Prospects of 9/11 aid bill improve

WASHINGTON - The Democratic backers of a bill that would provide aid to emergency workers sickened by the dust of the fallen World Trade Center said Sunday that they were optimistic Republicans would drop their opposition to it and the Senate would approve it before the lame-duck session ends.

"We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.). She and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.) are offering a less-costly alternative to the original bill to aid 9/11 responders.

They said the Senate was expected to consider the new bill once it finishes dealing with the U.S.-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons. "Barring a setback, we believe we are on the path to victory by the end of the week," Schumer said.

Republicans raised concerns about the original bill's 10-year cost of $7.4 billion and how to pay for it. The new bill would cost $6.2 billion and would not depend on a proposed tax on multinational companies that are incorporated in tax havens. - AP

Central Park bird count: 59 species

NEW YORK - Bird-watchers counted 6,220 birds and 59 bird species in New York City's Central Park Sunday.

The 111th annual Christmas Bird Count found some birds that are rarely spotted in New York this time of year, such as the redheaded woodpecker.

The count was undertaken by teams of bird-watchers guided by park rangers. They spent the morning canvassing the Manhattan park's 843 acres. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said the total bird count was boosted by clear weather.

The results of the count will be added to the results of other counts across the nation. The tallies will help paint a picture of how bird populations have changed over the past century. - AP

Southern Calif. in grip of rain

LOS ANGELES - A wet pre-winter storm dumped as much as 7 inches of rain on parts of Southern California over the weekend, with several more inches expected to fall in the days leading up to Christmas.

Rainfall that began Saturday morning continued relentlessly throughout the day Sunday. It was expected to let up sometime Monday, then resume on Tuesday and Wednesday, said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service.

After a brief break at the end of the week, more rain was likely to arrive on Christmas Day, Seto said. The real impact of the storm could come later in the week, Seto said, when hillsides are saturated with rain and the possibility of mudslides and flash floods seriously increases.

A flash-flood warning was in effect for parts of Southern California, particularly mountain areas burned in recent years by wildfires. - AP

Elsewhere:

The incoming head of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), said in an opinion piece in Newsday he will hold hearings on what he called "radicalization" among American Muslims. He said law enforcement believes it receives little help from Muslims, a claim rejected by a Muslim American group.