Out-of-wedlock births, which have been rising since 1990, climbed to an all-time high last year, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all US newborns, government health officials have reported. The steepest increase occurred among women in their 20s, while the birthrate among girls ages 10 to 17 dropped to its lowest level on record.

The Justice Department paid whistle-blowers $190 million during the 2006 fiscal year for tips about $1.3 billion in fraud cases. Many of the tips involved hospitals owned by healthcare providers, including the single-largest settlement: $920 million against Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., which prosecutors accused of overbilling the government.

House Democrats said they will convene a forum Dec. 5 to examine strategies for a "new direction" in Iraq. Meanwhile, the White House announced that President Bush will fly from a NATO summit in Latvia in the middle of next week for two days of talks with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki about transferring greater security responsibility to Baghdad.

Beginning Jan. 24, the Homeland Security Department said it will require virtually all air travelers entering the US to show passports, even American citizens, since the number of different driver's licenses and birth certificates can complicate customs and border checks.

New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D) conceded an 875-vote defeat in her congressional race to incumbent US Rep. Heather Wilson (R). New Mexico has no automatic recount for such close votes and Madrid said a recount would be too costly and might not change the outcome.

Alcoa Inc. said it will trim about 5 percent of its worldwide workforce – or 6,700 employees – over the next year as it takes "difficult but necessary restructuring steps" aimed at saving $125 million annually.

The conservative American Family Association dropped plans to mount a boycott of Wal-Mart stores Friday and Saturday, when Christmas shopping heats up, after the retailer said it would make changes in the way it supports gay rights groups. In the future, the retailer will earmark donations for specific causes, such as workplace equality, rather than make unrestricted contributions.

During court-martial proceedings at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate became the fourth of eight US servicemen charged with killing an unarmed Iraqi civilian to plead guilty to lesser charges. He will serve 21 months in prison for aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

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