Thursday, December 31, 2009

Initial jobless claims decline 22,000 to 432,000

The number of people filing initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped unexpectedly last week, perhaps further evidence that the frozen U.S. job market might be starting to thaw.

The Labor Department reported on Thursday that initial jobless claims fell 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 432,000 in the week ended Dec. 26 - the lowest level since July 2008. Just nine months ago, claims peaked at 674,000.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected initial claims to rise slightly to 455,000. The level of initial claims in the week ended Dec. 19 was revised up by 2,000 to 454,000. See Economic Calendar.

The four-week average of initial claims dropped 5,500 to 460,250, the lowest since September 2008. The four-week average smoothes out seasonal quirks.

Although the end of the year is especially volatile because of one-time factors such as holidays and bad weather, a Labor official said the latest data did not reflect any unusual events.

The number of continuing claims, which reflects people who have been collecting state benefits for an extended period, dipped 57,000 to 4.98 million in the week ended Dec. 19. The four-week average of continuing claims dropped 122,000 to 5.22 million, the lowest rate since late February.

The steady decline in continuing claims over the past few months suggests companies are no longer getting rid of workers and may even be hiring. Yet the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 10%, and few economists expect it to decline quickly even if a recovery gains steam in early 2010.

Companies typically ask employees to work longer hours before they start filling new positions. Until demand for goods and services accelerates, firms are likely to remain cautious about hiring.

Another gauge of employment trends will become available on Jan 8 when the federal government releases payroll data for December. The U.S. unemployment rate hit 10.2% in October, the highest rate since the winter of 1982. It fell to 10% in November.

In the week ended Dec. 12, meanwhile, the number of people claiming benefits of any kind -- state or federal -- totaled 10.2 million, not seasonally adjusted. That was up from 10 million in the previous week.

Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid Dies

Better known as Gus Dur to his constituents, the late Muslim cleric was Indonesia's first democratically elected president. He came to power in 1999 following the fall of military strongman Suharto in 1998.

Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, known as a champion of democracy and moderate Islam, died Wednesday at the age of 69.

Former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid died in a hospital on Wednesday at the age of 69, , after a long struggle with strokes, diabetes and near blindness.

Better known as Gus Dur to his constituents, the late Muslim cleric was Indonesia's first democratically elected president. He came to power in 1999 following the fall of military strongman Suharto in 1998.

He was preceded by former Vice President Baharudin Jusuf Habibie, who became president for little more than a year after Suharto resigned. Habibie says President Wahid was a key figure in Indonesia's transition to democracy.

He says Wahid promoted pluralism as the key to peace and prosperity in Indonesia.

Political analyst Sunny Tanuwidjaja with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta says Wahid was a strong advocate for religious freedom and diversity.

"I think his liberal thinking, his progressive thinking in regards to religious freedom and religious life in Indonesia is something that we are going to miss very much," he said.

But President Wahid political skills were not as highly regarded. He was criticized for his erratic leadership style and was removed from office by the national assembly in 2001 amid unproven allegations of corruption and incompetence.

The exact cause of death was not immediately released.

Americans killed in Afghanistan mostly CIA: official

The eight Americans killed in a suicide attack at a US military base in eastern Afghanistan were mostly CIA employees, a US official told AFP on Thursday.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack on Wednesday, in which a bomber managed to penetrate the defenses of a base in the province of Khost, detonating an explosives belt in a room described as a gym.

The base had been used by the CIA and one of the many provincial reconstruction teams that dot the country. The teams were designed to deliver humanitarian assistance and stabilizing difficult areas.

The Pentagon said the base was close to the border with Pakistan.

The attack appeared to have killed more US intelligence personnel than have died since the start of the US-led invasion in 2001. The Central Intelligence Agency has acknowledged the deaths of four CIA officers in Afghanistan since then.

Jackson "Thriller" film picked for U.S. registry

Michael Jackson's 1983 short movie "Thriller," the song-and-dance horror flick that helped popularize television music videos, will live on in the U.S. National Film Registry.

The 14-minute "Thriller" is among 25 films the Library of Congress on Wednesday named to the registry, and it became the first music video included in the 2009 list of cultural treasures that will be preserved for all time.

"The Muppet Movie" of 1979, featuring Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, 1975 bank robbery drama "Dog Day Afternoon" starring Al Pacino, the 1957 science fiction movie "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and Sergio Leone's 1968 spaghetti western "Once Upon a Time in the West" also made the list.

Jackson, who died at age 50 on June 25 from an overdose of powerful medications, worked on the "Thriller" video with director John Landis.

The Library of Congress described the video as a lavish production that "revolutionized the music industry." It played on TV, and was released theatrically on 35mm film.

In "Thriller," which was set to Jackson's single of the same name, the singer is out with a girl when zombies start to crawl out of a graveyard. Jackson joins the zombies in a dance, and himself becomes a zombie for a time.

In 2007, hundreds of prison inmates in the Philippines performed the "Thriller" dance, in a video that went viral on the Web and has been seen by millions.

Los Angeles police are still probing Jackson's death, in an investigation that appears focused on his personal doctor.

With the addition of "Thriller" and the other 25 films, the U.S. National Film Registry now lists 525 movies.

Woman Survives Attempt to Cut Baby Out of Stomach

Teka Adams now cuddles her infant daughter, Miracle Sky. The little girl, swaddled in pink, sleeps peacefully. But after what they've already been through, it's a wonder they're alive today.

For more than four days, Adams was held hostage at a Prince George's County, Md., apartment, where she said a woman tied her up, gagged her and used several knives to try to cut out her unborn baby girl.

"She hit me over the head about three times with a cast iron fireplace poker," Adams said. "She told me what she was getting ready to do and I bust out crying."

Adams described how the woman, Veronica Deramous, allegedly proceeded to cut her belly. "I was shaking and sweating because the pain was so excruciating that it got to a point where I just couldn't feel it anymore."

Adams' ordeal started in early December when she was down on her luck and staying at a D.C. homeless shelter. She said Deramous lured her away with the promise of baby supplies and clothes. She ended up at the woman's Suitland, Md., apartment where Adams said Deramous gave her lunch and then started beating her with a fireplace poker. Adams said she was left bloodied on the kitchen floor.

"She started cleaning the walls in her apartment, and she kept pacing the floor talking about how she couldn't have the blood in her house because her son was coming home and she didn't know how to explain it to her son," Adams said. "And I am hearing all this, but I'm like just laying there because I don't want her to kill me. Simple as that."

Adams eventually escaped from the apartment and gave birth to her daughter by Cesarean section. Deramous was arrested and charged with attempted first-degree murder, false imprisonment and other counts.

After being asked what Adams would say to her attacker today, she replied, "I would just ask her why she did it."

"I don't hate her," she said. "I hate what she did."

New Postage Stamps Will Salute the Negro Leagues

The Negro Leagues will be featured on upcoming 44-cent stamps as part of the postal service's 2010 postage program, joining the likes of Nobel Prize winner Mother Teresa, Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Mauldin and Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn.

In June, stamps will be released honoring Negro Leagues baseball, which operated from 1920 to about 1960, drawing some of the most remarkable athletes ever to play the sport.

Other new stamps will honor singing cowboy Gene Autry, artist Winslow Homer and Adm. Arleigh Burke.

The post office releases a series of commemorative stamps every year, honoring people, places and institutions. These stamps remain on sale for a limited period and are widely collected.

Teddy Riley Responds to Daughters' Allegations

Teddy Riley is responding to accusations by his adult daughters that he violently attacked them with a guitar from the video game, Rock Band. reported that 18-year-old Taja Riley was granted a temporary restraining order against her father, claiming the 43-year-old abused her and her older sister by "stomping, punching and bashing them" in his L.A. home on Dec. 23.

In the documents, filed in L.A. County Superior Court, Taja Riley claims at one point, her father "lifted a Rock Band guitar and threatened to kill person(s) w/ it."

Taja Riley claims she suffered several injuries in the alleged altercation, including "bashes to temple, contusion on face" and "pain in knee."

Teddy Riley, creator of the "New Jack Swing" sound of the late 80s, has been ordered to stay 100 yards away from Taja. The next hearing is set for January.

In a statement to TMZ, Riley is strongly denying the allegations - and insists the entire situation happened because as a parent he allowed his kids to have "an inflated sense of entitlement and expectation."

Here's his statement in its entirety:

Due to recent events, I am compelled to respond in detail to accusations made against me, by my daughters.

I love my daughters, but I will not allow my children to disrespect me in my home. Contrary to what I have been accused of, I would never beat my children.

Perhaps, I should have been a stronger disciplinarian as they were growing up. I worked very hard so that my children would want for nothing.

In hindsight, I see that it was a mistake to give them everything they wanted so that they could have the childhood I never had. Unfortunately, they have taken me, and the privileged life I have given them, completely for granted.

Instead of being appreciative and realizing how fortunate they are, my children have an inflated sense of entitlement and expectation without having to work or earn their way.

However, my 'children' are no longer children; they are adults, and I am trying to instill in them values and a work ethic of their own. My mother always told me "too many grown people can't live in one house," so I encourage them to have their own homes if they cannot abide by the rules of mine. I am not an uptight Dad; I am as hip as they come, but I will not tolerate being taken advantage of or disrespected, especially in my home.

I've been working since the age of 14. I bought my first car by myself. Nobody gave me a car. My kids don't even remember their first car. I grew up with six of us in an apartment fighting over one bathroom. My kids have never had to share a bathroom, let alone a bedroom.

I'm asking everyone to let this one go ... I'm only being a good parent. I'm a great father, and everyone who knows me, knows this is true.

Thank you so much,

With all my love,
Teddy Riley

Finnish Mall Gunman Kills Four

Finnish Mall Gunman Kills Four, then disappears before police can capture him.

A gunman clad in black went on a shooting rampage early Thursday The Sello mall in Finland’s largest city, Helsinki, was attacked by a black clad gunman who killed four people.

There were hundreds of people in the mall for after Christmas shopping and it was a miracle that more shoppers and shop keeper were not killed as the gunman began randomly shooting at people on the second floor.
Authorities have identified the shooter as Ibrahim Shkupolli, 43, (well known by the authorities) and have stated that, he was still on the loose.

Finnish Mall Gunman Kills Four, three which were men and one woman at the Sello shopping mall in the city of Espoo.

During the disturbance and shooting, the trains to the mall were halted as police and authorities searched for the gunman, who has evaded arrest.

Santeria Ritual May Be Responsible for 500 Animal Deaths in Philadelphia Home

Animal Bones Strewn Throughout the Home May Have Been Part of a Santeria Animal Sacrifice

The gruesome discovery of the carcasses of over 500 animals by SPCA enforcement officials began as a complaint about two emaciated and neglected dogs. The SPCA officers executed a warrant on December 30, according to CNN, and found the remains of chickens, goats, sheep,
Santeria Ritual May Be Responsible for 500 Animal Deaths in Philadelphia Home and possibly two monkeys. Bones were scattered throughout almost every room of the house. Also found were the remains of an altar, leading officials to suspect that the animals were sacrificed in a Santeria ritual.

Most people's familiarity with Santeria ends with the 1996 Sublime song by the same name. Santeria, or Lukumi, is a religion forged in the Americas. African slaves from Nigeria, Senegal, and surrounding areas imported to the Caribbean and the United States brought their Yoruba religion with them and merged it with Native American and Catholic traditions over time. Santeria developed mainly in Cuba and has spread to the United States with Cuban immigrants and refugees. There are over 22,000 reported Santeria practitioners in the United States but it is believed that the actual number is much higher.

Santeria is often practiced in tandem with Catholicism, especially in Cuba. Although the religion is practiced differently in different parts of the Americas, Santeria most often incorporates trance-like states for communicating with spirits and departed loved ones and animal sacrifice. Animals, especially chickens, are sacrificed for their blood which is offered up to the Santerian deities to bring good fortune, blessings and the forgiveness of past sins.

Santeria is protected by U.S. law and its animal sacrifices have had little legal challenge since they have been found to be protected under the Constitution. However, if animal sacrifices are being done in an inhumane manner, law enforcement and the SPCA has the right to step in and bring charges against practitioners.

AT&T cuts ties with Tiger Woods

Another corporate giant has decided to ditch Tiger Woods in the rough.

AT&T announced today that it would no longer sponsor Woods following weeks of allegations that the 14-time major winner cheated on his wife. The telecommunications giant is the third major company to cut its ties to Woods, joining Gillette and Accenture.

Woods was the host of an AT&T-sponsored PGA event in July and the AT&T logo appeared on Woods' golf bag.

Woods earlier this month apologized for his "transgressions" against his family and later announced that he would be taking an indefinite leave from golf.

Israeli jails holding 7,500 Palestinians: ministry

Palestinian women call for the release of jailed relatives from Israeli prisons

RAMALLAH, West Bank — At least 7,500 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails and detention facilities at the end of 2009, the Palestinian Authority said on Thursday.

The detainees include 34 women, 310 children and 304 people being held under administrative detention without trial, according to a report published by the prisoners affairs ministry.

The detainees also include 17 MPs, most of them from the Islamist Hamas movement, two former ministers, and a number of political leaders.

The vast majority of the prisoners, 6,330, are from the occupied West Bank. Another 750 detainees hail from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and some 420 are from annexed Arab east Jerusalem and Israel, the ministry said.

The longest serving prisoners are two brothers, Fakhri and Nail Barghuti, and Akram Mansur, all of whom have been in prison for 32 years.

They are among 317 prisoners jailed before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 following the Oslo autonomy accords.

The ministry said 197 prisoners have died in Israeli custody since 1967.

More than 5,000 people were detained at some point in 2009, an average of 14 per day, but most were later released.

Israel and Hamas have been struggling for months to reach a prisoner exchange deal that would see hundreds of Palestinians released in a swap for for an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants in June 2006.

Both sides have been tight-lipped about the discussions, which have been carried out through Egyptian and German mediators.

Nadja Green, Rikers Island Correction Officer, Caught Sleeping on the Job

Nadja Green, a correction officer at New York City's Rikers Island prison infirmary was caught sleeping on the job and to make matters worse, an inmate, who was obviously amused, was seen hovering around her, inches from a set of keys that hangs from her belt. She has been disciplined for dozing on the job after a colleague took the picture. The picture was circulated around the department and emailed to the New York Post. Ms. Green shouldn't show her face at the Rikers Island prison again. She should have been terminated. What if the inmate had taken the keys and tried to escape?

According to the New York Post, Ms. Green has been transferred at Rikers Island and has been placed on modified duty watching female inmates. She will face charges of sleeping on the job and other security and performance-related charges.

Chris Henry 911 Calls Don’t Look Good For Loleini Tonga

North Carolina police have released the Chris Henry 911 calls, and there’s a notable absence: there’s not one call from Henry’s fiance Loleini Tonga.

There were two Chris Henry related 911 calls made, one from a woman who witnessed Henry on the back of a pickup truck, and the second from a man asking for an ambulance after he found Chris Henry lying injured at the side of the road.

The first 911 call sheds some more light on the “domestic dispute” that lead to Chris Henry’s death. Caller One tells 911 “I need a police officer
, I’m on Oak Road, I’m behind a yellow truck. It’s a F-150 the tag says. It’s got a black male on it with no shirt on and he’s got his arm in the cab he’s got some black pants on. He’s beating on the back of this truck window. I don’t know if he’s trying to break in it or something, it just looks crazy. It’s a girl driving it now they turning onto Oakdale road.”

After confirming with 911 that there was a “black female” driving the car, the call ends after the woman states that she is no longer following the vehicle.

The second call details Henry at the side of the road. “I need an ambulance now, there’s somebody laying in the road” the caller tells 911. Suggesting that there was another person on the scene (possibly Loleini Tonger), the caller goes on: “I’m on Oakdale Road I just pulled up and there’s lady trying – there’s a man in the road, he looks dead, there’s no movement.”

Indicating that there may be more witnesses, the man also states when asked by the dispatcher whether he was comfortable approaching Henry: “Yeah, there’s a crowd of people around him right now.”

We don’t know Loleini Tonga’s side of the story yet, although we do know that police are investigating Henry’s death as a homicide. She may well argue that Henry was trying to attack her, but that doesn’t explain why she didn’t call 911 while in the pickup truck. There are also separate eyewitness reports that she was swerving the vehicle, indicating that she may have been attempting to get Henry to fall off.

No doubt we’ll be hearing more from local authorities in the coming days.

Man calls 911 for a lift to the bar

A Florida man has been arrested after authorities say he concocted a tale about being beaten and shot at in hopes of scoring a ride to another bar.

Gregory J. Oras, 37, is being charged with misusing the emergency response system and battery of an officer following the incident. Police say Oras called dispatchers in Oldsmar, Florida three times early Tuesday morning, claiming to have a broken nose and to be bleeding from the ears, and that people were shooting at him. In actuality, police say, Oras was seeking a lift to another bar and lied about the beating and shooting.

Oras reportedly became belligerent, kicking a Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy in the knees, and officers used a Taser to stun him. He is being held on $5,150 bail.

Rick Warren's Saddleback Church In Desperate Fundraising Appeal After Collection Plates Run Dry

Rick Warren is the conservative evangelical minister who somehow has become a trusted friend to both Republicans and Democrats. Obama came to his Saddleback Church during the campaign, and then Warren spoke at his inauguration.

But the bad economy is taking its toll on his empire, and yesterday he sent out an emergency fundraising appeal to the church's members.

Here's part of what he posted it on the Saddleback Church blog:

Dear Saddleback Family,

THIS IS AN URGENT LETTER unlike any I've written in 30 years. Please read all of it and get back to me in the next 48 hours.I have thrilling news to share with you below but first some seriously bad news:

With 10% of our church family out of work due to the recession, our expenses in caring for our community in 2009 rose dramatically while our income stagnated. Still, with wise management, we've stayed close to our budget all year. Then... this last weekend the bottom dropped out.
On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive - leaving us $900,000 in the red for the year, unless you help make up the difference today and tomorrow.

It sounds like the church will be fine either way. We suspect they'll come up with the money and it's probably not the end of the world if they end 2009 in the red, like so many other organizations did.

What is interesting is that the bottom fell out "this last weekend," which is somewhat ominous sounding. Presumably it means some kind of unprecedented tension between buying Christmas gifts and donating to the church.

Talk show host Rush Limbaugh in hospital in Hawaii

The right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been taken to hospital in Hawaii after experiencing chest pains, say reports.

Hawaiian media said he was taken from the hotel, where he was staying while on holiday, in a serious condition.

But a statement posted on Mr Limbaugh's website said he was now "resting comfortably" in hospital in Honolulu.

Mr Limbaugh, 58, is highly influential in the US and his radio show is one of the most popular in the country.

It is broadcast on some 600 radio stations across the country and heard by more than 14 million people every week.

Mr Limbaugh, who is seen by some as as the unofficial voice of the US Republican party, has been a vocal critic of US President Barack Obama and is known for his fiery lambasting of Democratic politicians and policies.

Six dead after Finland shootings

A gunman has shot dead four people in a crowded Finnish shopping mall after killing his ex-girlfriend, then turned the gun on himself.

Ibrahim Shkupolli, dressed all in black, stormed into the mall near Helsinki, killing one woman and three men at the supermarket where his girlfriend had worked.

The body of 43-year-old Shkupolli was later found at his home nearby and his ex-girlfriend was found dead in her apartment.

The woman, a 42-year-old Finn, had taken out a restraining order against Shkupolli, police said.

Witnesses said panic erupted at the Sello mall, one of the country's largest, when the shots rang out. Hundreds of workers were evacuated, trains were halted and helicopters brought in as police launched a manhunt for the heavily armed killer.

Police refused to discuss Shkupolli's nationality, but he is believed to be an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo.

The attack shocked hundreds of people who had gone shopping early on New Year's Eve.

One witness told the state broadcaster YLE that the gunman began shooting at people on the second floor of the mall.

"There were loads of people who were crying, and many vendors who were completely panicked," he said.

Another woman said she saw the suspect carrying a long-barrelled pistol and rushing past the check-out at the Prisma supermarket.