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10 things you need to know today: December 25, 2015

Pope Francis calls for unity in his Christmas address, former U.S. hostages in Iran get compensation, and more


U.S. victims of 1979 Iran hostage crisis receive compensation

After more than 36 years, the Americans who were held hostage for 444 days at the U.S. Embassy in Iran will receive financial compensation for their suffering. Each of the 53 former victims and/or their families will receive up to $4.4 million — up to $10,000 per day for each day they were held hostage. "I had to pull over to the side of the road, and I basically cried," said Rodney V. Sickmann, a Marine sergeant who was working as a guard at the embassy in Tehran when a group of students took over during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The provision was buried in the massive spending bill Congress passed last week.


Pope Francis calls for unity to fight terrorism in Christmas address

In his annual "Urbi et Orbi" Christmas address, Pope Francis called from the Vatican for unity in the face of Islamic terrorism. He directly addressed the Nov. 13 deadly terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 and the Oct. 31 downing of a Russian plane over Egypt that killed all 224 people on board, condemning both attacks as "brutal acts of terrorism." "Only God's mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst," the pope said. His Holiness' wide-ranging address also called for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and asked God to give strength to persecuted Christians around the world.


Deadly storms rip through southern U.S., killing at least 14

At least 14 people were killed as unseasonable, spring-like storms swept across the American southeast. Heavy rains flooded roads in Alabama and caused a mudslide in Georgia, while tornadoes killed people in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. As search crews continue to pick through the rubble, residents have been lending a hand in the clean-up process. "This was just the right thing to do, come help a family in need," said Chris Shupiery, who helped cut up fallen trees in Linden, Tennessee. "Suit up, try to cheer people up, and try to make them feel a little better with Christmas coming around."


Black Lives Matter protests disrupt holiday shopping in Chicago, Minneapolis

Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted holiday shopping and travel in cities across the U.S. Thursday, using the holiday season as a way to draw attention to their cause. Protesters in Chicago staged a "die-in," laying down on the streets of a major shopping district on Michigan Avenue in order to protest the 2014 fatal shooting of black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by a police officer. The protests came one day after Minneapolis Black Lives Matter protesters flooded the Mall of America and the Minneapolis airport chanting for justice for Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man killed in a police shooting last month.


Police kill armed man at North Carolina mall

A Christmas Eve altercation at a mall in Charlotte, North Carolina, turned deadly after a man reportedly fired a gun during an argument, prompting an off-duty police officer to shoot him. The armed man was identified as 18-year-old Daquan Antonio Westbrook. "This was not a random act of violence and the subjects involved are known to one another," the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said in a statement. The officer who killed Westbrook has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.


Sandy Hook families reach $1.5 million settlement

More than three years after Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the families of the victims have finalized a settlement with the estate of the shooter's mother. Each family of a person killed in the Dec. 14, 2012 attack will receive a portion of a $1.5 million settlement agreement with the estate of Nancy Lanza, the deceased mother of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza. Adam killed his mother before his rampage through the Connecticut elementary school, where he killed himself after being cornered by police. The settlement resolved at least eight lawsuits filed in Connecticut courts by relatives of Sandy Hook victims.


Dozens killed in gas fire in Nigeria

Dozens of people — some reports say around 100 — were killed in southern Nigeria after a truck discharging butane gas at a plant exploded as customers were refilling gas bottles on Christmas Eve. "The fire exploded like a bomb, and the whole gas station went up in thick, black smoke amidst an explosion from cooking gas cylinders," a witness said, adding that most of those who were killed had been lined up in the station all day to get their cylinders refilled. Several people were being treated for burns at a local hospital.


Robert Downey Jr. pardoned for 1996 drug conviction

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday pardoned actor Robert Downey Jr. for the 1996 drug conviction that sent him to jail. The Oscar-nominated actor was one of 91 people granted pardons for criminal convictions after proving they had rehabilitated themselves. Downey Jr. was arrested in 1996 after he was pulled over for speeding and police found cocaine, heroin, and a pistol in his car; he was sent to jail in 1999 for violating his probation. Though the conviction will remain on his record, the pardon will allow Downey Jr. to serve on a jury.


NBA stars speak out against gun violence

The NBA's biggest stars — Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, and Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah — speak out against gun violence in a new video produced in partnership with Everytown for Gun Safety and directed by Spike Lee. "The guys really wanted to put their voices behind this," Kathy Behrens, the NBA's president of social responsibility and player programs, told the Chicago Tribune. Back in March, Noah joined up with his Bulls teammates to produce a mini-documentary on the effects of gun violence, while Carmelo Anthony, who is from Baltimore, marched with protesters in the city in April after the death of Freddie Gray.


Florida professor suggests changing 'Merry Christmas' to 'Happy Federal Holiday'

In an op-ed in the University of Central Florida's campus newspaper, professor Terri Fine proposed a new holiday greeting: "Happy Federal Holiday." When we wish someone a "Happy Federal Holiday," Fine writes, "we know that we are not being culturally insensitive by extending to someone a holiday greeting that has no meaning to them because they practice a different religion or no religion at all." While Fine argues that this switch would be more respectful of Christmas, Hanukkah, and other December celebrations, her idea has been met with a frosty welcome. "Surely, that's manifestly worse than just saying, 'Have a good one,'" wrote Robby Soave at Reason.


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