AP Top News at 12:54 p.m. EST

Associated Press
In this Dec. 18,  2010, Maria Johnson Bethune, center, of the Bronx, reacts after the cashier told her how much she saved with coupons and discounts, at the J.C. Penny store at the Manhattan Mall in New York.  Americans spent at a moderate pace last month, giving the economy a boost ahead of the holidays. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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Economic reports Thursday suggest employers are laying off fewer workers, businesses are ordering more computers and appliances, and consumers are spending more confidently. Combined, the latest data confirm that the economy is improving, even though too few jobs are being created to lower the 9.8 percent unemployment rate.

NEW YORK (AP) — As travelers take to road, air and sky in the sometimes-hectic last days before Christmas, they should keep one thing in mind: It could be worse. Planes took off into windy but accommodating skies Thursday morning at New York's LaGuardia Airport as Steve Kent prepared to fly to Denver for a family ski trip, scoffing at the puny lines.

ROME (AP) — Package bombs exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome on Thursday, wounding the two people who opened them, in attacks that bore similarities to bombings by anarchists in Greece last month. One of the wounded is at risk of losing an eye, a hospital official said. No group claimed responsibility, but Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said anarchists were thought to be behind the blasts in Rome as well.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California residents who endured flooding, mudslides and evacuations during a weeklong onslaught of rain now have another problem: contaminated water and fouled beaches. The rain washed trash, pesticides and bacteria into waterways, prompting health warnings. Four beaches were closed in Northern California's San Mateo County, and another 12 miles of beach from Laguna Beach to San Clemente in Southern California's Orange County were off-limits because of sewer overflows.

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's government survived a no-confidence motion in Parliament on Thursday in a session overshadowed by a man who flung himself from the chamber's balcony, apparently in protest over government budget cuts that had affected his family. His injuries were not life-threatening. A thud reverberated in the chamber after the man, Adrian Sobaru — identified by the country's public television station as one of its engineers — jumped from a height of about 7 meters (23 feet).

CHICAGO (AP) — Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel can run for Chicago mayor although he spent much of the last two years living in Washington while working for President Barack Obama, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners ruled Thursday. With the board's decision, Emanuel clears a major hurdle in his bid to replace retiring Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Officials have tried to expedite mayoral ballot challenges before the Feb. 22 vote, and the board's decision is almost sure to be challenged in the courts.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The stock market has rebounded nicely, yet there's still more good news when it comes to 401(k)s. Most of the companies that suspended their matching contributions as the economy tanked have either restored the match, or plan to within the next six months. A company match is the amount an employer contributes to a worker's retirement account. The most common employer match is 50 cents on the dollar up to 6 percent of a worker's pay.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Federal Communications Commission proposed regulatory conditions Thursday to ensure that cable giant Comcast Corp. cannot stifle video competition once it takes control of NBC Universal. The conditions are intended to guarantee that satellite companies, phone companies and other traditional subscription television services can still get access to marquee NBC programming once the transaction closes. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also wants to ensure that new Internet video distributors can get the programming they need to grow and compete.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Newly released documents show the special prosecutor in the Watergate case expressed "extreme interest" in a 1970s criminal investigation of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for illegal campaign contributions. In an Aug. 16, 1973 memo, FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley also told the Cleveland office of the FBI to ensure that the case "receives the same, immediate and preferred handling" as others growing out of the Watergate scandal.

NEW YORK (AP) — The curtain was to rise again on "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" after producers of the accident-plagued Broadway musical agreed to new safety precautions to prevent another fall such as the one that left a stuntman seriously injured. Leo Rosales, spokesman for the state Department of Labor, said the show's producers would check in with the department later Thursday to confirm they had put into place all the protocols they had promised on Wednesday. That confirmation was mandatory before the show could go forward with all 38 planned aerial maneuvers, he said.

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