USA

With surveys indicating that as many as 37.5 million Americans had yet to start shopping for Christmas gifts, retailers were offering special promotions in a final push to lure them into stores and salvage what has been a sluggish season so far. But Wal-Mart Stores reported that sales picked up last week after a slow start. Online retailers, by contrast, report a 23 percent increase in sales over the same period a year ago, The Washington Post reported.

Leading Republicans dismissed calls to replace Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, although they acknowledged administration flaws in Iraq. Appearing on "Meet the Press," US Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said a change at the top of the Pentagon would be too disruptive, given the elections scheduled in Iraq Jan. 30. But colleague Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, said he had "no confidence" in Rumsfeld, although he did not call for him to step down.

For the second time, President Bush was chosen as Time magazine's Person of the Year. The distinction goes to the man woman, or organization judged to have had the greatest impact - good or bad - over the year.

In what's believed to be the largest judgment yet in an antispam lawsuit, a federal court Friday ordered three defendants to pay more than $1 billion to an Internet service provider. In Davenport, Iowa, Friday, District Judge Charles Wolle filed default judgments against three spammers under a law that allows damage claims of $10 per spam message. The judgments then were tripled under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The attorney for the plaintiff said it was unlikely he'd ever collect the award.

Saying they aren't bound by Massachusetts' same-sex marriage law, some companies with federally regulated health plans have decided not to extend health benefits to spouses of homosexual employees, a survey found. General Dynamics Corp., FedEx Corp., Caritas Christi Health Care, and NStar, a major public utility, are among those not offering the same benefits available to heterosexual married couples. Sharen Litwin, a Boston attorney, said firms with self-insured plans probably can't be compelled to extend the coverage.

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