USA

In a case that exposed a potential threat to homeland security, 25 people, mostly airport workers, were arraigned in federal court in New York Wednesday on charges of smuggling tens of millions worth of illegal drugs on flights from Guyana and Jamaica. Members of the alleged ring included baggage or cargo handlers at Kennedy International Airport and at Miami International, prosecutors said. The "network of corrupt airport employees" was motivated by greed, but "might just as well have been collaborating with terrorists," said US Immigration and Customs official Michael Garcia.

The arrests came as airports braced for what is traditionally the peak travel weekend of the year. "We're expecting long lines," said Phil Orlandella of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Boston's Logan Airport. The American Automobile Association estimated 36 million people will venture at least 50 miles from home over the Thanksgiving holiday, a two- year high. Thirteen percent of travelers are expected to go by air.

New government reports bolstered perceptions that the economy is gaining steam. New claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week to a near-three-year low of 351,000, the Labor Department said. The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods - costly items meant to last at least three years - rose 3.3 percent in October, although personal spending was flat. The data confirm that "the US economy is recovering quite nicely," said Rick Egelton of BMO Financial Group in Toronto.

Detailing plans to address the state's estimated $20 billion deficit, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) asked lawmakers to approve a spending cap, a record $15 billion bond issue, plus $2 billion in immediate budget cuts. But some Democrats - who control the legislature - balked at what they termed a "power grab" by the newly installed governor and criticized what they called deep cuts to education and programs for the elderly and disabled.

Hundreds of volunteers were helping to search for a University of North Dakota student who police suspect was abducted. Dru Sjodin reportedly was leaving a mall in Grand Forks while talking to a friend on a cellphone when she suddenly cried in alarm and the line went dead.

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