National briefs: Wal-Mart rolls out hiring plan

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NEW YORK -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer and the biggest private employer in the U.S. with 1.4 million workers here, said Tuesday that it is rolling out a three-part plan to help jump-start the sluggish U.S. economy.

The plan includes hiring more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years, spending $50 billion to buy more American-made merchandise in the next 10 years and helping its part-time workers move into full-time positions.

The move comes as Wal-Mart tries to bolster its image amid widespread criticism. The company, which often is criticized for its low-paying jobs and buying habits in the U.S., recently has faced allegations that it made bribes in Mexico and calls for better safety oversight after a deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplies its clothes. But Wal-Mart said its initiatives are unrelated to those events, but rather are meant to highlight what companies can contribute to the economy.

"The beauty of the private sector is that we don't have to win an election, convince Congress or pass a bill to do what we think is right," Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart's U.S. business, said Tuesday. "We can simply move forward, doing what we know is right."

Houseboat ruled a home

WASHINGTON -- A house that sits on the water is a floating home, not a vessel, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The 7-2 decision upholds laws in California, Washington and other states that say houseboats are governed by local laws applying to homes, not maritime law that regulates vessels.

Justice Stephen Breyer said a vessel is something that is "actually used for transportation." It is not "anything that floats," he added.

R.I. same-sex marriage rally

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Hundreds of supporters of same-sex marriage rights assembled at the Rhode Island Statehouse on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to make the nation's smallest state the 10th to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed -- and the last to do so in New England.

House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, has called a vote on gay marriage legislation in his chamber by month's end, making Rhode Island the latest state to address an issue whose supporters see things swinging their way after voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved gay marriage last fall.

Human heads delayed

CHICAGO -- A shipment of 18 human heads stopped by customs officials at O'Hare International Airport was sent here from Rome to be cremated after being used in medical research, officials said Tuesday.

Customs held up the shipment in late December because accompanying paperwork was incomplete, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

A company in Schiller Park, Ill., came forward with what appears to be proper paperwork to accept the shipment, it said.

Also in the nation ...

A longtime employee of Stevens Institute of Business & Arts in St. Louis was shot and wounded by an on-again, off-again student in a dispute over financial aid Tuesday afternoon, police said; the student then shot and wounded himself in a stairwell. ... A former teacher at Mariemont High School in Cincinnati is accusing school district administrators of discriminating against her because of a rare phobia she says she has: a fear of young children.



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