AP News in Brief at 6:04 p.m. EST

In Christmas message, pope laments children in war, poverty

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis urged Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus by thinking about the plight of today’s children, bemoaning how some must escape bombs or flee in migrant boats and how others are prevented from being born at all.

Francis celebrated a somber Christmas Eve Mass in a packed St. Peter’s Basilica, processing to the altar behind cardinals draped in golden vestments as the Sistine Chapel choir sang “Gloria” and the church bells rang out across Rome.

Francis has spent much of the year denouncing the Islamic extremist violence that has driven Christians from Mideast communities that date to the time of Christ. He has also demanded Europe in particular do more to welcome refugees, saying Jesus himself was a migrant who deserved more than being born in a manger. And he has called out the wasteful ways of the wealthy when children and the poor die of hunger every day.

In his homily, Francis urged his flock to reflect on how children today aren’t always allowed to lie peacefully in a cot, loved by their parents as Jesus was, but rather “suffer the squalid mangers that devour dignity.”

Among the indignities, he said, are “hiding underground to escape bombardment, on the pavements of a large city, at the bottom of a boat overladen with immigrants.”


Israel’s Netanyahu lashes out at Obama over UN vote

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister lashed out at President Barack Obama on Saturday, accusing him of a “shameful ambush” at the United Nations over West Bank settlements and saying he is looking forward to working with his “friend” President-elect Donald Trump.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments came a day after the United States broke with past practice and allowed the U.N. Security Council to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as a “flagrant violation” of international law.

Although the U.S. opposes the settlements, it has traditionally used its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council to block resolutions condemning Israel, saying that disputes between Israel and the Palestinians must be resolved through negotiations.

Welcomed by the Palestinians, the resolution, while mostly symbolic, could hinder Israel’s negotiating position in future peace talks.

Trump also condemned the U.N. vote Saturday, taking to Twitter to say it “will make it much harder to negotiate peace.” But, he added, “we will get it done anyway.”


Trump says he will dissolve foundation amid NY investigation

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump said Saturday he will dissolve his charitable foundation amid efforts to eliminate any conflicts of interest before he takes office next month.

The revelation comes as the New York attorney general’s office investigates the foundation following media reports that foundation spending went to benefit Trump’s campaign.

Trump said in a statement that he has directed his counsel to take the necessary steps to implement the dissolution of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, saying that it operated “at essentially no cost for decades, with 100 percent of the money going to charity.”

“The foundation has done enormous good works over the years in contributing millions of dollars to countless worthy groups, including supporting veterans, law enforcement officers and children,” he said in a statement.

“I will be devoting so much time and energy to the presidency and solving the many problems facing our country and the world. I don’t want to allow good work to be associated with a possible conflict of interest,” he said.


Military helping kids follow Santa’s fabled flight

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Children from around the world are calling the North American Aerospace Defense Command to ask where Santa is, and they’re getting a cheery answer about the mythical route.

The wildly popular NORAD Tracks Santa operation is on its 61st run at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Volunteers are answering phone calls and emails and posting updates about Santa’s storybook world tour on Facebook and Twitter.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Paul Noel said 1,500 volunteers answered nearly 141,000 phone calls and more than 2,800 emails last year. The NORAD spokesman is quick to say his name really is Noel.

Here’s a look at the Christmas tradition:



As Obama accomplished policy goals, his party floundered

WASHINGTON (AP) — In boasting about his tenure in the White House, President Barack Obama often cites numbers like these: 15 million new jobs, a 4.9 percent unemployment rate and 74 months of consecutive job growth.

There’s one number you will almost never hear: More than 1,030 seats.

That’s the number of spots in state legislatures, governor’s mansions and Congress lost by Democrats during Obama’s presidency.

It’s a statistic that reveals an unexpected twist of the Obama years: The leadership of the one-time community organizer and champion of ground-up politics was rough on the grassroots of his own party. When Obama exits the White House, he’ll leave behind a Democratic Party that languished in his shadow for years and is searching for itself.

“What’s happened on the ground is that voters have been punishing Democrats for eight solid years — it’s been exhausting,” said South Carolina state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who lost two gubernatorial campaigns to Nikki Haley, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to the U.N. “If I was talking about a local or state issue, voters would always lapse back into a national topic: Barack Obama.”


Nigeria: Boko Haram is crushed, forced out of last enclave

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The Boko Haram extremist group has finally been crushed — driven from its last forest enclave with fighters on the run and no place to hide, Nigeria’s president declared Saturday.

His victorious statement came as the Islamic State group, with which one faction of Boko Haram is allied, claimed a successful attack on an army barracks in northeast Nigeria’s Yobe state “killed and wounded many.” The communique on social media said the attack took place Thursday, the same day President Muhammadu Buhari said troops defeated Boko Haram in its Sambisa Forest stronghold in neighboring Borno state.

It was an indicator that despite Buhari’s announcement, Nigeria is unlikely to see an end soon to the deadly suicide bombings, village attacks and assaults on remote military outposts in northeastern Nigeria carried out by the country’s homegrown Islamic extremist group. Already, there are reports that the insurgents have been regrouping in Taraba and Bauchi states, south of their northeastern stronghold in Borno state, and taking advantage of a decades-old conflict in central Nigeria between mainly Muslim nomadic cattle herders and sedentary Christian farmers.

In a statement, Buhari commended Nigerian troops for “finally entering and crushing the remnants of the Boko Haram insurgents at Camp Zero,” which is located deep within the heart of Sambisa Forest.

He announced the “long-awaited and most gratifying news of the final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave” and declared “the terrorists are on the run, and no longer have a place to hide.”


After Berlin attack, Europe weighs freedom against security

PARIS (AP) — Europe’s open borders symbolize liberty and forward thinking for many residents — but they increasingly look like the continent’s Achilles’ heel.

Europe’s No. 1 terrorism suspect crossed at least two borders this week despite an international manhunt, and was felled only by chance, in a random ID check in a Milan suburb. The bungled chase for Berlin market attack suspect Anis Amri is just one example of recent cross-border security failures that are emboldening nationalists fed up with European unity. Extremist violence, they argue, is too high a price to pay for the freedom to travel easily.

Defenders of the EU’s border-free zone say the security failures show the need for more cooperation among European governments, even shared militaries — not new barriers. Hidebound habits of hoarding intelligence within centuries-old borders, they contend, are part of the problem.

But their arguments are easily drowned out by the likes of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is hoping to win France’s presidency in May.

“The myth of total free movement in Europe, which my rivals are clinging to in this presidential election, should be definitively buried. Our security depends on it,” she said in a statement Friday, calling Europe’s free-travel zone a “total security catastrophe.”


Best wishes flow in for ‘Star Wars’ star Carrie Fisher

NEW YORK (AP) — Tributes and well-wishes poured in for “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher, who was spending Christmas Eve in a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a medical emergency on a flight the day before.

“Princess Leia can survive anything!” wrote one fan on Twitter. “Hold on, Carrie Fisher. We’re taking you into 2017 with us,” wrote another. Her “Star Wars” co-star Mark Hamill said he was “sending all our love.”

Todd Fisher, the actress’ brother, said Friday night that his sister is receiving excellent care, but that he could not classify her condition. He had earlier told The Associated Press that she had been stabilized and was out of the emergency room. In a subsequent interview he said many details about her condition or what caused the medical emergency are unknown.

Fans on Twitter hoped she would pull through. One wrote: “Carrie Fisher survived alcoholism, addiction, depression, bipolar disorder & 60 years in Hollywood. If anyone can survive 2016, it’s her.” The actress’ former co-star Peter Mayhew, who played “Star Wars” character Chewbacca, called her “everyone’s favorite princess right now.”

And Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo opposite Fisher, in a statement said: “I’m shocked and saddened to hear the news about my dear friend. Our thoughts are with Carrie, her family and friends.”


A&E scraps KKK series after learning of cash payments

NEW YORK (AP) — A&E is scrapping plans for an eight-part documentary series about the Ku Klux Klan after finding out that some participants of the hate group were paid for their work on it.

The network said Saturday it was dropping “Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America” a day after discovering that “nominal” cash payments were given by third-party producers.

“While we stand behind the intent of the series and the seriousness of the content, these payments are a direct violation of A&E’s policies and practices for a documentary,” the network said in statement.

“Escaping the KKK” was to follow people trying to extract themselves from the racist and anti-Semitic hate group. The network had promised that no payments would be made.

“We had previously provided assurances to the public and to our core partners — including the Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change — that no payment was made to hate group members, and we believed that to be the case at the time,” the network said. “We have now decided not to move forward with airing this project.”


The holiday shopping season is losing some of its power

NEW YORK (AP) — The holiday shopping season is losing some of its power in the year’s sales.

November and December now account for less than 21 percent of annual retail sales at physical stores, down from a peak of over 25 percent, and experts believe it’ll keep dropping. Those extra percentage points would have translated into an extra $70 billion more in buying for last year, says Michael Niemira, principal at The Retail Economist.

The season had steadily gained in importance and peaked in the early ’80s, before the dominance of big discounters like Wal-Mart stalled its growth as shoppers began moving away from department stores. Still, the two-month period held its own through the mid-’90s, when online shopping for deals took hold.

“There was a mindset even before online shopping,” said Niemira, whose data goes back to 1967. “But this just accelerated it.”

In general, many people are shopping for the holidays all year long now, mirroring the trend for back-to-school items. Heavy discounting has diluted sales, and with big promotions throughout the year, shoppers no longer hold off making their biggest purchases until the holidays.