Ill. court rejects attempt to remove Blagojevich

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a claim that Gov. Rod Blagojevich is unfit to serve, erasing what could have been the quickest path to forcing him out of office as he faces federal charges.

Meanwhile, an attorney for the governor signaled that another path - impeachment - won't be easy. Ed Genson told the state House panel deciding whether to recommend impeachment that there's no evidence to back up claims that Blagojevich demanded kickbacks in exchange for a Senate appointment, and he dismissed the secretly recorded conversations that form the heart of the criminal case as 'people jabbering.'

Ohio cat home after 7 weeks

CINCINNATI - An Ohio woman has found her Hope.

That's Norma Meece's three-legged cat. The cat went missing nearly seven weeks ago in the Cincinnati area, prompting Meece to hire a pet detective and plaster her neighborhood with 'missing' posters.

Meece says Hope turned up Sunday in a humane trap set near her home.

Katrina: New push to help small landlords

BATON ROUGE, La. - An $849 million Hurricane Katrina recovery program hobbled by red tape and the national credit crunch will seek to issue rebuilding money directly to small landlords without the involvement of banks, officials said Wednesday.

The Louisiana Small Rental Program was designed to restore 18,000 properties, but has distributed only 433 grants so far. The program had required banks to release rebuilding loans to small landlords, who then applied for reimbursement grants through the program.

Oil tumbles below $40 for first time since 2004

Oil prices tumbled below $40 for the first time since the summer of 2004 Wednesday despite an announcement from OPEC of a record production cut of 2.2 million barrels a day.

Light, sweet crude for January delivery tumbled 8 percent, or $3.54, to settle at $40.06 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Benchmark crude prices fell as low as $39.88, a price last seen in July 2004.

Obama picks Rep. LaHood for transportation

CHICAGO - President-elect Barack Obama intends to name GOP Rep. Roy LaHood of Illinois as his transportation secretary, a Democratic official said Wednesday, adding a second Republican to his Cabinet-in-the-making.

The official disclosed the selection of LaHood after the president-elect named former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado to head the Interior Department.

Exxon Mobil gets $6.1M pollution fine

WASHINGTON - The Exxon Mobil Corp. has agreed to pay a $6.1 million penalty for failing to comply with an agreement to cut pollution from four refineries in California, Louisiana and Texas.

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that it demanded the fine because Exxon Mobil had violated a 2005 consent agreement by not adequately controlling smokestack sulfur emissions at the refineries as it had promised to do.

Bush trumpets security record

CARLISLE, Pa. - President George W. Bush, ever focused on his legacy, said Wednesday 'there can be no debate' about his record of preventing another terrorist attack.

Evoking harrowing memories of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush said virtually no one could have predicted back then that the country would not be hit again for the rest of his presidency.

'It's not a matter of luck,' Bush said, defending his security policies.

No plea change for gang leader in torture case

PORTAGE, Wis. - A Wisconsin judge has refused to allow a leader in a gang of drifters to back out of his plea deal and go to trial on charges that he helped kill a woman and torture her 11-year-old son.

Twenty-six-year-old Michael Sisk was convicted in August of second-degree reckless homicide and a host of other charges after entering guilty, no contest or Alford pleas. In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty but doesn't admit guilt.