USA

Repair crews worked Wednesday to restore power to more than 600,000 customers who lost it after a winter storm crippled central and southern US regions and barreled into the Northeast. Officials in the hardest hit areas warned it could be days before electricity is back on.

A peanut plant in Blakely, Ga., identified as the source of a national salmonella outbreak that reportedly sickened 500 people, knowingly released tainted products in recent years, US Food and Drug Administration officials said Tuesday. The Peanut Corp. of America, which makes more than 180 products, including crackers and peanut butter, said it would continue to cooperate with an FDA investigation.

Gov. Sarah Palin (R) of Alaska formed a political action committee, SarahPac, on Tuesday that will contribute to political candidates who share her "vision for reform and innovation." Establishing such an organization is common for people with national political ambitions, and last year's GOP vice-presidential candidate ( is widely believed to be eyeing a presidential bid in 2012.

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The cost estimate to repair US infrastructure is $2.2 trillion, the American Society of Civil Engineers said Tuesday in a report that gives the condition of roads, bridges, dams, and transit networks an overall grade of "D." That's the same grade as in 2005, only it's slipped from a "high D" to a "low D," a spokesman said.

For the second year in a row, union membership rose in 2008, by 428,000 workers, to 12.4 percent of the US workforce, the biggest annual gain since data were first collected in 1983, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Wednesday.

The vast majority of the nation's largest charitable foundations are trying to hold their giving levels steady, according to the Foundation Center, which studies institutional philanthropy. Given the economic recession, this means that foundations are actually increasing their giving beyond the 5 percent of assets required by the Internal Revenue Service.

Versatile author John Updike who died Tuesday in Danvers, Mass., wrote more than 60 books, as well as short stories and essays, during an award-winning career that began in the 1950s. His "Rabbit Is Rich" won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1982. Other notable novels include "Rabbit at Rest" and "The Centaur."

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