Gunmen kill 8 Iraqi soldiers in drive-by




BAGHDAD &

Gunmen opened fire on an Iraqi army checkpoint in central Baghdad today, killing eight soldiers and wounding two, police said.




The drive-by shooting occurred about 11 a.m. in the Bab al-Mudham district, a commercial area on the eastern side of the Tigris River in central Baghdad.




Two other soldiers were wounded, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.




The attack in the heart of Baghdad provided a deadly example of the stark challenges facing the Iraqi forces as they work to take over their own security so U.S.-led troops can eventually go home. It was the latest in a series of bombings, shootings and mortar attacks as militants seek to undermine recent security gains.




Iraqi politicians and the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been criticized for failing to take advantage of recent security gains to make progress on key U.S.-backed reforms believed necessary to stem support for the Sunni-led insurgency.




House to discuss economy with Paulson




WASHINGTON &

Top House leaders will continue talks with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on a plan to try to jolt the economy out of its slump.




House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, are taking the lead in Capitol Hill negotiations, with the centerpiece of the measure expected to be a tax rebate similar to the $300-$600 checks sent out in the summer of 2001.




A host of senior lawmakers in both parties met on Tuesday with President Bush, who has proposed a stimulus plan worth about $150 billion. He again expressed optimism that his administration can reach quick agreement with Congress.




"I believe we can find common ground to get something done that's big enough, effective enough so that an economy that is inherently strong gets a boost &

to make sure that this uncertainty doesn't translate into more economic woes for our workers and small business people," Bush said in the Cabinet Room.




Pelosi, Boehner and Paulson scheduled a breakfast meeting today at the Capitol to try to make more concrete progress than has been made thus far. In the only major development Tuesday, Senate leaders Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to stand back and let the House take the lead in the talks with the administration.




U.S. governors endorse candidates




Twenty-three of the country's governors have endorsed a presidential candidate at a time when their support matters most, lending their names, fundraising and organizing machinery to campaigns desperate for an edge in the primaries.




Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton leads with nine endorsements, including nods from New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, the state that sealed President Bush's victory in 2004.




A governor's endorsement can be campaign gold since governors have a built-in bully pulpit they can use to promote a candidate and their own grass-roots organizing and fundraising networks to share.




Come the general election, it's natural for governors to support their party's nominee, and voters take it for granted. That makes governors' backing particularly important now, in the primary and caucus stage of the campaign.




"Voters in the primaries and caucuses are trying to make decisions among candidates that they generally prefer, so those choices tend to be harder," said Paul Beck, an Ohio State University political scientist. "There, a governor's endorsement can be useful."




Guild, studios to start informal talks




LOS ANGELES &

With idled entertainment industry workers and Oscar-nominated actors among the interested observers, striking writers and studios are talking again after weeks of bargaining silence.




The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said in a joint statement they will start informal discussions Wednesday aimed at full negotiations and an end to the nearly 3-month-old strike.




The announcement came the day nominations were announced for the Academy Awards, raising the prospect that the Feb. 24 ceremony might proceed without the threatened union picketing that derailed the Golden Globes.




In a goodwill gesture toward another big ceremony Tuesday, the guild said it had decided against picketing the Feb. 10 Grammy Awards.




Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said in a statement that his organization was pleased with the decision and that the awards "will focus solely on the great music, artists and charitable work resulting from our show."




An interim agreement allowing writers to work on the show would be welcome and might yet occur given the "fluid situation," Portnow told The Associated Press. But the performance-driven Grammys can still be "a complete show" without it, he said.




Contract talks between the guild and studios broke down Dec. 7 after the companies demanded that a half-dozen issues be dropped, including calls for the unionization of reality and animation shows. The guild rejected the demands.




The guild agreed Tuesday to withdraw those two issues to "make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations," union executives Michael Winship and Patric Verrone said in an e-mail letter to members.




"" The Associated Press




But organizing efforts for guild representation in those genres will continue and will be discussed more fully in the next two weeks, said Winship and Verrone, presidents of the East Coast and West Coast guilds, respectively.




Compensation for movie and TV projects distributed over the Internet are considered to be the central contract issues.




Both sides said a media blackout would be in place during the discussions.




On Tuesday, guild leaders met with studio chiefs to help get the negotiations back on track, according to a person familiar with the bargaining strategy who was not authorized to publicly comment and asked for anonymity.




The new approach mirrors a series of meetings held by the Directors Guild of America and studio heads before they began formal talks and reached a tentative deal last week after less than a week of bargaining.




The writers strike started Nov. 5. When the directors guild announced its deal with the alliance last week, studio heads urged the writers to join informal talks that could lead to the resumption of their negotiations.




In its deal with producers, the directors union reached agreement on the new-media compensation issues that also were key to their members, including compensation for movie and TV projects delivered over the Internet.




The studio executives said the deal established a precedent for the industry's creative talent to "participate financially in every emerging area of new media."




The directors won several key contract points, including union jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Internet and payments for downloaded TV programs and movies based on a percentage of the distributor's gross.




But the writers guild was seeking 2.5 percent of such grosses &

about three times what the directors' deal provides.




Interim deals made by the writers guild with several individual production companies provide 2 percent compensation on downloaded films and 2.5 percent on TV programs, the guild has said.