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American Scene

- - Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ALABAMA

Thief burns down city's Christmas tree

BIRMINGHAM — Talk about a Grinch: Police say someone trying to steal copper wire burned down the city of Birmingham's 35-foot-tall Christmas tree.

Officers say someone stripped electrical wires off the Norwegian spruce at Linn Park about 4 a.m. Wednesday, then started a fire. Police believe thieves were attempting to separate the copper wire from the plastic insulation on Christmas decorations.

But the fire spread to the tree, engulfing it in flames. Public works crews later used heavy machinery to remove the blackened limbs and trunk.

Parks director Melvin Miller said the tree wouldn't be replaced, but a radio station donated a new one within hours.

CALIFORNIA

Antarctic winds blamed for ice loss

LOS ANGELES — West Antarctica has been losing ice, and scientists now think they know why.

New satellite images and airborne data point to wind and water as the main culprits. Stronger winds lift warmer water onto the ice shelf, leading to the acceleration of ice loss.

Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, says the phenomenon has led to major ice thinning in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Pine Island Glacier, the biggest of the western glaciers.

Understanding what's driving the Antarctic ice loss will help scientists better predict future sea-level rise. The findings were presented Wednesday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

NEW YORK

Man sentenced in JFK fuel-tank plot

NEW YORK — A former member of Guyana's parliament was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for plotting to blow up fuel tanks at John F. Kennedy International Airport after insisting he was wrongly convicted.

"At no time did I have any intention or believe in bringing any harm to the people of this country by the terrorist acts I happened to be identified with," Abdul Kadir told a judge in federal court in Brooklyn.

U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry responded that there was ample evidence Kadir was a key player in "a plan that would have caused devastation unimaginable."

Kadir and Russell Defreitas, a former JFK cargo handler, were arrested and charged with multiple counts of conspiracy in 2007 after an informant infiltrated the plot and recorded them discussing it.

At a trial where Kadir and Defreitas were convicted earlier this year, prosecutors alleged the pair wanted to kill thousands of people and cripple the American economy by using explosives to blow up the fuel tanks and the underground pipelines that run through an adjacent Queens neighborhood. The said they sought the help of militant Muslims, including an al Qaeda operative, in Guyana.

OREGON

Health group sues over toys

PORTLAND — A California mother of two and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are suing McDonald's Corp. to get the fast-food chain to stop using toys to market meals to young children.

They say McDonald's is violating several consumer protection laws by marketing its Happy Meals directly to young children because it exploits children's vulnerability.

"What kids see as a fun toy, I now realize is a sophisticated, high-tech marketing scheme that's designed to put McDonald's between me and my daughters," said Monet Parham of Sacramento, Calif. "For the sake of other parents and their children, I want McDonald's to stop interfering with my family."

Miss Parham's lawyers, who filed the lawsuit in state court in San Francisco on Wednesday, have asked that it be certified as a class action. The lawsuit doesn't seek damages; it asks the court to bar McDonald's from advertising any meals that feature toys to California children.

From wire dispatches and staff reports