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US Supreme Court takes up two gay marriage cases

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The U.S. Supreme Court took up two cases involving the issue of same-sex marriage on Friday and agreed to decide if same-sex marriage is allowed in California and if the government can deny benefits to same-sex couples, the San Francisco Chronicle said.

In the cases, the court will review California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage and the provision in the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) that limited benefits to same-sex couples, the Guardian said.

The court cases are scheduled for early next year and rulings are due by the end of June, the San Francisco Chronicle said.

This decision comes after the votes in three states, Maine, Maryland and Washington, approved same-sex marriage in the November election, the San Francisco Chronicle said.

The Supreme Court has "signaled its readiness to consider the civil rights issue of our time at an opportune moment in our history," San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera, who participated in gay rights groups, said to the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to a poll by Gallup, 53% of Americans believe that the law should recognize same-sex marriage and that same-sex couples should receive the same rights as heterosexual couples, the Guardian said.

Both sides of the issue welcome the court's decision to take up the cases. Bryan Fischer, a member of the American Family Association, acknowledged the importance of the cases, the Guardian said.

"It's good that the Supreme Court has taken up these issues," Fischer said to the Guardian. "What is needed is clarity at a national level."

Wildfires due to invasive grass species

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Cheatgrass, an invasive grass species, has caused more bigger and frequent wildfires in the West, according to a study that appeared in the Global Change Biology Journal Thursday, the Los Angeles Times said.

The researchers compared wildlife data with satellite images from the Great Basin of the American west, the Los Angeles Times said.

The report said that almost 80% of the largest fires in the west over the last 10 years are due to this grass, the BBC News said.

"We were able to pick out this species from space because it dries out earlier than native species," lead author Dr. Jennifer Balch said. "[Cheatgrass] is fuelling those really big fires."

This change in the wildfire cycle that is fueled by the invasive Cheatgrass is destroying the native sagebrush ecosystem of the Great Basin, the Los Angeles Times said.

The invasive grass does not provide any nutrients or wildlife shelter and is decreasing biodiversity in the land, the Los Angeles Times said.

To combat this threat, scientists are looking at many solutions, one of which that uses a fungus to attack the grass seed, the BBC News said.

US birth rate falls to a record low since 1920

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The U.S. birth rate has reached a record low due to immigrant women hit hard by the economic recession, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, the BBC News said.

The current birth rate at 63.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age has decreased by 8 percent between 2007 and 2010 and has decreased 14 percent among foreign-born women, the Washington Post said.

This decrease among immigrant women has occurred due to a change in their behavior, author of the report D'Vera Cohn said to the Washington Post.

This decrease could also be contributed to the increased access to contraception for Latino women, according to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the BBC News said.

Since 2007, foreign and U.S. born Hispanic women has suffered the largest decrease in household wealth, the BBC News said.

"We've been assuming that when the baby-boomer population gets most expensive, that there are going to be immigrants and their children who are going to be paying into [programs for the elderly]," professor of public policy at the University of Southern California Roberto Suro said to the Washington Post. "But in the wake of what's happened in the last five years, we have to reexamine those assumptions."

Obama defends John Allen in the Petraeus fallout

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President Barack Obama defended Gen John Allen on Tuesday despite reports of Allen exchanging flirtatious e-mails with socialite Jill Kelley, the BBC News said.

Spokesperson Jay Carney said that Obama was "very happy" with Allen's service and has "faith" in Allen, who is set to be the next NATO commander in Europe, the BBC News said.

"I can tell you that the president thinks very highly of Gen Allen and his service to his country, as well as the job he has done in Afghanistan," Carney said, according to the BBC News.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced earlier of the investigation of Allen and the examination of Allen's e-mails and messages to Kelley, the BBC News said.

This examination follows the scandal of CIA chief David Petraeus who resigned because of an extramarital affair he was involved in with Paula Broadwell, the BBC News said. Kelley was a family friend of Petraeus and received threatening e-mails from Broadwell, the BBC News said.

Jim Walsh, research associate for the MIT Security Studies Program, has said that this scandal will not last much longer, the Boston Herald said.

"I don't think it's something that has a ton of legs. There may be other revelations or other shoes to drop, but in a month I think we'll be talking a lot more about the fiscal cliff and other stories," Walsh said to the Boston Herald.

Florida confirms Obama's win in election

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The official results in Florida came in Saturday after days of counting absentee ballots and President Obama beat Mitt Romney by 74,000 votes, the New York Times said.

With the new results in, Obama has won 332 electoral college votes while Romney got 206 votes, the BBC News said.

Florida officials are trying to figure out Florida can improve the election process, the New York Times said.

"We could have done better; we will do better," Ken Detzner, the secretary of state of Florida, said about the election process, the New York Times said.

Some voters in cities in Florida waited more than seven hours to vote on Election Day, the New York Times said. In Miami-Dade, the last people to vote cast their ballots in Wednesday morning, which was after Obama was declared the winner, the New York Times said.

In one county, an automated phone system told more than 12,500 voters that the election was on Wednesday and not Tuesday, the BBC News said.

Other states, such as Virginia, New York and Washington DC also had reports of long voting lines, the BBC News said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his rationing plan for fuel on Thursday and said that only a fourth of the city's gas stations have gas, the BBC News said.

Fuel shortenings have occurred in New York after Storm Sandy, leading to long lines at the fuel stations and traffic chaos to commuters, the BBC News said.

With the rationing system, cars with license plates ending in odd numbers are allowed to buy fuel on odd-numbered days of the month, the BBC News said. Similarly, cars with license plates ending in even numbers are allowed to fill up their cars on even-numbered days of the month, the BBC News said.

By Friday, Bloomberg said that a third of the gas stations were open, the Wall Street Journal said.

"There's no guarantee that odd-even is going to make a big difference," Bloomberg said about the rationing to the Wall Street Journal .

The Energy Department, however, has said that more than 70 percent of the city's gas station had gas, the Wall Street Journal said.

The taxis and emergency vehicles of New York City are exempt from the rationing rules, the BBC News said.

U.S. employers added 171,000 jobs in October and the unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent, according to Friday's report by the Labor Department, the Reuters said.

The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent but this is mainly due to more people looking for work, as the unemployment rate is calculated by the number of people who are looking for a job, the Star Tribune said. The work force increased by 578,000 in October, the Star Tribune said.

This report will be the last major snapshot of the economy before Tuesday's elections, the Star Tribune said.

"This report is consistent with the emerging picture of an economic recovery that is continuing to regain traction after grinding to a halt earlier this year," Millan Mulraine, senior U.S. strategist, said to Reuters.

While the rise in the unemployment rate was expected, the increase in jobs beat the expectations by a Reuters poll, Reuters said.

Romney's economic advisor Glenn Hubbard took a less optimistic view on the job raise, Reuters said.

"Really vigorous is a number like 250,000 to 300,000 jobs a month. This is simply not good enough," Hubbard said according to Reuters.

The October job report was assembled before Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast and shattered many businesses, the Star Tribune said.

Disney announced its plans to buy Lucasfilm from founder George Lucas on Tuesday and has said that they are planning a new Star Wars film to be released in 2015, the BBC News said.

Disney is acquiring Lucas film for over $4 billion and currently plans to produce three Star Wars movies, episodes seven through nine, the BBC News said. George Lucas, who started the Star Wars franchise and directed the past Star Wars films, will continue as the creative consultant for the movies, the BBC News said.

Josh Dickey, the film editor at Variety magazine in Los Angeles, supports this sale and has high hopes for the new movies, the BBC News said,

Disney is "so good at working with existing intellectual property and making it resonate with fans and marketing it very well," Dickey said.

Lucas launched Lucas film in 1971 and it has been 36 years since the release of the first Star Wars film, the BBC News said.

With the money that he will get with the sale, Lucas has said that much of the money will go towards a foundation supporting education, the Chicago Tribune said.

"As I start a new chapter in my life, it is gratifying that I have the opportunity to devote more time and resources to philanthropy," Lucas said.

As Hurricane Sandy threatens the eastern states Sunday, evacuation orders have been cast, several airlines have canceled their flights, and schools and transit systems have closed down, the Wall Street Journal said.

At 8 p.m. eastern time, the storm was about 485 miles south of New York City according to the National Hurricane Center, the BBC News said.

The storm, 520 miles across, is moving slowly and could stay over as many as 12 states for over 24 hours, the BBC News said. This could bring up to 25cm of rain, 60cm of snow, and power surges, the BBC News said.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered 375,000 people in the city's most vulnerable areas to evacuate, the BBC News said.

"If you don't evacuate you're not just putting your own life in danger, you are also endangering lives of our first responders who would have to rescue you," Bloomberg said to the BBC News.

New York officials closed down the public transit system and closed down all public schools, which they are prepared to leave closed until the storm is cleared, the Wall Street Journal said.

This storm interrupts presidential campaigns as President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney canceled campaign stops on the East coast, the Wall Street Journal said.

Security flaws in boarding pass barcodes

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Recent security flaws exposed by security researchers show that passengers could know in advance what kind of security measures they will receive at the airport and potentially change these security measures, the Washington Post said.

The barcodes, located on the boarding pass that can be printed 24 hours prior to the flight, can determine if the passenger will encounter the PreCheck security system or not, the BBC News said.

The PreCheck system randomly decides which frequent fliers can skip part of the pre-boarding security process by not requiring the removal of shoes, jackets and belts and allowing laptops to be kept in bags, the BBC News said.

This security flaw could mean that travelers could change the boarding passes to change the type of security screening the will receive at the airport because the barcode is not encrypted, aviation blogger John Butler said, the BBC News said.

"The pre-check system is extremely valuable for making airport screening more efficient," Sen. Charles Schumer said to the Washington Post, "but this has the potential to be a gaping flaw in the system that would be all too easy to exploit."

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