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Nation & World Briefly

Senate leaders reach down-to-wire agreement on extending payroll tax cuts, jobless benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate leaders agreed on compromise legislation Friday night to extend Social Security payroll tax cuts and jobless benefits for two months while requiring President Barack Obama to accept Republican demands for a swift decision on the fate of an oil pipeline that promises thousands of jobs.

A vote is expected Saturday on the measure, the last in a highly contentious year of divided government.

House passage is also required before the measure can reach Obama’s desk.

In a statement, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer indicated Obama would sign the measure, saying it had met his test of “preventing a tax increase on 160 million hardworking Americans” and avoiding damage to the economy recovery.

The statement made no mention of the pipeline. One senior administration official said the president would almost certainly refuse to grant a permit. The official was not authorized to speak publicly.

Penn St. coach says he saw Sandusky molest boy in shower, told Paterno and school officials

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – As soon as he walked into the Penn State locker room, Mike McQueary heard running water and rhythmic, slapping sounds of “skin on skin.” He looked in a mirror and saw a naked Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant coach, holding a young boy by the waist from behind, up against the wall in the campus shower.

“I just saw Coach Sandusky in the showers with a boy and what I saw was wrong and sexual,” McQueary recalled telling his father that night in 2002. He repeated it the next morning to coach Joe Paterno, who slumped deep into his chair at his kitchen table.

“He said, ‘I’m sorry you had to see that,”‘ McQueary said.

McQueary’s testimony Friday at a preliminary hearing for two Penn State officials accused of covering up the story was the most detailed, public account yet of the child sex abuse allegations that have upended the university’s football program and the entire central Pennsylvania campus. Paterno and the university president have lost their jobs, and officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are accused of lying to a grand jury about what McQueary told them.

A Pennsylvania judge on Friday held Curley, the university’s athletic director, and Schultz, a retired senior vice president, for trial after the daylong hearing.

6 ex-Fannie, Freddie executives charged with civil fraud over risky subprime mortgages

WASHINGTON (AP) – Two former CEOs at mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Friday became the highest-profile individuals to be charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis.

In a lawsuit filed in New York, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil fraud charges against six former executives at the two firms, including former Fannie CEO Daniel Mudd and former Freddie CEO Richard Syron.

The executives were accused of understating the level of high-risk subprime mortgages that Fannie and Freddie held just before the housing bubble burst.

“Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives told the world that their subprime exposure was substantially smaller than it really was,” said Robert Khuzami, SEC’s enforcement director.

Khuzami noted that huge losses on their subprime loans eventually pushed the two companies to the brink of failure and forced the government to take them over.

A torrent of bad financial news flows out of Europe; 6 nations face possible downgrade

DUBLIN (AP) – Alarming financial news flowed out of Europe in a torrent Friday, just a week after the EU leaders struck a deal they thought would contain the continent’s debt crisis.

The bombardment shredded hopes of a lasting solution to the turmoil that is endangering the euro – the currency used by 17 European nations – and threatening the entire global economy.

In quick succession:

– The Fitch Ratings agency announced it was considering further cuts to the credit scores of six eurozone nations – heavyweights Italy and Spain, as well as Belgium, Cyprus, Ireland and Slovenia. It said all six could face downgrades of one or two notches.

– Moody’s Investors Services downgraded Belgium’s credit rating by two notches. Belgium’s local- and foreign-currency government bond ratings fell to “Aa3″ from Aa1,” with a negative outlook. The ratings remain investment grade.

Commission says thousands suffered abuse in Dutch Catholic institutions, archbishop apologizes

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – As many as 20,000 children endured sexual abuse at Dutch Catholic institutions over the past 65 years, and church officials failed to adequately address it or help the victims, according to a long-awaited investigative report released Friday.

The findings detailed some of the most widespread abuse yet linked to the Roman Catholic Church, which has been under fire for years over abuse allegations in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

Based on a survey of 34,000 people, the report estimated that 1 in 10 Dutch children suffered some form of sexual abuse – a figure that rose to 1 in 5 among children who spent part of their youth in an institution such as a boarding school or children’s home, whether Catholic or not.

“Sexual abuse of minors,” it said bluntly, “occurs widely in Dutch society.”

The findings prompted the archbishop of Utrecht, Wim Eijk, to apologize to victims on behalf of the Dutch church, saying the report “fills us with shame and sorrow.”

Jurors deadlock in Utah company’s $1B lawsuit against Microsoft, panel discharged

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A federal jury on Friday failed to reach a verdict in a Utah company’s $1 billion antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. in a case so important to the computer giant that it put Bill Gates on the stand for two days last month.

Novell Inc. sued the software giant in 2004, claiming Microsoft duped it into developing the once-popular WordPerfect writing program for Windows 95 only to pull the plug so Microsoft could gain market share with its own product.

Novell says it was later forced to sell WordPerfect for a $1.2 billion loss.

The trial began two months ago with jurors getting the case on Wednesday. After much confusion, and some perplexing questions from the panel, they told U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz they were deadlocked by early Friday evening.

He repeatedly asked them if they could keep trying.

Take that Icarus: Comet shows you can get really close to sun and survive, amazing astronomers

WASHINGTON (AP) – A small comet survived what astronomers figured would be a sure death when it danced uncomfortably close to the broiling sun.

Comet Lovejoy, which was only discovered a couple of weeks ago, was supposed to melt Thursday night when it came close to where temperatures hit several million degrees. Astronomers had tracked 2,000 other sun-grazing comets make the same suicidal trip. None had ever survived.

But astronomers watching live with NASA telescopes first saw the sun’s corona wiggle as Lovejoy went close to the sun. They were then shocked when a bright spot emerged on the sun’s other side. Lovejoy lived.

“I was delighted when I saw it go into the sun and I was astounded when I saw something re-emerge,” said U.S. Navy solar researcher Karl Battams.

Lovejoy didn’t exactly come out of its hellish adventure unscathed. Only 10 percent of the comet – which was probably millions of tons – survived the encounter, said W. Dean Pesnell, project scientist for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which tracked Lovejoy’s death-defying plunge.

Death of Florida A&M drum major in suspected hazing incident ruled homicide

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The state medical examiner’s office has ruled that the death of a Florida A&M University drum major last month was a homicide after concluding that the student was severely beaten in a hazing incident and died within an hour.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement Friday evening saying it planned to work with the State Attorney’s office “to identify the charges that are applicable” in the death of 26-year-old Robert Champion.

The medical examiner’s office in Orlando found that Champion had bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and internal bleeding that caused him to go into shock, which killed him.

“The Champion family’s worst fears were realized tonight when their son Robert’s death was ruled a homicide by hazing,” the victim’s family said in a statement Friday evening. “We now hope that all those responsible for this act will swiftly be brought to justice. Our goal is that no other family will have to live through this pain.”

“We don’t want to stop the music,” the statement said, “we want to stop the hazing.”

Rapper Slim Dunkin slain in Atlanta music studio as he prepares to record video

ATLANTA (AP) – Atlanta police say the rapper Slim Dunkin was gunned down Friday evening in a city music studio as he prepared to record a video.

Police Maj. Keith Meadows said the performer, whose real name is Mario Hamilton, was fatally shot in the chest after getting into an argument with another individual.

“It appears the victim was scheduled to do a photo shoot,” Meadows told The Associated Press. “Before the video shoot took place, it appears the victim and suspect got involved in a verbal altercation. We don’t know what that altercation was about.”

“The suspect produced a weapon, discharged that handgun one time, striking the victim in the chest,” Meadows said.

The performer was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, files for divorce from Los Angeles Lakers star

ORANGE, Calif. (AP) – Kobe Bryant’s wife, who stood by her husband when he was charged with sexual assault in 2003, filed for divorce on Friday from the Los Angeles Lakers star, citing irreconcilable differences after a decade of marriage.

Vanessa Bryant signed the papers on Dec. 1. Kobe Bryant signed his response on Dec. 7 and it was filed Friday, according to the documents.

“The Bryants have resolved all issues incident to their divorce privately with the assistance of counsel and a judgment dissolving their marital status will be entered in 2012,” according to a statement from a representative for the couple.

In the filing, Vanessa Bryant asked for joint legal and physical custody of the couple’s two daughters, Natalia, 8, and Gianna, 5. Kobe Bryant asked for the same in his response. Vanessa Bryant also requested spousal support.

The Bryants “ask that in the interest of our young children and in light of the upcoming holiday season the public respect our privacy during this difficult time,” according to the statement.