A federal judge in Houston declared a mistrial Monday in a lawsuit over the painkiller Vioxx. US District Judge Eldon Fallon dismissed the jury after 18 hours of deliberations. The panel had failed to decide between Merck Corp. and the widow of Richard Irvin, who claims the company failed to issue safety warnings that the drug can have serious cardiovascular repercussions. Irvin died one month after he began taking the drug.

Defense officials told reporters Monday that the US military presence in Iraq could shrink quickly after parliamentary elections there Thursday. A security assessment shortly after the election could include a recommendation to reduce troop strength, the officials said. The Pentagon expects insurgent- driven violence to lessen substantially after the Dec. 15 vote.

Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak said Sunday that a lawyer for Karl Rove had expressed surprise when she told him early last year that the White House adviser was a likely source for an earlier article about the leaked identity of CIA analyst Valerie Plame. Novak, who testified in the leak case last week, published a first- person article on the magazine's website. Her testimony is considered likely to influence whether special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald ultimately brings charges against Rove.

AT&T Inc. reached a tentative deal with two communications unions late Sunday to increase pension benefits for 11,000 employees. Members of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will vote on the contract in the next several weeks. If passed, the deal will improve medical benefits and layoff protections.

Delta Air Lines avoided a strike by members of its pilots union after the latter's negotiators agreed to a temporary pay cut deal late Sunday. The agreement, which cuts wages by 14 percent across the board, effective immediately, may save the bankrupt carrier more than $152 million a year as it attempts to reorganize. Delta originally had proposed a $325 million cut. The proposal must be ratifed by the union's rank and file and be accepted by a federal bankruptcy court before Dec. 28.

Children were 97 percent more likely to see liquor advertising on cable TV last year than they were in 2001, a new study said. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University said marketers of alcoholic beverages increased spending on TV commercials by about $140 million over that period, thus failing to meet their self-imposed advertising regulations.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that publishers may reproduce collective work in CD-ROM format. The justices let stand an appeals court ruling that National Geographic magazine's digital photography publication was an "electronic replica" of the original magazine. Freelance photographers and contributors, the plantiffs in the case, were therefore not entitled to additional compensation, the decision held.

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