USA

Aftershocks rattled central California hours after a 6.5-magnitude earthquake that killed two women, injured more than 45 other people, and caused what state officials termed "modest" damage to many buildings and roads Monday. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) was scheduled to tour hard-hit areas. The temblor was centered near the coastal town of San Simeon, home of the world-famous Hearst Castle and was felt from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The fatalities both occurred in Paso Robles, where a 19th century clock tower collapsed, burying several parked cars in debris.

The Defense Department held a terrorism-response drill at the Pentagon, CNN reported, as security was stepped up nationwide to guard against possible attacks over the holidays. US officials said there are indications Al Qaeda remains interested in using airliners for such attacks, with cargo planes and flights originating outside the country of special concern. In addition, the Coast Guard increased air and water patrols near the port of Valdez, Alaska, amid reports of "credible information" suggesting the state's oil interests may be targeted.

In the latest sign the US economy is improving, the gross domestic product grew at an 8.2 percent annual rate in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said. That's the best showing in almost two decades for the broadest measure of the economy. A separate government report also found that consumer spending and personal incomes both increased in November.

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) was due to be arraigned on corruption charges in federal court in Chicago as the Monitor went to press. He was expected to plead innocent. Ryan is accused of racketeering conspiracy and tax fraud, among other charges in a 22-count indictment. It's the latest to result from a five-year federal investigation into a bribery-for-drivers licenses scheme.

In a setback for conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, a judge in West Palm Beach, Fla., ruled that prosecutors may examine his sealed medical records. Limbaugh is under investigation after admitting, and being treated for, addiction to prescription pain medications. But his attorneys argued that the seizure of records from doctors in Florida and California violates his privacy rights.

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