Microsoft Corp. will cut 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months in what are thought to be the first layoffs in the software giant's 34-year history, the Redmond, Wash., company announced Thursday. The day before, Intel Corp., the world's largest maker of microprocessors used in personal computers, said it will close the Silicon Valley plant connected to its headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., and cut 6,000 jobs, some overseas.

New-home construction fell 15.5 percent between November and December, capping the worst year for builders on records that date from 1959, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Patti Blagojevich, the wife of impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has been dropped as chief fundraiser of the Chicago Christian Industrial League, a homeless agency. The organization did not explain why it had exercised a termination clause in Mrs. Blagojevich's $100,000-a-year contract. A licensed real estate broker, she has not been charged with any wrongdoing but was secretly recorded using coarse language in a wire-tapped telephone conversation.

A Virginia Tech graduate student from China was charged in Wednesday's fatal stabbing of a female graduate student on the Blacksburg, Va., campus, where a deadly mass shooting occurred in 2007. The rest of the student body was alerted to stay put until authorities issued an all-clear after the suspect was taken into custody.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Ren-dell requested $3.5 million Wednesday for the President's House memorial in Philadelphia, which, when opened in 2010, will not only commemorate the first presidential mansion but will recognize the nine slaves who lived there under George Washington. The funding request, made to a bistate agency, seeks monies needed to complete the $8.4 million joint project of the city and the National Park Service.

The practice of requiring a moment of silence, either for prayer or reflection, in Illinois public schools was declared unconstitutional Wednesday by District Judge Robert Gettleman. He ruled the statute ignores the church/state divide by forcing students at "impressionable ages to contemplate religion." The decision stems from a lawsuit brought by an atheist talk-show host and his high-school-age daughter.

Despite lower gasoline prices, US motorists cut their driving miles by 5.3 percent in November, one of the biggest one-month declines ever, the Department of Transportation said Thursday. Economic woes were cited as a probable cause.

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