Update on the latest news, sports, business and entertainment

December 24, 2012, 12:38 am


At Christmas Eve Mass, pope urges space for God

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict says he's worried that "there is no room left for God" in our hectic and technology-driven lives.

During Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican, the pontiff added that if there's no room for God, then there's no room "for children, for the poor, for the stranger."

In his homily, Benedict cited the gospel account of Mary and Joseph finding no room at the inn and ending up in a stable that sheltered the baby Jesus.

He urged people to reflect upon what they are able to find time for in their busy lives.

The pope presided over Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, packed with tourists, Italians and other faithful. He waved as he glided up the center aisle on a wheeled platform guided by his aides. As a men's choir chanted, Benedict sprinkled incense around the altar, and wished the faithful "peace" in Latin.

The pontiff prayed that Israelis and Palestinians live in peace and freedom. And he asked the faithful to pray for Syria and Iraq.


Thousands enjoy merry Christmas in Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Thousands of Christians from the world over have packed Manger Square in Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the town where he was born.

For their Palestinian hosts, this holiday season was an especially joyous one, with the hardships of the Israeli occupation that clouded previous Christmas Eve celebrations eased by the United Nations' recent recognition of an independent state of Palestine.

Festivities led up to the Midnight Mass at St. Catherine's Church, next to the fourth-century Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.

A packed Manger Square, resplendent with strings of lights, decorations and a 55-foot Christmas tree, took on a festive atmosphere as pilgrims mixed with locals and a choral group from the Baptist Church in Jerusalem performed carols.


Nasty weather threatens Gulf Coast for Christmas

Christmas tornadoes possible along Gulf Coast

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — People along the Gulf Coast may receive an unwelcome visitor on Christmas Day.

Rough weather, including a chance of strong tornadoes and howling thunderstorms, could be on the way from east Texas to north Florida.

Farther north, much of Oklahoma and Arkansas are under a winter storm warning, with freezing rain, sleet and snow expected on Christmas. A blizzard watch is out for western Kentucky. And no matter what form the bad weather takes, travel on Tuesday could be dangerous.

The National Weather Service says the storms could bring strong tornadoes or winds of more than 75 mph, heavy rain, quarter-sized hail and dangerous lightning in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Forecasters say storms would begin near the coast and spread north through the day, bringing with them the chances of storms, particularly in central and southwest Alabama.

The bad weather is a result of a storm front moving from the West Coast crashing into a cold front.

In California, after a brief reprieve across the northern half of the state on Monday, wet weather is expected to make another appearance on Christmas. Flooding and snarled holiday traffic are also expected in Southern California.


NEW: Obama's Christmas vacation in Hawaii: Day 3

HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama is enjoying his Christmas vacation in Hawaii, the state where he was born.

On the third day of his holiday getaway, he worked out in the gym at a local Marine base Monday morning before heading out to the base links for a round of golf in the afternoon.

While the president golfed, first lady Michelle Obama spent about 30 minutes talking with kids who were tracking the progress of Santa Claus throughout the world through a site set up by the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

After Obama finished playing golf, he met up with his family at Pyramid Rock Beach on the Marine base, staying there briefly before heading back to their vacation home.


Shoppers more frugal, some are waiting until after Christmas

NEW YORK (AP) — If you didn't get a chance to finish all of your Christmas shopping, you may be in luck.

Retailers are expected to be offering even steeper discounts than usual at their post-Christmas sales, as they look to get rid of items that have been sitting on shelves.

Shoppers who were interviewed today at malls around the country said they've been spending less than usual, amid continued economic uncertainty.

Kris Betzold was shopping at an Indianapolis mall today, looking for deals on toys. She says the sales are "even better now than they were at Thanksgiving." But she says the economy has prompted her to be more frugal this year.

Research analyst Marshall Cohen of the market research firm NPD says retailers will have to be more aggressive than usual with discounts on the days after Christmas. That could mean some stores will cut prices by as much as 80 percent to clear inventory. He says consumers will be "rewarded for waiting."


NEW: Hanabusa, Inouye's pick to succeed him in Senate, says she's qualified for the job

HONOLULU (AP) — Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (ha-nah-BOO'-sah) says she's qualified to fill the Senate seat of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (ih-NOH'-way). The 61-year old Hanabusa says she could "hit the ground running" and capably serve Hawaii.

Inouye endorsed Hanabusa to be his successor in a letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie before he died last week.

Inouye died Dec. 17 from respiratory complications at the age of 88.

It'll be up to Abercrombie to appoint Inouye's successor. His spokeswoman has declined to say how much weight Abercrombie might give to Inouye's request in making his decision.

Hawaii Democrats plan to meet Wednesday to come up with a list of three candidates to send Abercrombie. It's possible the new senator could be appointed and sworn in as early as this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has asked the governor to act swiftly as the Senate prepares to make "pivotal decisions" before the end of the year.


Ex-Marine arrives home after release from Mexico

MIAMI (AP) — A Marine veteran jailed for months in Mexico after trying to carry an heirloom shotgun across the border has returned home to South Florida.

Jon Hammar's father says they got back to their Palmetto Bay home Monday afternoon.

Hammar was released Friday from a detention center in Matamoros, Mexico. He was hospitalized over the weekend in Louisiana as he was driving to South Florida. The 27-year-old had a bad chest cold and a stomach ailment before his release.

Hammar was headed to Costa Rica in August when he drove across the Mexican border. U.S. authorities told him he could declare the unloaded shotgun at the border. But reports say Mexican authorities held him until they determined there was no intent to commit a crime.


Connecticut town mourns

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — People drawn to Newtown, Conn., to share in its mourning this Christmas are bringing cards and handmade snowflakes to town while residents prepare to observe the holiday less than two weeks after a gunman killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school.

On Christmas Eve, residents lit luminaries outside their homes in memory of the victims. Tiny empty Christmas stockings with the victims' names on them hung from trees in the neighborhood where the children were shot.

Organizers say they want to let the families of victims know they are not alone while also giving children a chance to express their feelings about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

At the Trinity Episcopal Church, an overflow crowd of several hundred people attended Christmas Eve services. They were greeted by the sounds of a children's choir echoing throughout a sanctuary hall that had its walls decorated with green wreaths adorned with red bows.

Police say the gunman killed his mother in her bed before his Dec. 14 rampage at the school and then committed suicide.


Authorities will look for more victims in homes that burned during attack on firefighters

WEBSTER, N.Y. (AP) — Police don't yet know if there are other victims in the homes that burned near Rochester, N.Y. early today.

They say the fire was set by an ex-con in order to lure firefighters to his neighborhood -- and that when they arrived, he opened fire, killing two firefighters and wounding two others. He then took his own life.

Police say William Spengler had served more than 17 years in prison for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer in 1980, at the house next to where today's attack happened. He was paroled in 1998, and authorities say he had led a quiet life since then.

Seven homes ended up burning after Spengler set a car and a house on fire this morning. The gunman's sister, who lived with him, is unaccounted for.

The two wounded firefighters are in guarded condition at a hospital. Both are awake and alert and are expected to recover.

Authorities haven't yet determined what prompted the attack.


Police officer among 2 fatally shot in Houston

HOUSTON (AP) — Police say a traffic stop turned into a fatal shooting on Christmas Eve when a gunman killed a police officer and bystander in the parking lot of a Houston body shop.

Houston police spokesman John Cannon says Cpl. Jimmie Norman of the southwest Houston enclave Bellaire died at a hospital after the midmorning shooting Monday.

Cannon says the confrontation followed a chase.

The second person killed was a man who walked out of the body shop. His identity has not been released.

The suspect, 21-year-old Harlem Harold Lewis, was also shot and is in critical but stable condition at a hospital. Cannon says he's expected to survive.

He's to be charged with capital murder of a police officer and murder for the death of the bystander.


Meeting of shippers, East/Gulf dockworkers called

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Federal mediators seeking to avoid a walkout of thousands of dockworkers from Massachusetts to Texas have called for a meeting of the union and shipping companies.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service says Director George Cohen called the meeting of the International Longshoremen's Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance before the Dec. 29 expiration of the dockworkers' contract extension. It said Monday the parties have agreed to attend.

Talks broke down last week. The key sticking point is container royalties, payments to union workers based on cargo weight. Port operators represented by the Marine Alliance want to cap the royalties at last year's levels. Dockworkers say the payments aren't bonuses.

A critical West Coast port complex was crippled recently by a few hundred striking workers. Retailers fear another strike could have catastrophic effects and have asked President Barack Obama to intervene.


Jack Klugman dies in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jack Klugman, who made an art of gruffness in TV's "The Odd Couple" and "Quincy, M.E.," has died at the age of 90.

The actor's son Adam says his father died Monday afternoon in Los Angeles.

In the 1970s sitcom "The Odd Couple," Klugman played sloppy sports writer Oscar to co-star Tony Randall's Felix, a fussy photographer. In "Quincy, M.E.," which aired from 1976 to 1983, Klugman played an idealistic, tough-minded medical examiner.

Klugman lost his voice to throat cancer in the 1980s but trained himself to speak again. He returned to acting in a 1993 Broadway revival of "Three Men on a Horse."

Klugman split his time between TV, movies and the New York stage. In his later years he guest-starred on TV series including "Third Watch."

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