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President Bush has exempted the Navy from an environmental law so that it can continue using sonar off the California coast for realistic antisubmarine training, the White House said Wednesday. Environmentalists have argued that sonar signals are harmful to marine animals.

The US is experiencing a baby boomlet, according to an Associated Press analysis of childbirth data. Nearly 4.3 million births in 2006 was the highest total since 1961. A decline in contraceptive use and poor education are among reasons experts cite for a US fertility rate that exceeds every country in continental Europe.

The repopulation of New Orleans, which began after hurricane Katrina in August 2005, has stalled at about 70 percent of pre-Katrina population, according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. To lure back more residents, affordable housing, public transportation, and child care must be top priorities, a center spokeswoman says.

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Removal of four aging hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, which straddles the Oregon-California border, is a key element of a landmark proposal to restore dwindling salmon runs, the parties to the $1 billion plan said Tuesday. Farmers, Indian tribes, fishermen, conservation groups, and government agencies hammered out the plan over three years. If it receives final approvals, demolition could begin by 2015.

Steve Jobs (above), chief executive of Apple Inc., used the annual Macworld convention in San Francisco Tuesday to introduce a new ultrathin laptop, the Macbook Air, which is three-quarters of an inch thick.

Business software maker Oracle, which has bought up several smaller competitors in recent years, announced Wednesday that it plans to buy BEA Systems for about $7.85 billion in a Bay Area merger. BEA makes "middleware," which helps facilitate interaction between databases and business applications.

Delta Air Lines has entered formal merger talks with Northwest Airlines but also is looking at the possibility of merging with United Airlines, according to Rep. Jim Oberstar (D) of Minnesota, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey will expand her media empire in 2009 by launching the Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN, she said Tuesday of a joint venture with Discovery Communications expected to reach 70 million homes.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association is partnering with US military Legal Assistance Offices to offer free help to soldiers serving overseas who have family members facing deportation back home, it announced Tuesday. Lawyers trained in this specialty believe they're well suited to deal with the complex issues involved.

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