National briefs: Inauguration excitement

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WASHINGTON -- The thrill is back for many Americans as President Barack Obama's second inauguration approaches -- though maybe a bit less intense.

This inauguration's celebration Jan. 21 will be shorter, and almost certainly smaller and less expensive, than the gala that drew nearly 2 million people to witness the first time an African-American president took the oath of office.

There will be no massive rock concert on the Mall, as there was last time, and there will be only two official evening balls, including one dedicated to military personnel, instead of 10. Even the massive security cordon, which seemed to shut down most of downtown Washington four years ago, will be relatively modest.

But this year's inauguration will fall on the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., and that coincidence, along with an enduring fascination with the first family, is expected to boost attendance above other second-term inaugurations.

Health spending slows a bit

WASHINGTON -- Americans kept health care spending in check for three years in a row, the government reported Monday, an unusual respite that could linger if the economy stays soft or fade like a mirage if job growth comes roaring back.

Spending on hospital visits, medications and other care increased 3.9 percent to $2.7 trillion in 2011, the latest year available, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

Stem-cell challenge rejected

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court has turned away a challenge to President Barack Obama's policy of expanding government-funded research using embryonic stem cells that scientists say may offer hope for new treatments for spinal injuries and Parkinson's disease.

The court's action brings a quiet end to a lawsuit that briefly threatened to derail all funding for such research.

Dreamliner fire probed

BOSTON -- U.S. officials are investigating a fire on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Boston after a Japan Airlines flight from Tokyo, the latest setback for the jet following electrical faults on other planes last month.

Flames about 2 feet high shot out of an avionics compartment in the jet's belly, and there was a small explosion afterward, Massachusetts Port Authority Fire Chief Robert Donahue said Monday in an interview. No passengers were aboard.

Oil rig towed from shoreline

JUNEAU, Alaska -- Nearly a week after it ran aground in the Gulf of Alaska, a stricken Shell Oil drilling rig was refloated by salvage crews late Sunday, officials reported Monday.

A response team that includes representatives from Shell, the Coast Guard and Alaska's environmental agency, said the rig, the Kulluk, was pulled from its spot along a rocky shoreline on Sitkalidak Island and was being towed to a sheltered harbor for inspection.

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