Rep. Waters to use panel in defense

WASHINGTON -- In defending herself against congressional ethics charges, Rep. Maxine Waters plans to put a surprising witness on the stand: the House Ethics Committee.

The committee unveiled a three-count charge Aug. 9 against the California Democrat, alleging she broke conflict-of-interest rules by helping arrange a cash infusion of more than $12 million in federal bailout funds for a troubled bank in which her husband was a large shareholder.

Waters has countered that her initial assistance was intended to benefit a broad category of minority-owned banks, not just her husband's bank, and that follow-up help to the bank was minimal and handled by staff.

The congresswoman has expressed no intention of settling the case. She is expected instead to defend herself in an ethics trial, which would probably begin in September.

Stage, screen star Patricia Neal dies

LOS ANGELES -- Her life was marked by professional triumphs, including a Tony Award-winning debut on Broadway in Lillian Hellman's 1946 drama "Another Part of the Forest" and a best actress Oscar for her role in the 1963 drama "Hud."

But for Patricia Neal, the husky-voiced actress with a strong screen presence, life also was marked by personal tragedies: the death of one of her children and brain damage to another, and her own battle to overcome the debilitating effects of a ruptured aneurism in her brain in 1965 that temporarily halted her career.

"Frequently my life has been likened to a Greek tragedy, and the actress in me cannot deny that comparison," Neal wrote in her 1988 autobiography, "As I Am."

Neal, 84, died of lung cancer Aug. 8 at her home in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard. But in the end, she told family members who had gathered around her the night before: "I've had a lovely time."

Girls' puberty age falling, study says

LOS ANGELES -- Doctors and parents were stunned when research published more than a decade ago found American girls were beginning puberty at much younger ages, some as early as 7. Now, a new study released Aug. 8 suggests the average age at which puberty begins still might be falling for white and Latina girls.

According to the paper, which appears in the journal Pediatrics, almost one-quarter of black girls have reached a stage of breast development marking the onset of puberty by age 7, as had almost 15 percent of Latina girls and more than 10 percent of white girls.

Those percentages are significantly higher than in 1997, when a landmark study first reported that girls were beginning puberty much younger than they had in the mid-20th century. In that study, the rate of girls who had begun puberty at age 7 was, on average, 5 percent for whites, compared with 10.4 percent in the new study.

Woman to head intelligence agency

FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Letitia A. Long became the first woman director of a major U.S. intelligence agency Aug. 9, taking her post as chief of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency at a ceremony at the agency's half-built, high-tech campus in Springfield, Va.

Long saluted what the relatively new agency has accomplished, from aiding troops on the battlefield, to helping draw together intelligence from across the national security spectrum.

"I have never seen an agency as young as the NGA do so much in so little time," she said of the organization, which was established in 1996.

Long's 32-year career has led to a series of senior management positions: deputy director of Naval Intelligence, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and, most recently, second in command at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Kagan sworn in as Supreme Court justice

WASHINGTON -- Elena Kagan was sworn in as the 112th justice of the Supreme Court Aug. 7, opening the first era in U.S. history with three women serving on the nation's premier judicial bench.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered the oath at the Supreme Court just two days after the Senate voted to confirm her nomination by a 63-37 margin and one day after President Barack Obama hosted a White House reception in Kagan's honor.

But her installation marks a historic demographic milestone. Women now make up one-third of the nine-member court, as Kagan joins Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg as associate justices. The first and only other woman to serve on the court was Sandra Day O'Connor, who served from 1981 to 2006.

Pregnancy weight may affect babies

LONDON -- Women who gain too much weight during pregnancy have big babies, putting their children at risk of becoming heavy later on, a new study says.

American researchers followed all births in Michigan and New Jersey between 1989 and 2003. They then focused on women who had more than one child, to exclude the possibility that women who were genetically predisposed to be obese were simply passing those genes onto their babies.

Among the more than 513,000 women and their 1.1 million infants studied, scientists found that women who gained more than 53 pounds during their pregnancy had babies who were about 0.3 pounds heavier at birth than infants of women who gained only 22 pounds.

The study was published online Aug. 5 in the medical journal Lancet and was paid for by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Compiled by Allison Nugent and Jessica Runnels Rourk from wire reports