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Today in history: December 16

Quote of the day: "Life means progress, and progress means suffering." — Hendrik Willem Van Loon, Dutch-born journalist and lecturer (1882-1944)
/ Source: The Associated Press

Today is Thursday, December 16th, the 351st day of 2004. There are 15 days left in the year.

Today's highlight in history:

On December 16th, 1944, the World War Two Battle of the Bulge began as German forces launched a surprise counter-attack against Allied forces in Belgium.

On this date:

In 1653, Oliver Cromwell became lord protector of England, Scotland and Ireland.

In 1770, composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany.

In 1773, the Boston Tea Party took place as American colonists boarded a British ship and dumped more than 300 chests of tea overboard to protest tea taxes.

In 1809, Napoleon Bonaparte was divorced from the Empress Josephine by an act of the French Senate.

In 1916, Gregory Rasputin, the monk who'd wielded powerful influence over the Russian court, was killed by a group of noblemen.

In 1950, President Truman proclaimed a national state of emergency in order to fight "Communist imperialism."

In 1960, 134 people were killed when a United Air Lines DC-8 and a TWA Super Constellation collided over New York City.

In 1985, reputed organized-crime chief Paul Castellano was shot to death outside a New York City restaurant.

In 1986, Ronald W. Pelton, a former National Security Agency employee convicted of selling defense secrets to the Soviet Union, was sentenced by a judge in Baltimore to life in prison.

In 1991, the UN General Assembly rescinded its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism by a vote of 111-to-25.

Ten years ago: The White House and Republicans traded barbs over whose tax plan was fairer to the middle class, a day after President Clinton presented a package of proposed tax cuts. White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers announced she was leaving her job at the end of the year.

Five years ago: Israel and Syria ended two days of inconclusive peace talks in Washington and agreed to resume early in the new year. Torrential rains and mudslides in Venezuela left thousands of people dead and forced at least 120,000 to flee their homes.

One year ago: President Bush signed a number of measures into law, including legislation meant to stem the flood of junk e-mail known as "spam" and a bill to establish a national museum devoted to black history. President Bush told ABC News that Saddam Hussein deserved the "ultimate penalty" for his crimes. Germany and France, two of the most ardent opponents of the American-led war, agreed to relieve Iraq's debt burden. Actress Madlyn Rhue died in Los Angeles at age 68.

Today's birthdays: Author Sir Arthur C. Clarke is 87. Civil rights attorney Morris Dees is 68. Actress Joyce Bulifant is 67. Actress Liv Ullmann is 66. CBS news correspondent Lesley Stahl is 63. TV producer Steven Bochco is 61. Pop singer Benny Andersson (ABBA) is 58. Actor Ben Cross is 57. Rock singer-musician Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) is 55. Rock musician Bill Bateman (The Blasters) is 53. Actress Alison LaPlaca is 45. Actor Sam Robards is 43. Actor Jon Tenney is 43. Actor Benjamin Bratt is 41. Country singer-songwriter Jeff Carson is 41. Rhythm-and-blues singer Michael McCary is 33. Country musician Chris Scruggs is 22. Actress Hallee Hirsh is 17.