12/24/96 - 01:59 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

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Calif. bias policy dealt new blow

SAN FRANCISCO - California's voter-approved ban on affirmative action suffered another blow Monday when a judge extended a ban on its enforcement, saying it was probably unconstitutional. Chief U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, in granting a preliminary injunction, said civil rights groups "demonstrated a probability of success" in claiming Proposition 209 violates the constitution's equal protection guarantee. An appeal is expected. Approved by 54% of the voters Nov. 5., 209 bans discrimination or preferences based on race, sex or national origin.

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Snow on tap for select few

A white Christmas is on tap from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes and New England mountains. Holiday travelers could have a few problems today. Light snow is expected from the Northwest to the Northern Plains. The eastern third will be rainy. And it will be cold, well below normal in the midsection from Canada to the Gulf Coast. In the Sierra Nevada, folks still will be digging out from more than 8 feet of snow that stranded thousands of travelers and derailed an Amtrak train. There's an unusual bright spot this holiday - the first Christmas Eve full moon since 1950, and the last until 2102. It's also the year's highest full moon, making it particularly bright.

Brewer to stop ads on MTV

Anheuser-Busch, the nation's top brewer, will stop airing beer ads on MTV. The maker of Budweiser and Michelob will move its beer spots to VH1, which appeals to slightly older viewers. Anheuser-Busch's action is "head 'em off at the pass self-censorship," says beverage industry consultant Tom Pirko. Anheuser-Busch's action comes just weeks after the distilled spirits industry was criticized for reversing its self-imposed ban on broadcast advertising of liquor.

James Earl Ray hospitalized

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was hospitalized over the weekend, officials confirmed Monday. Neither hospital officials nor state Corrections Department spokeswoman Pam Gehman would comment on Ray's condition. Nashville television station WSMV reported he was near death. It did not identify its source. Gehman said Ray was transferred Saturday night from Riverbend State Prison in Nashville to the Columbia Nashville Memorial Hospital. Ray, 68, pleaded guilty in the April 1968 slaying of King, who was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison but later recanted his story.

Lawyer injured in apparent package bomb attack

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - A lawyer was seriously injured Monday when a gift-wrapped package left outside his office exploded, authorities said. Attorney Jack Jacobson "picked it up, went into his office, and it exploded," said FBI spokesman George Grotz said. Witnesses heard an explosion, and then saw Jacobson run from his office, KSBW-TV in Salinas reported. One of the lawyer's hands was blown off, a witness said. Officials said he also suffered cuts on his face and chest injuries. No one else was injured. Workers in nearby offices said Jacobson primarily practiced family and divorce law.

Monday's debate: air safety

USA TODAY and FAA acting administrator Linda Hall Daschle debate how history will view the Federal Aviation Administration in light of 1996's accidents. USA TODAY says the FAA is still dragging its feet, putting fliers at risk. Daschle contends that the flying public will benefit from the USA's highest safety standards.

Report: Justin writes murder tale featuring dad

LOS ANGELES - O.J. Simpson's 8-year-old son wrote a fictional murder mystery for a school assignment that ended with his father being the killer, a television station reported. The story, which featured a killer holding a hostage with a knife and a machine gun, was written by Justin Simpson this fall and was used as evidence in the battle between Simpson and his former in-laws for custody of Justin and his 11-year-old sister, Sydney, KCBS-TV reported Sunday. Simpson was awarded full custody of his two younger children on Friday. A psychiatrist hired by the family of Nicole Brown Simpson said that Justin's story showed that he is "deeply emotionally conflicted" about his dad, the New York Daily News reported Monday, quoting sources.

Out of the ashes: A sense of unity

In the past six months, the number of church burnings has dropped off, and talk of a racial conspiracy has died down. Other activities have picked up. Volunteers helped rebuild churches last summer. A new sense of unity has formed among organized religious faiths. The concern about church arsons has also led to closer scrutiny and understanding of arson, especially by juveniles.

Fires damage two S.C. churches; at least one is arson

TILLMAN, S.C. - Arsonists set a fire in a church with a predominantly black congregation, federal officials said, and a blaze that destroyed a church with a white congregation was under investigation. No injuries were reported in either fire. A fire Sunday evening at the Arm Oak Baptist Church in Jasper County caused minor damage to pews near a window, said Charles Friedrichs of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms office in Charleston. In central South Carolina's Sumter County, a fire about 3 a.m. Monday destroyed the Trinity United Methodist Church in the Shiloh community, Sumter County Sheriff Tommy Mims said.

Teen-ager is ordered out of retirement community

YOUNGTOWN, Ariz. - It may take a village to raise a child, but the folks in this retirement community say they finished rearing their kids long ago, thank you. That's why they enforced a rarely used ban on children and evicted a teen-ager who had moved in with his grandparents a year ago, allegedly to escape abuse at home. Sixteen-year-old Chaz Cope has until Jan. 19 to get out. An ordinance in the Phoenix suburb of 2,500 requires each household to have at least one resident 55 or older, and people 18 or younger can stay no longer than three months. Cope's grandparents face a $100-a-day fine and 10 days in jail for each day Chaz stays past the deadline.

Stung by research, McDonald's looks to changes

OAK BROOK, Ill. - With its own research showing its burgers aren't as tasty as the competition, McDonald's is making some changes. The Wall Street Journal reports Monday that McDonald's is ordering modifications - including salting burgers as they cook and improving sauce for the Big Mac - after finding its burgers rated behind Wendy's and Burger King. Other changes include making sure burgers aren't overcooked and putting the lettuce and tomato in the Arch Deluxes after they are heated in the microwave, not before.

Magazine ranks tycoons' philanthropy in 1996

NEW YORK - They know how to make money but they're not necessarily good at giving it away, according to a survey of the USA's tycoons by Fortune magazine. In its Jan. 13 issue, the magazine ranked the nation's top 25 philanthropists and found they gave away more than $1.5 billion this year. Topping the list is George Soros, president of Soros Fund Management, who donated $350 million this year, followed by retired grocery and drug store magnate L.S. Skaggs, who made gifts of $155 million. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was ranked third, with $135 million in donations.

ValuJet cancels flights, strands passengers

ValuJet Airlines left about 3,000 travelers in a holiday haze on Sunday when it canceled all flights to Dallas and Fort Myers, Fla. The Atlanta-based discount airline said it no longer had confidence in Kiwi International Airlines, one of three charter operators it was forced to contract with last week after the Federal Aviation Administration refused to allow ValuJet to fly certain routes until it proved it could fly them safely. ValuJet sold tickets to those routes, anticipating FAA approval. The airline said each customer would receive a full refund and a round-trip ticket anywhere the carrier flies.

At least 5 killed in factory explosion near Houston

HOUSTON - An explosion blew a hole through the roof of a metal-working factory and killed at least five people, company officials said. The blast occurred late Sunday at the Wyman Gordon Forging Co., which employs about 1,200 people northwest of Houston in Harris County, fire and company officials said. The main product of the plant is extruded pipe used in power and chemical plants, and the blast was near a 35,000-ton press, said Wallace Whitney, general counsel for Wyman Gordon at North Grafton, Mass. Five people were known killed and two people were injured, Whitney said Monday. KTRH radio and KTRK-TV reported a sixth person also was killed, quoting a fire department emergency worker inside the factory.

Fiancee to get ring lost in Flight 800 crash

SMITHTOWN, N.Y. - An FBI official says he's getting an engagement ring back to a woman who lost her fiancee in the explosion of TWA Flight 800 because "it's the right thing to do." The 1.6-carat diamond ring, found floating amid the debris of the plane after the explosion, was to be returned Monday to Julie Stuart. She had fought for the ring's return since the July 17 crash, which killed her fiancee, Andrew Krukar, 41. "This is bittersweet," Ms. Stuart, 31, said Monday. "I only wish it was the way it was supposed to be, with Andy placing it on my finger. I miss him so much." Stuart was to receive the ring from FBI assistant director James Kallstrom in a private meeting Monday.

Calling black English a language prompts criticism

A California school board's decision to recognize black English as a separate language brought liberals and conservatives and blacks and whites together Sunday in condemning the idea. But Oakland school officials, whose action last week provoked coast-to-coast sneering, say they've been misunderstood. And some respected linguists argue that knowledge of "Ebonics" may help educators better teach black students. Those arguments don't wash with critics. "It's teaching down to our children. This is . . . borderlining on disgrace," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said on NBC's Meet the Press"

Small plane crashes in California

LUCERNE VALLEY, Calif. - A small private plane crashed in a dry lake bed Sunday, killing all four people aboard, authorities said. The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but it may have been caused by turbulence, sheriff's spokesman Steve Morgan said. A witness told authorities that the plane went into a tailspin and then crashed, Morgan said. It fell near Lucerne Valley, 72 miles east of Los Angeles.

Copyright 1996 USA TODAY. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.