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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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Regional

U Virginia ranks No. 1 in the nation for business, based on assessments from financial news channel CNBC and Forbes.com, the Internet site of Forbes magazine. Criteria included cost of doing business, work force, education and economy. Virginia’s economy scored highest, primarily for having one of the lowest unemployment rates of any state.

U The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said that the two mortgage giants must adopt rules aimed at curbing high-risk lending through interest-only and other “nontraditional mortgages,” as well as those that require little documentation of a borrower’s income and assets. The companies said they are following the rules.

U Constellation Energy Partners, an energy producer part-owned by Baltimore power producer Constellation Energy Group, agreed to buy an oil and gas unit of Amvest Corp. for $240 million to expand its output in Oklahoma.

National

U In an unusual accounting move, executives at Blackstone Group will get back a big chunk of the taxes they owe on multibillion-dollar profits from the private equity firm’s recent public offering. The tax strategy could be bad for shareholders, who must relinquish $1 billion in tax refunds to the company’s executives, experts said, and scrutiny from lawmakers is intensifying.

U Energizer Holdings will buy Playtex for $1.16 billion as the infinitely drumming Energizer Bunny adds sunscreen, wet wipes and sippy cups to the product line. Energizer, maker of batteries, flashlights and shaving products, is offering $18.30 per share for Playtex, an 18 percent premium over Playtex’s closing price Thursday.

U Boston Scientific’s Guidant unit has agreed to pay more than $175 million to settle claims that it hid defects in its heart defibrillators, sources said. The settlement will resolve more than 1,000 lawsuits.

U CNBC said a waitress who has never bought a stock won the business news channel’s much-hyped $1 million stock-picking contest, after several contestants were disqualified for violating the game’s rules. Mary Sue Williams, of St. Clairsville, Ohio, was named the winner of the Million Dollar Portfolio Contest. She beat 377,000 participants.

U Pearson PLC’s Financial Times newspaper and CNBC are in early talks to share content on TV, in print and online, a spokeswoman for the publication said.

International

U European Union governments are set to approve an agreement with the United States on using airline passenger records to guard against terrorism, ending a clash over privacy.

U French legislators approved a measure capping the tax burden on each taxpayer at 50 percent despite resistance from leftists and even within the ruling conservative coalition.

U U.S. beef was being sold in South Korean stores for the first time since a ban triggered by mad cow disease fears was lifted, but protesters prompted some shops to pull the meat after scuffles with police.

U China needs to better integrate its fractured regulatory system to improve its food safety record, a top health official said, as the military warned that unsafe food could undermine its ability to fight.

U Iran asked Japanese refiners to switch to the yen to pay for all crude oil purchases, after Iran’s central bank said it is reducing holdings of the U.S. dollar.

U Brazil’s real rose to its highest in almost seven years after a report showed inflation slowed more than forecast.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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