USA

The Department of Homeland Security officially comes into being Friday. The Senate unanimously confirmed Tom Ridge Wednesday as secretary of the new 170,000-member federal agency created to avert terrorist attacks - or to coordinate responses should they occur. Its headquarters, at least temporarily, will be in a gated Navy facility in Washington about five miles from the White House.

As a dispute over Iraq policy heated up with some European governments, Secretary of State Powell insisted the US will not have to "go it alone" if President Bush decides to use force to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime. He repeated the administration's position that no further UN resolution is needed. Powell spoke at a joint news conference with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, the main US ally. France and Germany are pushing for more time for UN arms inspections.

Saying, "nobody is forced to eat at McDonald's," a federal judge threw out a class-action lawsuit in New York that accused the fast-food giant of promoting obesity in children. A company spokesman praised Wednesday's ruling by US District Judge Robert Sweet as a victory for common sense. But plaintiffs' attorney Samuel Hirsch said he'd amend and refile the suit within a month.

Chief White House economist Glenn Hubbard is stepping down, The Wall Street Journal reported. An architect of key aspects of Bush's tax-cut plan, such as ending the tax on corporate dividends, Hubbard reportedly will return to his teaching post at Columbia University this spring. His departure follows a shakeup last month of the president's economic team. Next week, the Senate is due to hold confirmation hearings on Treasury Secretary nominee John Snow.

Four Marine reservists died in a crash of two military helicopters in southern Texas, the US Border Patrol said. It's suspected the Super Cobra helicopters collided during a nighttime counternarcotics mission.

Editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who died Wednesday, was best known for his images of battle-weary soldiers in World War II. He won Pulitzer Prizes in 1945 and 1959, and his work appeared in the military newspaper Stars & Stripes and in the Chicago Sun-Times.

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