First woman named to lead a military service academy

Thirty-five years after it began admitting women, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy will get its first female superintendent.

Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz will ascend to the helm of the New London, Conn., academy next summer, becoming the first woman to lead a U.S. military service academy. Her appointment was announced Tuesday by U.S. Coast Guard commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp.

It’s hardly the first first for Stosz. She was the first woman to command aCoast Guard cutter on the Great Lakes and the first female academy graduate to achieve the rank of admiral.

Stosz, 50, said her appointment symbolizes “a generation of progress” for women.

“The Coast Guard didn’t put any roadblocks in the way of women,” Stosz said. “I was blessed.”


Justice to appeal ruling as health care changes proceed

The White House insisted Tuesday that the implementation of President Obama’s landmark health care law will not be affected by a negative federal court ruling, and the Justice Department said it would appeal.

“There’s no practical impact at all as states move forward in implementing … the law that Congress passed and the president signed,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that, as expected, the department would appeal Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson in Virginia. Hudson declared that a central provision of the law – the requirement for nearly everyone to carry health insurance – was unconstitutional.

Later this week, officials from all but a handful of states are expected to travel to Washington to meet with the Health and Human Services Department to discuss setting up the state-based insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, required by the new law.


Drivers stranded, cars crash as snowstorm hits Northeast

Hoods were up and heads were down as a storm that plagued the Midwest for days plodded eastward Tuesday with stinging winds and blowing snow, stranding dozens of motorists on an Ontario highway and giving much of the northeastern U.S. its first real taste of winter.

The storm brought bone-chilling cold, and more snow was expected or already falling Tuesday in parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The frigid air stretched into the deep South, where hard-freeze warnings were in effect overnight in much of Florida. Hundreds of schools were closed or opening late.

About 300 people spent a frigid night hunkered down in their cars on a highway near Sarnia, Ontario, about 65 miles northeast of Detroit. They were rescued Tuesday by buses and military helicopters.


Protests rage as Berlusconi survives confidence votes

Silvio Berlusconi pulled off another astonishing escape from the political dead, surviving two confidence votes Tuesday in a dramatic parliamentary showdown. But the Italian leader’s hold on power remains precarious, as his razor-thin victories make political gridlock a near certainty and violent street protests show growing unease with his rule.

Masked protesters torched cars and trash bins, smashed shop windows and clashed with police. Clouds of white tear gas engulfed flare-lit streets, as shops full of Christmas goods hurriedly closed down.

By sundown, almost 100 people, both protesters and police, were reported injured, and about two dozen were hospitalized. About 40 were reportedly taken into police custody.

CARACAS, Venezuela

President asks for authority to enact new laws by decree

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday asked congress to grant him special powers to enact laws by decree for one year, just before a new legislature takes office with a larger contingent of opposition lawmakers.

The measure would give the president the ability to bypass the National Assembly for the fourth time since he was first elected almost 12 years ago.

Vice President Elias Jaua made the request on Chavez’s behalf, saying the president will use the authorization to ensure fast-track approval of laws aimed at helping the nation recover from severe flooding and mudslides that left thousands homeless and in government shelters.

It is expected to win easy approval in the outgoing legislature dominated by Chavez allies.