Nation briefs 3/1/06

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Supreme Court sides with abortion protesters

WASHINGTON -- A 20-year-old legal fight over protests outside abortion clinics ended Tuesday with the Supreme Court ruling that federal extortion and racketeering laws cannot be used against demonstrators. The 8-0 decision was a setback for abortion clinics that were buoyed when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals kept their case alive two years ago despite the high court's 2003 ruling that had cleared the way for lifting a nationwide injunction on pro-life leader Joseph Scheidler and others. Pro-life groups appealed to the justices after the lower court sought to determine if the injunction could be supported by findings that protesters had made threats of violence.

Smithsonian collecting relics of hip-hop

NEW YORK -- The Smithsonian Institution is beginning to catalog the origins of hip-hop, collecting vinyl records, turntables, microphones and boom boxes. Pioneering artists Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Fab 5 Freddy and others planned on Tuesday to donate some of those items to National Museum of American History officials in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian, which oversees the museum, calls its initiative, "Hip-Hop Won't Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life." Organizers expect the project to cost as much as $2 million and take up to five years to complete. It aims to collect objects that trace hip-hop's origins in the Bronx in the 1970s to its current global reach.

First skin patch to treat depression approved

WASHINGTON -- The first skin patch to treat depression won federal approval Tuesday, providing a novel way to administer a drug already used by Parkinson's disease patients but that belongs to a class of medicines that is rarely a first or second choice antidepressant. The Food and Drug Administration approved the selegiline transdermal patch, agency spokeswoman Susan Cruzan said. The drug will be marketed as Emsam, said Somerset Pharmaceuticals Inc., which developed the drug, and Bristol-Myers Squib Co., which will market it in three sizes as a once-a-day treatment for major depression. "We believe Emsam will help physicians treat their patients living with this illness through a new and unique delivery system," said Peter Dolan, chief executive officer of Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Existing home sales fall for fifth month

WASHINGTON -- Sales of existing homes fell for a fifth consecutive month in January as the once-sizzling housing market cooled further. The National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday that sales of previously owned homes dropped by 2.8 percent compared to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.56 million units, the slowest pace in two years. Even with the slowdown in sales, home prices held steady with the median price in January at $211,000, unchanged from the December level. Sales of both existing and new homes set records for the fifth straight year in 2005, but analysts believe that sales of existing homes will fall by around 5 percent this year as rising interest rates cut into demand. The drop in sales of existing homes followed a 5 percent decline in sales of new homes in January as that segment of the market cooled as well.

Northwest Airlines pilots union authorizes strike

MINNEAPOLIS -- The pilots union at Northwest Airlines Corp. said Tuesday that its members have authorized a strike if the carrier imposes its threatened pay-cut and work-rule changes. More than 92 percent of pilots voted in favor of authorizing a strike, said Wade Blaufuss, spokesman for the Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association. He said more than 90 percent of Northwest's 4,851 eligible pilots voted. Blaufuss spoke by phone from New York, where the union leadership is meeting amid talks with the airline. The vote authorizes union leaders to call a strike, but doesn't guarantee that they will. The union has said it wouldn't strike unless Northwest imposes pay-cut and work rule changes. Today is the earliest that could happen.

-- From wire reports

That had been one of the key sticking points early in negotiations.

"We'd certainly like to wrap it up," he said by phone from New York. "Our goal has been all along to reach a consensual agreement, and we'd like to do that before it's jeopardized" by exceeding any deadlines like the one the judge set for Wednesday.

Flight attendants have also threatened to strike, but their vote doesn't wrap up until March 6.

Northwest has said any strike would be illegal. A Northwest spokesman did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

Northwest, the nation's fourth-largest carrier, filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 14. It has been seeking $1.4 billion in annual savings from workers.

-- From wire reports

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