BERKELEY, Calif.

- Stop. Hey, what's that sound? Protest songs are taking their place alongside chants of "I can't breathe" and "Hands up, don't shoot" as demonstrators raise their voices to condemn the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police. There's something happening here.

The killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown have inspired a musical outpouring perhaps unseen in the U.S. since Pete Seeger helped make "We Shall Overcome" a civil-rights standard in the 1960s. Older songs are being redeployed for a new generation. New compositions are being widely shared, including some from major-label artists. And holiday classics are being rewritten, such as a barbed spin on "White Christmas."

"Facts aren't fueling this fire. Feeling is what is fueling this fire, and until we express those feelings and those feelings are understood, we aren't going to get too far," said Daniel Watts, a Broadway performer who starred in a professionally choreographed Times Square flash mob in response to Eric Garner's death on Staten Island. He's also written two more spoken-word pieces about police brutality that others set to music.

One of the tunes gaining a following on the streets and social media was penned six weeks ago by Luke Nephew, 32, a Bronx poet who also has composed event-specific cantos for protests at immigration detention centers, foreclosure auctions and other demonstration sites. It has four lines, starting with "I still hear my brother crying, 'I can't breathe.' Now I'm in the struggle singing. I can't leave."

Hundreds of people sang those words last week as they blocked bridges and got arrested in New York on the night after a grand jury declined to indict the white officer who used a chokehold on Garner. That so many knew the hymn-like song, and the way it has caught on since then, might owe as much to savvy preparation as the power of the lyrics.

California braces for mudslides

SAN FRANCISCO

- A powerful storm churned down the West Coast yesterday, bringing strong gales and much-needed rain and snow that caused widespread blackouts in Northern California and whiteouts in the Sierra Nevada.

The brunt of the storm hit the San Francisco Bay Area, flooding freeways, toppling trees and keeping thousands of people home from work and school.

Strong winds felled a tree in Oregon, killing a homeless man, Phillip Crosby, 40, who was sleeping on a trail. A huge gust blew down an 80-foot fir at a Santa Cruz elementary school, pinning a SIXth-grader by the arm for 15 minutes until chain saws cut him free.

White House swings behind spending bill

WASHINGTON

- In unlikely alliance, the Obama White House and House Republicans joined forces yesterday in a furious attempt to pass a $1.1 trillion government spending bill over clamorous protests from Democrats who said it would roll back bank regulations imposed in the wake of the economic near-meltdown of 2008.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered a rare public rebuke to President Obama, saying she was "enormously disappointed" he had decided to embrace legislation that she described as an attempt at blackmail by Republicans.

The White House noted its own objections to the bank-related proposal in a written statement. Even so, officials said Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were both calling Democrats in an attempt to secure enough votes for passage of the broader measure, which combined government spending and a new course for selected, highly shaky pension plans.

Cuba mission 'reckless' & 'stupid'

HAVANA

- A U.S. agency's secret infiltration of Cuba's underground hip-hop scene to spark a youth movement against the government was "reckless" and "stupid," Sen. Patrick Leahy said yesterday after The Associated Press revealed the operation.

On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program; they also confiscated computer hardware that in some cases contained information that jeopardized Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine U.S. operation.

"The conduct described suggests an alarming lack of concern for the safety of the Cubans involved, and anyone who knows Cuba could predict it would fail," said Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. "USAID never informed Congress about this and should never have been associated with anything so incompetent and reckless. It's just plain stupid."

The plan called for contractors to recruit scores of Cuban musicians for projects disguised as cultural initiatives but really aimed at stoking a movement of fans to challenge the government.

- Associated Press