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Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Ariz., talks to the media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Ariz., talks to the media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington …

Acting with uncommon speed, Congress moved toward final passage Thursday night of sweeping, bipartisan legislation to avoid a Jan. 1 spike in income taxes for millions and renew jobless benefits for victims of the worst recession in 80 years. The measure also will cut Social Security taxes for nearly every wage-earner and pump billions of dollars into the still-sluggish economy.

SYDNEY (AP) — Australia's prime minister says police have determined that WikiLeaks has not broken any laws in the country. The government ordered the Australian Federal Police to investigate whether the website had broken local laws in publishing sensitive U.S. diplomatic documents leaked to it, because WikiLeaks' founder is an Australian, Julian Assange.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California regulators on Thursday approved the first system in the nation to give polluting companies such as utilities and refineries financial incentives to emit fewer greenhouse gases. The Air Resources Board voted 9-1 to pass the key piece of California's 2006 climate law — called AB32 — with the hope that other states will follow the lead of the world's eighth largest economy. State officials also are discussing plans to link the new system with similar ones under way or being planned in Canada, Europe and Asia.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats controlling the Senate abandoned on Thursday a huge catchall spending measure combining nearly $1.3 trillion worth of unfinished budget work, including $158 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Facing a midnight Saturday deadline when a stopgap funding measure expires, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would work with Republican leader Mitch McConnell to produce a bill to keep the federal government running into early next year.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Snow, sleet and freezing rain wreaked havoc across Mid-Atlantic and Southern states on Thursday, causing hundreds of accidents, four fatal. The nasty pre-winter mix also forced schools to start late, close early or cancel classes altogether. Three people died in separate weather-related crashes in North Carolina.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The big set of sand barriers erected by Louisiana's governor to protect the coastline at the height of the Gulf oil spill was criticized by a presidential commission Thursday as a colossal, $200 million waste of BP's money so far. Precious little oil ever washed up on the berms, according to the commission — a finding corroborated by a log of oil sightings and other government documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

SMITHTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — A missing New Jersey prostitute was not among the four women whose bodies were found over the past week on a deserted beach highway in New York, detectives said Thursday. Investigators believe a serial killer could be responsible for the deaths. None of the remains, however, are that of Shannon Gilbert, who was reported missing in May, Suffolk County Police said in a statement.

MCALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma officials executed a convicted murderer Thursday using a drug combination that includes a sedative commonly used to euthanize animals, after a nationwide shortage of a key ingredient forced the state to tinker with the usual formula. John David Duty was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m. at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. The 58-year-old, who was sentenced to die for strangling his cellmate nearly a decade ago, is believed to be the first person in the United States whose execution included the use of pentobarbital.

NEW YORK (AP) — Marking the occasion with bright red suspenders, Larry King pulled the curtain down on his CNN talk show on Thursday after 25 years. King, 77, said this summer he would leave. Once the dominant voice on cable television news, King has faded in a sea of sharp talkers. British talk-show host and "America's Got Talent" judge Piers Morgan takes over the 9 p.m. Eastern time slot in January.

NEW YORK (AP) — Tiger Woods' humbling return to the public eye, from his televised confession to a winless season on the golf course, was voted the sports story of the year by members of The Associated Press. The fallout from Woods' admission of infidelity edged a very different sort of story: The New Orleans Saints winning their first Super Bowl championship, giving an emotional boost to their hurricane-ravaged city.

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