News Midday Update: Satellite radio deal clears big hurdle; new flooding problems likely in Midwest; lesbian couple of 55 years to say 'I do' in Calif.

The proposed merger of the nation's two satellite radio broadcasters - bogged down in the regulatory process for over a year - has cleared a major hurdle: The Federal Communications Commission chief is recommending approval of the $3.8 billion deal.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin made his recommendation Sunday in exchange for a number of concessions, including turning 24 channels over to noncommercial and minority programming. That sets the stage for a final vote that could occur any time after Martin's recommendation is circulated among his fellow commissioners.

The provision on noncommercial and minority programming along with several others - including a three-year price freeze for customers - persuaded Martin to support Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.'s buyout of rival XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. The deal would affect millions of subscribers who pay to hear music, news, sports and talk programming, largely free from advertising, in homes and vehicles.

The other four commissioners have kept their views on the deal largely to themselves. Unlike most FCC decisions, there is no clear indication how the vote will go.

Martin said the conditions will make the combination of the two companies good for consumers.

"As I've indicated before, this is an unusual situation," Martin said in a statement. "I am recommending that with the voluntary commitments they (the companies) have offered, on balance, this transaction would be in the public interest."

The companies also agreed to an "open radio" standard, meant to create competition among manufacturers of satellite radios, according to FCC officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not yet been made public.

Associated Press

New flooding problems likely in Midwest

Even as flood fears eased in Iowa City, the state's south and east prepared for new problems ahead for a string of towns along the Mississippi River.

Sandbagging was under way in Burlington, a key rail hub, to build the city's levee system and protect it from the river; 350 people had been evacuated.

Two more deaths were reported, bringing the state's death toll from flooding to five. A 35-year-old man apparently drowned in Iowa River floodwaters near Wapello, and a woman was killed near New London when her stopped car was hit by a National Guard bus involved in flood duty.

"It's likely that we will see major and serious flooding on every part of the southeastern border of our state from New Boston and down," Gov. Chet Culver said. "We are taking precautionary steps, we are evacuating where necessary, but that is going to be the next round here."

Elsewhere in the soaked Midwest, National Guard soldiers hoped to fill about 500,000 sandbags by Monday to fortify levees along a 15-mile stretch of the Mississippi River near Quincy, Ill., and flood waters began to recede in parts of western Michigan.

The Iowa River's crest arrived early and lower than expected, possibly because of a number of levee breaches downstream that opened the channel, the National Weather Service said. Gov. Chet Culver called word of Iowa City's crest "a little bit of good news," but cautioned that the situation was still precarious.

President Bush will visit the Midwest on Thursday to inspect flood damage, the White House said Monday as the president wrapped up a weeklong trip in Europe. White House press secretary Dana Perino said the places the president would visit had not been chosen.

Associated Press

Lesbian couple of 55 years to say 'I do' in Calif.

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin fell in love at a time when lesbians risked being arrested, fired from their jobs and sent to electroshock treatment.

On Monday afternoon, more than a half-century after they became a couple, Lyon and Martin plan to become the first same-sex couples to legally exchange marriage vows in San Francisco and among the first in the state.

"It was something you wanted to know, 'Is it really going to happen?' And now it's happened, and maybe it can continue to happen," Lyon said.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom plans to officiate at the private ceremony in his City Hall office before 50 invited guests. He picked Martin, 87, and Lyon, 84, for the front of the line in recognition of their long relationship and their status as pioneers of the gay rights movement.

Along with six other women, they founded a San Francisco social club for lesbians in 1955 called the Daughters of Bilitis. Under their leadership, it evolved into the nation's first lesbian advocacy organization. They have the FBI files to prove it.

Associated Press


— The Macon City Council's Appropriations Committee is working on the city budget today. We'll let you know what happens.

— We'll tell you about a Middle Georgia man who has more than 1,000 hats.


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