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    Scientists along the West Coast are seeking action to help sunflower sea stars recover from catastrophic population declines. The Astorian reports experts say a wasting disease epidemic that started in 2013 has decimated about 95% of the population from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. The source is unknown, but some say warming waters due to human-caused climate change could have triggered the outbreak. The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to announce by early next year whether the species should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Without sea stars to keep them in check, sea urchins are causing a troubling decline in kelp forests that provide food and shelter.

      New York’s state health commissioner will resign Jan. 1 after 13 months in the job to return to Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Mary Bassett said in a statement Friday that she was leaving so the next commissioner can lead the department for a full four-year term under Gov. Kathy Hochul, who won election to her first full term last month. Hochul says in a statement that Bassett led the Health Department during a challenging time, battling the coronavirus, mpox and polio outbreaks. Bassett is a former New York City health commissioner and became the state commissioner in December 2021 after leaving Harvard.

        A senior Moldovan official says the country has struck a deal to renew severed electricity supplies from its breakaway, Moscow-backed region of Transnistria to lower the risk of more massive blackouts amid an acute winter energy crisis. Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu said Saturday that Moldovan state power company Energocom has signed a deal for December with the gas-operated Kuciurgan electricity plant in Transnistria. In November, the plant stopped supplying electricity to other parts of Moldova after Russia reduced natural gas flows to the country. Spinu said the Moldovan gas company, Moldovagaz, will deliver 5.7 million cubic meters of gas to the Transnistria region. Transnistria broke away after a 1992 civil war. It's not recognized by most countries.

          The Biden administration is toughening its language toward NATO ally Turkey. Officials hope to talk Turkey out of a ground offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in neighboring Syria. Turkey blames the U.S. and its Kurdish militia ally in Syria for a Nov. 13 bombing.

            The British Museum has pledged not to dismantle its collection following a report that the institution’s chairman has held secret talks with Greece’s prime minister over the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles. The report by the Greek newspaper Ta Nea is the latest twist in the long-running dispute over ownership of the ancient sculptures, which have been a centerpiece of the British Museum’s collection since 1816. Ta Nea reported Saturday that negotiations between museum Chairman George Osborne and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have been taking place since November 2021 and are at an advanced stage.

              Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkish authorities have arrested and jailed in Istanbul a convicted member of an outlawed militant group who was extradited from Sweden. The extradition comes as Turkey continues to hold up Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership, with Turkish officials saying more steps were needed to fulfill a joint memorandum signed in June that prevented Ankara's veto. Anadolu news agency identified the man as Mahmut Tat, who was convicted of membership in an armed terror organization in 2015 and sentenced to more than six years in prison. Sweden confirmed the deportation but didn't name the man deported.

                The Supreme Court is being warned about the potentially dire consequences of a case next week involving a Christian graphic artist who objects to designing wedding websites for same-sex couples. Liberal groups say ruling for the designer will expose not only same-sex couples but also Black people, immigrants, Jews, Muslims and others to discrimination. Conservative groups argue that ruling against her will force artists to do work that is against their faith. Both sides have described for the court what lawyers sometimes call “a parade of horribles” that could result if the ruling doesn’t go their way. The case marks the second time in five years that the Supreme Court has confronted a similar issue.

                Voters with no religious affiliation supported Democratic candidates and abortion rights by staggering percentages in the 2022 midterm elections. The unaffiliated voted for Democratic House candidates nationwide over Republicans by more than a 2-1 margin. They voted against abortion restrictions in Kentucky in Michigan by 4-1 margins. They supported Democrats in other bellwether races by similarly lopsided margins. And the religiously unaffiliated are growing. Twenty-nine percent of U.S. adults identified as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” in a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center. That’s up 10 percentage points in a decade.

                NATO member and Russia’s neighbor Estonia is boosting its defense capabilities by acquiring an advanced U.S. rocket artillery system. Estonian defense officials said Saturday that the deal with the U.S. worth more than $200 million is the Baltic country’s largest arms procurement project ever. The deal for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known as HIMARS, includes training, ammunition and rockets with a range pf 70-300 kilometers (43-186 miles), according to the Estonian Center for Defense Investment. Estonia’s Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania either have or are currently in the process of acquiring their own HIMARS. Washington has provided Ukraine with the rocket launchers during Russia’s invasion of the country.

                Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is considering introducing express toll lanes on highways and tripling a fee for electric car owners as he looks for ways to pay for tens of billions of dollars in roadway projects. The Republican is just as adamant about what he won’t do. He doesn't want to raise gas taxes, add fully tolled roads, or issue debt to fund roads. With Tennessee’s rapid growth and truck traffic, state transportation officials say $26 billion in projects are needed to address worsening congestion. Lawmakers would need to sign off on letting private companies build the express toll lanes. They also would need to approve increasing the electric vehicle fee from $100 to $300.

                The Republicans who lost their races for Michigan’s top three statewide offices after promoting falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election are not planning to go quietly. Two of the candidates who denied President Joe Biden’s victory in the state have announced plans to run for the position that leads the state GOP, while the third has said she is considering a challenge for the top post. That is raising concerns within the party after it suffered a drubbing in Michigan, a perennial political battleground that is poised to play a pivotal role in the 2024 presidential race.

                The Iowa caucuses and their outsize importance have largely been an exercise in myth-making. The idea was that candidates could earn a path to the White House by meeting voters in person, and earnest, civic-minded Midwesterners would actually stand for their candidate. As the caucuses have played out, the flaws have become increasingly glaring. First, the state’s Democrats botched the count in 2020, leaving an embarrassing muddle. But there were more. Since 2008, the state’s political makeup has changed dramatically, from a reliable swing state to solidly Republican. And with the Democratic Party increasingly becoming a party of diversity, Iowa’s lack of it left the state without much of a rationale for leading the way.

                What started as an unplanned vigil last weekend in Shanghai by fewer than a dozen people grew hours later into a rowdy crowd of hundreds. The protesters expressed anger over China's harsh COVID-19 policies that they believed played a role in a deadly fire on Nov. 24 in a city in the far west. Then, a woman defiantly shouted for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to resign, emboldening others. Before dawn, police moved in to break up the gathering. The Nov. 26 protest in Shanghai wasn’t the first or the largest. But it was notable for the bold calls for the leadership change — the most open defiance of the ruling Communist Party in decades.

                Most railroad workers weren't surprised that Congress intervened this week to block a railroad strike, but they were disappointed because they say the deals lawmakers imposed didn't do enough to address their quality of life concerns about demanding schedules and the lack of paid sick time. Railroad workers face difficult tradeoffs that sometimes force them to skip doctor's appointments or miss family events. The railroads acknowledge that more needs to be done to address workers' “work-life balance concerns," but managers believe these new contracts should help create more predictable schedules. And the five-year deals include 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses.

                Ukraine has won victories on the battlefield against Russia but faces a looming challenge on the economic front. The government has been relying on the central bank to print money to cover its huge deficits caused by the war. Tax revenue has fallen, and defense spending has soared for next year's budget. Kyiv is looking for ways to pay for its war effort at least through next year. By then, hopes are that a price cap on Russian oil sales will put Moscow on the economic defensive. Until then, Ukraine is turning to its allies for more money to avoid worsening inflation that hurts ordinary people.

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                The United States' newest nuclear stealth bomber has made its public debut after years of secret development. The new bomber is part of the Pentagon’s answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China. The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft built in more than 30 years. The Pentagon provided the public its first glimpse of the Raider at an invitation-only event in Palmdale, California, on Friday. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin calls it “the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love.” Falls Church, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman is building the Raider, which will take its first flight next year.

                Republican John Duarte defeated Democrat Adam Gray in a new California U.S. House district in the Central Valley farm belt that produced the closest congressional contest in the state this year. With virtually all of the ballots counted, Duarte had just over 50% of the vote. Gray conceded in a statement, saying, “I accept the results and have called to congratulate my opponent.” Earlier, Republicans regained control of the House. With Duarte’s victory, Republicans will hold 221 seats next year, Democrats 213, with one Colorado race undecided and going to a recount. Duarte said he would be a “bipartisan champion” in Washington.

                The U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights says Myanmar’s military-installed government has sentenced more critics to death, bringing the total to 139, and is using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition. High Commissioner Volker Türk says at least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday and there are reports that as many as four more youth activists were sentenced on Thursday. The military seized power in February last year, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The army’s action was met with widespread peaceful protests that were quashed with lethal force. The government hanged four political activists in July, in the country’s first executions in at least three decades.

                A tiny Nevada toad at the center of a legal battle over a geothermal project has officially been declared an endangered species. U.S. wildlife officials had temporarily listed it on a rarely used emergency basis last spring. The Fish and Wildlife Service said in a formal rule published Friday that the Dixie Valley toad is at risk of extinction "primarily due to the approval and commencement of geothermal development” about 100 miles east of Reno. Other threats to the quarter-sized amphibian include groundwater pumping, agriculture, climate change, disease and predation from bullfrogs. The temporary listing in April marked only the second time in 20 years the agency had taken such emergency action.

                Boise Mayor Lauren McLean says the director of the city's police watchdog group has been placed on administrative leave. McLean’s office said in a news release that the decision to place Office of Police Accountability Director Jesus Jara on leave Friday is in response to ongoing concerns with his professional judgement. Jara was made director in late August 2021. Hepworth Law Offices said Friday it was representing Jara regarding a potential breach of contract by the city, retaliation concerns and “violations of law.” In September, McLean asked the city's police chief to resign.

                Republican Joe Kent’s campaign says it intends to request a machine ballot recount of all counties within southwest Washington state's 3rd Congressional District. The Columbian reports a statement from Kent's campaign Friday says they believe a second tabulation is in order because of the close margin between the two campaigns, technical issues with the signature verifications software, and the obligation they have to supporters to ensure certainty about the outcome. The Kent campaign didn't respond to the newspaper's request to clarify its signature verification software concern. Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez pulled off a victory against Kent, a far-right “America First” ex-Green Beret who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

                French President Emmanuel Macron has paid a visit to Louisiana, the U.S. state most closely aligned with his country historically and culturally. Macron met with political leaders Friday and strolled through New Orleans’ historic French Quarter. He paused next to a street brass band and nodded and clapped as they played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Macron also says he met with billionaire Elon Musk for a “clear and honest discussion” about Twitter, days after a top EU official warned that the company must do more to protect users. It is the first visit to Louisiana by a French president since Valery Giscard d’Estaing traveled to Lafayette and New Orleans in 1976.

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