After announcing the discovery of the first apparent US case of mad-cow disease, the Bush administration scrambled to reassure consumers and trade partners of the safety of US beef. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said Tuesday that a dairy farm near Yakima, Wash., is under quarantine after preliminary tests showed a single animal had the disease, which in the 1990s decimated the British beef industry. A slaughterhouse in the state also recalled more than 10,000 pounds of raw beef due to concerns of possible contamination. Despite the US assurances, at least 10 countries suspended beef imports, among them Japan, South Korea, Russia, and Mexico.

Washington-area sniper Lee Malvo was sentenced to life in prison by a jury in Chesapeake, Va., Tuesday. Although jurors found the teenager qualified for the death penalty under state rules - agreeing that he poses a future danger and that his crimes were "outrageously or wantonly vile" - they declined to recommend it. Fellow sniper John Muhammad was convicted at a separate trial last month and sentenced to be executed for the three-week shooting spree that left 10 people dead.

The Bush administration agreed to open 300,000 acres of Alaska's Tongass National Forest - the nation's largest - to road-building and potential logging Tuesday, reversing a ban imposed in the closing days of the Clinton administration. Environmental groups decried the change as a "Christmas present" to the timber industry, while the latter and state politicians welcomed it. But the Agriculture Department official in charge of forest policy, Mark Rey, said despite the shift, 95 percent of roadless areas in the 17 million-acre Tongass will remain off-limits to development.

Factory orders for durable goods, costly items meant to last three years, fell 3.1 percent in November, the Commerce Department reported. The decrease was the largest since September 2002 and dashed economists' expectations of an 0.6 percent rise.

An order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation for most state employees was issued by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) Tuesday. Michigan is the 10th state to adopt such a policy, according to the Triangle Foundation, a homosexual-rights advocacy group. But in an interview with the Detroit Free Press, the president of the socially conservative American Family Association of Michigan denounced it as "the first step" toward legalizing same-sex marriage.

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