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Executions in United States at 20-year low: report

Handout of revamped lethal injection room at San Quentin State PrisonBy Lawrence Hurley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Amid growing concerns about how executions are carried out in the United States, the number of prison inmates being put to death fell to a 20-year low in 2014, the Death Penalty Information Center said in a report issued on Thursday. The 35 executions this year was the lowest since 1994, said the Washington-based nonprofit, which does not take a position on whether the death penalty should be abolished, in its annual survey of national data. ...


AP investigation finds that 786 children died in plain view of abuse-and-neglect authorities
BUTTE, Montana (AP) ? AP investigation finds that 786 children died in plain view of abuse-and-neglect authorities.

Cubans hope for better future with US-Havana deal

Students and teachers celebrate after listening to a live, nationally broadcast speech by Cuba's President Raul Castro about the country's restoration of relations with the United States, at a school in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Castro said profound differences remain between Cuba and the U.S. in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and questions of sovereignty, but that the countries have to learn to live with their differences "in a civilized manner." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)HAVANA (AP) ? Cubans cheered the surprise announcement that their country will restore relations with the United States, hopeful they'll soon see expanded trade and new economic vibrancy even though the 53-year-old economic embargo remains in place for the time being.


Grizzlies outlast Spurs 117-116 in 3 overtimes

San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan, right, shoots against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, of Spain, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)SAN ANTONIO (AP) ? Marc Gasol scored 26 points, including a banked-in 3-pointer as regulation expired, and the Memphis Grizzlies overcame blowing a 23-point lead for a 117-116 triple-overtime victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.


Executions, new death sentences continue to fall
WASHINGTON (AP) ? Executions and new death sentences dropped to their lowest numbers in decades in 2014, an anti-death penalty group said in a new report.

Poll: 80 percent back Putin even as ruble falls
MOSCOW (AP) ? From a Western perspective, Vladimir Putin's days as president of Russia should be numbered: The ruble has lost more than half its value, the economy is in crisis and his aggression in Ukraine has turned the country into an international pariah.

Today in History
Today is Thursday, Dec. 18, the 352nd day of 2014. There are 13 days left in the year.

Mack leads surging Hawks to blowout in Cleveland

Atlanta Hawks' Shelvin Mack (8) shoots a 3-point shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)CLEVELAND (AP) ? The Cavaliers' largest loss of the season didn't sit well with coach David Blatt.


Amid scrutiny, Uber vows bigger focus on safety

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2014 file photo, supporters of Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) hold placards during a protest after a woman was allegedly raped by a driver from ride-booking service Uber in New Delhi, India. Uber promises to focus on rider safety amid increasing concerns that its drivers are not adequately screened for past criminal convictions. In a blog post Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, Uber's head of global safety defended the company's safety record but also wrote that "as we look to 2015, we will build new safety programs and intensify others." (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal, File)LOS ANGELES (AP) ? Uber promises to focus on rider safety amid increasing concerns that its drivers are not adequately screened for past criminal convictions.


Nightlife king faces queries from gaming regulator

This Aug. 22, 2014 photo shows Sam Nazarian, CEO of SBE Entertainment, during the ceremonial ringing of the bell at SLS Las Vegas, in Las Vegas. Nazarian and the SLS Las Vegas? majority owner announced this week that he won?t have any role in the day-to-day operations as he pursues a license. Nazarian is scheduled to appear before Nevada?s Gaming Commission on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jeff Scheid)LAS VEGAS (AP) ? A Los Angeles nightlife entrepreneur who revamped Las Vegas' Sahara Hotel and Casino into a hipper, sleeker destination is getting ready to defend his past again so he can obtain a Nevada gambling license after admitting recent cocaine use and explaining his curious business dealings with felons.


AP source: US probe links NKorea to Sony hacking

A poster for the movie "The Interview" is taken down by a worker after being pulled from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta. Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas has decided to cancel its planned showings of "The Interview" in the wake of threats against theatergoers by the Sony hackers. (AP Photo/David Goldman)WASHINGTON (AP) ? Federal investigators have now connected the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. to North Korea, a U.S. official said Wednesday, though it remained unclear how the federal government would respond to a break-in that exposed sensitive documents and ultimately led to terrorist threats against moviegoers.


N Korea-linked Sony hack may be costliest ever

This photo provided by Columbia Pictures - Sony shows, Randall Park, center, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Columbia Pictures' "The Interview." North Korea has been linked to the unprecedented act of cyberwarfare against Sony Pictures that exposed tens of thousands of sensitive documents and escalated to threats of terrorist attacks that ultimately drove the studio to cancel all release plans for "The Interview." (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures - Sony, Ed Araquel)NEW YORK (AP) ? A U.S. official says North Korea has been linked to the unprecedented act of cyberwarfare against Sony Pictures that exposed tens of thousands of sensitive documents and escalated to threats of terrorist attacks that ultimately drove the studio to cancel all release plans for the film at the heart of the hack, "The Interview."


California gets more rain, 1 big mudslide

Caltrans crews work to clean up a torrent of mud and rocks covering part of State Route 91 in Orange County early Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Yorba Linda, Calif. Cars and trucks were stuck for several hours, but no injuries were reported. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)LOS ANGELES (AP) ? The latest in a string of storms noisily marched across Southern California on Wednesday, hurling lightning bolts, coating mountains with snow and unleashing downpours that triggered a freeway-blocking mudslide before mostly moving on.


10 Things to Know for Thursday

A poster for the movie "The Interview" is taken down by a worker after being pulled from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta. Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas has decided to cancel its planned showings of "The Interview" in the wake of threats against theatergoers by the Sony hackers. (AP Photo/David Goldman)Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:


Castro survived odd, often inept, US schemes

FILE - In this June 14, 1961 file photo, Prime Minister Fidel Castro holds a cigar during a news conference in Havana, Cuba. For over half a century, the U.S. government tried many schemes to overthrow the Castro regime: poisonous cigars, an exploding seashell, the secret Twitter-like service in Cuba. U.S. President Barack Obama said Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 the United States will re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba and bring change to the longstanding trade embargo. But it was unclear if all secret operations would cease. (AP Photo/RHS)WASHINGTON (AP) ? For over half a century, the U.S. government's schemes to overthrow the Castro government were, if not successful, always creative: the poisonous cigars, the exploding seashell, the secret Twitter-like service in Cuba.


Avon beauty firm pays $138 mln to settle China bribe probe

Skyline of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou where Avon's China operations are based, pictured on November 11, 2013US authorities fined the international cosmetics seller Avon Products $135 million to settle a corruption probe in China. The SEC said Avon had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by failing to stop bribes to Chinese officials. "The SEC alleges that Avon's subsidiary in China made $8 million worth of payments in cash, gifts, travel, and entertainment to gain access to Chinese officials implementing and overseeing direct selling regulations in China," the SEC said.


Fed rate wording boosts Asian stock markets

FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2014 file photo, people pass a Wall Street subway stop, in New York's Financial District. U.S. stocks are opening moderately lower Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, as the price of oil continues to drop. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)Asian stock markets powered higher Thursday, sweeping aside worries about a flagging global economy after the U.S. Federal Reserve said it would to remain "patient" in its approach to raising interest rates.


Thaw in relations with Cuba positive for U.S. agriculture: USDA
By Karl Plume CHICAGO (Reuters) - Exports of U.S. agricultural products such as wheat, rice, soybeans and meat products stand to gain from a surprise U.S. move toward repairing relations with Cuba, agriculture industry officials said on Wednesday. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the move an "important opportunity" that will make exports of U.S. farm goods cheaper, easier and less time-consuming for shippers. President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that the United States would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba more than 50 years after they were severed. U. ...

Chattanooga women stun No. 7 Stanford 54-46

Chattanooga Lady Mocs Moses Johnson (23) celebrates beating Stanford in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Chattanooga won the game 54-46. (AP Photo/Billy Weeks)CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) ? The star power of the opponent doesn't concern Chattanooga. As long as the Mocs are playing at home, they believe they are going to win.


White House says FBI leading probe of cyber attack on Sony Pictures
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House National Security Council said on Wednesday the FBI was leading the investigation on a cyber attack on Sony Pictures and that the U.S. government had offered the company support and assistance. "The United States is investigating attribution and will provide an update at the appropriate time," the NSC said in a statement. A source said earlier that the United States may officially announce in the near future that the North Korean government was behind the attack. ...

U.S. determines North Korea behind Sony attack as studio pulls movie

File photo of a security guard standing at the entrance of United Artists theater during the premiere of the film "The Interview" in Los AngelesBy Eric Kelsey, Lisa Richwine and Piya Sinha-Roy LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. government source said investigators had determined North Korea was behind a cyberattack on Sony Pictures as the studio pulled all plans to release its comedy, "The Interview," about an assassination attempt on the North Korean leader. Hackers who said they were incensed by the film attacked Sony Corp last month, leaking documents that drew global headlines, and now they have forced an apparently unprecedented change of plans for a major movie release. ...


Sony cancels parody film as NKorea suspected over hack

Hackers invoked the 9/11 attacks in their most chilling threat yet against Sony Pictures, warning the Hollywood studio not to release a film which has angered North KoreaSony Pictures cancelled the release of a madcap comedy about North Korea that triggered chilling threats from hackers, as US investigators reportedly blamed Pyongyang for a damaging cyber-raid on the movie giant. The dramatic action came as several US media outlets reported that investigators now believe North Korea was behind the devastating cyber-attack that saw hackers gain access to a trove of internal Sony documents and unreleased movies. "In light of the decision by the majority of our (theater) exhibitors not to show the film 'The Interview,' we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release," Sony said in a statement. "Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film," a spokesman added to AFP, suggesting -- though not confirming -- the film will not even be released on DVD or in other formats.


Factbox: Who is Alan Gross and what did he do?
HAVANA (Reuters) - Alan Gross, a 65-year-old U.S. foreign aid worker freed from a Cuban prison on Wednesday, was arrested in Cuba in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years for importing banned technology and trying to establish clandestine Internet service for Cuban Jews. Here are some facts about Gross: Gross was a longtime supporter of Jewish causes and a career development consultant who traveled the world on private contracts before taking his Cuba assignment. He had only once previously visited Cuba and spoke very limited Spanish. ...

Australian leader: Siege may have been preventable

People come to lay flowers to pay respect to the shooting victims at a temporary memorial site close to the Lindt cafe in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The siege ended early Tuesday with a barrage of gunfire that left two hostages and the Iranian-born gunman dead, and a nation that has long prided itself on its peace rocked to its core. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)SYDNEY (AP) ? Australia's prime minister said Thursday that a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe may have been preventable, as the chorus of critics demanding to know why the gunman was out on bail despite facing a string of violent charges grew louder.


Obama on Hanukkah says small acts can make miracles

President Barack Obama, right, puts his arm around Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, as first lady Michelle Obama applauds during a Hanukkah reception Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in the Grand Foyer of the White House. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)WASHINGTON (AP) ? President Barack Obama says Hanukkah teaches that one act of faith can make a miracle.


AP source: Cuba releases US prisoner Alan Gross

In this Nov. 27, 2012 file photo provided by James L. Berenthal, jailed American Alan Gross poses for a photo during a visit by Rabbi Elie Abadie and U.S. lawyer James L. Berenthal at Finlay military hospital as he serves a prison sentence in Havana, Cuba. AP sources: American Alan Gross released from Cuba after 5 years in prison. (AP Photo/James L. Berenthal, File)WASHINGTON (AP) ? A senior Obama administration official says Cuba has released American Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned for five years.


Sony cancels 'The Interview' amid terror hack threats

A poster for the movie "The Interview" is taken down by a worker after being pulled from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta. Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas has decided to cancel its planned showings of "The Interview" in the wake of threats against theatergoers by the Sony hackers. (AP Photo/David Goldman)NEW YORK (AP) ? Under the threat of terrorist attacks from hackers and with the nation's largest multiplex chains pulling the film from their screens, Sony Pictures Entertainment took the unprecedented step of canceling the Dec. 25 release of the Seth Rogen comedy "The Interview."


A look at 'Cuban 5' agents who were jailed in US

People walk past a billboard showing "The Cuban Five" that reads in Spanish "End the injustice. Freedom now." in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The men, who are hailed as heroes in Cuba, were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents in the U.S. On Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, three of the five Cubans were released by the U.S. in exchange for U.S. citizen Alan Gross and an unnamed Cuban man who was imprisoned for nearly 20 years for spying for the United States. Two of the Cuban Five had previously been released after finishing their sentences. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)HAVANA (AP) ? The "Cuban Five" refers to intelligence agents whose so-called "Wasp Network" operated in Florida in the 1990s. They were arrested in 1998 and later convicted on charges including conspiracy and failing to register as foreign agents.


Cubans in Miami slam 'betrayal' after historic move

A supporter (L) of the new Cuba policy laid out by President Barack Obama argues with opponents outside the Little Havana restaurant Versailles on December 17, 2014 in Miami, United StatesCubans in Miami's Little Havana reacted with anger -- and a sprinkling of hope -- to President Barack Obama's dramatic bid Wednesday to end a half-decade Cold War with the communist-ruled island. "It is a betrayal. The talks are only going to benefit Cuba," said Carlos Munoz Fontanil in Calle Ocho, the historic heart of an exile community that has long pined for the fall of the Castro regime in Havana. He spoke as dozens of people gathered outside Cafe Versailles, a Little Havana landmark, to protest the rapprochement announced almost simultaneously in Washington and Havana by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, 83.


Wisconsin brings Pitt's Chryst home as coach

FILE - In this July 21, 2014, file photo, Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst answers a question during a news conference at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. The University of Wisconsin plans a news conference, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, to update their search for a new football coach to replace Gary Andersen. Pittsburgh's Paul Chryst has been widely reported to be the university's choice. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)MADISON, Wis. (AP) ? Paul Chryst is back at Wisconsin, settling into familiar surroundings in his hometown.


APNewsBreak: Judge rejects NCAA concussions deal
CHICAGO (AP) ? A federal judge in Chicago rejected a proposed $75 million class-action head injury settlement with the NCAA on Wednesday, portraying the deal as too unwieldy and potentially underfunded and urging both sides to go back to the drawing board.

$10 million in stolen Los Angeles art recovered
LOS ANGELES (AP) ? Authorities have recovered $10 million worth of art ? including paintings by Chagall and Diego Rivera ? that were stolen in one of Los Angeles' largest art heists.

14 charged in deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak

FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2012, file photo, New England Compounding Center President, co-owner, and Director of Pharmacy Barry Cadden takes the fifth amendment option and declines to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington before the House Energy subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing about the Fungal Meningitis Outbreak. Cadden was among 14 people from the Framingham, Mass., pharmaceutical company arrested at their homes Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Tainted steroids manufactured by the pharmacy were blamed for a fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people across the country. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)BOSTON (AP) ? Mold and bacteria were in the air and on workers' gloved fingertips. Pharmacists used expired ingredients, didn't properly sterilize them and failed to test drugs for purity before sending them to hospitals and pain clinics. Employees falsified logs to make it look as if the so-called clean rooms had been disinfected.


U.S., Cuba restore ties after 50 years

Alan and Judy Gross walk through a parking garage after arriving for a news conference in WashingtonBy Daniel Trotta and Steve Holland HAVANA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Cuba agreed on Wednesday to restore diplomatic ties that Washington severed more than 50 years ago, and President Barack Obama called for an end to the long economic embargo against its old Cold War enemy. After 18 months of secret talks, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in a phone call on Tuesday on a breakthrough prisoner exchange, the opening of embassies in each other's countries, and an easing of some restrictions on commerce. ...


Liverpool advances in League Cup; Brooks scores in Germany

Liverpool?s Lazar Markovic, center, scores a goal during the English League Cup soccer quarterfinal match between AFC Bournemouth and Liverpool at Goldsands Stadium, Bournemouth, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)Liverpool will play Chelsea in the League Cup semifinals after Raheem Sterling scored twice in a 3-1 victory over second-tier Bournemouth on Wednesday night, and Tottenham advanced with a 4-0 rout of Newcastle.


For MLB, changes in Cuba will take time to sort out

FILE - In this July 23, 2014, file photo, Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig leads off first during a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh. Twenty-five Cuban-born players appeared in the major leagues this year, a group that includes outfielders Puig and Yoenys Cespedes, and hard-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman. Fred Claire can see the day when Major League Baseball teams open academies for prospects in Cuba. "It's absolutely a natural, just as the Dominican was and Venezuela. You go to where the talent is," the former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager said Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. "The high talent level for Cuban players is still there." (AP Photo/File)NEW YORK (AP) ? Fred Claire can see the day when Major League Baseball teams open academies for prospects in Cuba.


Many Americans open to better ties with Cuba: Reuters/Ipsos poll
By Jeff Mason WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Though lawmakers from both political parties lambasted President Barack Obama on Wednesday for shifting U.S. policy on Cuba, Americans by and large are open to stronger ties with the communist-governed island, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. Fewer than 20 percent of Americans oppose establishing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, the poll of 31,000 adults showed. More than 40 percent of the respondents were in favor of rapprochement. Some 39 percent said they were not sure. ...

Effort to draft Warren into '16 race lands in Iowa

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2014 file photo, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. speaks in Washington. Liberal activists eager to draft Warren into a run for president are bringing their effort to Iowa, the pivotal early-voting state where there?s already well-established organizing effort in place _ for Hillary Rodham Clinton. MoveOn.org will hold a meeting Wednesday evening in Des Moines as part of their new "Run Warren Run" campaign. The group is trying to persuade Warren to seek the Democratic nomination in 2016, even though the Massachusetts senator has repeatedly said she is not running. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) ? Liberal activists eager to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren into a run for president are working the ground in Iowa, the pivotal early-voting state where an organizing effort is already in place ? for Hillary Rodham Clinton.


Man gets life sentence in Vermont teacher's death
ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (AP) ? A man accused with his wife of kidnapping and killing a teacher was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison, with the judge saying they hunted their victim like prey.

Avon Products settles bribery charges for $135M
NEW YORK (AP) ? The world's largest direct seller of cosmetics, Avon Products Inc., will pay $135 million to settle criminal and civil charges after its China unit pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing officials there.

 
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