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Jobless claims drop to 787,000

WASHINGTON — The number of laid-off Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 787,000, a sign that job losses may have eased slightly but are still running at historically high levels. Last week’s figure was down from 842,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The government also revised down the number of people who sought aid in the two weeks before that. The revised total for the week that ended Oct. 3 was 767,000, the fewest since the viral pandemic erupted in March, though still more than three times the levels that preceded the pandemic. Economists welcomed the declines as evidence that the job market is still recovering from the pandemic recession. But some cautioned that the improvement could prove short-lived. With confirmed infections having neared 60,000 in the past week, the most since July, consumers have been unable or reluctant to shop, travel, dine out or congregate in crowds — a trend that has led some employers to keep cutting jobs. Several states are reporting a record number of hospitalizations from the virus. “We doubt it will continue as COVID infections spread rapidly, pushing down demand for discretionary consumer services, especially in the hospitality sector,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, referring to the portion of the economy that includes hard-hit hotels, restaurants and bars. The downward revisions in applications for unemployment aid reflect a sharp decline in California, which in recent months has accounted for one-fourth of the nation’s total jobless claims. California stopped processing new applications for two weeks while it implemented anti-fraud technology and sought to process a huge backlog. The state’s workforce agency is now reporting a 30% drop in the number of new applications compared with its earlier levels. A drop that sharp suggests that the state’s previous figures had overstated layoffs and jobless claims in California. Many economists have grown skeptical of the accuracy of the government’s weekly figures. That’s because of fraud and the concern that some states may be double-counting applicants in their regular unemployment programs and in a new program that made contractors and gig workers eligible for jobless aid for the first time. In many states, contractors and gig workers must apply for aid under both the regular program and the new program to determine their eligibility.

Santa won’t be coming to Macy’s

NEW YORK — Macy’s said Santa Claus won’t be greeting kids at its flagship New York store this year due to the coronavirus, interrupting a holiday tradition started nearly 160 years ago. More than a quarter of a million people come to see Santa at Macy’s in New York each year, the company said, making it hard to create a safe environment during a pandemic. Before taking a picture with the jolly old man, crowds walk in tight quarters through a maze-like Santaland that’s filled with Christmas trees, running toy trains and elves in green costumes. Santa also won’t be showing up at its Chicago and San Francisco stores, which have similar Santalands. But he will still appear at the end of the televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the company said. With the coronavirus still raging, stores and malls are having to rework their typical holiday strategy, which had been to pack as many people through its doors as possible. Walmart, for example, is holding its Black Friday deals over four weeks, instead of one day. But the decision by Macy’s differs from big mall owners, which will still go ahead with in-person Santa visits by banning kids from sitting on his lap and making sure they stay six feet away from him. Macy’s has been using Santa Claus to draw crowds to its New York store since the early 1860s, calling itself “The Home of Santa Claus” for decades. And Macy’s had a starring role in the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street,” where a girl discovers the real Santa inside the store. Macy’s will be offering a free online experience on its website at the end of November, where families can play games, get a virtual tour of Santa’s workshop and take a selfie with Santa.

Accused of killing man over reptiles

WAUPACA, Wis. — A Wisconsin man accused of killing a young man in a dispute over stolen reptiles has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide. Bill Zelenski, 44, of Waupaca, is accused of shooting the 18-year-old late Monday. The victim’s name was not immediately released, but the victim’s mother, Tiffany Powell, 34, was charged with first degree intentional homicide as party to a crime. The dispute was over $27,850 worth of reptiles and equipment. Waupaca County Judge Ramond Huber ordered Zelenski held without bond. According to a criminal complaint, Zelenski called authorities Monday night to identify two young people who he said burglarized his home last week. According to the complaint, several reptiles — including Mexican bearded lizards worth $17,000 — were taken. Not long after that call, the complaint said, Zelenski and Powell encountered Powell’s son, one of the alleged thieves. The complaint said Powell’s son took off his shirt and said he wanted to fight Zelenski, who took out a shotgun. A doorbell camera captured most of the altercation, though the complaint doesn’t say whether that included the fatal shot. At one point, the video shows Zelenski handing the gun to Powell, who pointed the gun at her son before eventually giving the gun back to Zelenski, who told a 911 operator that he shot the victim after the young man attacked him.

Senate panel advances Barrett

WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans powered past a Democratic boycott Thursday to advance Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate, keeping President Donald Trump’s pick on track for confirmation before the Nov. 3 election. Democratic senators refused to show up in protest of the GOP’s rush to install Trump’s nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Never has the Senate confirmed a Supreme Court nominee so close to a presidential election. All 12 Republicans on the committee voted in favor of Barrett, a conservative judge. No-show Democrats left behind posters at their desks of Americans they say have benefited from the Affordable Care Act, now being challenged at the high court. Senators plan to convene a rare weekend session before a final confirmation vote expected Monday. “Big day for America,” Trump tweeted after the committee vote.

Westminster show leaves NYC

NEW YORK — The Westminster dog show is set to take a long walk. The nation’s top pooch pageant will be held outdoors at an estate about 25 miles north of Manhattan on June 12-13 because of the pandemic, the Westminster Kennel Club said Wednesday. The shift to the Lyndhurst site along the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York, will mark the first time in more than 100 years that best in show at Westminster hasn’t been awarded at Madison Square Garden. In 1920, the top prize was presented at Grand Central Palace in New York. Four different versions of the Garden have hosted Westminster since 1880 — the show began three years earlier. The show is typically held in February, around Valentine’s Day. “The wide-open outdoor space at this extraordinary venue allows us to hold a dog show safely while following current social distancing guidelines and public health regulations,” WKC President Charlton Reynders III said in a statement.

Lawrence painting rediscovered

A painting by American artist Jacob Lawrence that has not been seen in public for 60 years has been found and is taking its designated place in a 30-piece exhibit of Lawrence’s work, officials at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts said Thursday. The exhibit of the series “Struggle: From the History of the American People,” completed in the mid-1950s by the Black painter, was organized by the Salem-based museum and is currently showing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, with the missing piece — known as panel 16 — represented by an empty frame. A sharp-eyed visitor to the Met had neighbors with a Lawrence painting in their collection and, suspecting it might be part of the series, encouraged the owners to contact the New York museum. It was indeed a part of the series, and was added to the exhibit this week, according to The New York Times. The owner of the long-lost panel lives on the Upper West Side in New York City, but their name is not being disclosed. It is being loaned to the exhibit. The painting had been purchased at a 1960 Christmas charity auction to benefit a music school, going for what the newspaper reported was “a very modest sum.” The vivid panel — titled by the artist “There are combustibles in every State, which a spark might set fire to –Washington, 26 December 1786” — depicts Shays’ Rebellion, the 1786-87 tax revolt in western Massachusetts. Two armies wielding muskets fixed with bayonets face off, with one of the bayonets piercing the flesh of a foe, causing a trickle of blood to splash to the ground.

Maxwell: I didn’t help the prince

NEW YORK — Jeffrey Epstein’s ex-girlfriend denied introducing Britain’s Prince Andrew to underage sex partners in a defensive and combative deposition made public Thursday, calling the prince’s accuser an “awful fantasist.” “Are we tallying all the lies?” Ghislaine Maxwell asked during the 2016 deposition, saying she could not recall taking Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre out for a night of clubbing with Andrew in London. “Her tissue of lies is extremely hard to pick apart what is true and what isn’t.” The exchange was contained in hundreds of pages of transcripts ordered released by U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska in a civil lawsuit. Maxwell has been charged with recruiting three underage girls in the 1990s for Epstein to sexually abuse and committing perjury in the depositions, though the charges don’t relate to the prince. Maxwell, 58, parried a long list of inquiries about Epstein’s sexual proclivities and her interactions with Giuffre and other young women, insisting she never saw the financier have sex with anybody. “She is an absolute total liar and you all know she lied on multiple things and that is just one other disgusting thing she added,” Maxwell said, denying having three-way sex with Epstein and Giuffre. “I never saw any inappropriate underage activities with Jeffrey ever.” As for whether she was Epstein’s girlfriend after meeting him in 1991, Maxwell called it a “tricky question.” “There were times when I would have liked to think of myself as his girlfriend,” she said. Asked whether it was Epstein’s “preference to start a massage with sex,” Maxwell said: “I think you should ask that question of Jeffrey.” In a deposition of Epstein conducted later in 2016, Epstein mostly invoked the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self incrimination.

Bank robber flees with $500,000

TBILISI, Georgia — Police in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia were looking Thursday for a bank robber who held over 40 people hostage for hours before releasing them and escaping with $500,000 given to him by authorities. An armed man took bank employees and customers hostage in the town of Zugdidi in western Georgia on Wednesday, demanding $500,000 in cash. After authorities provided him with the money and a car that he wanted, the assailant freed most of the hostages and drove away with three remaining captives. The man freed them overnight in a forested area and disappeared. It wasn’t immediately clear if the attacker had an accomplice among the hostages.

Murder squad linked to 8 killings

SALINAS, Calif. — Six alleged gang members who were part of a “murder squad” that roamed the streets of Monterey County looking for rival gang members and are suspected in eight killings have been arrested and charged with murder and other crimes. The alleged Norteno gang members traveled in caravans of three cars and between January 2017 and November 2018 went on “hunts” in the streets of Salinas, killing eight men — in once case firing at least 35 shots. Many others were injured, U.S. Attorney David Anderson said. The group would not confirm their targets were indeed rival gang members and would choose their victims based on characteristics they associated with rival Surenos gang members — Latino men, people with shaved heads, or people who were wearing blue.Of the eight victims, only one was a gang member, Anderson said. In one case, the group went looking for rival Sureno gang members to kill to commemorate the birthday of a deceased gang member. The shooters spotted a man walking on a street and fired at least 35 shots at him, killing him. There was no evidence that this victim was actually a gang member, according to the indictment. The shootings were part of their strategy to control the local drug trade and instill fear in rival gang members and the community and to prove they belonged in the group, Anderson said.

Banksy artwork sells for $10M

LONDON — Banksy’s playful take on a famous Impressionist painting has sold at auction for 7.6 million pounds ($9.8 million), the second-highest price ever paid for a work by the British street artist. “Show Me the Monet” sold to an unidentified bidder at Sotheby’s in London on Wednesday evening, surpassing its upper pre-sale estimate of 5 million pounds. In the 2005 work, Banksy added abandoned shopping carts and an orange traffic cone to Claude Monet’s image of water lilies in his garden at Giverny. Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s European head of contemporary art, said the work was one of the “strongest and most iconic” Banksy works to appear at auction. Banksy, whose real name has never been officially confirmed, began his career spray-painting buildings in Bristol, England, and has become one of the world’s best-known artists. Another Banksy work, “Devolved Parliament,” sold last year at Sotheby’s in London for 9.9 million pounds. Earlier this month, his graffiti-style piece “Forgive Us Our Trespassing” sold for $8.3 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.

Trump posts unedited interview

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump took on the country’s most influential news program in unprecedented fashion, posting unedited video of interviews that he and Vice President Mike Pence gave to “60 Minutes” before its broadcast this weekend. The video released Thursday shows an increasingly agitated president parrying with interviewer Lesley Stahl on issues like the coronavirus, health care and his demeanor on social media before abruptly ending the session. With Pence, Stahl said the men had insulted “60 Minutes” by giving campaign speeches and not answering questions. “I feel aggrieved,” she said. The president, in following through on a threat to make the full interviews public, tweeted that the public should compare Stahl’s “constant interruptions and anger” with his “full, flowing and ‘magnificently brilliant’ answers.” “60 Minutes” will have the last word. CBS News said Trump’s actions won’t change its plans for Sunday’s broadcast, when the presidential interview will air, along with a separate one with Democrat Joe Biden.

Epsilon should sideswipe Bermuda

MIAMI — Hurricane Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds dropped slightly as it moved northwest over the Atlantic Ocean on a path that should sideswipe Bermuda on Thursday. Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds decreased late Thursday morning to 90 mph, dropping it from a Category 2 storm to a Category 1 as it swirled near enough for the National Hurricane Center to issue a tropical storm warning for the island. The Miami-based center said Epsilon was located about 215 miles east-southeast of Bermuda and moving to the north-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph). Forecasters said Epsilon should make its closest approach to Bermuda by Thursday evening. Gradual weakening was expected into the weekend. Large ocean swells could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions along the coast of New England and Atlantic Canada during the next couple of days, the hurricane center said.

‘Minimal’ risk oil tanker will sink

A damaged Venezuelan oil tanker recently tilting to one side in the Caribbean after taking on water poses no significant risk of spilling and causing an environmental catastrophe, officials of Trinidad & Tobago said Thursday. Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Franklin Khan said a team of experts from his country inspected the FSO Nabarima on Tuesday, allaying previous fears it was on the brink of sinking and spewing 1.3 million barrels of oil. The double-hulled tanker is “intact and poses a minimum risk of any oil spills at this time,” Khan said. He said Venezuela had started the slow process of unloading oil to further avoid disaster, an operation expected to take up to 35 days. “The team confirm that major maintenance is ongoing,” Khan said. “Pumps and electrical motors are being repaired and replaced as needed.” International outcry arose in early September over the Venezuelan-flagged Nabarima, a 264-meter (866-foot) long ship believed to be almost filled to its capacity of 1.4 million barrels of crude — about five times the amount the Exxon Valdez spilled in 1989.

MDA telethon is a ‘major level-up’

LOS ANGELES — Kevin Hart says hosting a re-imagined online fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association is “a major level-up for me.” “It’s different from anything that you’ve really seen me do. And there’s a great reason behind it,” said the comic and actor, who is leading the MDA Kevin Hart Kids Telethon online on Saturday. It’s the first telethon in six years for the MDA, once known for its popular hours-long Labor Day broadcast hosted for decades by famed comic and actor Jerry Lewis. Lewis last hosted in 2010 and died in 2017. Hart says he’s honored at the opportunity to fill Lewis’ shoes. “There’s no way not to acknowledge the works that he’s done,” he said. “What he’s done for so many and the money that he’s raised while doing it, is just astronomical.” Joining Hart will be a star-studded group of friends including Gabrielle Union Wade, Usain Bolt and Jack Black. The 41-year-old comic, who suffered major back injuries in a car crash last year, says he hopes his charity work helps to “plant a flag of reason for my existence.” “At this point in my life and my career, it’s finding other things to hold on to,” Hart said. “Entertainment and comedy — it’s been a thing, it’s been what I’m known for, and I’ve pushed hard to be successful at it. If I can match that energy and switch the gears and start to do things for others and bring awareness and a high level of positivity to the world and hopefully bring people together, put smiles on the faces, heal some, do for some, I will feel like I’ve done my job while here.”

Thorny issues as vaccines near

WASHINGTON — With vaccines against COVID-19 inching closer, U.S. regulators took an unusual step Thursday in asking outside scientists: Are the government’s standards high enough to adequately judge the shots? The Food and Drug Administration may have to decide by year’s end whether to allow use of the first vaccines against the coronavirus, amid growing public fears that politics are overriding science. Thursday, a federal advisory committee pulled back the curtain on that decision process in daylong discussions to be sure corners aren’t cut. “Vaccine development can be expedited. However, I want to stress that it cannot — and must not — be rushed,” Dr. Marion Gruber, director of FDA’s vaccine research office, told the advisers. Gruber said the public scrutiny “is critical to build trust and confidence” in whichever vaccines emerge. Exactly how much data FDA needs to be sure a vaccine is safe and effective is a key question for the advisers, and one looming as a key vaccine developer, Moderna Inc., announced Thursday the final study of its shot has completed enrollment. An even tougher question: If the FDA allows emergency use of a vaccine before final testing is finished, will that destroy chances of ever learning just how well those shots — and maybe competitors still being studied — really work? Any vaccine allowed for emergency use will still be experimental. It may not be clear if the first vaccines prevent people from spreading the coronavirus or just from getting seriously ill, for example. And with multiple shots in the pipeline — made with different technologies that each have pros and cons — the first may not be the best.

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