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Hawaii, US: Hospital Workers Jobless on Christmas Eve

More than 200 employees at a pair of bankrupt hospitals in Hawaii are getting notices that they're losing their jobs on Christmas Eve.

The operators of the Hawaii Medical Center hospitals on Oahu plan to close the facilities, putting nearly 1,000 people out of work. More than 200 got notices Friday saying they'll be laid off effective Saturday.

The closures were announced after the hospitals' former owner and largest secured creditor objected to a potential sale.

Less than 60 patients remain at the hospitals. Hawaii Medical Center CEO Maria Kostylo says they will be discharged or transferred in the next week or two.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that state officials are bracing for the closures to swell Hawaii's unemployment rate at a time when jobs are already hard to come by.


US: Wal-Mart Pulls Formula After Baby Dies in Missouri

© AP Photo/Holman Howe Funeral HomeThis photo provided Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011, by the Holman Howe Funeral Home, shows Avery Cornett of Lebanon, Mo., who died Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011.
Wal-Mart and health officials awaited tests Thursday on a batch of powdered infant formula that was removed from more than 3,000 stores nationwide after a Missouri newborn who consumed it apparently died from a rare infection.

The source of the bacteria that caused the infection has not been determined, but it occurs naturally in the environment and in plants such as wheat and rice. The most worrisome appearances have been in dried milk and powdered formula, which is why manufacturers routinely test for the germs.

Wal-Mart pulled the Enfamil Newborn formula from shelves as a precaution following the death of little Avery Cornett in the southern Missouri town of Lebanon.

The formula has not been recalled, and the manufacturer said tests showed the batch was negative for the bacteria before it was shipped. Additional tests were under way.

"We decided it was best to remove the product until we learn more," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Dianna Gee said. "It could be returned to the shelves."

Customers who bought formula in 12.5-ounce cans with the lot number ZP1K7G have the option of returning them for a refund or exchange, Gee said.

The product is not exclusive to Wal-Mart. The manufacturer, Mead Johnson Nutrition, declined to answer questions about whether formula from that batch was distributed to other stores.


Arizona, US: Coma Patient Now Speaking, Walking

© The Arizona Republic/Deirdre HamillDr. Robert Spetzler, right, talks about Sam Schmid's brain injury during a news conference at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011.
It will be a special Christmas for the family of a 21-year-old University of Arizona student who was nearly taken off life support before awaking from a coma.

Sam Schmid was walking and speaking Friday at a Phoenix hospital. Dressed in a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers, he was able to use a walker and talk in brief sentences.

"Right now, I'm feeling all right ... except for the rehabilitation, I'm feeling pretty good," Schmid said.

Doctors at Barrow Neurological Institute say Schmid has a long recovery ahead of him to regain full speech, balance and memory abilities.

Schmid was involved in an Oct. 19 car crash in Tucson that left him with a brain aneurysm, among other life-threatening injuries. Because of the complexity of his brain injury, Schmid was flown to Phoenix.


Canada: Finally... Solo Farmer Fights Monsanto and Wins

Monsanto has long been trying to establish control over the seeds of the plants that produce food for the world.

They have already patented a number of genetically altered food crops, which can only be grown with proper license, and the seeds for which must be purchased anew each year.

But genetically engineered crops cannot be contained.

And rather than being found guilty of contaminating farmers' property, Monsanto has successfully sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement.

Many farmers have subsequently, quite literally, lost their farms.

Percy Schmeiser of Saskatchewan, Canada, was also a victim of Monsanto's vile ways.

Christmas Lights

US, Illinois: Christmas Brings Thefts Of Baby Jesus Statues, Lawn Decorations

© Scott Barbour/Getty ImagesFile Photo Of Outdoor Christmas Decorations.
Though the Christmas holiday is getting nearer, vandals and pranksters haven't displayed a holiday spirit. Communities around Chicago have reported acts of theft and vandalism to Christmas displays recently.

Among the suburbs reporting such incidents recently were Elmwood Park, Lombard and Naperville.

In Elmwood Park, thefts were reported Dec. 15 from the 2200 block of 75th Court and the 2300 block of 75th Avenue, according to police. In the former, someone took Christmas decorations that made up a nativity scene from the front yard of a home, and in the latter someone took two Christmas penguins from the front yard of a home.

On Dec. 17, a theft was reported on 7700 block of Sunset Drive, police said. Sometime on Dec. 15 someone removed a 3-foot-tall illuminated Santa Claus from a fence.


Best of the Web: US: Just Say No to Christmas?

© Denny Simmons/USA TodayGriffin Holland, with mom Sarah Stewart Holland, plays in his family's Paducah, Ky., home on Dec. 14. The family has scaled back on Christmas spending, and Griffin will get gifts stashed after his birthday celebration.
Susan Lee, a divorced mother of three in New York City, is taking a drastic step this year. "No Christmas for me," she says. "No gifts, no turkey, no tree, no kidding."

Lee, 41, a marketing consultant, says she needs a break from the stress and spending that are integral parts of the holiday. Her kids will celebrate a traditional Christmas with their dad, but she's ignoring all the rituals.

"I start dreading Christmas from the time the decorations go up in the stores," she says. "It stopped being fun for me, so I'll find out this year if I can do without it altogether. I think it will be a relief. It already is."

The holiday is in no danger of extinction. Retail sales broke records over the Thanksgiving weekend, and online sales are up 15% from 2010, according to ComScore, a research company. A Gallup Poll found that Americans expect to spend an average of $764 on Christmas gifts, $50 more than a year ago. And forecasters expect spending on Christmas to rise 3.1% to $3.4 billion this holiday season.


US, California: Los Angeles Might Sue Occupy L.A. Protesters for Financial Damages

© unknown
Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich is considering a lawsuit against Occupy L.A. protesters to reimburse the city for damage caused during the occupation of the City Hall lawn.

"The city is contemplating any and all of its options," said William Carter, Trutanich's chief deputy.

The two-month encampment cost the city at least $2.35 million, not counting repairs to the lawn and fountain outside City Hall, according to a report issued Friday.

Much of that cost -- more than $1.7 million -- will be added to the growing pool of red ink in this year's city budget. The Occupy bills will increase an anticipated $72-million shortfall over the next six months, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said.

"In isolation, the cost is manageable. But in the context of a $72-million problem, it only made our challenge bigger," said Santana, the city's top budget analyst.


Anti-Whaling Activists' Drone Tracks Japan Fleet

© Agence France-PresseAnti-whaling activists from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society chase a Japanese whaling ship in Antarctic waters in 2010.
Anti-whaling activists intercepted Japan's harpoon fleet far north of Antarctic waters on Sunday, they said, with the help of a military-style drone.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society spokesman Paul Watson said the unmanned long-range drone, launched from the anti-whaling ship the Steve Irwin, had located the Japanese fleet and relayed the coordinates back to the activists.

Watson said Sea Shepherd, a militant activist group which regularly shadows and harasses the Japanese whalers, had caught up with the fleet at 37 degrees south, 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) above Antarctic waters.

No whales had been killed so far, he added.

"This is going to be a long hard pursuit from here to the coast of Antarctica," said Watson.

"But thanks to these drones, we now have an advantage we have never had before -- eyes in the sky."


Cuba to Pardon Some 3,000 Prisoners

© Agence France-Presse/Marcelino Vazquez Cuban President Raul Castro (R) and his grandson and bodyguard Raul Dominguez Castro attend the second annual session of the National Assembly, on December 23, at the Conventions Palace in Havana. Castro has unveiled plans to pardon some 3,000 prisoners for "humanitarian reasons" and "gradually" reform onerous laws restricting foreign travel.
Cuban President Raul Castro has unveiled plans to release some 3,000 prisoners in the largest mass pardon in the regime's history, but an American held for two years is not among them.

The pardons include 86 foreigners from 25 countries, and will take place "in the coming days," Castro said in an address to the National Assembly Friday in which he vowed to "gradually" reform laws limiting foreign travel.

The United States said Saturday that it was "deeply disappointed" that State Department contractor Alan Gross, 62 -- held since December 2009 and convicted on espionage charges -- was not included in the release.

Castro said factors that played into the pardon decision included requests from the Catholic Church and various Protestant churches, and the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

The pardon is the largest ever under the communist regime, much larger that the 299 prisoners released ahead of the visit of then-pope John Paul II in January 1998.


US: Copper Thieves Leave Hundreds Without Phone Service In Florida

© Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesFile photo of metal scavenger taking copper.
Authorities say about 300 residents in southwest Florida are without phone service after thieves pulled copper from telephone utility boxes.

The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office says customers within a square mile area of the theft from utility boxes in a Port Charlotte lot were affected. Repairs were continuing Saturday.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Bob Carpenter says it's the fifth copper theft from phone equipment boxes in the last several days.

Anyone with information about these copper thefts is urged to call the sheriff's office at 941-639-2101 or Crime Stoppers at 800-780-TIPS

Source: The Associated Press