glasses: her spectacles have been adorned with Swarovski crystals forming a letter Q on each side, a pair she first wore during a visit to a movie training centre in Toronto, Canada, in 2010.

Somali pirates release ship and hostages after almost three years

Twenty-two sailors on board were freed after a two-week siege by maritime police, according to statement

Twenty-two sailors held hostage by Somali pirates with their ship for almost three years have been freed after a two-week siege by maritime police, the government of the breakaway Somali enclave of Puntland has said.

The crew of the Panama-flagged MV Iceberg 1, who are from the Philippines, India, Yemen, Sudan, Ghana and Pakistan, had been held for longer than any other hostages captured by pirates who prey on shipping in the region, according to the president's office of the northern Somali enclave.

Police laid siege to the vessel on 10 December near the coastal village of Gara'ad, in the region of Mudug.

Struck off MMR doctor handed award for 'lifetime achievement in quackery'

Andrew Wakefield, discredited over autism-MMR vaccine link claims, is named Good Thinking Society's Golden Duck winner

Andrew Wakefield, the doctor struck off the medical register for his discredited research that claimed to find a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, can add another honour to his list this Christmas: the inaugural Golden Duck award for lifetime achievement in quackery, set up by science writer Simon Singh.

Hurting Spaniards celebrate Christmas lottery wins

MADRID (AP) -- Winners of Spain's cherished Christmas lottery - the world's richest - celebrated Saturday in more than a dozen locations where the top lucky tickets were sold, a moment of uplift for a country enduring another brutal year of economic hardship.

The lottery sprinkled a treasure chest of (EURO)2.5 billion ($3.3 billion) in prize money around the country. Champagne corks popped and festive cheer broke out in 15 towns or cities where tickets yielding the maximum prize of (EURO)400,000 ($530,000), known as "El Gordo" ("The Fat One,)" had been bought.

A total of (EURO)520 million ($687 million) was won in the eastern Madrid suburb of Alcala de Henares alone. Among the top-prize winners were 50 former workers at metal parts factory Cametal who had formed a pool to buy tickets. Their company had filed for bankruptcy and ceased paying wages five months ago.

Iain Duncan Smith's advisers warn of consequence of benefits crackdown

Committee says withdrawing benefits for those judged unwilling to seek work risks driving claimants into 'crime or prostitution'

Iain Duncan Smith's own advisers have urged a softening of his benefits crackdown after hearing evidence that it risked pushing the poorest in society into "crime or prostitution".

The work and pensions secretary should relax the punishment he plans to mete out to unemployed people judged unwilling to seek work, they warn.

RIM loses BlackBerry subscribers for first time

TORONTO (AP) -- Research In Motion's stock plunged in after-hours trading Thursday after the BlackBerry maker said it plans to change the way it charges fees.

RIM also announced that it lost subscribers for the first time in the latest quarter, as the global number of BlackBerry users dipped to 79 million.

In a rare positive sign, the Canadian company added to its cash position during the quarter as it prepared to launch new smartphones on Jan. 30. The new devices are deemed critical to the company's survival.

NATO: Syria Fires More Scud Missiles

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have fired more missiles inside Syria, a move Rasmussen calls an act of a "desperate regime approaching collapse."

Earlier this month, the U.S. and NATO said Assad's forces had fired Scud missiles at rebels near the northern city of Aleppo in what was believed to be the first use of the weapons against insurgents. Syrian officials denied the charge.
Syrian conflict deaths, updated Dec. 20, 2012.

UN: Syrian civil war increasingly sectarian

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Syria's civil war is increasingly turning into a sectarian conflict pitting majority Sunni rebels against government forces supported by the country's religious and ethnic minorities, a new U.N. human rights report said Thursday.

Sergio Pinheiro, who heads an independent commission investigating abuses, said the bulk of the victims of the nearly two-year war were civilians, and blamed both sides for abuses including torture and illegal executions.

Activists say about 40,000 people have died on both sides since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

Amid Newtown tragedy, scam artists creep in

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- The family of Noah Pozner was mourning the 6-year-old, killed in the Newtown school massacre, when outrage compounded their sorrow.

Someone they didn't know was soliciting donations in Noah's memory, claiming that they'd send any cards, packages and money collected to his parents and siblings. An official-looking website had been set up, with Noah's name as the address, even including petitions on gun control.

Noah's uncle, Alexis Haller, called on law enforcement authorities to seek out "these despicable people."

"These scammers," he said, "are stealing from the families of victims of this horrible tragedy."

Dancing cop stops holiday traffic in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Ah, Christmas in Rhode Island. Exquisitely decorated mansions in Newport. A red nose on the giant termite that sits atop a Providence exterminator's building. And a traffic cop, doing disco and salsa moves in the middle of rush-hour traffic.

Officer Tony Lepore is as much a holiday tradition as anything else in the state that issued the first jail sentence for speeding 108 years ago. Since 1984, he has entertained drivers, pedestrians and gawkers with dance moves in downtown Providence - all while directing traffic.

"He is a Rhode Island landmark, more or less. He's an icon, he's like a little mini celebrity," says Michelle Peterson, of Warwick. She's an emergency medical technician and the mother of three boys who was introduced to the "dancing cop" years ago by her partner in their ambulance.

Party in disarray, Berlusconi wants vote delay

ROME (AP) -- Silvio Berlusconi and fellow leaders of his splintering conservative party on Tuesday pressed for a delay in Italy's national elections, now widely expected for mid-February, arguing they need more time to prepare for the campaign.

The scandal-scarred former three-time premier, who is considering running for the post again, said on a state TV talk show that the "rush toward elections" is "useless," and that party leaders need more time to draw up lists of candidates for Parliament.

Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano is expected to dissolve the legislature as soon as it passes the government's proposed austerity budget law. Premier Mario Monti has pledged to resign as soon as the law passes. Then Napolitano will announce an election date, which officials have indicated would likely be Feb. 17.

Ephraim Mirvis has been chosen as the next chief rabbi

South-African born Mirvis, will be the 11th chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the UK and the Commonwealth

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has been confirmed as the next chief rabbi, replacing Lord Sacks, who is stepping down as the leader of Britain's Orthodox Jewish community next September after 22 years.

Mirvis, who was chief rabbi of Ireland from 1984 to 1992, is the senior rabbi at the large Finchley United Synagogue in north London.

His appointment as the 11th chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the UK and the Commonwealth was unanimously approved on Monday night after an eight-month selection process.

Bird Flu Kills 4-Year-Old Boy in Indonesia

Indonesian officials say a four-year-old boy has died from bird flu, the 10th fatal case in the country this year.

The health ministry said Tuesday the boy likely contracted the H5N1 virus after playing with dead birds outside his home west of the capital, Jakarta.

Almost half the estimated 360 people worldwide who have died from avian influenza since 2003 have been in Indonesia.

Farmers worry about dairy prices as deadline nears

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- As the nation inches toward the economic "fiscal cliff," anxiety is growing in farm country about an obscure tangent of the Washington political standoff that reaches into the dairy industry and, indirectly, into the household budgets of consumers who buy milk and cheese.

Little noticed in the struggle over major looming tax increases and spending cuts is that the outcome could also affect the farm bill, on which Congress didn't complete action this year after it expired in September. Agriculture industry leaders hope the farm legislation can be added to any final fiscal package before the end of the year. But if no fiscal agreement is reached, and the farm legislation is left adrift, farmers could face the prospect of returning to an antiquated system for pricing milk that would bring big price increases for consumers.

ICC Acquits Congolese Militia Leader of War Crimes

The International Criminal Court has ruled Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with a deadly 2003 attack on a village.

Prosecutors alleged that Ngudjolo used child soldiers, directed attacks against civilians, and that combatants under his command committed murder, rape and acts of pillaging and sexual slavery.

The court in The Hague ruled Tuesday that prosecutors failed to prove Ngudjolo's connection beyond a reasonable doubt.

Preston bus station demolition approved by council

City council decides in principle to bulldoze 1969 building, saying it is cheaper to replace it than refurbish it

Preston city council has approved the demolition of its bus station, ignoring protests by campaigners who view it as a masterpiece of 20th-century design.

The council decided in principle on Tuesday to bulldoze the building, an example of British brutalist architecture, after concluding that it would be cheaper to replace it than refurbish it.

Staffers hailed as heroes after Conn. shooting

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- A worker who turned on the intercom, alerting others in the building that something was very wrong. A custodian who risked his life by running through the halls warning of danger. A clerk who led 18 children on their hands and knees to safety, then gave them paper and crayons to keep them calm and quiet.

Out of the ruins of families that lost a precious child, sister or mother, out of a tight-knit town roiling with grief, glows one bright spot: the stories of staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School who may have prevented further carnage through selfless actions and smart snap judgments.

District Superintendent Janet Robinson noted "incredible acts of heroism" that "ultimately saved so many lives."

Could a budget fight rattle the bond market?

NEW YORK (AP) -- On the road and in financial markets, it pays to ask somebody with a good sense of direction.

Two years ago, most of Wall Street's economists believed interest rates had bottomed out. But not Priya Misra, a top investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

She was one of few to argue that the sputtering U.S. economy and the European debt crisis would knock long-term interest rates to record lows in 2011.

"I was called quite crazy at that point," she says.

West Brom 0-0 West Ham

In the end this was a result neither to entirely satisfy nor to unduly irritate either side. West Brom brought their losing streak to an end – a relief after a trio of Premier League defeats – but could not get back to winning ways thanks to a determined and occasionally dogged display from West Ham.

While the Baggies could take some solace in stopping the rot, the Hammers had to settle simply for stopping their opponents. Albion dominated, particularly in the second half, yet struggled to find a way through a West Ham rearguard expertly marshalled by the outstanding James Collins. The home side managed to hit the woodwork twice but there was precious little incision.

Springsteen, Gaga join Stones; Newtown noted

NEW YORK (AP) -- Only at a Rolling Stones concert could appearances by Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga seem almost like afterthoughts.

Those superstars and other top acts including the Black Keys and John Mayer jammed with the Stones on Saturday night, winding down a series of concerts celebrating the 50th year of rock's most enduring band (the occasion was also marked by a pay-per-view special).

The Boss rocked out with the band on out "Tumbling Dice"; Gaga matched Mick Jagger shimmy-for-shimmy on "Gimme Shelter"; the Black Keys joined on "Who Do You Love," and John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. showed their considerable guitar chops alongside Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood on "Goin' Down."

Chelsea's preparation for Leeds game hampered by delayed flight

• Chelsea will not now be arriving back until Monday morning
• Return flight from Japan put back due to noise restrictions

Chelsea's hopes of finding time to prepare for Wednesday's Capital One Cup quarter-final at Leeds United have been further hampered after they were forced to put back their return flight from Japan due to noise restrictions over night-time take-offs from Toyko.

The European champions had hoped to return to London immediately after Sunday's final of the Club World Cup against Corinthians, arriving back at Heathrow in the small hours of morning. However, they will now spend an extra night in Yokohama and depart at around 11am on Monday, touching down in the early afternoon, a delay that will effectively deny the squad another 12 hours' recovery time ahead of the cup tie at Elland Road.

Unauthorized anti-Putin rally draws thousands

MOSCOW (AP) -- Thousands of opposition supporters gathered Saturday outside the old KGB headquarters in central Moscow to mark a year of mass protests against Vladimir Putin and his government.

The turnout was far smaller than the tens of thousands who filled Moscow streets in protests that erupted after fraud-plagued parliamentary elections last December. But unlike most of those protests, Saturday's gathering was not authorized and those who came risked arrest and heavy fines.

Soon after Putin returned to the presidency in May, Russia passed a law raising the fine for participating in unauthorized rallies to the equivalent of $9,000, nearly the average annual salary.

Obama Signs Russia Trade and Human Rights Bill

U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation Friday that normalizes trade relations with Russia, while imposing sanctions on Russian officials accused of violating human rights.

The U.S. Senate passed the bill last week, about three weeks after it cleared the House of Representatives. The bill combines two separate measures into one. The first part lifts trade restrictions on Russia dating back to the Cold War era. It also normalizes trade with Moldova. The second part denies visas and freezes the U.S. bank assets of suspected Russian rights violators.

The bill is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in jail in 2009 after exposing what he called a criminal ring of officials who stole $250 million in tax money. The legislation is designed to target Russian officials involved in Magnitsky's detention, abuse or death.

Brother of Conn. gunman wrongly cited as shooter

Not long after Friday's shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school, media outlets began reporting the gunman's identity as 24-year-old Ryan Lanza of Hoboken, N.J.

His name and image quickly spread worldwide as the perpetrator of the nation's second-deadliest school shooting. Facebook and Twitter lit up as people vented their fury at the man they believed was responsible.

In reality, Ryan Lanza was at work in New York City when the gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., some 60 miles away, and a law enforcement official later identified his 20-year-old brother, Adam Lanza, as the culprit.

Cheaper gas lowers US consumer prices 0.3 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A steep fall in gas costs pushed down a measure of U.S. consumer prices last month, keeping inflation mild.

The seasonally adjusted consumer price index dropped 0.3 percent in November from October, the Labor Department said Friday. Gas prices fell 7.4 percent, the biggest drop in nearly four years. That offset a 0.2 percent rise in food prices.

In the past year, consumer prices have risen 1.8 percent, down from October's 12-month increase of 2.2 percent.

Pentagon to send missiles, 400 troops to Turkey

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (AP) -- The U.S. will send two batteries of Patriot missiles and 400 troops to Turkey as part of a NATO force meant to protect Turkish territory from potential Syrian missile attack, the Pentagon said Friday.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed a deployment order en route to Turkey from Afghanistan calling for 400 U.S. soldiers to operate two batteries of Patriots at undisclosed locations in Turkey, Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters flying with Panetta.

Official: Family has identified Rivera remains

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) -- The remains of Mexican-American music star Jenni Rivera were headed back to the United States after being identified by her family, state officials said Thursday.

The Nuevo Leon state government announced that it had released the remains. State security spokesman Jorge Domene said earlier in the day that Rivera's family had made a positive identification but there would a delay of several days while DNA tests were completed. The government did not immediately explain the discrepancy.

Officials also said that two state police officers had been arrested on suspicion of stealing unspecified items from the scene of the plane crash that killed Rivera Sunday.

Karzai says he'll meet with Obama in Washington

KABUL (AP) -- President Hamid Karzai said Thursday he will meet President Barack Obama in Washington next month to discuss a postwar U.S. role in his country, whose fragile security was highlighted hours earlier by a suicide bombing that killed one U.S. troop and two Afghan civilians.

At a news conference with visiting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Karzai said he and Obama will discuss how many U.S. troops will remain after the Western combat mission ends in December 2014. He said he understands that immunity from Afghan laws for those remaining Americans is of "immense importance" to Washington, but he added that he has his own priorities in negotiating a postwar U.S. role.

Election over, administration unleashes new rules

WASHINGTON (AP) -- While the "fiscal cliff" of looming tax increases and spending cuts dominates political conversation in Washington, some Republicans and business groups see signs of a "regulatory cliff" that they say could be just as damaging to the economy.

For months, federal agencies and the White House have sidetracked dozens of major regulations that cover everything from power plant pollution to workplace safety to a crackdown on Wall Street.

The rules had been largely put on hold during the presidential campaign as the White House sought to quiet Republican charges that President Barack Obama was an overzealous regulator who is killing U.S. jobs.

Sawyer interviews women senators, to air Jan. 3

NEW YORK (AP) -- With a record-breaking 20 female senators elected to serve in the next Congress, ABC News' Diane Sawyer gathered 19 of them for an interview that will air early next year.

One of the senators, Republican Susan Collins of Maine, says that if the women's caucus was in charge, Congress would already have a budget deal in place.

After Sandy, NYC eyes moving power gear higher

NEW YORK (AP) -- A major push is on to move New York City's electrical infrastructure to higher ground or upper floors after Superstorm Sandy sent seawater pouring into low-lying substations and skyscraper basements and plunged half of Manhattan into darkness for four days.

The effort, likely to be enormously costly, will center partly on two old weaknesses brought into sharp relief by the surge: power distribution stations built just yards from the water's edge, and electrical components located in vulnerable basements.

Ever since Thomas Edison built the world's first central power station in a Manhattan seaport district in 1882, central elements of the island's electrical infrastructure have been located along the waterfront. Ten of Con Edison's 101 transmission and distribution substations sit in flood zones.

HSBC to pay $1.9B to settle money-laundering case

LONDON (AP) — HSBC avoided a legal battle that could further savage its reputation and undermine confidence in the global banking system by agreeing Tuesday to pay $1.9 billion to settle a U.S. money-laundering probe.

Europe’s largest bank by market value will pay the biggest penalty ever imposed on a bank after facing accusations it transferred funds through the U.S. from Mexican drug cartels and on behalf of nations such as Iran that are under international sanctions.

It’s the latest scandal to hit banks since the financial crisis started in 2008. Hours earlier, Standard Chartered PLC, another British bank, signed an agreement with New York regulators to settle a money-laundering investigation involving Iran with a $340 million payment.

US Treasury announces final AIG stock sale

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. government said Monday that it is selling its remaining shares of American International Group stock, moving to close the books on the government's biggest bailout during the 2008 financial crisis.

Treasury said it had begun a sale of 234.2 million shares of common stock in a public offering. The government's shares represent a 16-percent ownership stake in the insurance company.

Treasury has already recovered more on its AIG investment that the original $182.3 billion bailout. It was the largest government bailout package, including both loans and federal guarantees.

Steelers rattled after Chargers send jolt into Pittsburgh's season in 34-24 romp

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten pretty good at beating the NFL's best.

They've nearly perfected losing to the worst.

And while San Diego is more underachieving than utterly horrific, the Chargers' 34-24 win over the Steelers on Sunday continued a perplexing trend for a team that considers itself among the elite.

Pittsburgh (7-6) has won on the road at Baltimore and the New York Giants this season. It has also fallen to lesser-lights Oakland, Tennessee, Cleveland and now the Chargers (5-8). It makes for one of the weirder resumes of any playoff contender.

Royals acquire pitchers Shields, Davis from Rays for Myers, package of prospects

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Kansas City Royals gambled their future Sunday night for a chance to win right now.

The Royals acquired former All-Star James Shields and fellow right-hander Wade Davis from Tampa Bay in a six-player deal that sent top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi along with two other minor leaguers to the Rays. The swap immediately bolsters the Royals' starting rotation and should make them a contender in the relatively weak American League Central.

"We have to start winning games at the major league level, and the way you develop a winning culture is by winning major league games," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It's time for us to start winning at the major league level."

Cowboys lineman Josh Brent 'trying to deal' with best friend's death after fatal crash

IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent says he's "just trying to deal" with the death of his teammate and "very best friend" Jerry Brown.

Brent is charged with intoxication manslaughter in the accident that killed Brown.

Brent was released from jail in the Dallas suburb of Irving after posting $500,000 bond Sunday, a day after police say he was drunk and speeding when the vehicle he was driving clipped a curb and flipped.

Comedian Katt Williams arrested near Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Comedian Katt Williams has been arrested in northern California on a felony warrant related to a police chase.

The Sacramento Bee reports  that Williams was arrested Friday night in Dunnigan, about 25 miles north of Sacramento, by Yolo County deputies.

The paper says he was released from the county jail Saturday after posting bail.

White House Proposes $60.4 Billion for Hurricane Recovery

U.S. President Barack Obama is asking Congress to approve $60.4 billion in aid to help rebuild East Coast states battered by Super Storm Sandy in late October.

The spending plan was announced in a joint statement Friday by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his New Jersey counterpart, Chris Christie.

'Nutty idea'? Volunteers and scientists work to return chestnut tree, blighted icon, to wild

WEAVERVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Jim Hurst has doted on his trees, arranged in three "families" on a bluff high above the rushing French Broad River.

He installed a drip irrigation system to help rejuvenate this former hayfield's powdery, depleted soil. To protect against browsing deer, he girded the delicate sprouts in plastic sleeving and wire mesh. In the four years since planting the fuzzy, deep-brown nuts, he nursed the seedlings - through back-to-back droughts, a killing frost, even an infestation of 17-year locust - applying herbicides and mowing between the rows to knock down anything that might compete.

Bollywood wows Morocco, dreams of America

MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) -- For once, the storytellers, snake charmers and food stalls were gone from Marrakech's main square and in their place pulsed a crowd of thousands of people waiting to see a legend of Indian cinema who has attained superstar status here in Morocco.

"Shahrukh Khan! Shakrukh Khan!" the young men and women chanted in the chill night air, waiting for the 47-year-old Indian screen legend to make a brief appearance as part of the Marrakech International Film Festival's tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema.

Bollywood, the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry, may still be struggling to make its mark on American and European audiences, but its trademark hours-long epics filled with the riotous spectacle and glamorous stars have enchanted audiences in the Middle East and North Africa.

Coffee from an elephant's gut fills a $50 cup

GOLDEN TRIANGLE, Thailand (AP) -- In the lush hills of northern Thailand, a herd of 20 elephants is excreting some of the world's most expensive coffee.

Trumpeted as earthy in flavor and smooth on the palate, the exotic new brew is made from beans eaten by Thai elephants and plucked a day later from their dung. A gut reaction inside the elephant creates what its founder calls the coffee's unique taste.

Stomach turning or oddly alluring, this is not just one of the world's most unusual specialty coffees. At $1,100 per kilogram ($500 per pound), it's also among the world's priciest.

AP Interview: Jackson, cast discuss 'The Hobbit'

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Many fans are eagerly anticipating a return to the fictional world of Middle-earth with next week's general release of the first movie in "The Hobbit" trilogy. Director Peter Jackson and the film's stars speak to The Associated Press about making "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey":

- Jackson on shooting at 48 frames per second instead of the standard 24: "We've seen the arrival of iPhones and iPads and now there's a generation of kids - the worry that I have is that they seem to think it's OK to wait for the film to come out on DVD or be available for download. And I don't want kids to see `The Hobbit' on their iPads, really. Not for the first time. So as a filmmaker, I feel the responsibility to say, `This is the technology we have now, and it's different ... How can we raise the bar? Why do we have to stick with 24 frames? ...'"

Actor Stephen Baldwin charged in NY tax case

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- Actor Stephen Baldwin was charged Thursday with failing to pay New York state taxes for three years, amassing a $350,000 debt.

Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said Baldwin, of Upper Grandview, skipped his taxes in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The youngest of the four acting Baldwin brothers pleaded not guilty at an arraignment and was freed without bail. His lawyer, Russell Yankwitt, said Baldwin should not have been charged.

"Mr. Baldwin did not commit any crimes, and he's working with the district attorney's office and the New York State Tax Department to resolve any differences," Yankwitt said.

Port strike could be prelude for dockworker talks

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The end of one labor crisis at the nation's busiest port complex could be a prelude to another.

The resolution of an eight-day walk-off by clerical workers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors that stalled billions of dollars of cargo and left container ships stranded off the California coast points to the stakes for upcoming contract talks with dockworkers at western U.S. shipping terminals.

The clerical workers represent a sliver of the membership of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose 24,000 dockworkers handle everything from car parts to computers at ports in Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii. The strikers numbered only about 450, but thousands of dockworkers refused to cross the picket lines and halted work at the sister ports that handle 44 percent of all container traffic that arrives in the U.S. by sea.

AP-GfK Poll: Support for boosting taxes on rich; fewer now back cutting government services

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans prefer letting tax cuts expire for the country's top earners, as President Barack Obama insists, while support has declined for cutting government services to curb budget deficits, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows. Fewer than half the Republicans polled favor continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

There's also a reluctance to trim Social Security, Medicare or defense programs, three of the biggest drivers of federal spending, the survey released Wednesday found. The results could strengthen Obama's hand in his fiscal cliff duel with Republicans, in which he wants to raise taxes on the rich and cut spending by less than the GOP wants.

Did Costas overstep his bounds with gun comments?

NEW YORK (AP) -- Clearly, Bob Costas stirred up a hornet's nest Sunday with a halftime commentary about Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, who killed his girlfriend (and the mother of his child) before killing himself.

On Twitter, someone posed this question: "Who put Costas on in the middle of a football game so he could spew his one sided beliefs?" Another tweeter sharply recommended Costas "stick to football ... the more you talk, the dumber you sound." And on and on it went. The message resounded: Bob Costas, just shut up.

All from this: "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun," Costas told a TV audience of more than 20 million, "he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."

Stocks gain on "cliff" hope, led by banks

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks closed higher Wednesday, their first gain of the week, as bank shares rose and comments by President Barack Obama made investors optimistic that a quick deal could be made to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 82.71 points to end at 13,034.49. It had been up as much as 137. The Standard and Poor's 500 closed up 2.23 points to 1,409.28. The Nasdaq composite was down 22.99 points to 2,973.70, held back by a slump in Apple.

Citigroup jumped $2.17, or 6.3 percent, to $36.46 after the bank said it plans to eliminate more than 11,000 jobs, or about 4 percent of its workforce, to cut expenses and improve efficiency. Travelers surged $3.47, or 4.9 percent, to $74 after it announced plans to resume stock buybacks. Travelers temporarily suspended repurchases following Superstorm Sandy while it assessed its exposure to damage claims.

Jack Brooks, longtime US legislator from Texas who was in Kennedy motorcade, dies at 89

HOUSTON (AP) -- Jack Brooks hounded government bureaucrats, drafted President Richard Nixon's articles of impeachment and supported civil rights bills in a congressional career spanning 42 years. But for most of the country the Southeast Texas politician is frozen in a photograph, standing over the left shoulder of Jacqueline Kennedy as Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president.

Brooks, who died Tuesday at age 89, was in the Dallas motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Hours later he stood behind the grief-stricken widow in the cabin of Air Force One as Johnson took the oath of office.

David Mamet, Kathie Lee Gifford suffer losses

NEW YORK (AP) -- David Mamet's new play "The Anarchist" and Katie Lee Gifford's "Scandalous" will both end their Broadway runs much earlier than their creators wanted.

Producers said Tuesday night that Mamet's play starring Patti LuPone and Debra Winger portraying an inmate and warden respectively will close Dec. 16 after just 23 previews and 17 performances.

Back on Capitol Hill, failed VP contender Paul Ryan helps GOP set course in budget talks

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Paul Ryan is getting his groove back.

A month after the GOP's presidential ticket lost an election, the party's vice presidential nominee finds himself comfortably back in his political wheelhouse on Capitol Hill and in the thick of a debate over how to avert automatic tax increases and spending cuts that many economists fear could cripple the economy if Congress doesn't head them off by Jan. 1.

The Wisconsin congressman isn't technically a member of the House Republican leadership. But he's viewed by GOP colleagues as an expert on economic and tax policy and entitlement programs. He's a good gauge of how far the party's most conservative lawmakers will bend, if at all, as House Speaker John Boehner negotiates with the White House and Democratic-controlled Senate over the "fiscal cliff."

Data: New (physical) book chronicles the virtual

NEW YORK (AP) -- We question. We research. We catalog. We quantify. We aggregate, calculate, communicate, analyze, extrapolate and conclude. And eventually, if we're fortunate and thoughtful, we understand.

These are the contours of the society that has taken shape in the past generation with the rise of an unstoppable, invisible force that changes human lives in ways from the microscopic to the gargantuan: data, a word that was barely used beyond small circles before World War II but now governs the day for many of us from the moment we awaken to the extinguishing of the final late-evening light bulb.

Obama wants Wasserman Schultz to stay on as chairwoman of Democratic National Committee

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama wants Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to stay on as his party's chairwoman.

Wasserman Schultz has overseen the Democratic National Committee since early 2011. Party officials credit her in part with helping the president carry her home state of Florida, as well as leading the party to an expanded majority in the Senate and more seats in the House.

"I've asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz to continue her excellent work as chair of the DNC," Obama wrote on Twitter Monday. "Thanks for all you do, Debbie."

The tweet was signed "bo", which the White House says is a signal that the president wrote it personally.

Burnett picks off Ponder twice as Packers overcome big day by Peterson for 23-14 victory

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- If any more Green Bay receivers go down, the Packers could always use Morgan Burnett.

With Minnesota rolling behind Adrian Peterson, the Green Bay safety picked off Christian Ponder twice in the red zone in the second half Sunday. Mason Crosby converted the miscues into a pair of field goals, James Starks gave Green Bay its first touchdown on the ground in almost two months and the Packers overcame Peterson's monster day for a 23-14 win.

"I thought Morgan Burnett's interception in the third quarter in the end zone was the key play of game," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It shifted the momentum."

The victory was Green Bay's 10th straight over an NFC North opponent and gave the Packers (8-4) a share of the division lead after Chicago lost to Seattle in overtime. The Packers and Bears play at Soldier Field on Dec. 16.