The number of laid-off workers continuing to draw unemployment benefits increased by 140,000 to 4.5 million for the week ending Dec. 20, the most since 1982, according to the latest Labor Department data. The number of newly laid-off workers signing up for benefits, however, fell sharply last week, by a seasonally adjusted 94,000 to 492,000, possibly because of difficulties in getting to unemployment offices over the holidays.

In its final report on the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster, NASA made 30 recommendations this week to improve future safety for both the shuttle and the next space capsule. Many targeted problems with spacesuits, helmets, and seat belts.

With less than a week to go before Minnesota is scheduled to announce the results of a Senate race recount, Democratic candidate Al Franken's lead over Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman is hovering around 50 votes. As many as 2,000 disputed ballots could still be counted, and observers expect the losing party to mount a court challenge.

Backed by $5 billion in federal bailout money, GMAC Financial Services said it would offer zero-percent or low-interest financing on some slower-selling 2008 and 2009 models during the first week of the new year. The announcement marks the first time that a financial institution (in this case, GM's troubled financing arm) has said it will use money from the $700 billion bank bailout to offer consumers more affordable credit.

California has filed a lawsuit against the Bush administration aimed at blocking what Jerry Brown, the state's attorney general, called White House efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act before Bush leaves office. The Interior Department issued revised rules in Decem-ber that allow federal agencies to issue permits for mining, logging, and similar activities without the need for a review by federal wildlife biologists. The department denies the changes pose a threat to endangered animals.

By earning his final Boy Scout badge in bugling, Shawn Gold-smith, a college freshman at Binghamton University from Oceanside, N.Y., earned all 121 scout badges, a rare feat. He hopes to become a businessman or politician.

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